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Writing Sample 1 (Magazine Writing)

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Writing Sample 1 (Magazine Writing)

  1. 1. 1 Jenna Goodman Word Count: 2,935 Behind the Wings: A Portrait of a Kamikaze Pilot “You can see the shadow of death on my face. You see it’s my funeral portrait.” Takehiko Ena’s story begins with a photo of himself at age 22, taken before he and his fellow pilots were sent off on their missions. A former Kamikaze pilot, drafted into the Imperial Navy in December 1943 and assigned to the Kamikaze corps in March 1945 during World War II, Ena describes how, in Japan, despite Kamikaze pilots being seen as brave and courageous, the truth was that they felt it a very grim and painful order they followed out of a sense of responsibility to their country. “Our lives for our country.” In 2007, the documentary, “Wings of Defeat,” which features several former Kamikaze pilots’ stories, was broadcast in the United States and Japan. The idea for the film began with Risa Morimoto, the director and producer. After learning that her uncle was a former Kamikaze pilot, Morimoto decided to explore the history of Kamikaze pilots to find out more about who these men were. “In the spring of 2005, I was at a family gathering and my cousin mentioned the fact that our uncle trained to be a Kamikaze. I was surprised that I didn’t know this (especially since I knew him as a child when I would visit Japan).” Although her uncle had died a number of years before she started making the film, Morimoto was able to interview four former Kamikaze pilots for the documentary, including Takehiko Ena. Takehiko Ena was one of the lucky ones who survived, after crash landing near a remote island. Growing up in New York as an American citizen, Morimoto, like most other Americans, knew nothing about Kamikaze pilots other than what she was taught in school. Her images of the pilots were of the stereotypical caricatures she saw in the United States. “I still held these very western one-dimensional stereotypes
  2. 2. 2 of who these men were--that of suicidal fanatics. But this did not match the funny, endearing uncle that I knew (he died in the 1980s from cancer). I thought about it for days afterwards and realized that it was something that I needed to research more and that if I, as a Japanese American, still believed that these men were fanatics then there were many other westerners [who] probably felt the same way as well.” While the stereotypes and caricatures in the U.S. of the Japanese from World War II are insulting and overly generalized, there is no doubt that the Japanese were a brutal and relentless foe to the Americans during the war. Some of the deeds done by the Japanese military were atrocious and just about unspeakable, such as the Bataan Death March where 5,000 prisoners of war died as a result of beatings, starvation, the elements, or being executed by their Japanese captors. And although the tactic of using pilots to dive into American ships in order to cause the most destruction and death possible was a vicious method, causing Americans at the time to label the Kamikazes as fanatics, another picture has begun to emerge in the last few years, through interviews in Morimoto’s documentary and recently published diaries of the pilots written before they were sent on their missions. The men who carried out the missions were not bloodthirsty or fanatical killers; rather the majority of them were young men and boys pushed into fulfilling what was seen as their duty to their country. The decision to use such an extreme, desperate tactic came about in the last year of the war, as a result of more and more defeats, a fear of surrender or invasion, and the fear of harm coming to the emperor. According to David Howell, a professor in the Harvard University Japanese Studies department, “The emperor’s personal role in the war is a matter of ongoing controversy. Within the Japanese military there were those who wanted to end the war sooner, but they didn’t prevail over others who were worried that the allies would depose or execute the emperor. Some military leaders hoped desperately (and unrealistically) that Japan could pull off one last victory—not to win the war, but
  3. 3. 3 rather to gain leverage to negotiate with the Allies. They kept the war going for months after they knew there was no hope of victory.” So the Japanese ordered some 4,000 young men to become Kamikaze pilots, or tokkotai, meaning special attack force. Although it seems unfathomable to us as Americans today that so many men would accept the call to become Kamikaze pilots, facing almost certain death, they were influenced both by desperate circumstances and by Japanese culture. The samurai spirit and the precepts of Bushido, or the code of the samurai warrior, influenced Japan’s military as it prepared the nation for war. The orders to the Kamikaze pilots to defend the honor of Japan and the emperor by turning their airplanes into missiles, were, as a 2003 New York Times article by Ken Belson put it, “the most fanatical expression of this thinking.” Failing a mission or surrendering to an enemy meant instant shame and disgrace. The article observed, “The sentimental attachment to the samurai code runs deep. [The] Japanese form hundreds of relationships based on deep and often subtle obligations to one’s company, school or sports teams. And with those obligations come the shame in not meeting them.” That strong belief in obligations to others continues on today, evident in that “thousands of businessmen have killed themselves for letting down co-workers, companies, and families.” To be clear, the Kamikaze pilots should not be mistaken for fanatical suicide bombers, such as the ones who volunteered for the attacks on September 11th. As Takehiko Ena explains in the documentary, “On September 11, 2001, there was a suicide terrorist attack…It was truly shocking. But the international news media coined the phrase, ‘Islamic Kamikaze attacks.’ When we saw that we vehemently disagreed. We all raised our voices to protest. We really want everyone to understand the difference between terrorism and the former Kamikaze attacks.”
