After centuries of natural and human disasters, the nation has learned that what comes down can be rebuilt. Japanese have always had an intimate acquaintance with the destructive power of nature. But the same forces can also be benign. When a fleet carrying almost 16,000 Mongol, Chinese and Korean warriors attempted to attack Japan in 1274, a horrendous typhoon allegedly wrecked the ships and thwarted the invasion. This is the origin of the term “kamikaze,” divine wind. On that occasion, nature came to the rescue of Japan.
When Japan was in equally desperate straits in 1944, using the word kamikaze for the suicide pilots was not for nothing. Mere military efforts were no longer adequate to avoid defeat. Something more spiritual, more sacred, was called for, a sacrifice of Japan’s best and brightest youths. Then the superior American forces might turn back in awe. Or so it was hoped.
That Japan is now facing a nuclear disaster is a terrible irony, since Japan was, of course, the first country to suffer an atom bomb attack. That, too, was seen by some as a divine punishment. To watch Tokyo go up in flames in 1945, after waves of B-29’s dropped incendiary bombs and killed almost 100,000 people in a few nights, was awful, but it was still comprehensible. For an entire city to be wiped out in seconds by one bomb was more like a force of nature.