1. Why was it important for you to write this story?
To be candid, my initial motivation was simply to find an exciting subject and write a story that might sell to one of the popular men’s markets at the time such as True or Argosy. I had published only two articles previously, including a personal narrative for the True Hunting Yearbook, but I had a strong and growing desire to become a free lance writer. It was not until meeting Yasuo Kuwahara, in 1956 and launching our interviews, however, that I began to realize we had a story of epic, book-length proportions. Kuwahara was one of many Japanese nationals employed by the U. S. Army at Camp Kobe where I was stationed between Kobe and Osaka, and I interviewed him for an hour or more each week day over a period of ten months. With every interview I became increasingly astonished regarding the unique and remarkable nature of his experience.
2. After fifty years on the market why is Kamikaze still relevant today?
War has always captured the human imagination, for no experience is more fraught with drama and violence, and in none are the extremes of human nature, from the most savage and degrading to the most heroic and inspiring, more powerfully revealed. No experience affects our public and private lives more fully or determines the course of entire nations, indeed history itself, so profoundly.
Although reader interest in this regard has fluctuated over the years, fascination with World War II has steadily increased throughout the past-decade and currently shows no sign of diminishing. This stems from a number of factors-above all, perhaps, our growing realization that veterans on both sides of that conflict are now old men rapidly dying off, those in America at about one-thousand a day. Many of the men who fought have gone to their graves carrying remarkable experiences they have never shared, even with their wives and children.
In consequence, those remaining are becoming acutely aware that much of that history will be lost forever if it is not recorded for future generations. Simultaneously, there is a growing desire on the part of our public at large to learn more about these things in terms of all the works that may be available--past, present, and future. Such interest, in fact, has extended reciprocally among all the major nations involved in that war including Germany and Japan, countries that have long ago evolved into democracies much like our own.
The Japanese suicide war, of course, was a unique one wherein some five thousand young pilots were required to sacrifice their lives largely by crashing their explosive-laden planes into our ships. That strategy did not reverse the tide of battle as their leaders hoped, but the Kamikaze assaults caused the greatest losses in the history of our navy. Kuwahara’s story, however, for years virtually stood alone as a highly personal human document in contrast to countless others devoted primarily to the technical and factual aspects of battle.
3. What amazes you most about Kuwahara?
What amazes me most is the entire experience that he claims to have undergone.
Secondly, I was continually impressed and often delighted over his ready ability to answer the thousands of questions I asked throughout our ten months of interviewing and do so with such spontaneity and apparent consistency. Never once did his narrative in all its unique detail falter or seem to contradict itself in our long time together. Nor did he ever seem willing, when given the opportunity, to render a given situation even more dramatic or fascinating than it already was. Always, in such cases, he would say, “No, it didn’t happen that way.”
Conversely, at times while working on the rough draft, I simply had to use logic and imagination regarding a particular scene or conversational exchange until our next interview. Often, upon reading what I had written, Yasuo would regard me in amazement and ask,“How did you know?” I only “knew” in such cases, however, to the extent that I had immersed myself in the overall experience, managed to empathize creatively, and in effect become my protagonist.
4. What is the most common question you have heard from readers?
The question asked most frequently relates to what became of Kuwahara after the war. He had been saved most remarkably by the atomic bomb itself while journeying through Hiroshima to bid his family sayonara, having just received his own suicide orders. As recounted in the chapter entitled “Hiroshima”, he had stopped off to visit some friends in the Second General Army Hospital the very morning the bomb was dropped on that city. He was a mile from the blast but protected to a degree by a house that collapsed and temporarily buried him alive. Ironically, the colossal weapon that destroyed so many of his people almost instantly also saved his life because it brought the war to an end, and nearly all Kamikaze attacks were promptly cancelled.
Shortly after the surrender, Kuwahara was released from the Japanese Army Air Force and returned to his home in Onomichi only to discover that it had also been destroyed by a bomb. Consequently, he and his family journeyed by ferry to live with some relatives on an isle of the inland sea. There they remained for several months until their home was rebuilt. Eventually he moved to Kobe where he married, fathered a son, and obtained employment with the U. S. Military as I have explained.
Eventually, following the death of his first wife from leukemia, he moved to Innoshima, having inherited a fine home and orange orchard from his deceased uncle. Eventually he remarried, had three more children, and made much of his living through various business ventures including commercial photography. He died unexpectedly about twenty years ago at age fifty six.
Often readers also ask what became of Toyoko, a beautiful young waitress in the Tokiwaya Club near the air base at Oita where he was then stationed. Toyoko was twenty-four, nearly seven years Yasuo’s senior, but they formed a poignant romantic relationship for several weeks that apparently ended with his terrifying and violent fighter escort mission for a dozen Kamikaze comrades over Okinawa. Oddly enough, I myself never asked him what became of her, simply having assumed that they went their separate ways.
5. What accounts for Kamikaze’s enduring appeal?
Yes, it is indeed enduring, having been issued in many editions over the past half century including the present extensive revision thanks to Gary Toyn of American Legacy Media. It has also been pirated by a number of countries who refuse to abide by our copyright laws. A dubious distinction perhaps yet one that attests even further to the work’s wide-ranging and ongoing popularity. It is entirely possible, in fact, that well over a million copies may be in print. I suppose, in any case, that my response to your second question about the book’s current relevance covers this one as well.
I should add, however, that our current war in Iraq and against radical Islam in general has lent this question a unique focus because both this one and the Kamikaze conflict involve enemies willing to commit suicide on a massive scale to further their objectives. There are, of course, significant differences as elaborated in the introduction to this new edition. As Americans and others who cherish freedom and democracy, none of us can condone either of those undertakings. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that the Japanese Kamikaze attacks were directed exclusively at our navy in an attempt to forestall the defeat and invasion of their country. The suicide attacks fostered by today’s terrorists, on the other hand, are designed to demoralize and destroy any so-called “infidels” including innocent women and children, who fail to endorse their tyrannical doctrines and methods.
That aside, a penchant for suicide in favor of one’s cause has long remained an enigma for many, and I believe that Kamikaze continues to combine enlightenment with an element of fascination and intrigue in that regard.
Finally, I hope that this current revision, which took as long to write as the original version, may be of higher literary caliber offering added empathy and insight respecting the Kamikaze phenomenon, the Japanese view of our world at that time, and about human nature itself.