67.3 August 2020

The Rhetoric of Kamikaze Manuals

By Naoko Ozaki, Jillian Hill, and Mike Duncan


Purpose: We rhetorically explore the phenomenon of kamikaze attacks from a technical communication and rhetorical perspective by analyzing two 1945 Japanese military manuals, directed, respectively, to officers and pilots on how to organize and conduct suicide attacks against American warships.

Method: We examine Japanese military ideology at a particular stage in the war to contextualize a rhetorical analysis of the two translated texts. We explore rhetorical dynamics implicit within the text, the texts as part of the instructional genre, and ethical concerns particular to the context of the texts and desired actions they describe.

Results: We explore different complementary and dynamic rhetorical aspects of the texts, such as their approach to their respective audiences, the recurring subjects of remorse and questioning orders, the normalization of the suicidal act, the need for mental toughness in the pilots, the recurring use of the imperative mood, and the dehumanizing role of images. We conclude that certain pilot mortality affects the instructional form, the language reinforces the inevitability of the suicidal act, the images included dehumanize the act further, and the manuals seem created to address potential disciplinary issues.

Conclusion: Through the genre of procedure, the two manuals help legitimize and normalize an invariably suicidal act. The two manuals are gripping case studies for discussion of ethical technical communication across cultures, in situational context, and as instructional genre, illustrating the power of written procedure to facilitate extreme acts. We suggest further studies in military technical communication, emphasizing cultural differences between different militaries.

Keywords: manuals, ethics, rhetorical analysis, military documentation, World War II

Practitioner’s Takeaway:

  • These two Japanese military manuals, written to facilitate suicide attacks in wartime, serve as exemplar case studies of ethical extremes in technical communication.
  • These manuals are excellent examples of how powerful the genre of procedure can be to normalize and rationalize even the most extreme tasks.
  • The pedagogy of manual writing can be enhanced by the use of such gripping examples, especially cross-culturally.
  • Further research into military documentation, especially those not yet translated into English, from the perspective of technical communication and rhetoric would be fruitful.


The manual genre in technical communication aims to help readers accomplish a task that they either could not do alone or could do more efficiently with assistance from the text. But what if the task at hand is to successfully kill yourself as well as others?

Early to middle 1945 saw Imperial Japan in near-complete disarray, both militarily and economically. With its navy, air force, and merchant fleets shattered, mainland Japan was on the verge of an American ground invasion that, according to widespread American propaganda, could come at any time. With Japan’s bushido code of no surrender for its soldiers (and civilians), coupled with American determination to end the war, an American invasion of Japan likely would have meant millions of deaths, given the determination by which the Japanese had defended small volcanic islands like Iwo Jima in February and March of 1945. Japanese commanders did not know the atomic bomb that would destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki was coming, so they were facing, in their minds, a near-certain conventional invasion.

In this desperate context appeared the Togo, an abbreviation rendered roughly “special attack squadron” (Togo is principally used in existing literature but may be transliterated as Togô or Togoo), which consisted of organized and officially sanctioned groups of desperate pilots willing to fly their fuel- and explosives-laden planes directly into American naval vessels in order to damage or destroy them and, thus, to forestall the invasion and national defeat. In the West and in certain Japanese contexts, these pilots are typically called kamikaze, loosely translated as “divine wind.”

In this article, we explore the phenomenon of kamikaze attacks in 1945 through a rhetorical analysis of a technical text that we translated for the first time into English: a Japanese military manual directed to Togo officers on how to organize and conduct suicide attacks against American warships. This manual (later referred to as Manual 1) is 22 pages long and contains several distinctive images reproduced in this article. We have not yet examined the original, but we have a high-quality scan courtesy of the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots in Japan, where the original is located. We also examine excerpts from another 1945 Togo manual (later referred to as Manual 2), 88 pages long, which is available only in English translation through the 2002 book Kamikaze: Japan’s Suicide Gods. We have leads on other such manuals in existence, but these two examples suffice to demonstrate the genre and open the door to further exploration.

Technical instructions typically promote agency in the user by affording the opportunity to complete a task. As technical communication professors, we first became interested in analyzing these manuals as particularly extreme examples of the genre that test the boundaries of what can be considered technical instruction. Through our rhetorical analysis of these documents and their unique context, we show that they, through procedure, reinforce the decision to become “living missiles” as a rational choice. It is always difficult to match documents to effect, but the relative “success” of the Togo squadrons suggests they played some persuasive role in ensuring discipline among pilots that were internally struggling with their impending deaths.

We begin by providing some historical context as well as a discussion of Japanese military ideology in the last stage of the war; second, we describe relevant literature and our method of approach; third, we discuss our findings from our rhetorical analysis of the two manuals; and fourth, we note the special ethical concerns that the texts raise, before making some final conclusions.

Historical Context and Ideology

As mentioned before, 1945 saw the Japanese military in severe distress. American forces were about to land on Okinawa, which was adjacent to the Japanese home islands, and few Japanese naval vessels remained to oppose them. While there were still thousands of Japanese warplanes left, since the disastrous Battle of Midway in 1942, there had been a severe shortage of skilled pilots that was now crippling the war effort. This made even conventional air attacks near suicidal, as they largely had to be made by inexperienced pilots in decrepit aircraft against increasingly plentiful and better-armored American planes. At least 250 carrier pilots, a “year’s graduating class,” were lost at Midway alone (Horne, 2012).

