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The Dignity of Danger: A Novel of the Pacific War
by Everard Meade
Burning Gate Press, 1993, 168 pages

This novel tries to weave together the battle history of an American aircraft carrier with the story of the commander of one of Japan's greatest battleships and his three sons. The Sussex, an Essex-class carrier with nearly 3,000 men, gets hit by two kamikaze pilots and suffers about 1,000 fatalities. Meade, an American who served on the staff of ComAirPac (Commander Air Pacific Fleet) during World War II, attempts to present the Japanese viewpoint through the battleship commander and his family, but the Japanese characters' actions and feelings do not ring true. The author writes in the Acknowledgements section that this book is an attempt "to imagine how a handful of combatants may have felt." However, since Meade has very little familiarity with Japanese culture and military history, his portrayals of Japanese kamikaze pilots and military actions contain several inaccuracies.

The book has two parts, the first set in October 1944 and the second in March 1945. The climax of Part 1 is the sinking of the battleship Amato (slightly changed name of actual battleship Yamato), which leaves the Philippines for Okinawa in order to divert Allied planes so kamikaze pilots can be freed to make their suicide attacks. The actual sinking of the Yamato occurred six months later in April 1945, when the Japanese Combined Fleet headquarters ordered the world's largest battleship ever built to lead a small number of ships from Japan on a suicide mission to attack Allied forces in Okinawa. Part 2's action centers on two kamikaze attacks and one torpedo attack on the Sussex, which manages to stay afloat but loses one third of its crew. On the first page, Meade dedicates this novel to the officers and men of the Franklin, the aircraft carrier whose story has many parallels to that of the Sussex. A conventional Japanese dive bomber, not a kamikaze plane, dropped two bombs on the Franklin on March 19, 1945, which resulted in over 700 men killed.

Two sons of the Amato's commander join kamikaze units, but they hold different views toward making a suicide attack. When the older son Kenishi volunteers for the first unit formed in the Philippines, he feels honored to defend his country and Emperor, but at the same time he yearns for a longer life. He expresses disappointment when assigned to observe the attacks of the others in his unit and return to base to report results. Later when he learns Americans shot down the unarmed plane of the Admiral who created the first kamikaze unit, he expresses a desire for vengeance. As Kenishi flies on a mission to make his own suicide attack, he also wants to avenge the death of his father when the Amato sank, but his desire wavers as he remembers the happy times he spent with his girlfriend. The author's portrayal of Kenishi's feelings toward death seems consistent with the mixed thoughts of many kamikaze pilots who desired to defend their country but also wanted to continue living. However, the pilots usually did not express a specific desire for retribution even though the enemy had killed family members or friends.

Even though many kamikaze pilots hated military discipline and did not wish to die, very few had the extreme attitude demonstrated by Niki, the youngest son of the Amato's commander. Niki entered Army pilot training school, and he was ordered to volunteer to join a kamikaze unit. The author gives the impression that Navy pilots volunteered freely for suicide missions, whereas Army pilots were forced to join the kamikaze corps. The real story is not so clear, since many Army pilots enthusiastically volunteered to do whatever was needed to defend their homeland, and some Navy pilots were pressured by their superiors and peers to volunteer. Niki has a strong desire to escape, and on his suicide mission he manages to divert his plane and bail out over land in the Philippines. In contrast, nearly all Japan's kamikaze pilots tried to complete their missions, although a few stories are told of pilots who returned to base with mysterious engine problems.

Meade's novel has several major shortcomings. Many Japanese names appear to be invented ones, such as "Colonel Butto," which also can be considered insulting. The novel uses many navy acronyms with no explanation (e.g., DFC, LSO, IFF, CIC). The book's places and times are vague, so sometimes the action becomes difficult to follow. For instance, the story shifts abruptly from Okinawa to the Philippines in a couple of places with no explanation for the change in location (pp. 132, 165). The book has few historical details, and some details provided are inaccurate. For example, the girlfriend of one kamikaze pilot was a medical student at Tokyo University, even though coeducation there did not start until after the war. The novel introduces many characters, but they are not developed in depth to allow a reader to understand their motivations.

Although the idea of a fictional story presenting both American and Japanese views of kamikaze attacks seems promising, The Dignity of Danger will not hold a reader's interest and does not succeed in its depiction of Japanese characters.