  4. 4. 4 Indeed, the picture we now see of the Japanese Kamikaze pilots is of innocent young men, some still boys, forced into a heart-breaking situation, a far cry from the crazy, fanatical, death-wishing suicide bombers many people envisioned. Unlike today’s suicide bombers, who are often driven by the promise of a place in the afterlife and aim to create as much destruction and death as possible, including to civilians, the Japanese pilots were aiming solely for military targets. In Morimoto’s documentary, Takehiko Ena says, “We are not volunteers. [F]rom [the] air base the commander said, ‘I want you to die. I want you to die, you are the ocean, you are the leader. I want you to be there as a Kamikaze.’…At that time, during the 1940s in Japan, there was no distinction between our individual selves and our government. They were one and the same…When the Kamikaze attacks began in 1944, Japan was literally on the verge of collapse. In such precarious times, we felt it was our mission to sacrifice our individual lives in order to protect our country.” Many of those who were assigned to be Kamikaze pilots were draftees; some were called up from aviation or military schools, others from a variety of backgrounds. According to Shiori Koizumi, a Tufts University Japanese professor who grew up in Japan and now lives in Massachusetts, a friend of her mother’s was drafted from the music school they both attended and assigned to be a tokkotai. In an excerpt from the book, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese St udent Soldiers, edited by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, containing dairies of the pilots, it becomes painstakingly obvious how little choice the men had in the matter of becoming Kamikaze pilots. “If a soldier had managed to be courageous enough not to volunteer, he would have been consigned to a living hell. Any soldier who refused would become persona non grata or be sent to the southern battlefield, where death was guaranteed. Some soldiers actually managed to say no, but their refusal was disregarded. Kuroda Kenjiro decided
  5. 5. 5 not to volunteer, only to be taken by surprise when he found his name on the list of volunteers for the Mitate Navy tokkotai corps; his superior had reported proudly that all the members of his corps had volunteered.” Military life often included severe beatings. From the very words of one pilot-in-training’s diary, “After I passed the gate to the Tsuchina Naval Air Base, ‘training’ took place day after day. I was struck on the face so hard and frequently that my face was no longer recognizable. On January 2, 1945, Kaneko (Ensign)hit my face twenty times and the inside of my mouth was cut in many places by my teeth. I had been looking forward to eating zoni [a special dish with rice cakes for the New Year]. Instead, I was swallowing blood from the inside of my mouth.” The duty of the pilots and the true feelings of some about their assignment are made clear in this excerpt from the dairies. “The tokkotai pilots were supposed to die. From the time they received their assignment, they no longer belong to this world. They could not return if they were unable to locate the enemy. A graduate of Waseda University who kept returning without finding an enemy to attack was shot to death the ninth time he came back. Many pilots did not try to ram into an American vessel because that guaranteed an explosion. Some tried to land on water near the shore instead. It was also reported that, after taking off, some returned and buzzed the officers’ quarters as if to dive into them before they disappeared in the sky.” Takehiko Ena further emphasizes the feelings of his fellow pilots, “Yeah, we thought we were not able to win. We don’t have enough fuel, enough airplanes, enough ships, nothing.” As is made apparent in the film, when supplies were running low, those in charge ordered the planes to be filled with only enough fuel to make it to the pilots’ targets. Some soldiers risked punishment and gave the pilots enough fuel to make it back home if something were to go wrong. Although the pilots steeled themselves for their impending deaths, they had to struggle with the idea. Takehiko Ena expresses the thoughts that ran
  6. 6. 6 through his head, “For a son to die before his parents, is bad karma, it’s considered ungrateful. I anguished over the fact that I was doing this. I also felt bitter disappointment at having to throw away my life when I was 20 years old. But the biggest issue, because I am human after all, was the deep instinctual fear of death. Overcoming all those psychological obstacles in my own way, I finally resolved to sacrifice my life for my country. But there’s no question that was an excruciating ordeal.” He describes his night before he was to fly out. “Let me tell you about my own, personal experience. The night before my Kamikaze mission, it was lights out at 9 PM. We were to awaken at 2 AM. During those five hours, I hardly slept at all. I thought about my parents, and about my rage at having to end my life without fulfilling all the promises of youth. But above all it was my sheer terror of death. I remember grappling with that anguish all night long. From what I could tell, none of my fellow Kamikaze slept much at all either.” No strong pull of duty to one’s country can overcome the difficulty in accepting death at such a young age. As is made clear in another part of the excerpt of the dairies of Kamikaze pilots, some did not accept their impending