It is unclear who launched the first kamikaze attack, but they seem to originate spontaneously in mid-late 1944. Suicide attacks were made by pilots of other nations, such as the Germans (Feifer, 2012), but they were not organized. The first “official” Togo unit was formed in October of 1944 by Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi (Correll, 2015) during the second battle of Leyte Gulf, but the bulk of organized, sanctioned kamikaze attacks occurred during the Battle of Okinawa in April–June 1945, when nearly 1,500 planes and pilots (the vast majority of whom were inexperienced) were used to sink approximately 24 American ships (Baer, 1996). In the battle for the Philippines, approximately 500 pilots were lost in suicide attacks (Correll, 2015). Overall, during the war, Japanese pilots flew over 2,500 suicide sorties (missions with multiple planes and pilots, and not counting escorts or observers), sinking 33 American ships, killing 4,900 American sailors and wounding 4,800, with about 4,000 Japanese pilots lost (Correll, 2015).

The Japanese navy and army were issued a pocket-sized “Instructions for the Battlefield,” or Senjinkun, published in January 1941, which portrayed surrender or capture as strictly forbidden and dishonorable (Correll, 2015). Copies of this directive were even distributed to the Japanese civilian population by 1945. The entire country, in effect, was operating under this code by that time—a code punishable by execution and implied consequences for the family of the disobeyer. Also, in February 1944, General Hideki Tojo, prime minister and head of the military, issued an “emergency declaration,” where he essentially stated that all of Japan had to be prepared to die, using the phrase ichioku gyokusai, “100 million shattering like a jewel” (Sato, 2017).

These directives are perhaps stark by Western standards, but they have a history and grounding in a moral code. They stem directly from bushido, the samurai (the historical warrior caste of Japan) way of life, which espouses personal qualities like loyalty, skill in martial arts, frugality, and honor. A key aspect to bushido is the act of seppuku, where a dishonored samurai voluntarily commits suicide if sufficiently dishonored or wounded, or is ordered to do so by a superior. The Japanese army and navy in WWII, through the Senjinkun and propaganda, were quick to link the sense of duty in bushido to the war effort. Historically speaking, bushido was a code for samurai, but, in WWII, this was extended to the common soldier, sailor, or pilot, who now saw capture or surrender as unthinkable. It is difficult to draw a close link between seppuku and Togo suicide attacks, but they do have in common the concept of a suicidal act that grants or restores honor to the subject, family, or country. This mindset was not limited to Togo pilots; the mass suicides of both Japanese soldiers and civilians during the invasion of Okinawa paralleled the intense kamikaze attacks of the war off the coast (Shimpo et al., 2014, p. 3).

It is safe to say, then, that the Japanese cultural mindset in 1945 was favorably inclined toward desperate military attacks that would have been unthinkable even a few years before, in early 1942, when the war was going in Japan’s favor. Steady American successes, starting with the Battle of Midway in 1942, drained morale to the point that the kamikaze attack emerged as a reasonable alternative to conventional aerial warfare of the time, where the two main kinds of naval conventional bombers, dive bombers and torpedo planes, were used to attack ships. The pilots of these more conventional aircraft at least had a chance of returning to a carrier or airfield; the only chance for a Togo pilot to return was if he failed to locate a target. Contrary to popular legend, Japanese conventional pilots during the war were indeed issued parachutes, but most refused to wear them as they did not want to be captured and they got in the way of flying (Caidin & Saito, 1957).

The typical Togo pilot was from the “upper ranks of university students in intelligence, sensitivity, and culture” and most were volunteers. Those willing to serve were twice as numerous as the available planes (Feifer, 2012, p.156). Their typically artful parting letters are well known, such as in this excerpt:

The Japanese way of life is indeed beautiful and I’m proud of it, as I’m proud of Japanese history and mythology, which reflect the purity of our ancestors . . . And the living embodiment of all wonderful things from our past is the Imperial Family, which is also the crystallization of the splendor and beauty of Japan and its people. It is an honor to be able to give my life in defense of these beautiful and lofty things (Feifer, 2012, p. 157).

It is important to reiterate here, especially in a 21st century age of peacetime terrorism, that the Togo attacks were expressly directed toward military targets. Loose comparisons could be made between the Togo pilots and the September 11, 2001 hijackers, who apparently had a highly religious “Last Night” document with detailed instructions (New York Times). However, the Togo pilots, immersed in bushido culture and wishing to defend their homeland from direct, devastating military attack (or, hopefully, to force the US to sue for peace), operated well within the expectations of wartime behavior by attacking warships and other military targets. Their attacks were unorthodox, but the equal of suicidal attacks has happened in wars throughout history. What made the Togo pilots unique is their highly organized, even mechanistic operation, enabled by the language and structure of their manuals.


Because Manual 1 is written in an older dialect of Japanese, it was necessary to first translate the text from older Japanese to modern Japanese, and then to English. This complex task was chiefly undertaken by one of the authors who is a native Japanese speaker; her credentials also include a Ph.D. in literacy, culture, and language education and experience teaching multiple levels of Japanese.

We then rhetorically analyzed the text in a similar manner to how a wide variety of technical communication texts in the literature have been treated, such as engineering documents (Ding, 2001), 16th century commercial reports (Moran, 2002), corporate privacy policy statements (Markel, 2005), scientific papers (Reeves, 2005), and CEO letters (Conaway, 2010), among others. We placed a special emphasis when collaborating on what rhetorician Michael Leff has called “the effort to interpret the intentional dynamics of a text” (“Things,” 1992, p. 223) with the goal of producing “an account of the rhetorical dynamics implicit within it [the text]” (“Legacy,” 1986, p. 378). In other words, we wanted to learn how the authors of these manuals intended for them to function rhetorically, by our describing how the various argumentative elements present in the text worked together to achieve the author’s intentions—the implicit “rhetorical dynamics.” Our initial examination of Manual 1 suggested that its paragraph-centric structure had an additive or cumulative rhetorical effect on the reader that could best be explained by such a holistic view.

