All material in this article has been obtained from unclassified sources.
That lives but a day and dies
with destiny unfulfilled,
Is the brave spirit of Samurai youth,
his fresh young strength
To offer to his lord.
-Ancient Japanese Poem
In warfare, knowing what makes one’s opponent ‘tick” might also suggest his tactic. Recently shifts in North Korean Juche ideology have included their incorporation of a bushido-like “spirit of human bombs” ideology along with an armed forces loyalty oath that both mirrors and is influenced by that adopted by Japan just prior to World War II. 1his recent shift in Juche ideology suggests that the U.S. Navy should be ready to counter immediate North Korean suicide tactics in the event of potential hostillities.
Have you ever heard about the inspiring lessons-learned brief by the highly decorated kamikaze pilot who was a veteran of forty missions? Or maybe you’ve heard the old Cheech and Chong album with the skit about Hashimoto, the kamikaze pilot, sitting in the back of the room when he and his fellow fliers are directed to ….”take kamikaze plane up, up, up into sky and down, down, down into Yankee aircwaft cawier-blowing yourself up and all aboawd. “As the leader is wrapping up the brief, he asks the pilots if there are any questions. Hashimoto raises his hand and says, “Yeah, man-are you out of your … mind!?
Possibly, such jokes may seem mildly humorous to us because we feel safe in knowing that the massive waves of kamikaze attacks by Japan against the United States Navy are something from yesteryear. We feel fairly confident that such attacks are unlikely ever to be repeated. Also, the memories of shipboard tires, explosions, carnage and the ICM of American blood associated with kamikazes have faded from our collective memories. Yet, even as you read this article, the ideological foundation is already in place for history to repeat itself. Though the threat is again in East Asia-this time it is from the other side of the Sea of Japan: North Korea.
Red Flag Ideology: North Korea’s Quest for National Reunification
In the 1830s and 1840s a wave of national revolutions swept across Europe influencing many European nations (e.g., Italy, Germany and Rumania) to adopt tricolored flags. During the Paris riots of January 15, 1831, the red flag made its first modem appearance as the universal symbol of international revolution. 3 In 1849, as Karl Marx systematized Communist ideology, the red flag replaced the black flag of anarchy as the favored flag of the Communist revolution.
Almost a century later in Siberia, a young Korean revolutionary named Kim II Sung (1912-1994) rejected the Christian faith of his mother for the surrogate gospel of Communist atheism. Like many other aspiring young foreign national leaders, Kim spent the World War II years studying Communism in the Soviet Union in preparation for establishing totalitarian socialist states in his homeland upon completion of the anti-Fascist war. At the end of the war in 1945, he took control of the reins of North Korean government and eliminated all those who opposed him becoming dictator. On May 1, 1948, Kim Il Sung, with the backing of the Soviet Union, defied the planned United Nations plebiscite and declared the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Without going into details, over the next four decades or so, Kim D Sung, principally with the help of Hwang Jang Yop5 (“the architect of Juche”), crafted a religious-like totalitarian system called “Juche”6 (self reliance). To get an approximate recipe for Juche-start with Marxist-Leninism and add a hefty dose of secular humanism. Then marinate this mixture with 17th century “Hermit Kingdom” xenophobic isolationism, Confucianism and ancient Korean ancestor/king-worship. Toss in three quarters of a cup of Japanese occultism/idolatry, one rounded teaspoon of perverted Christianity, add two pounds of rice, a cup of bean paste, and toss in a handful of garlic, ginger, black pepper, spring onions, a bit of soy sauce/sesame oil, and some crushed roasted sesame seeds as desired (the basic flavors for any Korean recipe), season-to-taste with Chinese Maoist cultural revolution-style Communism-and bake in an East Asian oven at 39° North Latitude for fifty years. Serves-or rather, enslaves-23 million.
By the time of his death in 1994, the “Great Leader” Kim D Sung had been worshipped under Juche as father-god-savior throughout North Korea. He also established the ideological groundwork for his son, the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong II (1942-) to succeed him in power as another god of Juche. According to Juche beliefs, Kim D Sung and Kim Jong D are the Su-ryong (literally “leader” or Fuhrer) who are attributed to have super-human powers. Kim Jong n commands absolute allegiance by his million plus military persoMel and all the 22 million other inhabitants of the land.
