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Banzai charge is the term used by the Allied forces to refer to Japanese human wave attacks mounted by infantry units. This term came from the Japanese cry "Tenno Heika Banzai" (天皇陛下萬歲, "Long live the Emperor"), shortened to banzai, and it specifically refers to a tactic used by Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War. Banzai Charge had made some successes at the end of the battle by assaulting the American soldiers that were unprepared for such types of attack. The banzai charge can be considered one of the least efficient strategies used in the Pacific War in terms of Japanese-to-American casualty ratios.
Banzai Charge is considered as one method of Gyokusai (Japanese: 玉砕, literally "jade shards"; honorable suicide). It is a word used to describe the suicide attack, or the suicide before being captured by the enemy such as seppuku (Japanese: 切腹). The origin of such belief is the Central Chinese text in 7th century called Book of Northern Qi, which states "大丈夫寧可玉砕何能瓦全". The literal translation is "A man would rather be a shattered jade than be a complete roof tile". In Japan, since the Sengoku period, samurai made the rule called Bushido (Japanese: 武士道, literally "Warrior path"; the path of warrior) to set their behaviors and keep them loyal and honourable. Among the rules samurais needed to follow, there existed an "honour" (Japanese: 名誉, pronounced as meiyo) that was later misused by Japanese military governments.
With the revolutionary change in the Meiji Restoration and frequent wars against China and Russia, the militarist government of Japan adopted the concepts of Bushido to condition the country's population to be ideologically obedient to the emperor. Impressed with how samurai were trained to commit suicide when a great humiliation was about to befall them, the government educated troops that it was a greater humiliation to surrender to the enemy than to die. The suicide of Saigo Takamori (Japanese: 西郷隆盛), the leader of old samurai during the Meiji Restoration, also inspired the nation to idealize and romanticize death in battle and to consider suicide as an honorable final action.
It was first reported during the invasion of China where banzai charges worked extremely well, possibly because the Chinese had slow-loading bolt action rifles and were unable to put up enough firepower to stop the charges.
During the war period, the Japanese militarist government began disseminating propaganda that romanticized suicide attack, using one of the virtues of Bushido as the basis for the campaign. The Japanese government presented war as purifying, with death defined as a duty. By the end of 1944, the government announced the last protocol, unofficially named ichioku gyokusai (Japanese: 一億玉砕, literally "100 million shattered jewels"), for the purpose of resisting opposition forces until August, 1945.
There are accounts from Malaya, Burma, Hong Kong and the Philippines of Japanese commanders throwing everything they had at a British or American key point, especially if it put up fierce resistance, to overrun the position by sheer brute force.
During the Battle of Guadalcanal, on 21 August 1942, Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki led 800 soldiers to launch a direct attack against the American base on the seashore. After small-scale combat engagement in the jungle, Ichiki's army launched its banzai charge on the enemy; however, with an organized American defense line already in place, most of the Japanese soldiers were killed before the commencement of fighting and Ichiki subsequently committed suicide during the battle. Despite the failure of the banzai charge, the generals greatly exaggerated its success in their reports to the Japanese government, giving the false impression to those in charge that their human wave attacks were effective against the Americans — if not with victory, then at least decimating enemy troop numbers.
The last and largest Banzai attack of the war took place in the Battle of Saipan in 1944 where, at the cost of almost 4,300 dead Japanese soldiers, it almost destroyed the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th U.S. Infantry who lost almost 650 men.
However, a banzai charge could be successful if it had an element of surprise that overpowered the target and if it faced enemies lacking in heavy artillery and machine gun defenses.
A significant reduction in the numbers of active Japanese soldiers was a serious consequence of the banzai charge tactic. The charge's ineffectiveness, in addition to a misunderstanding of the tactic by Japanese military superiors, contributed to the defeat of Japan in the war. In terms of perceptions from the opposition, American soldiers began to think of Japan as "swarms of beasts" due to their experience with the banzai charge.