The usefulness of prior examinations of instructional materials in the literature to our analysis is limited. There has been extensive exploration of motivational content (Loorbach et al., 2013; Loorbach et al., 2007; Loorbach et al., 2006); as well as instructional design, namely system states, streamlined-step and step-rich procedures (Farkas, 1999; Gellevvij & van der Meij, 2004); the use of prominent headings, multimodal qualities, and organizational strategies (Ganier, 2004); and the importance of genre (Miller, 1984), but none of this research examines any instructional tasks remotely as serious and extreme as wartime suicide attacks. However, we found Farkas’s (1999) terminology particularly useful for our analysis: specifically, the four system states; desired, prerequisite, interim, and unwanted; allowed us to describe the subgoals of the authors of the manuals, and “step-rich” is a good description of both manuals as a whole in that they are “more loosely constructed” than the “streamlined-step” approach (p. 44).

Few extant studies on military technical communication seem to fit our task. The ancient and medieval military manuals that Bliese (1994) reviews, for example, are exclusively for high-level commanders in elite social classes and offer strategies for using ground troops in conventional conflicts. Other military discourse studies roughly parallel to ours suggest, curiously, that there are many important artifacts to be explored in military documents, but none of them ever reflect well on the military. Negative verdicts of military discourse include sexism in a U.S. vehicle maintenance manual (Bernhardt, 1992), communicative incompetence by a Civil War general (Loges, 1995), dangerous negligence to a nearby civilian community by a U.S. facility (Dragga & Gong, 2014), and inconsistency to the long-term detriment of soldier health in medical discourse (Lindsey, 2015).

Bernhardt’s 1992 study of two versions (1970 and 1990) of an Army maintenance manual using cartoon images of women is illustrative. The artifact itself is fascinating just on its “anachronistic” visual qualities alone (p. 218), but as Bernhardt rightly notes, condemning its sexism is largely pointless, as “a rhetoric of visual attractiveness will continue to exploit gender” (p. 221). The value of Bernhardt’s analysis, then, as with ours, lies in the ability to describe how the instructional rhetorical maneuvering—in Bernhardt’s case, “using sex to sell” (p. 221) the need for vehicle maintenance—functions uniquely within a military context.

RHETORICAL Analysis of Manual 1

Manua1 1 is 22 pages long on 5-inch x 3.5-inch paper. Its small size suggests that it could be carried folded or unfolded in a pocket to refresh one’s memory or to quote from it. The paper is inexpensive and it could be easily replaced if damaged, destroyed, or lost. The table of contents (Figure 1) includes an overview, two chapters, and appendices. A total of 49 steps are articulated in Chapters 1 and 2. Manual 1 is clearly a procedural document, given it is prefaced with an overview, includes step-rich sequential directives, integrates multiple headings throughout, and features multiple images. Figure 2 is a sample excerpt taken from Chapter 1 that, upon a cursory glance, illustrates the cumbersome nature of the majority of steps included. More specifically, there are too many points listed for easy memory retrieval, and they are general in nature and not elaborated well.

The division between the two formal chapters, Attack Preparation and Attack Implementation, feels arbitrary. The real organization seems to be by paragraph, each numbered, with 49 paragraphs total. We will not reproduce all of them here, but will rather examine critical passages thematically. However, we note that the entire manual, once read through, has a noticeable additive effect. Individually, each paragraph serves as a dry instructional maxim, but taken all together, they make the act of suicide seem inevitable by providing only one path—toward death.

The author is unknown and anonymous, but, presumably, Manual 1 was written above the rank of a Togo commanding officer with the images possibly added by an assistant or assistants. It also appears that this manual could be used in multiple Togo units as its orders are not from any specific source and are applicable to several tactical situations. There is no indication that the manual was directed from a superior, suggesting that the officer who did write it may have done so at his own discretion, feeling that such a document would be useful to reinforce orders and serve as a training tool.

The intended audience is the “high-level” commander of a Togo squadron, who would in turn be commanding the individual pilots. As such, the manual represents an organizing force in the officer’s and his pilots’ lives; it governs their conduct and purpose. Pilots would not see this manual in normal conditions, though it is quite possible some of it was used verbatim as teaching material. Given the new nature of Togo attacks, the manual would have been valuable for establishing these squadrons, especially if the commanders, having never commanded such a squadron before, had questions on how to proceed.

Even with this focus on the officer in command, Manual 1 still falls safely within the states model of procedural discourse described by Farkas (1999) as it often, deliberately or not, blends the pilots’ roles with those of the officers. The desired state is the destruction of the target vessel; the prerequisite state is locating the target; the interim states are getting into position to attack; unwanted states include making a bad approach that misses the target (Farkas, 1999; van der Meij & Gellevvij, 2004) or questioning the mission. If it were completely focused on officers, the manual would have concentrated more on matters of discipline; as is, the document is a blend between action and motivation.