The cause of national reunification and the consummation of the revolution is considered sacred to juche. Juche takes advantage of the Korean people’s natural nationalistic desire for reunification and puts a totalitarian spin on it. Each year. crowds of hundreds of thousands parade through the streets of Pyongyang passionately expressing their ardent devotion to the Su-ryong, the Party. and the cause of National Reunification (on North Korea’s terms). Under juche, national reunification has taken on a sacred JIHAD/crusade like significance. In contrast to what many world leaders believe, this core belief can never be negotiated away at international peace talks even in the face of endemic starvation and international diplomatic, military and economic pressure.
A comparison of the differing international and national versions of the DPRK’s propaganda helps to illustrate the irreconcilable sacred nature of Juche national reunification. The world is presented with the kinder-gentler-reasonable North Korean position. For example, in an October 8th, 1997 speech before the United Nations in New York, North Korea called for a one government/two systems on the peninsula pledging that they would respect the political freedom in the South. Meanwhile, at home, the hard-line “communication of the South” vision prevails. For example, on the very same day as the UN speech-but halfway around the world-Korean Worker’s Party leaders collectively renewed their vows to complete the sacred cause of national ramification to reunite Korea under the personal rule of Kim Jong II.
In recent years, Juche has taken a new more radical shift to the left (if that were possible) through the introduction of “Red Flag Ideology.” Like everything in Juche, Red Flag Ideology bears the “made in Kim-country” label since Juche must, of course, be “self reliance.” And, according to the Korean Central News Agency on September 12, 1997, it was, of course-you guessed it–ihe General’s [Kim Jong II’s] idea.”
Just as Juche took a major philosophical tum away from Marxism-Leninism, Kim Jong ll’s recent introduction of “Red Flag Ideology” may represent the introduction of a new super-zealot phase of Juche for the “Juche Era” of the 21st century. Kim Jong Il first used the term “Red Flag Ideology” in his November 1, 1994 thesis, “Socialism Is Science” published in Rodong Sinmun (a major DPRK propaganda organ). His essay explained the term by saying that “this phrase is an expression that my ideology is red.” The next year, Rodong Sinmun began using the term as an official catch phrase during the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Communist Youth League. For example, the August 28, 1995 issue carried an article entitled, “Let us hoist high the Red Flag.” A partial explanation of “Red Flag Ideology” was presented in the January 9, 1996 issue of Rodong Sinmun. In a commentary entitled, “The Red Flag Philosophy Is an Expression of the Revolutionary Spirit Based on Juche Ideology,” the paper declared that Juche and Red Flag ideology were closely connected with each other. However, no details were provided.
Since then, joint editorials of three major newspapers on the first days of 1996, 1997 and 1998 called upon the people to abide by the “Red Flag Ideology.” These New Years editorials take on a greater significance than in years past because they replaced the traditional New Year Message of the supreme leader. Like Juche ideology, the “Red Flag Ideology” also calls upon the people to embrace the spirit of self-reliance, the revolutionary struggle and spirit, and to become “bullees” and “human bombs” to protect the Leader. For example Rodong Sinmun ‘s January 1, 1998 Joint New Years Editorial declared, “We should firmly defend General Secretary Kim Jong D and guarantee his absolute authority in every way in the spirit of defending the leader at the risk of life and the spirit or human bombs.”‘ The following 1997 propaganda article demonstrates the “human bombs” connection with “Red Flag Ideology” while notably omitting the term Juche: article today. The article says: Secretary Kim Jong II is the top brain and great standard-bearer of the Korean revolution who is leading the Korean revolution to victory, upholding the red flag.
Our red nag represents the idea and will of the General to accomplish the Korean revolution as intended by President Kim II Sung and his indomitable stamina to defend socialism without wavering under any circumstances. The Korean people are determined to become an impregnable fortress and shield to safeguard the General at the cost of their lives. Their firm determination is to share their destiny with the General forever, upholding him as the supreme leader of the Party and the revolution.
Holding this red nag, our people are def ending the idea of the leader most purely with resolute revolutionary principles and uncompromising struggle they are most resolutely safeguarding the safety of the leader in the spirit or human bombs and they are highly exalting the absolute authority of the leader through their devoted struggle. If we are to defend the red nag or the revolution, the banner of defending the leader, we should have absolute worship for and unshakable faith in the leader and follow him with a noble sense of conscience and obligation.
