All books, good or bad, have what might be called, an embryonic origin, often, developing from a mere germ of an idea which may have originated quite by accident. The germ for Kamikaze planted in my own mind during August, 1959. The “embryo” grew rapidly.A member of the United States Army, I was a reporter in the Public Information Office at Camp Kobe, Japan, mid-way between Kobe and Osaka. Camp Kobe and immediate locale, originally built as an Olympic stadium, had been hastily converted into a Japanese airfield during World War II, and before the war's end, many a young Japanese pilot had left the vast concrete runway there, never to return. They were the Kamikaze, the suicide pilots.
On a sultry August afternoon I sat on the rear steps of the camp headquarters building, gazing onto that runwaya stretch of pocked concrete forming a great L, the lower flange of which extended to a sea wall Out where heat waves shimmered, a tattered wind sock hung limp. Something about that scene, the entire milieu, seemed steeped in the past.
A lot of planes must have left this strip during these final days, I thought. Suddenly I felt an urge to peer into the past. What a different scene, a little over a decade ago. Men like myself, men who loved, hated, dreamed, meditated men with imagination, hope, ambition - were leaving that strip, their homeland, all they had known, for the last time. Men had left the very ground before me to terminate deliberately their lives somewhere in the Pacific.
A sobering thought. Not that the experience of going to battle is a rare one. Since the human race began, men have gone off to battle bearing the strong premonition of death. Since the human race began, men have been recording, or at least preserving these experiences. But where, I began to wonder, in all the history of mankind, had thousands of people purposefully, calculatingly, covenanted with death? Where had there ever been the premeditated self-destruction epitomized by the Japanese suicide pilot, Kamikazethe human bombs which inflicted the greatest losses in the history of the United States Navy.
Yes, there was something unique. And at that point I began to wonder whether through some quirk of fate a few of those men had survived. Had any been able to change their minds at the last moment? Had any of them, once in the air, turned from their assigned course, landed somewhere and surrendered to the Americans? Had any of them been ready to go, only to be forestalled when their nation surrendered? What an experience it would be, just listening to one of those men, inducing him to reflect a little.
What a valuable experience it would be just listening to one of those Kamikaze for a few minutes, what a revelation into the aberrations of humanity. “It might make an interesting article,” I told myself.
These thoughts broiling in my head, I returned to my military duties, and during the day began querying a few of the Japanese nationals employed by the army there. It was a girl in the transportation section who gave the answer I was seeking! “Yes, I know such person. He work right downstairs in transportation department. You like to meet?”
A Kamikaze, only a few seconds away, right downstairs, employed by the very people he had once been dedicated to destroy! Thus it happened that I met a suicide pilot the very day my speculations commenced.
Yasuo Kuwahara was only twenty-six at the time of our first meeting. He had enlisted in the Imperial Army Air Forces at fifteen. Typically Japanese, he appeared neither old nor young. There was an ageless quality about him and a depth to the eyes which I wasn't to understand fully for many months.
“Mr. Kuwahara,” I said, “I’m interested in writing, and think possibly your experience in the Japanese Air Force might make a good magazine article.” This was the conventional blunt, American approach.
Had he been the writer, approaching me for a similar purpose, there would have been a good deal of formality and preliminary conversation before the subject was ever broached.
As it was, Kuwahara nodded his heada politely modified bowand merely smiled. So far as I could penetrate beyond that oriental facade, however, he seemed pleased, perhaps eager to place certain information at ay disposal. How detailed or intimate our conversations might becomethat remained to be seen. Within a few moments, however, we had planned to begin meeting during our lunch hour. Kuwahara would talk; I would listen and take notes. This was the actual beginning of an article which was later to become a full-length book.
Chapter 1 - Conception of a book Chapter 2 - Interviewing and Querying Chapter 3 - Research Chapter 4 - Documenting Chapter 5 - The Rough Draft Chapter 6 - The Book Begins Chapter 7 - Creative Problems