Near the beginning, in passage 3, there is an admonition that introduces a recurring element of remorse and questioning:

(3) The true purpose of Togo troop is to go over and beyond life-and-death, and to exert completely the unique battle power with mentality of truly [ikan-naku] (completely, without remorse) and risk their own lives and excellent battle skills, and to [bakushin shoototsu] (dash and crash) into the enemy’s moving or stationed ships, invariably sink them, and then to destroy the enemy’s plan so that doing so opens up the paths to success for all of the [Japanese] military. As seen here, the success of this attack stems truly in the spiritual strength of the in-air workers.

The concept of ikan-naku (completely, without remorse) seems odd to include if the pilots did not have any doubt; there is, then, a tacit betrayal of the possibly questionable nature of the order. This suggests, then, the possible presence of an unwanted state.

(4) Togo troops need to, no matter what, sink the target (without questioning) of the types and sizes of the enemy’s ships, ordered by the High-Level Commander.

‘Without questioning,’ of course, presupposes the idea of questioning, another unwanted state. These two words in the span of Sections 3 and 4 suggest, then, the document has some ethical seams. The manuals aim to shut down doubts not only in the officer’s mind but in his subordinate pilots as well. The very act of questioning gets in the way of following orders and is to be avoided. Also, the claim that a successful attack “opens up the paths to success for all of the [Japanese] military” is telling in that, taken literally, the message is that the fate of the entire Japanese military is dependent on the success of the Togo squadrons. They are not aiding, helping, assisting, or striking a blow—they are a necessary vanguard for any eventual victory or peace without surrender. The early placement of this claim suggests it is foundational for the overall rhetorical effect of reinforcing of the mission’s inevitable conclusion—the desired state of death.

To further support the desired state, Manual 1 consistently strives to normalize its intended task of suicide attacks:

(26) Although it varies depending on the condition, particularly the airplane types, weather conditions, etc., charging is [done] by a steep descent or extremely low-altitude flight. In either case, it is necessary to choose appropriately the point of charging and its start time of the attack in order to get the expected result by crashing into the enemy’s ship.

The “expected result by crashing into the enemy’s ship” is quite distant from “killing yourself and as many American sailors as possible by flying your plane into a deliberate suicide attack.” There is never any question about whether or not the attacks are unusual; they are presented as ordinary wartime maneuvers. The absence of doubt is substantial; the manual makes killing yourself for your country just another procedure. If the commander has doubts, he needs only to consult his manual. Furthermore, we suggest that, even early on, Manual 1 represents what we call, for lack of a better term, a closed procedure. The path to attempted suicide for the pilots in the procedure is singular and inevitable. Even if the officer disregards the manual entirely, its directives remain. One way or another, the Togo will commence their attacks and die. Death is the only available path; there is no other desired state.

Continuing to reinforce the desired state, the manual emphasizes seeshin-teki yooso (mental or emotional strength):

(6) In order to complete the assigned tasks, Togo troop [members] have to possess not only seeshin-teki yooso (mental or emotional strength) but also eyes that can determine opportunities and skills in order to achieve goals. For this, it is necessary to seek any opportunity after arriving at a battlefield and also to be devoted in training to value, and use even one second of leisurely time (for a goal).

There is also the related ishi o motte (to own a clear will):

(22) Although whether they should continue to move forward if the [Togo troop] encounters an enemy battle plane while moving forward depends on the commands of the high-level commander, the attack force commander is to judge the conditions of that time appropriately and do his best to avoid the start of a battle. Although the guard force and Togo troop often become separated if the battle begins in the air, it is necessary for the direct guard force to avoid being separated from Togo troop. If it is inevitable and they become separated, the Togo troop commander needs to quickly [ishi o motte] (own a clear will) and continue moving forward.

And, finally, there is “burning determination”:

(37) At the time of the attack, it is generally the case that the conditions the Togo troop would encounter are extremely difficult and harsh. It is inevitable that [we] predict various types of confusion and mistakes. Even so, each airplane needs to calmly proceed with a deadly attack with a burning determination to sink the target, and to accomplish the assignment to completion.

As to why the author includes these psychological qualities, like the earlier ikan-naku (completely, without remorse), if one has to mention it, it may not be present. The emphasis on mental power and will is telling; we would not see this in a pilot’s manual that did not assume the pilot was going to die. However, from everything about the Togo pilots that we have read and discerned, there does not seem to have been a practically significant morale problem among the pilots in that none are recorded to have backed out. Any defection would have led, of course, to immediate execution, and the pilots, as we will discuss later, were naturally racked with fear and doubt even as they followed orders. Still, the references to mental strength or will are a failsafe, in that the Togo high-level commander needed to monitor the pilots for potential lapses in willpower. It could be a way for the writer to emphasize the difficulty of what he is asking of the pilots and their commander, but, given the language in the rest of the manual, this would be an exception to the typical authoritative distance, which is chiefly created by tone.

(7) . . . It is of utmost importance for the attacking force commander to have thorough knowledge about the yooryoo of the Togo troop commander’s attack.

Yooryoo is the term used for plans and for the manual itself; it is a very serious word that means anything from outlines, key points, instructions, or a manual. Accordingly, the entire manual is in the imperative mood and the text in its original dialect is emotionless and dry; it contains no deviations from formal politeness, which contrasts its violent subject matter. There is a huge emphasis on efficiency; Togo attacks must be highly organized and orders must be obeyed without question. There is no room or reason for deviance. The only discretion allowed Togo pilots is being able to return when they are unable to locate the target or targets:

(23) If it is inevitable that the [Togo troop] returns due to conditions, especially the interference of the weather, being unable to find the target, etc., Togo in-air workers, without being disappointed, need to be prepared for the next attack with even a stronger ishi (will) . . .

