Tuesday, February 23, 2016

To Die for a Cause, or To Die for Hubris

Susanoo, the powerful storm god of Summer
The Japanese had experienced two times in history when the typhoon winds had destroyed an invader's fleet, and thus had saved their nation.  The result was that the Typhoon was then called The Divine Wind, and was celebrated as being sent by the gods, particularly the winds blown by Susanoo, the powerful storm god of Summer.  He was the brother of Amaterasu, the highest of holy gods, and the goddess of the Sun, and their brother Tsukuyomi, the god of the Moon.  The weather was capricious, wild, powerful, frightening.  It could not be commanded, or pushed, as it was sovereign and solitary.

Into legend the Divine Wind had entered, and the defeat of the two Mongol invasion fleets did truly cause a divergence in the path of the future.  Had the Mongols invaded, defeated the Japanese, and ruled all of Asia eventually, the present would be much different.  In the later years of World War 2 the Japanese were losing, had been suffering devastating losses of shipping and men.  The leaders of Japan struggled to find a weapon to stave off defeat and believed that they found such a weapon.  They named it with a decidedly prestigious term: it was to be called the Divine Wind.

In the use of the term I used, the weapon of the Divine Wind I did say it instead of them.  I am not trying to depersonalize the men who gave up their lives.  While some were every bit as brave and selfless about their sacrifice, some were reluctant, some tried to avoid it.  So, it is difficult to suggest that each was a part of a whole, so I refer instead to the use of planes, boats, ships, and perhaps motorized vehicles on land, had it come to that point rather than referring to the individuals.  As such I differ from many in the world of researching history.  (My MS in History wasn't focused upon WWII, but I did study US and Japan and US/Japan relations.)  There are some who have argued that with the war in the Pacific being such a race war beneath the veneer of conflict over resources and land, the Kamikaze/Divine Wind was a natural outcropping of hate towards the west.  I completely and utterly disagree with that.  If it were used upon civilian populations I might agree, but it was not.

The use of the Kamikaze/Divine Wind is very much a response to a desperate situation by a people still guided by a military code that had been formed centuries earlier.  Self sacrifice and acceptance of death is a guiding principal in Bushido. Right or wrong, the choice to use the resources available was aimed toward using the fewest to stop the most.  That a single plane could destroy an aircraft carrier or battleship was a truth that made the choice persuasive to the Japanese general staff.

The lifespan of the cherry blossom in Japan had long been considered a metaphor for the life of the samurai, or other brave souls who die too young, too soon.  The tree blossoms, beautifully, for a short time we are awed by that view, and then, almost as quickly, the blossoms fall off.  They fall like giant snow flakes, in a short time, but as they fall they catch the air and are flat, slowly falling, dead to the ground.  The spark of life is gone, but their life was spectacular.

The cliche of the kamikaze is that they were all selfless and were happy to die, giving their lives to the emperor, however much the cause was already lost.  But the reality is far more nuanced than that.  But there is a graceful, beautiful truth about them.  Many gave their lives, believed in their use, and fought the enemy bravely, however much it was futile.

The Allies fighting them in the Pacific were equally brave, and were scared to die as much and as little as their enemy.  That is how wars are fought, old men deciding how young men will die.  Young men fighting and some of the men dying.  The newspapers and other media reported that the "Jap Kamikaze pilots" were crazy.  That they were committing suicide and were insane to do this.  To hear the media of the Allies, the Japanese were aliens, impossible to understand.  But if they had watched and read the reports throughout the war, they'd have noticed, the Allies and the Japanese were in no way of speaking, alike.

You might wonder, as you often do, reading my words, what the fucking hell is my point.  I am just of a mind that when you die, even young,  I wonder, is there nothing more to say?  Is that all?

You've grown, you've learned, and by virtue of the consequences of war, life, disaster, you are now gone.  Life is just as fleeting for the corrupted, the decayed, and the rotten, but the loss of them is not a tragedy, despite being gone.  I do not know who draws the dividing line between lives of importance and those of rot.  But I do know that sending men off to war, or sending children off to their adulthood, unprepared and unready, is a tragedy.

Who among us is a shining star?  Who among us will fail life's tests?  To survive an ordeal that killed others, does that prove you are brave, or did destiny and fate pass you by?  What in this temporal world is worth the sacrifice of the young and brave? 

I had cancer, and survived it.  At the same time my wife had a co-worker with three young kids at home have a small spot on her skin checked out, thinking it was a mole.  It was cancerous, but further tests showed she had advanced cancer elsewhere and she died over the same amount of time it took for me to be treated and move on.  Should I feel guilt?  Why was I allowed to live?

I am not telling others about the Kamikaze to suggest that they died well or poorly.  That they were heroes or that they died for hubris.  But, if you get to choose, I think you should die for something you believe in.  Someone told me about their son trying to get out of the military, after he had joined because he didn't want to go to Afghanistan.  Not mocking him, but, how can anyone join the military and think they won't be sent into combat if there is a war?  Isn't that use kind of the point of the military? 

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