Kamikaze

The Mongols tried to invade Japan twice. Late in the autumn of 1274, a Mongol fleet of some 300 ships and 20,000 soldiers reached the Japanese island of Kyushu. At the ensuing battle the inexperienced and badly equipped Japanese army was outmaneuvered, yet an impending storm convinced the Mongol generals to set out to sea so as not to be marooned on the shore. The fleet was destroyed and the few ships that remained in the harbor were easy for the Japanese to deal with. In the summer of 1281, the Mongols tried again. They landed in Kyushu, and once again the Japanese were outnumbered. Again, however, a large typhoon appeared and wiped out the Mongol fleet. The Mongols, clearly, were not experienced seamen and the flat-bottom boats they had built for the passage to Japan were not well suited for the task. After these experiences, the Mongols gave up on the plans to invade the country.

Given that they twice had been saved by miraculous typhoons, the Japanese began to believe that their country enjoyed divine protection – that the winds, kaze, were sent by the gods, the kami. The Kamikaze was also the name given to the “Special attack units” of the Japanese air-force established at the end of the Second World War. The unit sent pilots on suicide missions with the goal of dropping their planes, themselves, and their explosive cargo on important enemy targets – on American airplane-carriers in particular. The pilots were all volunteers – young recruits without much training who the military authorities considered expendable. In fact, there were many more volunteers than airplanes and the military authorities would squeeze as many as possible together in the same plane. Others carried out suicide missions by means of speedboats, submarines and human torpedoes.  At least 47 Allied ships were sunk by means of the kamikaze suicide pilots, some 300 ships were damaged, and altogether 3,860 pilots were killed. However, the term “kamikaze pilot” was not commonly used in Japan itself during the war but is instead an American usage which was imported after 1945 – together with so many other features of American culture.

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