An evaluation of the conceptual similarities and differences between the strategic logic of the religiously motivated suicide attacks of Tokkotai kamikaze and al-Qaeda shahid.
What motivated members of al-Qaeda to hijack commercial airliners and crash them into the sides of buildings? Is it similar to what motivated Japanese fighter pilots to crash their jets into the sides of American aircraft carriers? If so, what can these two seemingly disparate phenomena tell us about the nature of the relationship between religion and violence? Finally, were the attacks of the two groups both responses to American actions abroad (which is often described as “American imperialism”)? While Americans no longer face the threat of attack from kamikaze pilots, the attacks of September 11, 2001 by members of al-Qaeda demonstrated that the threat of suicide attack by Islamic extremists, or shahid, is very real. Despite the efforts of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and the branches of the United States military as well as dozens of their sister agencies in other countries, the number of religiously motivated suicide attacks perpetrated against the United States has increased exponentially since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, though the most devastating event remains the attacks on September 11, 2001. The only other time that the United States and its allies have faced suicide attacks of this volume and magnitude occurred in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Those attacks were carried out by the pilots of the Tokkotai, more commonly known as the kamikaze of the Empire of Japan. There are several significant similarities between the suicide attacks perpetrated against the U.S. by members of al-Qaeda and those perpetrated against the U.S. by the Tokkotai, most notably the utilization of religious rhetoric to justify suicide attacks. This dissertation will compare these two groups, investigating the histories of their foundational religions (Shinto and Islam) and their radical interpretations (State Shinto and Jihadism), their historical interactions with the West, and their utilization of suicide attacks in their fight against perceived oppression by the United States.