Even if we die while resolutely safeguarding the General, it is glory. It is the unbreakable faith of the Korean people to become an impregnable fortress to safeguard the General at the cost of their lives and deal telling blows to the enemy. No matter how the world may change, they will defend the headquarters of the revolution headed by the General and thus glorify their honor as revolutionaries (emphasis added).
With only partial information in hand, this new ideology looks like a more radical version of Jucheism aimed at keeping the collective consciousness of the masses focused on Juche purity. This radical shift may be intended to counter what Kim Jong II perceives as the threat of growing outside influence on North Korea. However, the historical allusion to the red flag as the
symbol of international revolution and the direct association of red flag ideology with “the spirit of human bombs” invites further discussion.
Bushido Incorporated into Juche!?
Less than 60 years ago, and roughly 600 miles to the East, the Japanese used exactly the same “spirit of human bombs” terminology the North Koreans are now using in conjunction with their World War II suicide campaign. Like today’s North Koreans, the Japanese used “the spirit of human bombs” in the context of radical allegiance to and worship of a god-king. The Japanese framed this radical allegiance within the concept of the ancient samurai code of “bushido” (the chivalric code). A review of the Japanese precedent is helpful to more fully understand the implications of the North Korean’s recent adoption of “the spirit of human bombs” terminology.
Certainly the notion of self sacrifice is a part of any nation’s view of wartime heroism. Numerous nations award posthumous decorations to those who chose, either through premeditation or in the heat of combat, to sacrifice themselves to save a friend or destroy an enemy. However, the recent history of East Asia tells us “spirit of human bombs” is something more than mere self sacrificial bravery.
The Japanese initiated an entire military campaign which featured deliberate suicide with religious emperor-worship overtones as a standard military tactic. Suicide with special honor had long existed in Japanese samurai mythology and history. These traditions included the “hara-kiri” or scppuku (ritual suicide in expiation of dishonor or defeat). Japan transformed such ancient traditions into modem religious norms for the Japanese military. On January 8, 1940, almost two years before Pearl Harbor, Japanese General Hideki Tojo ordered that the “Sen Jin Kun” (Battle Ethics) be distributed to all officers and men both at home and abroad. This order made the unwritten code of the samurai the required conduct of all Japanese servicemen:
A sublime sense of self sacrifice must guide you throughout life and death. Think not of death as you push through with every ounce of your effort, fulfilling your duties. Make it your joy to do everything with all your spiritual and physical strength. Fear not to die for the cause of everlasting justice. Do not stay alive in dishonor. Do not die in such a way as to leave a bad name behind you.
As the tide of war turned strongly against Japan in 1944, voluntary kamikaze suicide attacks began at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. Then, early in 1945, the Japanese Imperial General headquarters issued an order that all armed forces should emphasize suicide tactics.
These tactics included not only the much publicized attacks by kamikazes and Baka bombs, but also suicide weapons platforms such as a special midget submarine with underwater fins, an explosive motorboat, the human torpedo, and a small submarine about 30 feet long which would attach explosives by suction or magnetic methods to enemy ships.
Also, the “human bombs” special weapons program featured “human mines,” “suicide frogmen” (Fukuryus), Ohka glider-bombs and “crawling dragons.”
We should keep in mind that, given the religious aspects of the missions, all of these “human bomb” programs had tens of thousands of volunteers-certainly more than enough. The religious “on a mission for god” character of these missions carried with them the unbearable social stigma of shaming one’s family should a serviceman refuse a suicide mission. It is entirely meaningless to split philosophical or psychological fine points as to whether the individual soldiers or sailors willingly or unwillingly “volunteered.” The result was the same. In practice-no real man ever wavered. In the tradition of the bushido code, young men instead spoke of the glory of death, saying, “I go to die for my country. It fills me with humility to have been selected by the emperor.”
In 1945, Lieutenant General Kawabe, Deputy Chief of the Japanese Imperial General headquarters, said:
The pilot did not start out on his mission with the intention of committing suicide. He looked upon him self as a human bomb which would destroy a certain part of enemy fleet for his country. He considered it a glorious thing … we bad no shortage of volunteers (emphasis added).
