Kamikaze Attacks by the Numbers: A Statistical Analysis of Japan’s Wartime Strategy

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Note: This is a guest post by Dave Hackerson.

One of the defining symbols of the vicious struggle between the US and Japan in the Pacific War, this word always conjures up a conflicting mix of emotions inside me. The very word “kamikaze” has become a synonym for “suicide attack” in the English language. The way WW2 was taught in school (in America) pretty much left us with the impression that kamikaze attacks were part of the standard strategy of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy throughout the entire war. However, it was only recently that I was surprised to learn that the first time the Japanese introduced this strategy was on October 25, 1944 during the second Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Mainichi Shinbun here in Japan put together a wonderful collection to commemorate the 70th anniversary of this strategy. It features data that has not only been debated and analyzed from a number of angles, but it also provides statistical evidence that underscores the utter failure of this strategy. The title of the article is “Did the divine wind really blow? ‘Special strikes’ claim lives of 4000,” and it is the second part of a three part series called “Numbers tell a tale—Looking at the Pacific War through data”. The first part was posted in mid-August, and the third and final part is due to be put online in December. The original Japanese version for this special can be accessed here. The slides I refer to numbers “1” to “5” listed at the very bottom of each page. The current slide is the one highlighted in blue.

In this post, I will provide an overview of the information on this site while occasionally inserting my own analysis and translations of select quotes. I hope it helps to paint a clearer picture of a truly flawed strategy that is still not properly understood by both sides. (more…)

Gordon Tullock, RIP

He was not my favorite economist, but there is no question that he had a strong mind that was consistently capable of locating puzzles which had escaped the attention of others. My favorite, perhaps, is his observation that given how much is at stake it is very surprising that there is so little money in politics. Spending even $1 billion on a presidential campaign is very little, when compared to the amount of influence over a $15 trillion economy that a president has. (The most up-to-date explanation for this is that spending on politics is mostly a consumption good, not rent-seeking.) On another occasion Tullock argued that if we really wanted to improve automobile safety we should replace all airbags with an 8 inch ice pick that would ram into drivers’ chests if they crashed. I know I’d drive more slowly and carefully under such conditions.

The fact that he died on Election Day is appropriate, or perhaps ironic. Tullock was an outspoken opponent of voting for instrumental reasons — voting incurs costs while the probability of impacting the outcome is minuscule, so the act of voting generates negative utility in expectation — and he extended the logic to revolutions. He had many interesting ideas, although whether they amount to a consistent philosophy or politics is debatable.