Kamikaze pilots vs. Iraqi Insurgents

I don’t know if this is more of a GQ than an IMHO thread, but I guess I’m looking for opinions from the past, so here it will be posted. It is not intended to be a debate on the merits/shortcomings of either tactic, though.

I was not alive during WWII, but I was wondering if the Japanese tactic of using Kamikaze pilots was viewed as “acceptable” back then. It seems that the modern suicide bomber is generally (not always, and not everywhere, but generally)viewed as a coward, but was that the case in the 40’s?

Can’t tell you if the kamikazes were considered cowards, but I doubt it. I think the “coward” thing comes from them attacking civilians - that word gets thrown around even when it’s not a suicide attack.


The cultures that have suicide “squads” are accepting of that sort of behavior, to some degree or another.

Those that have been attacked by such tactics, generally, do not have such an acceptance, and therefore consider it “cowardly.”

In WWII, dying in service to the emperor was a ticket to whatever “paradise” they believed in, and was ultimately an “honorable” attack.

In the Middle East, they think they get the 72 virgins for attacking, and dying in the fight against the infidels… similar line of thought.

I’ve other thoughts as to what to do with the ME remains, but that’s a whole different thread, and this isn’t the PIT.

I think the “coward” label is attached because the suicide bombers of today tend toward hitting soft civilian targets e.g. queues, funerals, weddings, buses, mosques, cafes, Hotels etc.

In some cases, but by no means all, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are hitting military checkpoints and convoys – but this is not every case. The targeting makes a hell of a difference as to who is a legit Military Kamikaze amd who is a “terrorist” IMO.

From Wiki
Bushido ethics enjoyed a revival during World War II as a way to build up Japanese fighting spirit. It was particularly reinforced among the fighting forces as a means of portraying the value of self-sacrifice and loyalty, and culminated with the self-sacrifice of the kamikaze pilots.

An additional, and important (to my mind at least) difference was that the Kamikaze pilots, and Kaiten pilots, too, were not simply do-it-yourself people attacking with grudges, but were sent in as part of a relatively coordinated strategy as part of a battleplan, with specific military goals and direction.

Whereas, the insurgents are attacking soft targets as part of no overarching strategy other than “if we aren’t happy, ain’t no one happy.”

It doesn’t really address the coward label, but it makes a world of difference in how I view the two actions.

Forget the word coward. I probably shouldn’t have even used it.

What I’m trying to get at is, were Kamikazes viewed as a valid weapon, for lack of a better term, back then or were they viewed as the terroists are nowadays, as an exception to the “accepted rules of war.”

Were the kamikaze’s tactics as disturbing to our fathers and grandfathers as the TNT vests are today?

My understanding is that they were viewed as something beyond the pale, and rather scary in a way that bombs and torpedoes weren’t. In some reports I’ve heard about, they were used to prove racist theories about how human and/or humane the Japanese were compared to Europeans.

So, there’s some room for valid comparison. I think the differences are more important than the similarities, but that’s my personal opinion, and is shaped by 60 years of history our forebears didn’t have at the time.

Were you old enough to remember the war? Just curious.

It’d be interesting for someone like, say, David Simmons (he’s in his 80’s isn’t he?) to pop in and maybe offer some insight.

Not that you’re isn’t interesting in and of itself. :wink:

Despite what the Wiki article says, what was preached to Japanese servicemen was not precisely Bushido; it was a sort of bastardized, death-cult interpretation of it, with an obsessive emphasis on the divinity of the Japanese race (as opposed to other races) that really would not have made a lot of sense to a Samurai of feudal Japan.

That said, I’d have to agree that while attacking civilians in some Baghdad marketplace is cowardly, going out in some dinky little plane to attack the most powerful navy ever assembled is a long, long way from cowardice. I cannot recall ever reading any account of kamikaze that suggested they were cowardly. The tactic was viewed by some as being beyond the accepted boundaries of civilized warfare, but that’s not the same as cowardice. At that point in the war any pretense of civilized behaviour had long been abandoned in any event.

One of the major differences is that Kamikaze pilots were regular military, wearing uniforms and insignia, fighting with other military forces in a declared war. By definition, terrorists do none of those things.

From what I understand, emotions toward Kamikaze attacks were usually a combination of “those guys are batshit insane” mixed with a kind of sickening and grudging admiration.

As to the cowardly part of it, I agree with most of the other replies regarding terrorist or insurgent attacks. It’s kind of hard to find someone honorable or courageous when they deliberately attack people who have no way of fighting back. I realize why they do it, and I understand intellectually that they have figured out a way to strike back at an attacker whose military might far outclasses their own, and I even understand the point of view of holding the citizens of a country accountable for the actions of their leaders. The problem is that terrorist attacks are the equivalent of a guy attacking your kid sister because he can’t beat you up. It’s really hard to respect that.

No, I’m not. Which is why I tried to make it clear I was reporting the what I’d read, and heard talking to vets, not my own experiences. If you want I can ask my dad, who was around then, and paid close attention.

