BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 20:32 GMT 21:32 UK
Echoes of another war
Graphic showing kamikaze attack and World Trade Center
As details emerge of the identities of the suicide hijackers - several of them trained pilots - BBC News Online's Chris Summers investigates the similarities between them and the kamikaze pilots of World War II.

In the dog days of World War II, as the industrial and military might of the United States began to overwhelm the Japanese Empire, a small group of zealots tried to stem the tide.

They took their name - kamikaze (divine wind) - from the 13th century typhoon which saved Japan when it wrecked the fleet of the invading Mongol leader Genghis Khan.

The similarities between the kamikaze pilots and the modern Islamic volunteer - sometimes known as fedayeen - are disturbing.

Both groups were hand-picked and trained after being brought up in a culture where self-sacrifice was revered.

These people were not mentally abnormal, psychopaths or psychotic, nor are they brainwashed

Dr Andrew Silke, psychologist
They shared a hatred of the United States, a world superpower which in their eyes was threatening their home region, culture and religion.

Both were promised martyrdom and tangible benefits in the after-life.

The kamikaze were told their souls would find a place in the sacred Yasukuni shrine in the centre of Tokyo.

Islamic volunteers are told they will wake up in paradise, surrounded by 72 virgins willing to serve their every whim.

'These people are not crazy'

Dr Andrew Silke from Leicester University, an expert in the psychology of suicide bombers, told BBC News Online: "There are definite parallels.

The impact
All those on the planes died on impact
"Neither of these groups were crazy people. They were simply angry, desperate and highly committed."

He said of this week's attacks: "These people were not mentally abnormal, psychopaths or psychotic, nor are they brainwashed."

The fanaticism of both groups was - as we have seen so graphically this week - almost impossible for the US to combat.

The Japanese resorted to kamikaze tactics only in October 1944 as it became clear they were losing the war.

In blossom today, then scattered: Life is so like a delicate flower. How can one expect the fragrance to last for ever?

Admiral Onishi Takijiro
Founder of kamikaze squadrons
Their air force had been reduced to a rump and many of the kamikaze pilots were 18 or 19 years old, and had spent only 10 months in flying school.

Mako Sasaki, a Japanese graduate who lives in Washington DC and wrote a paper on why airmen became kamikaze pilots, said: "Although there are similarities with Tuesday's attacks, the kamikaze pilots' motives were quite different.

"It was an act of desperation. They hoped it would prevent the enemy landing in Japan and hurting their families."

'Culture of self-sacrifice'

Dr Silke said although suicide was technically prohibited by the Koran, Islamic history was full of warriors who had sacrificed their own lives for the cause.

Attack on aircraft carrier US St Lo
Kamikaze attacks wreaked havoc but did not win the war ŠUS Navy
Islamic scholars remain divided about whether the reward for suicide bombers is paradise or damnation.

"The Japanese were influenced by the Bushido philosophy, which said that the life of a retainer was negligible compared to the survival of the Emperor and the nation. It was a sacred duty," said Dr Silke.

He said, contrary to Western perceptions, those Muslims taking part in attacks were not brainwashed but volunteered enthusiastically, intoxicated with a desire for revenge and martyrdom.

He said: "Every day kids of 17 or 18 volunteer to Hamas and the leaders are encouraged to send them away. Only those who come back again and again are accepted."

No shortage of volunteers

The Japanese also found themselves over-subscribed with volunteers.

In one case a pilot was turned down because he had a wife and children. He was devastated.

A few days later his wife drowned herself and her children, leaving him free to complete his mission.

The leaders of the Japanese imperial armed forces hoped kamikaze attacks would demoralise the Americans and halt their advance.

But unlike the World Trade Center and Pentagon planes, few kamikaze got through and although some US ships were damaged it made no difference to the war's outcome.


The kamikaze attacks - known as tokkotai - were to a large extent purely symbolic.

The choice of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, symbols of US military and financial might respectively, was also symbolic.

Kamikaze pilot hits USS St Lo
A kamikaze plane moments before hitting a US aircraft carrier ŠUS Navy
The main difference between the kamikaze assaults and this week's attacks was that the former only aimed at military targets.

This might just have been because they did not have the range to reach the US mainland.

After all, the Japanese frequently blurred the line between military and civilian personnel.

For example, in Nanking the Imperial Army did not baulk at inflicting rape and murder on thousands, maybe even millions, of innocent Chinese civilians.

How do you beat them?

So, if Osama Bin Laden, or whoever is behind these attacks, is willing to go to such lengths and inflict such human suffering, how can they be defeated?

The Japanese only surrendered when the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The second plane heads for WTC
The second plane heads towards the twin towers
Dr Silke says the US will be tempted to make a gung-ho response but he said this would be a mistake.

He said: "The only way to really tackle terrorism is to tackle the causes.

"There are Islamic communities all over the world - most famously the Palestinians - who have grievances and until these are dealt with the suicide bombers will keep coming."

Dr Silke said: "If we accept - for the sake of argument - that Osama Bin Laden was behind these attacks, the US could kill him and all his followers. But others will emerge, and would regard all the dead as martyrs."

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories