Kamikaze attacks 'not about terror'?


This article discussed a Kamikaze museum and film in Japan, and the different attitudes about each. Takanobu Kikunaga says Kamikazes weren’t about ‘Terror’ like 9/11 bombers, but personally I have a hard time seeing it that way.

To me, patriotism=religious fanatacism

In a lot of documentaries I’ve seen about WWII, a big part of the role of Kamikazes seems to be of the fear (i.e. terror aspect) of dealing with an adversary that willingly throws his own life away just to delay the inevitable end in the case of WWII. I don’t know exactly how US sailors felt, but if I were one I’d seriously wonder if the Japanese would be ever willing to surrender if they were reduced to crashing their planes into our ships when conventional bombing failed. So I have a hard time seeing how Kikunaga can insist they were ‘doing it for their families’ (wouldn’t their families rather have their sons alive and well?)

But perhaps I’m just being extremely ethno-centrist about this.

Kamikaze attacks were military attacks on military targets, in a declared war. Any psychological effect on the attacked would be a valid military tactic. They certainly were not comparable in any way to 9/11.

I guess it depends on your definition of terrorism. But weren’t the Kamikaze’s targets typically (if not exclusively) military? It was a tactic arrived out of economy, not the psychological effects of a populace.

Most people differentiate between attacks on military targets and attacks on civilian targets. It’s hard for me to accept that an attack against a legitimate military target can be an act of terror.

Well, Takanobu Kikunaga is part of that portion of the Japanese right wing that idealizes Japanese society and the Japanese government of World War II, and would like Japan to go back to millitant nationalism, so you need to keep that in mind when you’re reading his comments. But what he’s arguing, it looks like, was that the kamikaze were soldiers striking military targets…they were attacking the enemy. You shouldn’t compare them to a suicide bomber whose targets are innocent civilians.

How would the terror felt under a kamikaze attack differ from the terror felt if you saw torpedoes heading for you from a sub? Does the fact that the attacker is committing suicide increase the terror? Does that hold for a charge into superior numbers, where many attackers will die?

I tend to think that the terror in terrorism is the feeling of civilians, those who have not signed up for attack but going about their lives. I’m not sure where I’d put the bombing of cities, like in the blitz, Dresden, and Hiroshima. Are those terror attacks, or don’t they count since they happened during a war?

I think you’re mixing up several questions. The two main questions seem to be 1) Do kamikaze attacks fit the definition of “terrorism” and 2) Was the intransigence of Japanese fighters for the purpose of “delaying the inevitable end of the war”, and thus a kind of terrorism? I think those are separate questions. As for (1), the definition of terrorism I’ve always heard is the deliberate targeting of civilians, without any specific military objective other then to instill fear. But weren’t the kamikaze attacks on military targets? If anything fits the definition of “terrorism”, I think it would be the nukes that were dropped by the U.S., where we would have to have known there would be large numbers of civilian casualties.

As for (2) - in hindsight, they were fighting a losing battle. Did individual soldiers know this and believe it? And if so, did they have the option of not participating? You could certainly make an argument for “misguided”, but I don’t see how it fits the definition of terrorism.

The US wasn’t putting a massive navy in Oahu to protect Hawaii. It was designed to prep for the obvious invasion of Japan.
The goal of terror would be to attack the hotels. The goal of pre-emptive strike was to attack the navy.

Would that mean the attacks on the marine barracks in Beirut or the bombing of the Cole were not terrorist attacks?

They weren’t terror attacks in the traditional sense. I suppose a case could be made for attacks by irregular para-military forces in times of peace (or at least no formally declared war), but that would probably be splitting hairs. Attacks against legitimate military targets are not terrorism…IMHO anyway, FWIW.

Doesn’t make them right or legitimate…same as attacks by nation states on other nation states doesn’t make said attacks right.

Here’s hoping this is a whoosh…

No idea what you are getting at here.
As to the OP, I think its been answered…kamikaze attacks were not terror attacks because they were against legitimate military targets in time of war. I also don’t think they had an real impact on the mindset of the military folk wrt terror…any more than dropping bombs or shooting at them would have. Even if they did, it was a legitimate (though ultimately futile) tactic of war. Strapping on an explosive vest and going for a stroll in a mall is not.