Not being able to reach this prerequisite state must have been both relieving and simultaneously frustrating for the pilots. After having prepared themselves to die, they fail to find their target, reaching an unwanted state, and instead return to base. Fortunately, the manual provides the solution, which is an order not to be disappointed and to prepare for the next attack. What seems to be an escape from duty becomes, again, the single path, which, according to the next directive, must be followed right up to the instant of death:

(32) As for immediately before the crash, as pressing the elevator(s) (down) completely by increasing the speed, it is important not to lose the sight of the target by closing the eyes for a split second.

While this is a high-level (for officers) manual, there are some vivid instructions for pilots such as this one. This advice is repeated in Manual 2, and the doubling suggests the advice was common. Given the approach speeds of the planes being over a hundred knots, it is good advice for increasing the chance of hitting the target. It is also, in our opinion, chilling. Even just before impact, the pilots cannot even close their eyes; total commitment is necessary throughout the entire doomed flight.

Additionally, there is a great deal of material and thought put into what kind of approach the plane should take, which depends on the situation. A sampling follows:

(30) In the case of surprise attack, a very low altitude horizontal attack is to be [made] when the height of clouds is low, at night, at dawn, at dusk, or when using airplane types such as “airplane 67” or “airplane 45,” etc., and in responding to the conditions at the time, [the troop] is to do a dive or a horizontal crash.

(31) Although the point of crash varies depending on the airplane types, target types, size, speed, etc., [the target] should be the center of the deck in the case of a steep dive crash. If possible, it is best if it is around the area between the chimney[s] and the bridge, or the elevator if it is an aircraft carrier, and the area slightly above the waterline in the center is good in the case of a very low altitude horizontal crash.

These two approaches, the dive and the horizontal, mimic the two common naval bombing techniques at the time: the dive bomber and the torpedo bomber. A dive bomber would approach from a high altitude and dive at a steep angle toward the target, increasing speed and accuracy dramatically before dropping its bombs at the more thinly armored top of the target ship (Smith, 1982). Pulling out of the dive left the bomber vulnerable to attack as monoplanes of the era were slow climbers, but with the Togo, there was no concern for escape. A torpedo bomber, on the other hand, flew low and slow toward the target ship, usually in large groups to maximum success, and dropped a torpedo into the water that would then accelerate toward the ship, often from a 45-degree angle, and explode near the waterline of the target’s hull.

It made sense to Japanese commanders to adapt these two already tested techniques to kamikaze warfare, particularly the simultaneous use of multiple aircraft. According to the text, Togo attacks were organized into groups of up to 10 planes, including a lead plane with a more experienced pilot who located targets, the Togo planes themselves, and escort planes that protected the attacking Togo pilots from American air-to-air fighters. This structure seems not only intended to overwhelm American air defenses, but also to maintain morale and discipline. If a Togo pilot saw a squadmate’s plane make its final dive, he was more likely to do likewise. In this way, the manual emphasizes that the pilot is not alone when he makes his final approach; it is a team effort. However, at least according to paragraph 36, only one plane was to attack each target, so it is possible that a given Togo pilot would not be able to glance at an ally’s plane for reassurance before the final approach.

While the language of the manual is compelling, the images are perhaps the most striking component of Manual 1. There are four images within Manual 1, which we will refer to as “Dive,” “Formations,” “Attack Assignments,” and “Dive II,” labeled as images 3, 4, 5, and 6, respectively. Each, along with the imperative text, contributes to an abstracted, clinical perspective that dehumanizes and renders abstract the horrific act of these pilots’ suicides.




Figure 3. Dive

Figure 4. Formation

Figure 5. Attack assignments

Figure 6. Dive II

However, perhaps most notable about these images is what they do not include—any real aspect of hurtling hundreds of miles an hour in a plane toward a collision with a huge, near-stationary steel target that is actively shooting back, or the sudden explosion in a giant ball of fire and debris. Instead, as in “Dive,” the reader sees a simple triangle, with the hypotenuse being the path of the plane. The plane is nearly the same size as the target, not even an attempt at scale. This visual depiction creates an abstract fantasy world. All the pilot must do is look up what kind of plane he will be flying and memorize the correct airspeed, altitude, and attack angle (through the accompanying table). A fiery, violent suicide is reduced to an easy-to-solve trigonometry problem. There are only numbers and angles. This basic outline is repeated in “Dive II,” which offers shallower and deeper approaches, respectively, described further in Sections 26–30.

The other two images, “Attack Assignments” and “Formations,” are no less dehumanizing and simplifying. “Attack Assignments” renders, again, the planes and the ships as the same size, and draws a mere connecting line between plane and ship to represent the desired approach. The same goes for “Formations”—there is no humanistic content, only triangles and lines. We suspect these simple images were copied to chalkboards for use in pilot instruction and their abstract nature kept discussion at the level of technique.

Best practice in image placement suggests that images are most effective when integrated in close proximity to the directive they illustrate. However, all of the images included in Manual 1 appear as appendices, which could have made referencing them in juxtaposition with directives cumbersome. We suspect that the images were added at a later time, perhaps because the directives by themselves are hard to mentally picture.

Conclusions about Manual 1

Based on these observations, we would make four global arguments about Manual 1. First, this manual was written for commanding those who are certain to die in action, as opposed to a more conventional military manual written for those with at least a chance of surviving enemy action. This vastly different sense of pilot mortality affects the form of the instructions, in that typical safety information, basic defensive measures, or maintenance procedures are not considered; the manual’s nature is entirely offensive and single-pathed toward the desired state.

