Only search Kamikaze Images

The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II
by Captain Rikihei Inoguchi and Commander Tadashi Nakajima with Roger Pineau
Naval Institute Press, 1958, 240 pages

Two former officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy tell their version of the history of the kamikaze attacks. Captain Rikihei Inoguchi served as senior staff officer to Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi, who initiated Japan's kamikaze attacks against American ships in the Philippines. Commander Tadashi Nakajima was flight operations officer for the 201st Air Group, which organized the first kamikaze special attack corps. Nakajima later served on the staff of the air fleet that launched suicide attacks against the American fleet around Okinawa. These two eyewitnesses to events surrounding the kamikaze operations provide many insights into the motivations and feelings of both the leaders and pilots of the kamikaze units.

Inoguchi and Nakajima first published their account in Japanese in 1951 under the title Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kogekitai (Kamikaze Special Attack Forces), and the U.S. Naval Institute published the first English translation in 1953. Roger Pineau, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II and the co-author of several books about the war in the Pacific, reorganized the original text, retranslated some sections, and added footnotes for the version published in 1958. His thorough research, thoughtful editing, and accurate translations produced a book that for several decades has been both popular with a wide audience and valuable to historians. The 1958 version also contains a five-page preface written by Inoguchi and Nakajima in December 1957. Both Bantam (1960) and Ballantine (1968) published paperback versions that were reprinted several times, and the book has been translated to several other languages.

The Divine Wind covers the kamikaze operations from October 19, 1944, the date of the formation of the first kamikaze special attack corps, to the end of the war. Inoguchi and Nakajima divide up the chapters between them, so some chapters cover the same events from each author's individual perspective. The book's events follow a rough chronological order, with Part One covering the "Birth of the Kamikaze" in which both authors participated. Parts Two and Three cover the special attack units in the Philippines and Taiwan, respectively. Part Four details the last-ditch efforts of Japan's military to launch suicide assaults against the American fleet surrounding Okinawa. The last part gives Inoguchi's reflections on the decision to use suicide tactics to wage war against the United States, and the last chapter of this part contains several letters from kamikaze pilots.

Some readers may question the objectivity of two former Japanese Navy officers actively involved in the leadership of the kamikaze special attack forces. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney expresses this view in her book Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms (2002, 158):

In addition to being decisively one-sided, Inoguchi and Nakajima's publication is marred by inaccuracies. For example, when citing letters and diaries, they took the liberty of combining passages written on different occasions into an entry. These former officers presented their wishful portrayal as the "real" representation of the tokkotai [special attack] operation to non-Japanese readers.

Although the two authors certainly had their biases and Inoguchi during the war even coordinated the suppression of negative publicity about the kamikaze operations, I believe the authors succeed in their goal to explain the circumstances under which kamikaze attacks came about and how they were performed. They acknowledge various criticisms against the kamikaze attacks, and they try to answer some of these charges by relating their own experiences. This book has remained for several decades the standard English-language reference for researchers of the kamikaze operations, and the lack of any significant criticism of its historical accuracy casts doubt on Ohnuki-Tierney's assertion that it is "marred by inaccuracies."

Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi played the central role in the creation of the kamikaze forces. Inoguchi devotes a later chapter to his accomplishments, personality, and viewpoints. Although Inoguchi respected him as a leader qualified to direct Japan's defense of the Philippines in hopeless circumstances, the author does not give only a flattering description of him. Four days after Ohnishi broached the idea of suicide attacks, he said to his officers, "We will tolerate no criticism of any kind of the operations that are about to be undertaken. . . . Stern discipline will be meted out to anyone who criticizes orders or neglects to carry them out. In flagrant cases there will be no hesitancy about exacting the extreme penalty" (p. 180).

The kamikaze pilots portrayed in this book generally exhibit great enthusiasm for their missions, such as one pilot who wrote in a letter to his father, "Without regard for life or name, a samurai will defend his homeland" (p. 200). However, one must keep in mind that many comments in the book represent the officers' observations and opinions of the pilot's reactions and feelings. Also, military officers demanded obedience and the pilots were subjected to intense social pressure to meet the expectations of their comrades and their families. Therefore, the pilots' expressions of desire to dive into enemy ships should be critically assessed based on the environment of the times. Although Ohnuki-Tierney criticizes the authors for combining passages when citing letters in order to create a positive portrayal of the pilots, some negative comments from the pilots are expressed, such as the following one, "It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I think of the deceits being played on innocent citizens by some of our wily politicians" (p. 199).

This history focuses on the Imperial Japanese Navy's kamikaze operations, starting with the creation of the first official kamikaze unit. Even though the Army supplied about a third of the kamikaze planes and pilots, the book has almost no mention of the Army's contribution. Also, the authors' story of the formation of the first kamikaze unit gives little background about the military and government leaders' prior support for the development and deployment of special (suicide) attack weapons. Readers may conclude incorrectly that the plan for kamikaze plane attacks on American ships came directly from Vice Admiral Ohnishi when he arrived in the Philippines in October 1944. Although this book gives details of the desperate military situation faced by the Japanese at that time, The Sacred Warriors by Denis and Peggy Warner provides some valuable background on the military leaders' promotion of special attack operations prior to the creation of the first kamikaze corps by Ohnishi.

The two authors argue convincingly that the Japanese military had few options available to them as the Americans began their invasion of the Philippines in October 1944. Japan had only a handful of operational aircraft, pilots with limited training and experience, and older planes that were no match for the American ones. At this point in the war Japanese pilots had little chance of coming back alive even when they used conventional attack methods. Since Japan's leaders claimed that Japan would never surrender, many senior military officers and also pilots supported kamikaze tactics of imparting as much damage as possible to the enemy since they were most likely destined to die regardless of the attack method employed. Inoguchi and Nakajima acknowledge that many people regard such attacks as barbarous, if not insane, but they try to explain the desperate circumstances at the time the first kamikaze corps launched attacks against American ships.

Unmatched by any other book, the first-hand accounts in The Divine Wind reveal the thinking of the leaders of Japan's kamikaze corps. The book also provides insights into the feelings of the pilots, but some of this may represent more the observations of the authors rather than the real emotions of those assigned to fly on suicide missions.

Source Cited

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. 2002. Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History. Chicago: University of Chicago.