Tragedy and Honor: 10 Details You Didn’t Know About the Life of a Kamikaze Pilot

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All Kamikaze Pilots were “Volunteers”… or were they?

It can be said that many kamikaze pilots unreservedly volunteered for their position; they believed their lives were a small price to pay for their country. However, this enthusiastic self-sacrifice was not always the case among Japanese soldiers. The process to select potential kamikaze pilots left little choice. Prospective kamikaze pilots were given a slip of paper with three options: volunteer willingly, simply volunteer or don’t volunteer. Since these papers had the pilots’ names on them, saying no would be public knowledge quickly and shame would follow.

Another method of recruiting kamikaze pilots would be to gather all soldiers in a room and ask the group “Who does not want to volunteer?” It proved much more difficult to be the single person who jumped off the bandwagon suicide missions. Those who decided to speak up found that making the choice to not sacrifice their lives would make their lives very difficult and unpleasant.

One account of a soldier who chose to opt out of this tactic ended up being signed up despite his wishes. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney recounted this particular event he witnessed in his book Kamikaze Diaries: “Kuroda Kenjiro decided not to volunteer, only to be taken by surprise when he found his name on the list of volunteers for the Mitate Navy Tokkotai corps; his superior had reported proudly that all the members of his corps had volunteered.”

The pressure soldiers felt to volunteer was due to the Japanese military motto. At the time, it essentially meant “Death before Surrender”. This idea would be engrained in the soldiers’ minds far before they received the call to become a suicide bomber. In fact, this idea was so prevalent that many Japanese soldiers also participated in banzai suicide charges when faced with certain defeat- even civilians practiced this. One of the most notable civilian acts of suicide came from Saipan, 1,000 captured civilians jumped off a cliff in Saipan rather than be captured.

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