The Health of the Clear Sky

by Leonard Pierce

Suicide, as a tactic of war, seems to hold a particular horror for us.  Because it is so seemingly foreign to the West (although, really, it bears little distinction from the kind of hopeless charges entirely common to the era of modern warfare), we tend to cite it as a fundamental difference between forces.  The suicide bomber is a particularly egregious example of this, and leads some of our more hysterical observers to wonder how there can ever be peace with a people who seemingly do not value their own lives; in the Second World War, too, we seemed more able to understand the Germans, even though their hands controlled the horrendous machinery of genocide, than we did the Japanese, who threw themselves incautiously into the hail of certain death rather than be taken prisoner.  As recently as 2007, Ken Burns’ documentary The War reflected this view that Japan produced a culture of unthinkable aliens, men who were not quite men devoted to an ideal of robotic suicide in the name of honor.

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