The Japanese Surrendered...
But Why?

This was the scene 70-years ago today, September 2, 1945, on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The Japanese announced on August 15 that they would surrender. However, the official surrender occurred two weeks later on the Missouri. Macarthur announced the formal surrender of Imperial Japan to both the Allies and the Japanese representatives.

The formal surrender of the Japanese

Since I have taught history for years, it was interesting to discuss WWII with students all of whom view the war as ancient history. In addition, we, in the West and especially the States, have differing views regarding what actually caused the Japanese to surrender. I was born during the war and my generation was told that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the reasons for the Japanese capitulation. The rationale was that even though bombing Hiroshima on August 6 did not get the desired effect, the second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9 did result in surrender.

Many scholars today believe that Russia joining the war against the Japanese resulted in the surrender. Russia had defeated the Japanese army in Manchuria. Their next step would be to invade Korea and Japan. Hence, historians saw Russia as the ultimate cause for the surrender.

Additionally, there are some scholars that believe that the use of the atomic bombs were not necessary to push the Japanese to surrender. They theorize that the use of the atomic bombs on Japan was a means used by President Truman to warn the Russians of America's military strength.

Many Japanese military leaders during the war did not see much difference between the results of the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945 and the two atomic bombs. Arguably, the numbers of civilians, which were killed in Tokyo, were about the same number at either Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Additionally, the damage to the cities was also similar.

The results of firebombing Tokyo

In this 1945 file  photo, twisted metal and rubble marks what once was Hiroshima, Japan's most industrialised city, seen some time after the atom bomb was dropped

The results of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima

Some military scholars believe that since the Japanese endured the firebombing of Tokyo, they could withstand the atomic bombs. In addition, the US was still bombing Japan even after Nagasaki. The last raid on Japan was set very early on the morning of August 14 with a fleet of 143 planes. During the predawn raid, the planes flew toward Tokyo, guided by radar. Once they reached Tokyo, they flew off to their designated targets.

What the US military did not know was that Lieutenant Colonel Masataka Ida and Major Kenji Hatanaka had staged a coup d'Ètat in the Palace that night. For whatever reason, Hirohito had decided to surrender, he had recorded his surrender announcement on the 14th, and it was broadcasted to the nation the next day.

One of the two recordings of Hirohito's surrender announcement

Hirohito, aware that surrendering might cause problems with some in the military, recorded two surrender announcements in a secret bunker near the Palace.

Hidden: The Emperor snuck into the bunker, within the palace compounds, for fear military officials were violently object to the surrender

The secret bunker

Hirohito was correct about some military officers resisting his surrender. Several junior grade officers lead by Ida and Hatanaka were in the midst of their attempt to seize control of the government and stop the surrender. Interestingly, as the coup started, Japanese radar detected the incoming US planes headed toward Tokyo. Seeing that many planes approaching Tokyo, they reasoned that Tokyo was the target and ordered the entire electric grid of the city to be turned off.

Tokyo went black, which also resulted in disrupting the coup d'Ètat. The US pilots, using radar to reached Tokyo, said that they would not have known where they were had it not been for their radar due to the blackout. Parenthetically, the leaders of the coup could not find the surrender recordings and were finally captured by the Japanese military, which was still loyal to Hirohito.

Finally, some believe that the delay in surrendering was due to the Japanese wanting to negotiate better surrender terms with the US. The military leaders wished to avoid a war crimes trail and to maintain the power of the emperor after the end of the war.

What combination factors and to what degree caused the Japanese to surrender probably will never be known. Nonetheless, there are even problems with Hirohito's surrender announcement itself. Hirohito said,

Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement. But now the war has lasted for nearly four years.

What is interesting about Hirohito's comment was that he apparently forgot that he started the war on July 7, 1937, which resulted in an eight-year war. The Chinese viewed the Japanese infringing on their sovereignty. They call WWII: "Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression."

Additionally, Hirohito reflected upon the suffering of the Japanese people. "However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that we come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable." Perhaps he also forgot the 20 million Chinese who were killed by the Japanese in China in events like the Rape of Nanking, which occurred in 1939. It is estimated that the Japanese lost 1.2 to 1.7 million soldiers in China, which is from 22-39% of all Japanese military losses during WWII. Another way of putting the losses during the Japanese invasion of China beginning in 1937 is that about 20x the number of Chinese were killed as the number of Japanese military losses.

Therefore, starting with Hirohito's surrender speech, the Japanese invasion of China and ultimately the attack on Pearl Harbor, has never been seen by outsiders the same way as many or most Japanese do. Past prime ministers will apologize for their involvement guardedly. Nonetheless, they have never acknowledged the extent of loss of life caused by them as in China.

Even Japanese school textbooks treaded lightly over Japanese involvement in WWII. Tokushi Kasahara states that postwar Japanese governments have "waged critical challenges to history textbooks in attempts to tone down or delete descriptions of Japan's wartime aggression, especially atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking)."

Professor Koichi Nakano at the Sophia University, Tokyo said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement on the 70th anniversary was "historical revisionism." Abe spoke of the Japanese invasions but did not repeat the apologies of other prime ministers. Nakano concluded, "The statement might please some right-wingers in Japan, but will upset many others."

Abe's reasoning was that present-day Japan consists of 80% of the population that was born after WWII. "We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize."

My only retort would be to remind Abe what George Santayana said about the past. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Therein lies a lesson that America needs to learn. We need to address social issues in America like racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, and economic inequality.

This is a video of the surrender of the Japanese 70-years ago on the USS Missouri.

This is a short YouTube discussion of Japanese relationship with the US and Japanese. Additionally, Japan's relationship with China.

This is an NBC news broadcast about the Japanese surrender.

The new ruler of Japan next to the old ruler of Japan

The following is Hirohito's surrender speech broadcasted on the radio on August 15, 1945 at noon. Interestingly, since he was considered a deity, the average Japanese citizen never heard his voice.

To our good and loyal subjects: After pondering deeply on the general trend of the world and the actual conditions pertaining to 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 inform the government of the United States, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union that our Empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration (the Potsdam declaration).

To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations, as well as for the security and well-being of our subjects, is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by out Imperial ancestors and which lies close to our heart. Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement. But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Although the best has been done by everyone - the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of our servants of the state, and the devoted service of our hundred million people - the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interests.

The enemy, moreover, has begun to employ a new most cruel bomb, the power which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would only result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation . . . but would lead also to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are we to save millions of our subjects, or ourselves, to atone before the hallowed spirits of our Imperial ancestors? This is the reason we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the joint declaration of the Powers.

We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to our allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire toward the emancipation of East Asia. The thought of those officers and men who have fallen on the field of battle, of those who have died at their posts of duty, or those who have met with untimely death, and of their bereaved families, pains our heart night and day. The welfare of the wounded and war victims and of those who have lost their homes and livelihood are objects of our profound solicitude. The hardships and sufferings to which our nation is to be subjected hereafter will certainly be great.

We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that we come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable. Having been able to save and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, we are always with you, our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity. Beware most strictly least any out burst of emotion, which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strife, which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose confidence of the world. Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its divine land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibilities and the long road before it. Devote your united strength to construction for the future. Cultivate ways of rectitude, further 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.

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