Ruth Ozeki on "Kamikaze Diaries"

Kamikaze Diaries
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I would really like to recommend is "Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers" by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney. It's an analysis of the diaries and letters written by Japanese students who were conscripted and forced to join the tokkotai, or the Kamikaze forces. In America, of course, when you talk about Kamikaze, it has such a strong connotation and the stereotyping of that word, it has become the predominant image that we have of these young men, but in fact, a lot of the pilots who were conscripted were really the creme de la creme of young Japanese intellectuals.

They were fluent in many European languages, they read French poetry, they read German philosophy, they were able to think about and to discuss, and to write about the moral and ethical problems of war and the challenges that they faced in a way that I found absolutely heartbreaking and really interesting. The young men who are writing these letter and diaries are so present on the page. They really emerge as these sensitive, young, intelligent men confronting death, and not only confronting death but confronting the worst possible kind of death, knowing that their death will be contributing to the war.

I was a child in the post-World War II years. I was born in 1956, which was only 11 years after the war had ended and so I grew up with very, very strong anti-Japanese propagandistic images still that were very much a part of the culture during my childhood. So to read these incredibly articulate, heartbreaking letters and diaries by these young Kamikaze fighters really sort of opened my eyes to the horrors of that war and the horrors of military conscription and military culture. So it's a book that I think is incredibly important.