deaths gracefully. And who could blame them? “At the hall where their farewell parties were held, the young student officers drank cold sake the night before their flight. Some gulped the sake in one swallow; others kept gulping down [a large amount]. The whole place turned to mayhem. Some broke hanging light bulbs with their swords. Some lifted chairs to break the windows and tore white tablecloths. A mixture of military songs and curses filled the air. While some shouted in rage, others cried aloud. It was their last night of life. They thought of their parents, their faces and images, lovers’ faces and their smiles, a sad farewell to their fiancées--all went through their minds like a running-horse lantern [a rapidly revolving lantern with many pictures on it]. Although they were supposedly ready to sacrifice their precious youth the next morning for imperial Japan and for the emperor, they were torn beyond what words can express--
  7. 7. 7 some putting their heads on the table, some writing their wills, some folding their hands in meditation, some leaving the hall, and some dancing in a frenzy while breaking flower vases.” Risa Morimoto’s journey back to Japan to make her documentary unlocked many secret pasts that otherwise may have never been uncovered. After the war, “They were told to keep it a secret that they were Kamikaze. They didn’t know how the Americans were going to treat them once the occupation began. So many of them kept silent for years. My uncle did not say anything for his whole life, what happened when he trained to be a pilot. This seems to be quite common among veterans (not only Japanese veterans of war).” Morimoto explains how she was able to uncover some of the surviving pilots’ stories. “As a Japanese American woman, I think it gave me greater access for a number of reasons: having a Japanese face and speaking to them in Japanese made them feel comfortable; but being American helped because they felt they could be open with me much like when people prefer to talk to a therapist rather than a close family member about their problems; being a woman that was a couple of generations younger than them helped in t hat at their age they are eager to make sure that their stories are recorded.” Morimoto’s documentary has helped to bring new understanding of the Kamikaze pilots to those who have seen it, both in Japan and the United States. Her film received positive reactions from many viewers in Japan. “I had many people coming up to me crying, saying that they knew that was the truth behind what had happened. The Japanese were taught that they [Kamikazes] went off courageously and happily for their country. I was also thanked numerous times because many felt that a native Japanese person would not be able to make this film as it would be too biased. So my producer and I felt very lucky to have such a warm reception when we released the film in Japan. It ended up playing in theatres in 23 cities and then broadcast on NHK.” As a follow-up to the documentary, Risa Morimoto and her crew filmed a
  8. 8. 8 shorter documentary following the reuniting of two U.S. veterans with several former Kamikaze pilots, as well as the journey of Takehiko Ena and Ueshima Takeo, another former Kamikaze pilot, to the United States. Surprisingly enough, when Takehiko Ena and his fellow comrade came to the U.S. the response to them was more than positive, especially at the schools they visited. As Morimoto remembers, “The students and teachers were overwhelmed as were the pilots. They were treated like rock stars with young students following them around wanting to continue their conversations with them. It was really amazing to see teenage boys engage and be genuinely interested in them and what they had to say.” Along the way, Risa Morimoto made strong connections with the people she met while filming. “Everyone was extremely warm and hospitable (that is very common among Japanese people though). We spent many days together laughing, joking, getting to know one another. Ena san and Ueshima san came to the US to visit Stanford, Georgetown and a few high schools in the Bay area, New York and DC. They got to meet my family, and whenever I go to Japan, I visit them. I’ve met their family members as well. The great thing about making documentaries is that you often make these lifelong friendships with your subjects.” As much as viewers were able to gain a lot of knowledge from “Wings of Defeat,” Risa Morimoto took a lot from it as well. “I went into making the film with a very open mind not knowing what kind of film I would ultimately make…It was one of the highlights of my life to have had the opportunity to document this history and to meet these men. There are so many other wonderful people that I met along the way who unfortunately didn’t make it into the film. Making the film also allowed me to have a new relationship with Japan that I didn’t have before. Since I made the film, I have been going back every year so that has been great. It’s been a real adventure.”
  9. 9. 9 It is clear that we can all afford to learn a lesson about humanity and those on the “other side.” Today, years after all of the pain and suffering caused by the war, as Takehiko Ena takes a look back at his past, he sums it up by saying, “I feel a real urgency for human beings to create a way to resolve our conflicts other than through warfare. Unless we abolish war, I believe this planet is doomed.”

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