Second, for the Togo pilots, immersed in a bushido-driven culture, hearing about their friends dying in action (making it difficult to excuse not risking their lives as well), living under the Japanese Field Service Code that forbade surrender or capture, and faced with an imminent ground invasion of Japan’s home islands (reinforced strongly by American propaganda), the most rational and really the only choice was to become a living missile. Thus, these manuals reinforced their justification of desperate yet reasonable and rational action. This is not to say that we, the authors, think their actions were reasonable and rational, but rather, the pilots and commanders thought so, and manuals like this one provided an inevitable procedure to fall back upon in moments of doubt.

Third, the images in Manual 1 dehumanize and render abstract the horrific act of these Togo pilots’ suicides, portraying them as a mechanical, mathematical exercise. Suicide is rendered as trigonometry. The math is necessary, but the chasm between the images and the humans obliterated in an instant is wide. There is a brief glimpse of possible empathy in passage 3, as noted before, but it seems to be a slip of an otherwise authoritative mask.

Fourth, Manual 1 serves as an excellent example of authoritarian professional discourse that was apparently effective to some degree, in the sense there are no documented instances of Togo pilots defying their orders. Some may have flown but deliberately missed their targets, perhaps, but the existent diaries and letters cannot testify to the final flights. We cannot connect the manual directly to the effectiveness of Togo unit discipline, but the existence of the manual and its arguments suggest that discipline was a concern.

Analysis of Manual 2–‘Basic Instructions for To-Go Flyers’

In 2002, Albert Axell and Hideaki Kase published translated-into-English excerpts from an 88-page manual dated May 1945, “compiled by the Shimoshizu Air Unit in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo” (p. 27). Unlike Manual 1, directed to a commander, Manual 2 is intended for the actual pilots. Its very late date after the battle for Okinawa suggests, like Manual 1, that it is intended for attacks in the event of an American invasion of the Japanese home islands.

Our remarks on Manual 2 cannot be as extensive as for Manual 1, as we have been so far unable to locate the Japanese text of Manual 2. As such, the larger organizational strategy, or any graphics, are unavailable. However, we can make several important observations, given that the translated excerpts provided by Axell and Kase are indeed representative of the manual as a whole, and we also have Manual 1 for comparison.

The main focus of Manual 2, based on the translated excerpts, is threefold: 1) mental and spiritual preparation, 2) technical instruction, and 3) vivid and lurid description of the suicidal act. We have reproduced them here as they are presented in Axell and Kase’s manuscript.

Pilot preparation shares an emphasis on mental and spiritual preparation with Manual 1:

(PAGE 3)

The Mission of To-Go Units

Transcend life and death. When you eliminate all thoughts about life and death, you will be able to totally disregard your earthly life. This will also enable you to concentrate your attention on eradicating the enemy with unwavering determination, meanwhile reinforcing your excellence in flight skills.

Exert the best in yourself.

Strike an enemy vessel that is either moored or at sea.

Sink the enemy and thus pave the road for our people’s victory. (p. 78)

The repeated short imperative statements here, like in Manual 1, are effectively maxims, a terse declaration of essential wisdom and action. They are easy to remember if studied individually and demonstrate well the manual’s assumption of authority. Indeed, much like religious discourse, the primary rhetorical appeal for both manuals is an appeal to authority, as we might expect from any military manual. However, in this desperate context, that same appeal becomes much more morbid in Manual 2 than the style of Manual 1.

The technical instructions are helpful, though, like Manual 1, they are a bit vague, trying to hit a middle or moderate approach to figuring out the dive.

(PAGE 33)

Dive Attack

This varies depending on the type of aircraft.

If you are approaching the enemy from a height of 6,000 metres, adjust your speed twice; or from a lower height of 4,000 metres, adjust speed once.

When you begin your dive, you must harmonize the height at which you commence the final attack with your speed.

Beware of over-speeding and a too-steep angle of dive that will make the controls harder to respond to your touch.

But an angle of dive that is too small will result in reduced speed and not enough impact on crashing.

Here, there is much more detail than Manual 1, which was directed at officers—solid practical advice, though no less chilling, especially given it is possible that many of the rookie pilots rushed into service in 1945 had never attempted a high-speed dive from comparatively low altitude as described here, until they went on their suicide mission. As such, Manual 2 seems aware of the need to bridge across an interim state of confidence.

The moment of impact and death is described in imaginative, lurid detail. After being told to keep one’s eyes open during the last moments of the attack, there is a moment of sublimity:

(PAGE 39)

You are now 30 Metres from the Target

You will sense that your speed has suddenly and abruptly increased. You feel that the speed has increased by a few thousand-fold. It is like a long shot in a movie suddenly turning into a close-up and the scene expands in your face.

The Moment of the Crash

You are two or three metres from the target. You can see clearly the muzzles of the enemy’s guns.

You feel that you are suddenly floating in the air. At that moment, you see your mother’s face. She is not smiling or crying. It is her usual face. (p. 81)

Unlike Manual 1, the excerpts border on the poetic:

(PAGE 43)

. . . Remember when diving into the enemy to shout at the top of your lungs: “Hissatsu!”

[Sink without fail!].

