He Escaped Death as a Kamikaze Pilot. 70 Years Later, He Told His Story.Breaking News
tags: military history, Japan, Kamikaze, World War 2, Pacific Theater
TOKYO — For more than six decades, Kazuo Odachi had a secret: At the age of 17, he became a kamikaze pilot, one of thousands of young Japanese men tasked to give their lives in last-ditch suicide missions near the end of World War II.
As he built a family and a career as a Tokyo police officer, he kept his secret from virtually everyone, even his wife, who knew only that he had served as a Japanese Navy pilot. The experience, he felt, would be too hard to explain to a society that mostly viewed the kamikaze as maniacal zealots who volunteered for an unthinkable sacrifice.
But over the years, as Japan’s complex relationship with the war changed, Mr. Odachi gradually began to share his story with a small group of friends. In 2016, he published a memoir, recounting how he had fallen asleep each night wondering if tomorrow it would be his turn to die for a lost cause. The book was released in English translation in September, the 75th anniversary of the conflict’s end.
Mr. Odachi, 93, one of the last living members of a group never meant to survive, said he hoped to memorialize the pilots as young men whose valor and patriotism were exploited. “I don’t want anyone to forget that the wonderful country that Japan has become today was built on the foundation of their deaths,” he said in a recent interview at his home.
The kamikaze are the most potent symbol of the war in Japan, a vivid example of the dangers of fervent nationalism and martial fanaticism. But as the generation who lived through the war fades away, Japan’s opposing political sides are vying to reinterpret the kamikaze for a public still divided over the conflict’s legacy.
For the right, the kamikaze are a symbol of traditional virtues and a spirit of self-sacrifice that they believe is woefully absent from modern Japan. For the left, they are part of a generation destroyed by Japanese militarism, and a powerful reminder of the importance of maintaining the country’s postwar pacifism.
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