After World War II, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that, by war’s end, the “volunteers” were more reluctant. However, the extent of the opposition of those selected was largely limited to statements of lament. One kamikaze pilot, who was only saved from flying his mission by Japan’s surrender, said that he “saddened to tears at receiving the death sentence [although] … it is unmanly to say so.” Such sentiments did not result in any large scale refusal by Japanese servicemen to attempt their missions as ordered.
Though the terminology differs slightly, North Korea has accomplished the same thing through the sacred teachings of Juche, Red Flag ideology and a personal oath of allegiance to Kim Jong II. Kim Jong D’s loyalty oath, like Tojo’s Sen Jin Kun, adds the cultural force of morality and honor (as misguided and warped as they may be) to suicidal allegiance.
The Spiritual Roots of Suicide Tactics
As we consider the possibility of the reintroduction of mass suicide tactics in East Asia, it is helpful to consider bow the “suicide spirit” came to “the land of the morning calm.” To answer this question, let’s turn the clock of history back more than seven centuries and go, instead, to “the land of the rising sun.”
The year is 1281. Just seven years ago the Japanese had repulsed a Mongol invasion on Japan’s beaches. Part of the Mongol fleet had also been wrecked in a storm. Kublai Kahn, having conquered China, recently sent ambassadors to Japan demanding their acquiescence to Mongol rule. Japan answers these overtures by killing and mutilating the Mongol ambassadors. The Kahn is displeased. Now, Kublai Kahn, ruthless ruler of most of the Eurasian land mass, is determined to launch a major Mongol invasion of Japan.
As the story goes, the Japanese mikado (ruler) is more than a little bit concerned. So the mikado summons all the sorcerers of Japan and asks them which god is the strongest. He will tum to whichever god is the strongest for Japan’s deliverance. The sorcerers advise the mikado that the sun goddess is the strongest -so the mikado invokes the sun goddess” protection.
As expected (and as provoked). Kublai launched an invasion force of somewhere between 50,000 and 200,000 undefeated veterans in a Mongol armada made up of thousands of small ships. Then, out of nowhere, a typhoon sprang up and destroyed over 4000 Mongol ships. Japanese historians of the day called this miraculous storm the “kamikaze” (“divine wind”). The Japanese attacked the surviving Mongols with suicidal ferocity through land and sea attacks. Mongol casualties were estimated to be as high as 150,00<>-though there is no way of knowing for sure; however, the invasion was repulsed. Few of the Mongol attackers survived the debacle. Though he desired to, Kublai Kahn never mounted his intended third invasion of Japan.
Grateful for Japan’s salvation, the mikado entered into spiritual intercourse and union with the sun goddess through the Daijosi ceremony. This is the origin of the Japanese emperor being worshiped as a god-king to the Japanese people (and why the sun appears on the Japanese flag). Every Japanese emperor through Hirohito (who renounced his divinity in 1945) has entered into the Daijosi ceremony. 14 A Christian understanding of Daijosi views this ceremony as the invocation of demonetization by Japan’s ruler on both an individual and corporate/national level.
The Japanese religious conviction of their spiritual superiority shone forth in the 1930’s in their oppression of the Korean people. Japan’s enforced idolatry, especially among Korea’s thriving Christian community of the late 1930’s, was particularly totalitarian in nature. For example, on March 1, 1919, Japanese soldiers surrounded one Korean church, nailed its doors shut and burned over 400 Christians alive. Finally, by late 1938, the Japanese had systematically broken the will of the last holdout denomination of Christians. As a result, Shinto idolatry was officially sanctioned by all Korean Christian denominations. Among the lesser known explanations for the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, most Japanese leaders were convinced by December 1941 that the power of Shinto was greater than the Christian God of the United States. 15 Their victorious experiences over Tzarist Russia, and more recently in China and in Korea fueled their confidence. As the tide of the war turned against Japan, Japanese leaders again invoked the power of their sun goddess in conjunction with the kamikaze campaign and use of other suicide weapons platforms such as Kaitens. Remarkably, like the Mongol fleet, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s fleet was hit by two major typhoons in December 1944 and June 1945-also with tragic loss of life.17 However, neither the kamikazes nor the typhoons (regardless of the natural or demonic origin attributed to the “divine wind”) altered the outcome of the Pacific War.
