A victor’s-eye view of the desperate suicide-bombing campaign in the closing months of World War II.
Former naval officer Sears (The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices from Leyte Gulf, 2005) writes affectingly of the terror the “divine wind” campaign wrought on American sailors. Contrasting the fate of several American ships to that of USS Cole in the 2000 al-Qaeda terror attack, he demonstrates the damage that the Imperial Navy suicide bombers wrought. That campaign, he observes, was a mark of having no other options, the American fleet having destroyed most of Japan’s and forcing “a stunning new ‘backs-against-the-wall’ paradigm for modern warfare.” The author focuses on U.S. forces, though with considerable attention to the Japanese side of the equation, for which readers will also want to consult Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney’s provocative Kamikaze Diaries (2006) and Albert Axell’s Kamikaze: Japan’s Suicide Gods (2002). Sears does a particularly good job of bringing in the various voices of the fast-dwindling corps of American survivors of hellish engagements at Leyte and Okinawa, among other places. Drawing on interviews, diaries and other sources, the author depicts men such as a Marine junior officer who, his soldiers suspected, slept at attention, in contrast with one of those fighters who weighed only 135 pounds and was “quiet, introspective, and mild mannered.” Both served valiantly, as did most of their comrades, even though, by the closing months of the war, recruits were pushed through training and sent into the field as “90-day wonders fresh from Midshipman School.” The horror of kamikaze steeled them—those who survived, that is, for the attacks took a terrible toll on American sailors, Marines and soldiers, which left “even the healthiest…veterans perplexed and embittered at a nation, culture, and people capable of devising such attacks.” Sears closes with a look at how veterans on both sides bridged the gulf between them.
Of considerable interest to students of the Pacific War.