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The War Nerd September 7, 2007
WAR NERD: Kamikaze Math
One plane for one carrier, and other lessons from Tojo’s Air Force By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 4 of 6

"'Shame on you!' shouted the CO. 'It is as if you had deserted in the face of the enemy!'...He stamped out of the room, his heels ringing on the floor. Then Flt. Lt. Uehara stepped forward and punched each of the eleven flying officers in the face."

If you're a fan of Imperial Japanese military memoirs, you know how typical that story is. Classic features: the importance of the NCO and the use of a punch in the face as punishment, teaching device, and general all-around icebreaker. As a university student and a pilot, Nagatsuki was treated with kid gloves, or at least 16 oz.'ers, and didn't get hit very often. And he says over and over again that when hit by a superior officer, he was grateful and happy about it. For example, his first solo flight is a great success except one of his wingtips crossed the yellow line. In most training bases, he might have got yelled at or made to do it over or something dull like that. Not in the old Imperial service:

"Lt. Komorizono shouted, "The tip of your wing was over the dividing line!... A disastrous fault!" A second later, I found myself on the floor - his fist had struck me full in the face."

Good old Lt. Komorizono! Nagatsuki still gets choked up remembering his old instructor.

Just to show there were no hard feelings, Komorizono calls Cadet Nagatsuki into his office the next day to congratulate him on a successful solo flight: "'...Apart from that one mistake, your landing was impeccable!... Here is your reward!' He held out a huge bag of biscuits. How good of him!"

Aw, that big-hearted, big-fisted lug!

The Japanese didn't invent the punch in the face as cornerstone of military training, of course. They got it where they got most of their military ideas: from the Prussians. The Prussian Army was recruited from the scum of Europe, and held in place by non-stop torture. The Japanese reverse-engineered that system as well as they did every other Western gadget. Then again, you have to admit that the Prussians' brutality wasn't exactly hard for anybody raised in the Samurai tradition to pick up. It's not like they had a hard time learning to bash the lower ranks.

By the time Cadet Nagatsuka came along, the war was lost and even the dumbest PFC knew it. So the NCOs in his unit had to use their initiative on other things, such as inventing new fun corporal punishments for their men. Nagatsuka tells a long story about how he stopped an NCO from humiliating a middle-aged Private, but there's a twist in the story he doesn't even seem to notice: by way of showing the NCO the error of his ways, "I was so incensed that I struck him a number of times."

Nagatsuka comes across as something half-crazy: a moderate Imperial nutcase. He even makes distinctions between different kinds of kamikaze attacks. This is the key lesson of the book, and it's one with a lot of applications for current military practice. Nagatsuka says there were two heroic suicide pilots earlier in the war who inspired the formation of "Special Project" units (kamikaze squadrons): Sgt Nonaka, who rammed his fighter into a U.S. bomber he'd failed to bring down with cannon fire, and Sgt. Oda, who rammed a U.S. recon bomber that was about to reveal the location of a Japanese fleet. Nagatsuka praises Oda for what amounts to cost/value reasons: he paid his life, plus a pretty inexpensive fighter, to save a whole fleet. Sgt. Nonaka, who's the bigger hero to the hotheads in Nagatsuka's squadron, was just another ADD casualty in Nagatsuka's mind, because he spent his life, plus a plane, bringing down one bomber out of the thousands the U.S. was sending toward Japan. Oda's action shows a plus, Nonaka's a minus for Japan.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

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