Kamikaze Pilots and War with Japan

U.S. General Douglas MacArthur (center) wading ashore with his troops in the Philippines.
The Rising Sun Flag, flown by Japan’s military forces during World War 2.
American soldiers evacuating an injured comrade in the Solomon Islands.
Territories controlled by Japan in 1942 shown in green. Japan itself is shown in dark green.
Japanese aircraft in a suicide dive against an American ship. Japanese Kamikaze pilots carried out such attacks.
A religious figure has been erected atop a pile of rubble in the Japanese city of Nagasaki. The photo was taken six weeks after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city.
An American wartime internment camp, used to accommodate Americans of Japanese descent.

The United States had not been fully prepared for a major war when it was plunged into World War II in 1941. Retooling peace time industries to wartime production took time, and as a result, the beginning of the war went badly for the U.S.

When the American production of war material finally picked up, the world war slowly started to turn in favor of the Allied powers. However, by now, the Axis powers controlled large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa, and defeating them would be both difficult and cost many human lives.

Sniper nests

In the Pacific theater, the Americans fought the Japanese, who were intent on incorporating Southeast Asia into their growing empire. The valiant Japanese soldiers going to war here were trained to fight to never give up, and were they bound to lose a battle, often waited out their deaths buried in underground caves or inaccessible sniper nests. This tactic made American advances deadly and time-consuming, since Japanese contingents, when dug in and mostly covered, could inflict serious casualties on confounded enemies before themselves being neutralized.

Kamikaze pilots

In part due to the Japanese’s propensity to either win or die, the Pacific War dragged on for years. Still, the U.S. military was advancing, and as the Americans, in late 1944, were closing in on mainland Japan, the Japanese grew desperate. Frantic to repel the Allies, Japan now ordered kamikaze pilots to plunge their planes straight into American warships. The suicidal missions wreaked havoc in the U.S. navy and prompted the Allied superpower to drop their newly-built atomic bombs on Japan. The overwhelming power of the new bombs, the U.S. leadership hoped, would force the Japanese to a quick surrender, and thereby end the American bloodshed.

Subsequently, as expected, after dropping atomic bombs on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, instantly killing about 150 000 people, Japan finally capitulated.

American internment camps

After Japan’s surrender, also in 1945, the U.S. government released approximately a hundred thousand people of Japanese ancestry from American internment camps. Most of them were American citizens. For three years, they had been forced to live unfree lives in barracks behind barbed wire for fear that they, perchance, would be loyal to Japan.