Saturday 18 August 2012

Letter From A Kamikaze


Honourable Mother and Father

I write this letter with the sun sinking into the sea in the west, as I look out of the window to my right. The sun is red as blood, and tomorrow, it will sink into the sea as it has sunk since the world was young. Tomorrow, I do not know if I will be here to see it. My blood will be in it, perhaps, and someone else will sit here at this table composing a letter and thinking of blood in the sun.

I shall not send this letter through the official Navy censor. Junior Lieutenant Ota is going north tomorrow on official business. He is a good friend, and he will take this with him and see that it is given to you, even if he cannot do it himself, and even if it should take a few days. The official Navy censor may not like all the things I have to write in this letter.

You, my honourable parents, know that I am in the Special Attack Corps. You know that I am a volunteer for it; you know – none better, for you read the newspapers and hear the news on the radio – just what we heroes of the Special Attack Corps do in battle. You know that there is no return when we hurl ourselves at the enemy for the glory of the Emperor. This is what you read.

I sit at my window and I look at the setting sun and I try to gather my thoughts. Tomorrow, if the weather allows and there is a sighting of the enemy, perhaps I shall tie a hachimaki round my head, put on the belt of a thousand stitches, and I shall take the ceremonial sip of sake. And then I shall put a samurai sword behind the seat of my Zero and turn on the engine, and I shall fly away into...what? What will happen when I launch myself into the sky? So many, the things that I must think of, so many the questions I ponder to which there are no answers. Shall I be able to keep my nerve when I enter the cockpit of my plane? I do not wish to be one of those who have to be helped into their seats, tottering with tension and fear. Shall I be able to bear those last moments with a smile? And if I do, what then?

What happens when I shall launch myself into the air – what happens then? Will I find the enemy or be forced to turn back, perhaps, by weather or engine failure? Will the enemy destroy me before I can strike at them? If I can strike at them, shall I be successful? And what is success, when I shall never know of it? If I can fly my plane into an enemy ship, how will I ever know whether I have done any damage?

They call us kamikazes, those of us who fly under the sign of the chrysanthemum. They tell us we are the Divine Wind, and it is our destiny to sweep away the enemy fleets from the oceans, and that the destiny of the Empire lies in our hands. I think about these things too, for I am one of the kamikaze, part of the Divine Wind, and yet I do not think the destiny of anything lies in my hands, least of all of something as grand as the Empire. I am told I fly for the Emperor, yet the Emperor does not know me, and I have never seen him with my own eyes.

Who then is the emperor? Is he a man who wakes in the morning and who eats and breathes, even as I do? I may shock you with this, but I declare that I do not even know for sure that he exists. He may be only a myth made out of our national consciousness. I am told I am flying for the Empire, yet what is the Empire to me? Do I die for a Korean field or a factory making utensils in Kure? Is that what my death means?

I can hear soldiers marching outside, on the parade ground. I was marching there too, earlier, and I have marched and trained and hardened my body. I have been beaten and made to train even harder, and my body has been made into an instrument that is fit to be a weapon for the Emperor. It takes a lot to turn a man into a weapon whose only purpose is to die.

Do you remember, honourable parents, the morning sunlight on the hill behind the Shinto shrine on the way to the fishing bay? That hill was not beautiful, being bald and rocky, and nothing grew on it – and yet the sun turned it beautiful. It was golden then, like the golden soul of the land. More than once I have stood there, by the shrine, and watched the people going by, to and from town. The women went by with their children, the trucks loaded with produce ground by on the way to the markets, and old men and women, bent with the years, went by too, and some of them smiled at me with their toothless mouths. They were the best, those old people, with their tired bodies but minds still fresh and seasoned with wisdom. I looked at them and wished I had their experience and wisdom, allied with my youth and vitality, and I wished them well.

Much more than an Emperor whom I have never seen, those old people, and the giggling schoolgirls, they were my people, and it is for them that I would consider dying. Mount Fuji may show his face above Tokyo for eternity, but Mount Fuji is not Nippon; Nippon does not live in the islands and fields and bays any more than she lives in the person of an Emperor. She lives in the people, the people whom I remember as I sit here writing this letter.

No, I do not believe in the Empire any more than I believe in an Emperor, and I do not believe in the war. I am told, we are all told, when the senior officers come to talk to us, that the missions on which we go will win the war or at least save the nation from defeat. I do not believe this; what sort of victory can come of sacrificing the lives of our pilots, of sending our remaining aircraft to certain destruction in the hope of inflicting only temporary damage on our enemy?

No, I do not believe we are going to win this war. I do not believe that we can even significantly delay the final defeat. But then, why is it that I volunteered myself for this mission? If there is a single answer I do not know of it. But answers there are, there must be, in everything; that is what we are taught.

Do you remember the time, honourable parents, when we had gone with little sister to Kyoto? Do you remember the cherry trees and the waving schoolgirls and the warm spring air? I remember how little sister ran and laughed, and how you, Honourable Mother, had scolded her because that was not the way a well-brought-up young lady should behave? Where are those streets now? What has happened to those cities?

A friend here has a dog. It is a friendly dog, large and genial, and one can play with it. I can see it from the window now. I should have liked to have such a dog. But I digress.

I do not hate the Gaijin. But, night and day, they fly over our cities and our towns, and drop the products of their factories of terror on our cities and towns and schools and hospitals, on our orchards and our farms, on the old men and giggling girls who passed by me as I stood by the Shinto shrine. They call it war against the Empire, but it is not the Emperor they fight. They fight the real Nippon, of which I have written, the Nippon of common humanity and a thousand years of culture and tradition. And if my death is to have any meaning, it is in this, that by striking back against them I am striking a blow for the real Nippon, not for the Emperor, in whom I do not believe.

Perhaps, then, there will be a day when the peoples will grow weary of war, and then our children and theirs will skip hand in hand down the pavements in the spring sunshine, under the cherry trees; but until then, and until the world finds a meaning to that strange word “peace”, I and those like me will give our lives for what we believe matters, even if that must bring sorrow to the hearts of those whom we love. In battle I will go, and all I can promise you is that I will do my utmost. In any case I shall not return alive.

Tomorrow, the sun shall set over the western sea, and someone else shall sit here and look for my blood in it, even as I look for the blood of those who fell today.

Grieve not, therefore, that you are losing a son; instead, strengthen your minds and hearts to bear with courage and fortitude whatever is to come.

With love to little sister, and my humble salutations to you, and to our land of Nippon,

Your loving son

                                                                            Tanaka Yukio

Copyright B Purkayastha 2009/12

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