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Tokkoutai datta boku ga ima wakamono ni tsutaetai koto (What I as a former Special Attack Corps member would like to say to today's young people)
by Hideo Den
Lyon Books, 2002, 254 pages

Near the end of World War II, the Japanese Navy’s preparations for the expected Allied invasion of the home islands included construction of numerous shinyo explosive motorboat bases along the shore, especially on the Pacific side of the main islands of Kyushu and Shikoku. This book's fist section covers Hideo Den’s Navy career, which included serving as second-ranking officer of 200 young men in the 116th Shinyo Special Attack Squadron that was based at a small fishing village named Akamizu (now part of Nobeoka City) along the coast of Miyazaki Prefecture. The remaining six sections drift into a variety of topics such as Japan's stance on nuclear weapons, postwar Japanese constitution, controversy concerning Yasukuni Shrine, policies of Koizumi administration, and US war in Afghanistan. Den questions and tears down opposition viewpoints in his writing, but he often does not provide detailed alternatives that will solve the problems discussed in the book. These issues often have little direct relationship with his wartime service other than the Navy's influencing his postwar views.

Den's postwar career as journalist and politician greatly affect the book's subject matter and presentation in which his strong pacifist views get repeated. He joined Kyodo News in 1947 as a journalist and moved to TBS in 1962 as a newscaster. In the book he explains his forced departure from TBS in 1968 due to his candid reporting of the Vietnam War from Hanoi rather than providing information according to the American viewpoint of the war. He served from 1971 to 2001 in the House of Councillors of the National Diet starting as a member of the Socialist Party. He wrote this book after leaving the Diet but returned again in 2003 for another four years. He passed away in 2009.

In the fall of 1943, the Japanese military mobilized college students who previously had a deferral of military service. Den, a student at Tokyo Imperial University, joined the Navy in December 1943 for basic training at Otake in Hiroshima Prefecture. He transferred to Yokosuka in February 1944 for additional training, and in October 1944 he got called into an assembly where trainees were asked whether they wanted to volunteer for a special attack unit in which they most certainly would lose their lives in the attack. They were asked to notify a training officer by 0800 the next day of their choice between kaiten (human torpedo), shinyo, and midget submarine if they wanted to volunteer. Den spent the night in troubled thinking between the desire to live and the pressure to volunteer to show his commitment to the country. Ultimately he did not volunteer, and only about ten percent of the 400 trainees in the Yokosuka assembly volunteered at that time for suicide squadrons.

Despite not volunteering for a special attack unit, two months later Hideo Den with a group of 20 junior officers were assigned to training at Kawatana Torpedo Boat School in Nagasaki Prefecture for the shinyo special attack motorboat. This plywood boat carried 250 kg of explosives in the bow so that it would explode when crashed into an enemy warship. Later 500 young men in the Yokaren (Naval Preparatory Flight Training Program) from Mie Naval Air Group got assigned to Kawatana in order to train as shinyo motorboat pilots. Den, 22 years old at the time, got assigned as an officer of the 116th Shinyo Special Attack Squadron, made up of 50 pilots for 25 2-man Model 5 shinyo motorboats and 150 other men who served as boat maintenance and base support workers.

Den's shinyo squadron got deployed to Mimitsu along the Pacific coast of Miyazaki Prefecture, but after only a month there the squadron moved up the coast to a fishing village named Akamizu when Mimitsu was determined to not be that suitable as a base. Squadron members dug tunnels along Totoro Harbor in order to hide the shinyo motorboats (three tunnels still exist). Den does not provide too many detailed stories of his time waiting at Akamizu for a suicide sortie other than his order prohibiting the use of a bat to discipline squadron members.

Although this book contains some interesting stories, the narrative has no clear direction as Den jumps between personal episodes, historical events, and politics current at the time the book was published in 2002. As a wartime memoir, the book does not succeed due to lack of details in some parts and digressions into other matters barely related to his story of military service. As an example, rather than focusing on his time as a shinyo squadron officer at Totoro Harbor, he strays into extended background information. Most likely this lack of focus and detail partly comes from writing about his shinyo squadron experiences more than 50 years after the events.

As an example of a more general issue addressed in the book, Section 5 deals with the controversy surrounding Yasukuni Jinja including the debate caused by its enshrinement of 14 Class A war criminals and its focus only on those in the military who gave their lives for the country. Den's recommendation is the establishment in Japan of a more general war dead monument that would include both military and civilian individuals who lost their lives in war. He advocates creation of a memorial similar to Okinawa's Cornerstone of Peace, a war monument for all victims of the Battle of Okinawa including both Japanese and Allied and both military and civilian.

The number of pages could have been cut in half with no real loss in the overall message, since many of his political opinions, especially the anti-war themes, get repeated throughout the book. His interesting wartime experiences get drowned out by the political rhetoric.


Navy Ensign Hideo Den (left)
during special attack squadron training
at Kawatana Torpedo Boat School
in Nagasaki Prefecture