The Link: Japan’s Spiritual Influence on North Korea
Having noted the Japanese origins of “the spirit of human bombs,” let’s now take a look at the link: Japan’s spiritual influence on North Korea. From a spiritual history perspective, there is more to “the spirit of human bombs” than an idle academic comparison between similar “human bombs” statements out of two possibly unrelated cultures. In fact, Korea was under Japanese domination for most of the first half of this century.
Much of the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese war took place in northern Korea in the Pyongyang area. Japanese armies established b~ on the Korean peninsula and defeated the Tzar’s armies in a campaign that culminated in their decisive victory at Port Arthur. By 1910, the Japanese forced the abdication of the Korean king and annexed the entire Peninsula as a Japanese territory. To reduce the risk of revolt, the Japanese began systematically reeducating the Korean people. Shinto idolatry was enforced while Christians were persecuted. Japanese was taught to children in public schools and the use of the Korean language was strictly outlawed for official use. Korean cultural traditions were forcibly replaced by their Japanese equivalents. Korean Christian churches and church schools were the last holdouts against these Japanese policies until, as already noted, they finally capitulated in 1938. Thus, an entire generation of Koreans was forced to partake in Shinto baptism and bow before Shinto shrines. These Shinto shrines were small houses with a picture of the Japanese emperor and his sun goddess consort. In a spiritual loyal sense, the act of worshiping Shinto idols during the 41 year Japanese occupation (1904-1945) made the Korean nation vulnerable to the full spectrum of Japanese demonics influence. .. including “the spirit of human bombs”.
Elements of the modem Juche “religion”19 recall elements of ancient Korean sun god worship that bear a striking resemblance to Japanese Shintoism. For example, Korean legend bolds that the first ancient Tangun king was conceived when the sun god had intercourse with a she-bear on Korea’s sacred mountain-Mt. Paektu. (Recall the similar 13th century Daijosi Japanese tradition.) Today, Kim II Sung (1912-1994), his wife Kim Jong Suk (1919-1949) and their dictator son Kim Jong ll (1942- ) are referred to in Juche revisionist history and current propaganda as “the three generals of Mt. Paektu.” 20 In a manner reminiscent of the Japanese occupation, Kim Jong”, like his father before, requires every Korean home to prominently display their pictures. Additionally, all North Koreans must bow and render homage before the great bronze statue of Kim II Sung in Pyongyang. And, not surprisingly, Kim Jong Suk is now being elevated to goddess status to bolster Kim Jong Il’s claim to deity. Moreover, the North Koreans under Juche are even more radically anti-Christian than the Japanese ever were.
Speculation or Alarm?: Evaluating the Indicators
In the U.S. Submarine Force, every submariner is taught over and over and over to “believe your indications.” Below are a number of indications that, by themselves, may be insignificant. Together, however, I believe they may present a mosaic that may rightly be viewed with alarm. By indications I do not refer to common knowledge such as that North Korea is a hard-core totalitarian state with the fourth largest standing army in the world. Nor do I refer to the steady stream of anti-American propaganda such as the May 4, 1997 statement by the Korean Central News Agency that “THE DPRK and the U.S. are in a state of war.” That is not new. Let’s summarize what is:
- The increasing use or “the spirit or human bombs” technology by North Korean propaganda organs. Over the last year, when Kim Jong II has inspected Korean People’s Army (KPA) units, the soldiers have chanted .. human bombs!, human bombs!, human bombs!” and pledged themselves to prove their allegiance to him to the death.
- The bushido-like personal oath that all North Korean military personnel have taken to Kim Jong II. Kim Jong II is systematically inculcating North Korea’s military with a “suicide spirit”.
- The introduction of -Red Flag ideology.”As discussed, this represents a leftward-more-radical-shift in the Juche variant of the international Communist revolution. Remember that “Red Flag” ideology is inherently linked with both national reunification (on North Korea’s terms) and .. the spirit of human bombs.”
