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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 5 of 6

This doesn't go down very well with the gung-ho gang in the barracks, especially because calm argument wasn't popular in the Imperial forces. All Nagatsuka can say is, "Death leads nowhere!" His patriotic friends just say, "You place too much importance on human life!" - and for those guys, "too much" means "any whatsoever."

Is this pick-up full of flunkies worth one traffic beat cop in Tikrit?

This is the real question for a kamikaze, whether he's in a Mitsubishi Lancer in Ramadi or a Mitsubishi Zero over Okinawa : how much is your life worth? Plus the bluebook value your suicide vehicle, of course? Versus: how much is your target worth? Do the math, Rashid, before you crash that near-new SUV into a couple of minimum-wage police recruits standing on a corner in Tikrit! Because no matter how much Emperor-worship or Bushido or bullshit-o or Islamerization you tag it with, suicide missions come down to basic arithmetic.

The pilots had a good net value; the infantry didn't. Nagatsuka talks about how crummy suicide was for the "foot sloggers" who died on Saipan, because with a grenade the most they could hope to do was take one or two enemy with them. Even Sgt. Nonaka died cheap, trading the enemy one for one.

But the kamikaze who took out an aircraft carrier was making a very smart bargain, and you can see the Cadets in Nagatsuka's unit thinking this through, even if they have to talk about it in the fancy (sometimes downright campy) language of Imperial Japan. Nagatsuka puts it bluntly: "One plane against one ship, that was the basic principle." It works because one fighter is always going to be much cheaper than one carrier.

That, to me, is the biggest lesson of the kamikazes: they showed that aircraft carriers were O-vuh. It just isn't possible to invest that much money, that many planes and that many trained crew in a ship that can be disabled by one dude in a clapped-out plane like the ones the kamikazes were flying.

Kaboom: Where there's a will, there's a way

The kamikazes showed the fatal vulnerability of the carrier by sticking to naval attacks even after the Americans had Iwo Jima and Okinawa. With those islands in enemy hands, the Home Islands were doomed. But you can't take out an island with a clapped out Ki-27 and a half-trained cadet pilot. What you can do is sink or disable a carrier, a way too big basket with way too many highly flammable eggs in it.

Of course the Navy will tell you no kamikaze, Iranian or Japanese or whatever, is ever going to get close enough to a carrier these days to do that. Don't you believe it. Paul van Ripen proved them wrong in the Persian Gulf years ago, scared the navy brass to death and got disqualified for doing it. There's ALWAYS a way to take out any target, even if it's as big and bad as the Death Star. That's the one valid military lesson of Star Wars. Whoa, come to think of it, Star Wars is kind of based on WW II in the Pacific.

Kamikazes are just smart shoppers, looking to get value for money. If you give them a deal as sweet as a $10 billion carrier-plus-planes-plus-highly-trained-personnel in exchange for their crummy little lives plus a lousy plane/boat/car, they're going to take you up on it. A life is just something to sell anyway; it's just burning a hole in your pocket, unless you're some happy jock jerk. Like my other favourite quote from the good book: "We are legion."

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Gary Brecher
Browse author
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.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

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Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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