From its beginnings in Japan, Zen has been associated with the warrior culture established by the early shoguns. But the extent of its involvement in World War II has stayed mostly submerged until recently. Many people in the United States and Europe know Zen's indirect traces through the poetry of the Beats or the quietist aura of contemporary architecture and clothing.
Even John Dower, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of modern Japan at M.I.T., whose early interest in Japan was kindled by Zen-inspired architecture, said that Mr. Victoria's works had opened his eyes to "how Zen violated Buddhism's teachings about compassion and nonviolence."....
Mr. Victoria subsequently conducted numerous interviews with aging priests and plumbed Japanese military archives to detail how military figures and Zen leaders had jointly shaped Zen meditative practice into forms of military training.
"Zen was a large part of the spiritual training not only of the Japanese military but eventually of the whole Japanese people," he said in an interview. "It would have led them to commit national suicide if there had been an American invasion."
"Zen War Stories" quotes from manuals for battlefield behavior that Mr. Victoria says drew on Zen. It tells how the military modeled eating utensils on those in monasteries, how kamakazi pilots visited for spiritual preparation before their final missions.