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Definition: Kamikaze from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

A Japanese word meaning ‘divine wind’, referring to the providential typhoon that on a night in August 1281 balked a Mongol invasion. In the Second World War it was applied to the ‘suicide’ aircraft attacks organized under Vice Admiral Onishi in the Philippines between October 1944 and January 1945. Some 5000 young pilots gave their lives when their bomb-loaded fighters crashed into their targets.

Summary Article: KAMIKAZE
From Encyclopedia of United States National Security

Name given to Japanese suicide pilots during World War II. The word kamikaze means divine wind and refers to a 1281 attack on Japan by the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan, which was foiled when a typhoon swept Japan and destroyed the Mongol invaders.

With the fall of the island of Saipan in July 1944, the Japanese revived the kamikaze name and applied it to suicide missions by their air force. As observed by Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi, commander of First Air Fleet in the Philippines, these missions had a practical logic because a single plane crashing into an enemy warship did more damage than 10 planes firing machine guns. Rather than rely on accidents to damage enemy ships, the Japanese decided to crash planes intentionally into ships.

Suicide as an official policy of war was unheard of in the West. Americans were taken aback by the kamikaze raids; they could not understand the mentality that would allow pilots to agree to such an act. The Japanese pilots, however, took it as compatible with their oath, which required utmost loyalty to Japan, propriety, valor, righteousness, and simplicity.

The Japanese especially esteemed the emperor and Japan. They came to believe that fighting for the emperor would bring on the kamikaze, just as it had in the 13th century. The call for pilots brought three volunteers for every available Japanese plane. The Japanese Air Force saved experienced pilots to train the young, inexperienced volunteers—most of whom were in their late teens. After just more than a week of training, the young pilots flew their kamikaze missions in modified Mitsubishi A6M fighters, known as Zeroes. Each Zero carried one-half ton of explosives to make it a more deadly weapon. Pilots aimed their planes toward the central section of a carrier or the base of the bridge on large warships. Because they flew low, the planes were vulnerable to antiaircraft fire.

The first Japanese kamikaze attacks took place in the battle for the Philippines in 1944, and continued thereafter. In April 1945, with the war obviously lost, Japanese Admiral Soema Toyoda initiated Operation Ten-Go, an onslaught of 1,400 kamikaze missions that sank 26 Allied ships. From April through July of that year, more than 2,000 kamikazes flew against the U.S. fleet. By then, however, the United States was ready for the attacks, and few kamikazes had success. The kamikazes persisted until the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The kamikaze attacks sank 40 U.S. ships in the Pacific and another 16 enemy ships in the Philippines. Hundreds of young Japanese pilots died in their suicide missions. The divine wind did not come, and the emperor announced Japan’s surrender in August 1945. When Onishi, the mastermind of the kamikaze missions, learned that Emperor Hirohito had surrendered, he committed suicide.

    See also
  • Suicide Bombing; World War II

Further Reading
  • Axell, Albert; Hideaki Kase. Kamikaze: Japan’s Suicide Gods. New York: Longman, 2002.
  • Hoyt, Edwin Palmer. The Kamikazes. Springfield, NJ: Burford Books, 1999.
  • Copyright © 2006 by Sage Publications, Inc.

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