At that moment, all the cherry blossoms at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo will smile brightly at you. (p. 82)

These three modes of communication; the mental/spiritual, the technical, and the vivid; blend together here to create compelling content. In particular, Manual 2’s author has correctly surmised that the Togo pilots would be very curious as to what would happen at the moment of their deaths and has accordingly surrounded this moment with images of comfort, detachment, and otherworldly surrealism. This emotional overlay serves to cushion doubts the pilots might have—the implication is that there will be no pain, only a closing moment of sublimity. As such, we feel comfortable labeling the mission of Manual 2 as offering not only the logical reassurance and reinforcement offered by Manual 1, but emotional reassurance as well, in order to reach the final desired state.

The major similarity between the two manuals, though, is their authoritarian, imperative tone. They are to be followed as closely as possible. There is no improvising or mental meandering to be done during a suicide attack, save rote airspeed and altitude correction. The pilot is to head directly for the target and kill himself and others with the maximum amount of efficiency. Realistically, in such a stressful moment, few pilots followed all these instructions to the letter; however, the manual’s presence in training would increase the chances of some directives being remembered and followed and thus increase the chances of a “successful” attack.

Ethical Questions

The instructions in these two manuals present an extreme example for ethics; namely, is killing yourself and others ethical? Or, more pressing for technical communicators, is writing such a manual at all ethical? When the Society of Technical Communication defined the role of technical communicator for the U.S. Department of Labor in 2012, it stated that practitioners “produce instruction manuals and other supporting documents” (Henning & Bemer, 2016, p. 313); given this centrality of the manual genre, we feel obligated to venture beyond the rhetorical analysis into ethics.

Katz’s (1992) analysis of a 1942 German technical memo that detailed how best to redesign trucks used for gassing Jews and “undesirables” to be more efficient is a good reference point. Katz concluded critically that the German memo was not only highly effective from the standards of modern technical communication, but it operated like much later modern technical communication through an “ethics of expediency” where the means justify the ends and the ends are never in question (p. 257). These two Togo manuals inhabit that same efficiency ethic, but while gassing innocent civilians to death is obviously wrong (though not to the author of that memo!), wartime actions against enemy soldiers is generally not. In a similar vein, Miller (1989) argues that professional communication is “a matter of arguing toward the good of the community rather of constructing texts,” but for the good of which community (p. 23)?

Past explorations of technical communication ethics include the desirability of humanistic visuals, especially when describing human tragedy (Dragga & Voss, 2001; Dragga & Voss, 2003) as well as, increasingly, sensitivity to the circumstances of intercultural technical communication (Flammia & Voss, 2007) and its teaching (Aguad & Voss, 2017). Central to these analyses is a charge for technical communicators to accept “the moral responsibility to bring humanity to the verbal and visual display of information” (Dragga & Voss, 2003, pp. 78–79).

We agree with this charge but caution that the historical, cultural, and wartime contexts of these two manuals renders retroactively judging them by such an ethical standard problematic. The threat of invasion was real and the military situation desperate. If these manuals did not fully humanize the act of suicide in battle, can we judge their design or message, or, more importantly, judge future uses of this kind of rhetoric if the situation seemingly calls for an impersonal approach as being the best for mission success”? If there is a rhetorical situation where dehumanizing rhetoric is acceptable, ethically, then these texts, we suggest, are an intriguing place to start looking for it.

The discipline in the Japanese military of the time, and in previous decades, even going back to the cultural precedents of the Edo period, was notoriously brutal. Conscientious objectors did not exist. Soldiers disobeying an order could be executed summarily, and their entire families could suffer consequences as well; this discipline was just as harsh in the Togo squadrons, where officers sometimes capriciously sent pilots they disliked out on missions while delaying others from more prominent families (Ohnuki-Tierney, 2006, p. 11). The prevailing fatalistic reasoning thus became that completing the mission was preferable to disobedience or the increasing likelihood of being killed by an American bombing. Patriotism, high at the beginning of training, dwindled (p. 6), and as one doomed pilot wrote in his diary three months before his final mission, “To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine, coming from my heart. However, it is decided for me that I die for the emperor” (p. 11). The manuals, then, are reinforcement of a fate already set and form a last-minute rhetoric of control and discipline.

Manning and Amare note in their treatment of technical communication ethics that “If we define all of ethics, as Peirce does, as the reasoned choice of actions to attain reasonably chosen goals, then this . . . is an ethical choice, to weigh visual strategies against rhetorical goals” (2006, p. 210). Were the goals reasonable in this case? Japan faced an unimaginable defeat at the hands of the US, when it was widely believed by Japanese that the US tortured their prisoners to death, whether military or civilian, and that they would butcher the Japanese civilian population in an invasion. The Togo pilots seem to have believed, at least tentatively, that their guaranteed deaths had some small chance of preventing this defeat from happening; therefore, the only logical and ethical thing to do with a life already marked for death was to commit themselves and their planes to those deaths to avert national defeat.

The normalizing power of writing-from-a-distance in these manuals cannot be underestimated. It is one thing to be asked, as part of one’s duty, to kill yourself via direct personal order; it is another to be ordered to do so through, or with assistance from, the medium of a manual (Manual 2) or to order others to kill themselves with the aid of a manual (Manual 1). In the West, a military manual would generally assume there is at least a chance of returning alive. Indeed, many U.S. military manuals in use emphasize multiple survival techniques, but there is no such expectation here for Togo pilots, save in circumstances when the target ship or ships cannot be found, in which case the pilot was expected to return, and fly and die another day.