Good question. I would be willing to restrict the definition of terror so that attacks against certain military targets could be considered terror attacks. If the military in question is not actually engaged in warfare with that particular group, then maybe it should be considered terror. In those two specific cases, though, it’s debatable as to whether or not the military involved could be considered to be engaged with that particular enemy (I think they probably should be considered “engaged”).

If some wingnut here in the US decided he didn’t like the military and would blow up some military bases to prove his point, I would be willing to call that terrorism.

Of course, this is all IMHO, since we’re talking about the definition of a word that is used to mean a wide variety of things to a wide variety of people.

And what’s the point anyway? If the word “terrorism” ever had any meaning, that has certainly been subverted by the Bush administration, who clearly use it as a buzzword for the sole purpose of instilling fear and advancing whatever political or military agenda is desired.

Wow, this has nothing to do with the question above. But, since your stated purpose for a fleet in Perl is a pretty extraordinary claim, I would love to see a cite for it. (Hint: All of the principal players in WWII were building up their navies in the period just before the war. Japan’s subsequent takeover of the Philippines makes your version of history kind of doubtful. In fact, it pretty much validates their stated reasons for declaring war on the U.S.)

Cite for their stated aims

Nanking happened years before Pearl, I find it hard to frame us as the aggressors

And no, Kamikaze, while not really effective, was not a terrorist method.

I would argue that they were not terrorist attacks. To my mind at least, “terrorism” means ‘attacks on civilians specifically designed to provoke terror’. Attacks on military targets, while they may be made by the same people who support or otherwise engage in terrorism on other occasions, are not in and of themselves terrorist attacks.

That doesn’t mean they are legitimate, of course. Legitimate acts of war are a specific subset of all military activity, and such attacks don’t qualify - there was no state of war at the time. But I do not agree with the modern habit of calling everything not a legitimate act of war “terrorism”.

This is beside the point, because it is clear that, as far as the targets of Kamakazie attacks are concerned, they were clearly legitimate acts of war - to the extent that they were atrocious the atrocity aspect was all on the side of the Japanese pilots themselves, who were convinced or coerced into making suicide attacks.

Even if the main reason for using kamikazis was to intimidate and terrorize US sailors (which I don’t think it was), I don’t think it would qualify as terrorism. I’d say trying to frighten the enemy is a legitimate and widely used tactic of warfare. The US invasion of Iraq proudly bragged about thier “shock and awe” campaign, and while there has been criticism of all flavors of that war, I haven’t heard any suggestions that that campaign was the equivalent of terrorism.

Indeed I doubt there’s ever been a war in which one side didn’t try and “terrorize” the other.

The Marines were in Beirut for a semi-military purpose, so I’m not sure that this one qualifies. The Cole was a military vessel in a friendly point during a time of peace, so that’s closer to terrorism, IMO.

I’m having a hard time thinking of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin as religious fantatics.

Some cultures value things like honor and duty above life. Those religious fanatics who signed the Declaration of Independence certainly did. If you’ve ever read the Iliad, Hector prays to the Gods that he wants his son to grow up and be a fine warrior who is feared by his enemies. Why doesn’t he just pray for his son to be safe? One, he probably couldn’t imagine a world without war and he wants his sone to be known as brave and honorable.

Everyone’s ethnocentric so don’t feel bad. I think it would be unfair to classify kamikaze attacks as terrorist attacks.


I say if you turn up for a battle in uniform and flying a warplane clearly marked with nationality symbols, you’re no more a terrorist if you crash your plane onto a warship than if you used it to drop bombs on it. We can argue where the dividing line falls, but this is miles to the right side of it.

Terrorizing your enemy goes back to when Og the caveman painted his tribesman’s faces all sorts of ominous colors to scare the bejeezus out of those damn heathen folk in the other valley.

They were both suicide attacks using airplanes. I understand the differences, but the comparison couldn’t be more obvious.

Perhaps he meant “is equivalent to,” not “is the same as.”