A more interesting question, to my mind, is how does the current insurgency compare to historical guerilla wars?

Consider the following:

The German Occupation, both in the west and the east, was fought for years by partisans who were using tactics remarkably similar in many respects to those used by the Iraqi insurgents. To the extent of targetting collaborators as well as military targets. Granted, there was more emphasis, AIUI, on military or strategic targets, but there were bombings of businesses because they were too friendly with the occupiers.

The American Revolution had a very active guerilla campaign against the Tories in the colonies. There weren’t actual bombings, but damned near anything else went. In the period between 1776 and the end of the Revolutionary War the population went from being 1/3 in favor of independence, 1/3 opposed, and 1/3 neutral, to roughly evenly split between the neutrals and those in favor of it. I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but the others weren’t convinced so much as hounded out of the Colonies.

Finally, the Vietnam War. Where there was a large guerilla campaign using terror against both the US and SVA, and civilian populations this was being done in conjunction with an active military campaign.

I don’t know that there’s a justification for the guerilla action without some kind of hope, at least, for genuine military action to support it. Just wondering whether anyone has some thoughts they’d care to share.

Casey1505, I hope you don’t mind the hijack.

Hijack, nothing. You asked a much better and more clear question than I did. :smiley: Hijack away.

Quite true, but I was being polite. Bushido basically died during the Meiji Restoration, but one knows how people try to relive “the good all days” forgetting how bad a lot of it actually was.

As I recall, there was a CNN interview, post 9/11, with some Kamikaze pilots (obviously, ones who never got “up to bat”), who were quite offended by comparisons to the hijackers.

After all, they didn’t attack civilian targets.

One has to remember that the Japanese were using suicide missions from much earlier in the war. IIRC they had soldiers on strap explosives and tried to blow up a landing strip in one battle.

In the Okinawa battle, 50,000 Japanese soldiers were killed vs. several hundred captured. The kamikaze were just a continuation of their tactics.

Uh, in one word “no”. The Japanese do not believe “paradise.”

There is a common misconception that the Japanese were blindly loyal to a god-like emperor. This wasn’t the case.

I read an account of a scholar who studied the journals of the tokkotai, as the Japanese call the kamikaze, and their last thoughts were of their families, friends and comrades. Interestly, the Japanese definition of “tokkotai” does not use the work suicide, although it’s clear that the person dies.

In WWII, the Japanese were very into dying “honorably” and if they were going to have to die, they wanted to die well. There were those who were disappointed when they didn’t. Then, too, there were those who were quite happy to not find out if there was a paradise or not. The father of a previous girlfriend was a zero pilot and survived the war. (He was quite old when he became a father.) I never met him directly, unfortunately, because that may have been interesting.

The willingness and preparation to continue fighting to the death by both military and civilians by the Japanese certainly was one of the justifications for the atomic bombs. As RickJay notes, by that time in the war, it was not pretty.

I’ve read too that the 72 virgin thing is also a misconception, but I’m not going to google for cites.

I think you have identified THREE classes of targets;

  1. The military personnel and apparatus of the occupying force,

  2. Persons who actively collaborate with the occupying force, and

  3. Civilians who might or might not been seen as being too “Friendly.”

I think most of us will agree that (1) is a legitimate target and someone attacking such a target is not a “terrorist,” while (3) is hors de combat and anyone attacking them would be a terrorist.

(2) is problematic, but I’d have to say an active collaborator is a valid target. If you’re fighting a resistance war, someone who actively supports the apparatus of the occupying army is a traitor and a valid target. What I find difficult is determining quite where the line is. Is an ordinary policeman a valid target? I would say not; a police officer’s job is to arrest common criminals, and presumably ANY state would employ police officers. But someone who, say, assisted the occupying army in gathering intelligence, or was a Quisling who helped run the occupation’s government, well, it seems to me they’re valid targets. A lot of gray area, though.

To get back to kamikazes, as Sleel points out, not only were the targets military in nature (U.S. Navy vessels and crew) but there is an additional difference in that the kamikaze were themselves uniformed soldiers in the service of the Imperial Japanese Army, so they’re not only not in the same ballpark as terrorists, they’re not in the same sport.

RickJay, I agree with you.

I certainly don’t want to imply that I think the actions of the Iraqi insurgents are justified the way that I believe the actions of the partisans I mentioned were. My problem is that while I believe that, it’s hard for me to put forth in a manner that appears completely logical. Part of it is because the goals of the insurgents are so far removed from anything that I’d consider worth fighting for, let alone worth dying for, that it colors all my perceptions.

Human nature being what it is, I’m sure that there are more than a few people who were labelled collaborator simply because of grudges that had nothing to do with their actions during the occupation. That doesn’t negate that I believe that the majority of those killed or attacked were German troops. Whereas, for every US trooper killed or wounded since the end of active, organized fighting in Iraq there have been several Iraqi killed.

You honestly believe this? That the attacks of the Iraqi insurgents have no purpose other than hatred towards the victims? That there isn’t coordination? That all the targets attacked are “soft”? Come on, think it through…