- The execution of North Korean servicemen in a failed 1996 submarine mission. Why were eleven of the twenty four North Korean servicemen immediately lined up and killed by their own comrades during the September 1997 submarine grounding at Kangnung. A Might they have willingly died to fulfill their loyalty oath to Kim Jong II and thereby expunge the dishonor of failing in their mission? We should not be too quick to force-fit a “western” answer to questions surrounding this East Asian submarine incident.
- A photo taken from a North Korean propaganda film. This photo shows DPRK commandos gathered around a model of a U.S. aircraft carrier. (Editor’s Note: Due to the slightly blurred condition of the photo it was unsuitable for inclusion here.) The context of the film suggests that the North Koreans view the carrier as a symbol of American imperialistic oppression. You get the point.
- Remarks by North Korean leaders show that they know that they are totally out closed by U.S. naval and air power from the outset or any future hostilities. Consequently, North Korea may not repeat the -“two little too late” decision in World War Il by the Japanese who waited to adopt suicide tactics.
- On January 28, 1998, North Korea directly associated ~e spirit of human bombs• with suicide air attacks for the first time.
Considering the Possibility
Today, decision makers in the field probably have more information available to them than ever before. However, more information does not make the actual decision to fire (or not to fire) any less difficult. Thus, commanders must prepare as best they can for possible crises by walking the thought processes through -What if’ scenarios. It is my hope that this article will better equip U.S. Navy leaders to seriously consider the “what ifs” associated with encountering possible suicide attacks.
Hopefully my research, analysis, reasoning and the possibilities presented herein are completely wrong. I would be most happy to live with that possibility. But what are the implications if I am right? Given both the outright spiritual influence on North Korea from the Japanese occupation and the parallels between their belief systems, and the North Korean’s widespread use of “the spirit of human bombs” terminology, we should ask ourselves:
- Does the Japanese “spirit of human bombs” of the early 1940s represent the same entity as the North Korean “spirit of human bombs” of the late 1990s?
- Is there any real possibility of a North Korean coordinated suicide campaign?
- Have we underestimated the threat presented by possible suicide strategy and tactics?
Such a campaign could be rooted in the prevalent Juche belief of North Korea’s leaders, like the Japanese before them, that their anointed dictator-god Kim Jong II, “the [spiritual] son of Mt. Paektu,” can defeat America. Remember-from the North Korean mind set, there is not a compartmentalized western division between the spiritual, political, military and diplomatic positions. All are rolled into one under the Suryong’s banner of Juche.
Though, from a tactical doctrine development perspective, the use of suicide units suffers from the obvious absence of a “tessons learned” feedback loop (remember-no -Veteran kamikaze pilots”), even the possibility of their moderate tactical effectiveness is cause for serious concern. History shows that such suicide tactics might include some combination of air, surface, submarine, frogmen and terrorist forces on U.S. warships. Adoption of such tactics retains the possibility of a cheap North Korean kill of a large-platform (high value unit/target) without the diplomatic “downsides” of NBC25 weapons of mass destruction.
Though I started out this article with a couple of jokes, Pearl Harbor was not a joke 57 years ago. Similarly, just 53 years ago, kamikazes were not a joke, either-nor should they considered to be so today. My intent in writing this article is to raise the issue of the very serious and very real possibility of a modem day recurrence of the coordinated and sustained use of suicide attacks by North Korea against the United States Navy in the event of possible hostilities. Remember Pearl Harbor-yes-but remember Okinawa too. Once again we need to be prepared to face “the spirit of human bombs”.
CDR Thomas J. Belke, USNR is a technology consultant in Virginia Beach, Virginia. From 1980-1989 he served in 2 SSBN’s and 1 SSN before leaving active duty to join GE’s SSN21 combat control system design team. In his naval reserve capacity he currently serves as Deputy Chief of Staff of the COMSUBLANT Battlegroup Staff. Tom, a 1980 history major from the Naval Academy, has developed a specialized interest in North Korea in conjunction with ongoing graduate studies at Regent University. Material from this article is just a small sample from his upcoming illustrated book entitled Juche/ The Stale Religion of North Korea.
CAPT Joseph W. Beadles, Jr., USN(Ret.)
Mrs. Jack N. Darby
Mr. Robert Fleet
CDR Howard Allen Hill, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Russell Knowles, Jr., USN(Ret.)
Mr. Bernard M. Vesper