At last, Japan surrenders
August 1945 was an extraordinary month. The World saw the end of its War, but not until two powerful atomic bombs were dropped by two U.S. bombers on two Japanese cities—Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It took the death and destruction from those bombs to finally end the death and destruction. Was there another way? Perhaps, but it involved a massive Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, an effort that had been in the planning stages since the end of March. Estimates tell us an invasion would have cost between five and ten million Japanese lives, and Allied casualties could have reached as high as four million. Japanese deaths from the two atomic bombs are estimated between 129,000 and 226,000. President Harry Truman (who knew nothing about the development of the atomic bomb until he became president in April that year) had these or similar figures available to him. How could he not make the call he made?
(Photo at left: the bombing of Hiroshima—Center photo: the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s annex at Washington Dulles International Airport; the Hiroshima bomb was dropped from the Enola Gay—Photo at right: the bombing of Nagasaki)
On August 14, 1945, President Truman provided a statement to the press regarding Japan’s unconditional surrender.
“I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese government in reply to the message forwarded to that government on Aug. 11. I deem this reply a full acceptance of the Potsdam declaration[*], which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan. In the reply there is no qualification.
“Arrangements are now being made for the formal signing of surrender terms at the earliest possible moment.
“General Douglas MacArthur has been appointed the supreme Allied commander to receive the Japanese surrender. Great Britain, Russia and China will be represented by high-ranking officers.
“Meantime, the Allied armed forces have been ordered to suspend offensive action.
[The Allies’ first order to Japan, issued at once by President Truman, was for the Japanese to stop the war on all fronts.]
“The proclamation of V-J Day must wait upon the formal signing of the surrender terms by Japan.
JAPAN’S ACCEPTANCE OF TERMS
“Following is the Japanese government’s message accepting our terms:
“‘Communication of the Japanese government of Aug. 14, 1945, addressed to the governments of the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China:
“‘With reference to the Japanese government’s note of Aug. 10 regarding their acceptance of the provisions of the Potsdam declaration and the reply of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China, sent by American Secretary of State James F. Byrnes under the date of Aug. 11, the Japanese government have the honor to communicate to the governments of the four powers as follows:
“‘1. His Majesty the Emperor has issued an imperial rescript regarding Japan’s acceptance of the provisions of the Potsdam declaration.
“‘2. His Majesty the Emperor is prepared to authorize and insure the signature by his government and the Imperial General Headquarters of the necessary terms for carrying out the provisions of the Potsdam declaration. His Majesty is also prepared to issue his commands to all the military, naval and air authorities of Japan and all the forces under their control wherever located to cease active operations, to surrender arms and to issue such other orders as may be required by the supreme commander of the Allied forces for the execution of the above-mentioned terms.”
[*] The Potsdam Declaration was a statement calling for Japan’s unconditional surrender. It was signed by the leaders of the United States (President Harry Truman), the United Kingdom (Prime Minister Winston Churchill), and China (Chairman Chiang Kai-shek who was not present but sent his signature by wire) on July 26, 1945, at the Potsdam (Germany) Conference. The Soviet Union did not sign the declaration because they had not yet declared war on Japan.
In May 2001, my husband Joe, brother Chris, friend Norbert and I journeyed by bicycle around Potsdam and found ourselves at the Cecilienhof Palace where the Potsdam Conference was held. The Tudor revival style palace was built between 1914 and 1917 and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.
Also on August 14, 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan gave a radio broadcast to his subjects. It begins:
To our good and loyal subjects: After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.
We have ordered our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration.
To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by our imperial ancestors and which we lay close to the heart.
A few paragraphs later:
Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.
The emperor’s statement concludes:
Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith of the imperishableness of its divine land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibilities, and the long road before it. Unite your total strength to be devoted to the construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, nobility of spirit, and work with resolution so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.
In Iowa, it was a time for celebration. Unlike the more subdued commemorations on V-E Day in May, people were more than ready to party hardy in August.
The four-page “EXTRA” edition of the Ottumwa Daily Courier included one page devoted entirely to “Thirty-Three Ottumwans Known To Have Given Lives in Japanese War.” The casualty list also included twelve men who were officially listed as Missing in Action and two who were reported as Japanese prisoners of war.
There was joy in Algona, too.
As you might expect, I write about the surrender in My Mother’s Friend. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 44. It’s Tuesday, August 14, 1945.
Since the “Storm of the Decade” blew through Algona, it had been an extraordinary couple of weeks. The weather had cooperated, as if Mother Nature was making up for her wrath on the last Monday of July. It was sunny and warm but not hot or humid. Most Algonans had gone about their business, avoiding fallen trees and branches that hadn’t yet felt the blade of a saw. It would take at least another week to get everything cleared from streets and sidewalks, but they were making progress. A few small groups of guarded prisoners from the camp were enlisted to help with the clearing up, and Phee was delighted to find Horst on one of the work details in their neighborhood. As an NCO—non-commissioned officer—he wasn’t required to work, but he relished the opportunity to leave the camp, help his neighbors, and maybe serendipitously see someone he knew. And he did!
Perhaps the most significant events of the past two weeks occurred on the other side of the world, and they led, at long last, to the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allied forces. On the sixth of August a powerful new weapon, an atomic bomb, was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima by an American B-29 bomber. The resulting death and destruction should have convinced Japanese Emperor Hirohito and his government that their aggression on all fronts must end immediately, but it didn’t. So, another bomb, more powerful than the first, was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. Finally, the Emperor was persuaded, and at six o’clock Iowa time, President Truman made the announcement the whole world had been waiting for—the war with Japan was over.
Officially, V-J Day wouldn’t be declared until the surrender document was signed by the Allies and Japanese sometime later. But that didn’t stop the almost spontaneous celebration in the streets of Algona tonight. The Chamber of Commerce instructed all stores and businesses to lock their doors just after the six o’clock whistle blew. Kids on bikes, soldiers from Camp Algona, regular folks from all walks of life, joined in the jubilation. But it was bittersweet for countless families—across Algona, across Iowa, across America—for so many lives were lost pursuing the peace being celebrated tonight.
Before supper, Mollie and the twins insisted on heading downtown for the festivities, so Frank walked with them so they could join the impromptu parade that was underway on Main Street. Phee chose to stay home to get supper started, but also to reflect on the events of the past couple of weeks—a storm like no other she’d witnessed, her dad’s admission he had feelings for Helen, and the massive death and destruction that was purportedly needed to end the war. For Phee, it was all a bit much.
Peace and blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her (soon to be published) debut novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.