Many Americans today are left aghast at Adm. William F. Halsey’s admonition to U.S. forces in the Pacific: “Kill Japs. Kill Japs. Kill More Japs! You will help to kill the yellow bastards if you do your job well.” Yet those who fought through the island campaigns fully appreciated Halsey’s words, realizing the only way to stop the Japanese was to kill them. Truce, armistice, negotiation, and surrender were concepts foreign to the warriors of Nippon.
Suicidal ground attacks had been a common Japanese tactic since Guadalcanal, but the first such aerial attacks were not employed until the Battle for Leyte Gulf in October 1944. By March 1945 kamikaze attacks had become a basic component of Japanese strategy.
A term originating in the 13th century, kamikaze is Japanese for “divine wind.” When the Japanese refused to pay tribute to Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor launched hundreds of ships against the islands of Japan in 1281. As the armada approached Japanese shores it was suddenly set upon by a great typhoon, and the fleet was blown to pieces. Convinced that the typhoon was a gift from the gods, the Japanese called it kamikaze.
During World War II, the Japanese developed a special corps of pilots whose mission was to dive their planes into American ships. Loaded with explosives,...