The typical Togo pilot was young, well educated, inexperienced at piloting, and outwardly motivated. We can also surmise that this typical Togo pilot was also, by having these four qualities, susceptible to the authoritarian discourse in these manuals. Therefore, the chief agency of these attacks is not in the hands of the individual pilots but their commanders and the authors of these manuals. Without specific orders to do so, and the military structure to enable the act, we suspect kamikaze attacks would have still occurred but would have been far rarer and disorganized. A conscious decision, therefore, at some high level was made to operationalize the Togo, and that is principally where the blame, if there is any to assign, lies.

Together, these two manuals offer an important ethics lesson for 21st century manual writers. Images and encouraging language can be helpful, certainly, but they also ethically enable. We suggest that manual writers today should be cognizant of precisely what they are making possible, and remember that what they view now as inevitable or necessary may be illusory or optional; indeed, the hypothetical and, from all sources at the time, certain ground invasion that drove the writing and consumption of these manuals never happened, due to Japan’s surrender in August 1945 after the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


(49) Although it is the responsibility of the guiding plane to confirm the result of the battle of Togo troop, depending on the conditions of the battle, weather, degrees of brightness or darkness, etc. it is often difficult to confirm the battle result. For this reason, the indirect guard force and the direct guard force need to exert [effort in] confirming the battle result as much as they can.

This, the last paragraph of the total 49, is emblematic of Manual 1 as a whole. It offers an exhortation to willpower and action while simultaneously not offering much detail, chiefly as one cannot practice a Togo mission like other airplane maneuvers. This is where Manual 2 comes in with its dual mental/spiritual advice, deviating from mechanistic technique to offer emotional comfort. We surmise that Togo squadrons had some version of both Manual 1 and Manual 2, then, to reinforce this dual argumentative strategy. We regret that we cannot make any definitive claims about usability, but again, the lack of documented refusals suggests usability issues did not negatively affect the overall mission of the Togo.

It is our hope that this rhetorical analysis sheds light on the phenomenon of the Togo attacks and opens up future fruitful analysis of other military manuals and discourse, particularly those from World War II. We feel it is important to subject wartime documents to rhetorical analysis so that their rhetorical maneuvers are left transparent to history, and especially for the benefit of those who may write such military discourse in the future. In these two cases, the manuals exhibit clear rhetorical strategies toward engaging their audiences: the young, inexperienced, and bushido-motivated Togo pilots, and their officers, charged with nothing less than successfully killing both the enemy and their own personnel. These are not objective instructions but rhetorical acts, and the extreme nature of the intended desired state make them excellent examples of such acts for pedagogy when demonstrating the wide range of the manual genre for students and instructors.

On the question of visuals, Dragga and Voss (2001) advocate that technical communicators should genuinely integrate “words and pictures instead of simply juxtaposing the two on the page or screen” (p. 271). We would like to extend this further, in that students should be aware of the consequences of divorcing visuals from their context by including important images as appendices rather than integrating them within the text. Manual 1’s visuals are so removed from the directives that it isolates them from the tasks they represent; the only reference to the visuals occurs in the table of contents. This distancing move may or may not have been intentional but, regardless, a dialogue about the spatial proximity of visuals and the text they supplement is an essential one in which students should participate.

Teachers of instructional writing have countless choices when it comes to providing real-world examples of genre, but few examples are as gripping, ethically problematic, and dramatic as these. The standard “introduction to technical/professional writing” class at the undergraduate level usually leans on a catch-all, genre-based textbook that has a single chapter on instructions, if that, with relatively pedestrian examples. Unusual and compelling artifacts such as these kamikaze manuals work well to bring alive in the classroom a usually mundane yet fundamental corner of technical communication. Of particular interest, given the growing interest in intercultural rhetorics, would be not only drawing further attention to the context of military documentation but how different militaries have taken differing approaches to the same mundane task. Bernhardt’s manual analysis would be enriched, for example, when placed against a contrast such as the “Tigerfibel” and “Pantherfibel” manuals (which used sex as well as elaborate rhyming to entice reading) issued to German tank crews in WWII.

In the West, we often valorize our military for selfless, solo acts; think of the almost stereotypical soldier who falls on a grenade to save his comrades, or another who charges an enemy machine-gun nest alone. We are not equating these with the Togo, but it is, again, hard to distance ourselves from the emotion inherent in an act that demonstrates a near-total disregard for self, even when the testimony of the pilot diaries suggests this was often a fatalistic veneer constructed to deal with an effectively inescapable fate. We hope this analysis can serve as an initial effort toward future, fruitful rhetorical explorations of military technical communication, as well as the increased inclusion of such unique examples in curricula focused on writing instructional texts.


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We are grateful to Mr. Takeshi Kawatoko of the Chiran Peace Museum, who generously shared with us a copy of Manual 1 and tirelessly advised us on the Japanese language of the time and the contextualized, implied meanings in the text. We were only able to complete this project by virtue of his generosity, kindness, and dedication to a peaceful future only possible with the knowledge of the past.


Naoko Ozaki teaches Japanese at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Her research interests are in foreign language education in U.S. contexts and language acquisition of immigrants from Japan and the Arab world. Her email address is Naoko.Ozaki@rice.edu.

Jillian Hill is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston-Downtown, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in technical communication. Her research interests include workplace literacy, collaborative writing, and visual design. Her email address is hillj@uhd.edu.

Mike Duncan is a professor of English at the University of Houston-Downtown. His work on rhetoric and technical communication has appeared in College English, JAC, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Philosophy & Rhetoric, Rhetorica, BPCQ, and Informal Logic, and he has co-edited the collection The Centrality of Style. His email address is duncanm@uhd.edu.