Kamikaze…not really?

Ampontan at Japundit evaluates a new book, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers, and a review of that book. As usual, his discussion is thorough and insightful. Here are a few nuggets:

“The determination to combat the egotism brought forth by capitalism and modernity was a major element of the students’ idealism.” In a book whose premise is the coercion used to get pilots to volunteer for kamikaze missions, it’s odd that the author would claim one reason the student pilots volunteered was an antipathy toward capitalism. Considering the intellectual leanings of American university professors in general, however, perhaps it’s not so odd after all.


I understand that Ohnuki-Tierney’s objective is to examine how educated college students came to put into practice an ideology most did not share by being coerced to volunteer for suicide. Yet, one cannot help but wonder how interested the author would have been in the virulence of Japanese militarism and its ramifications had the kamikaze pilots consisted solely of people who were garbage men, barbers, and udon/soba shop proprietors in civilian life.


The author fails to consider that because Japanese university students majoring in the liberal arts received draft deferments until late 1943, many of those in school who were subsequently drafted and became kamikaze pilots were likely in school to save their own necks rather than to ponder the intricacies of Kant and Nietzsche. Indeed, as is shown in the movie Wings of a Man, some professional baseball players took advantage of draft deferments for college enrollment by playing baseball during the day and studying at night. A severe case of resentment might well explain the military veterans’ brutal treatment of those who had college deferments. It certainly wouldn’t be unique to Japan.


Some people think that bullying in Japanese schools is caused by the examination system. What this book may show indirectly is that bullying has long been a part of the vertically-structured Japanese society. Women have been guilty of this, too: the expression yome-ibiri refers to the mistreatment meted out by women toward their daughters-in-law, particularly when the young married couple lives with the husband’s parents. Indeed, from a long-range perspective, Ohnuki-Tierney’s book may also indirectly demonstrate that this aspect of Japanese society is actually improving.


A comparison of Donald Keene’s review with the excerpt of the book reveals that a large chunk of his article–for which I’m sure he was paid–was lifted in toto from Ohnuki-Tierney’s introduction without attribution. Elsewhere in the article, however, he specifically cites the author and properly quotes passages. Perhaps this cavalier attitude derives from his having become a living god in his own field, having a foundation that bears his name, and the fact that the few people who are moved to read the book because of his review will have forgotten what he wrote by the time they get around to it.

Ultimately, Ampontan dismisses the review as rubbish, accepts parts of the book with caveats, and recommends this site for further information about the kamikaze.

Good stuff.