Kamikaze, the Original Suicide Bombers?

ByABC News
December 12, 2002, 2:51 PM

CHIRAN, Japan, Dec. 28, 2002 — -- It all took place more than a half-century ago, but the images have an eerie similarity to Sept. 11, 2001, as does the shock of those who witnessed the attacks.

"One-third of the men on the ship were lost," retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Robert H. Spiro Jr. recalled of one attack. "So, it was personally devastating. It was heartrending. At the same end, for a few hours we saw blood. The ship was on fire. We thought the bow was going to break off."

The similarities don't end with the images and emotions. Looking back at Japan's infamous kamikaze, they seem more related to the pilots of al Qaeda than most Japanese today would like to admit.

They were fanatically devoted to their emperor, who was considered a god at the time. They were motivated by self-righteous anger against the West.

"Many Japanese do believe that they fought a just war," said Gregory Clark, president of Tama University in Japan. "[They believe] that they were fighting under extreme odds. And that anything was justified in the attempt to win this war, in which they were clearly the weaker power. And that included using kamikaze."

More than 5,000 kamikaze died before the end of the war, and 20,000 were still awaiting missions. But a handful who did take off on suicide missions are still alive today.

"We had no other way to fight back," said Kenichiro Onuki, a volunteer who crash-landed before reaching his target. "This was the only way to prevent the U.S. military from advancing into our homeland."

Another survivor, Kensuke Kunuki, said through a translator: "I had no fear. I wanted to sacrifice my life."

Kunuki suffered terrible burns when his plane was forced down by mechanical problems. He said his first thought at the time was that he wanted to try again because he hadn't killed any Americans.

In a new book on the kamikaze, Hideaki Kase, an outspoken Japanese nationalist, said there was no truth to the wartime propaganda that portrayed the kamikaze as a fanatical cult. He says they were no different than American youths who gave their lives in desperate military campaigns.