Tokyo, Japan · August 12, 1945

In 1945 the endgame in Europe was to take Berlin, the epi­center of Nazi resis­tance, which the Red Army did in the last week of April. On May 7 and 8, 1945, Adolf Hitler’s heir, Adm. Karl Doenitz, surren­dered Nazi Ger­many uncon­di­tionally to the Allies. The end­game in the Pacific War was the incin­er­ation of Japan. As Presi­dent Harry S. Truman said on August 6, following the atomic bombing of Hiro­shima: “We are now pre­pared to oblit­er­ate more rapidly and com­pletely every pro­duc­tive enter­prise the Japa­nese have above ground in any city.” On this date in 1945 in Tokyo, Japa­nese Emperor Hiro­hito (post­humously referred to as Emperor Shōwa) in­formed his family of his deci­sion to order his coun­try’s sur­render to the Allies. Until August 9, the Supreme Coun­cil for the Direc­tion of the War had set four pre­con­ditions for Japan’s sur­render. But on this day the em­peror ordered his Lord Privy Seal to “quickly con­trol the situ­ation” in light of the Soviet Union’s entry into the war on August 9. (August 9 was also the date the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Japan, this on Naga­saki. A third was being readied for delivery on August 17 or 18.) Then Hiro­hito held an Imperial con­fer­ence that included both the war coun­cil and the entire cabi­net during which he autho­rized Foreign Minis­ter Shige­nori Tōgō (the same per­son who had signed the decla­ra­tion of war on the U.S. in 1941) to notify the Allies that Japan would accept the terms of the Pots­dam Decla­ra­tion of July 26, 1945 (“uncon­di­tional sur­render” versus “prompt and utter destruc­tion”) on one condi­tion: that sur­render did not com­pro­mise the prero­ga­tives of the em­peror as a sovereign ruler. As the Allies’ ulti­ma­tum seemed to leave in­tact the prin­ciple of the pre­ser­vation of the Throne—in fact, the decla­ra­tion made no direct men­tion of the em­peror at all—Hiro­hito recorded on August 14 the capitu­la­tion announce­ment that was broad­cast to the nation the next day. Speaking frankly to his sub­jects, al­beit in for­mal Japa­nese that few ordi­nary people could easily under­stand, Hiro­hito ac­knowl­edged the awe­some destruc­tion caused by two atomic bombings and the poten­tial for further destruc­tion, saying, “Should we con­tinue to fight, not only would it result in an ulti­mate col­lapse and oblit­era­tion of the Japa­nese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”

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The Inescapable Annihilation or Unconditional Surrender of Japan, August–September 1945

Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the WarSigning the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, September 2, 1945

Left: Emperor Hirohito’s Rescript on the Termi­na­tion of the War. The rescript was written on August 14, recorded on a phono­graph record, and broad­cast to Japa­nese citizens at noon on August 15, 1945. Hiro­hito’s Gyokuon-hōsō (lit. “Jewel Voice Broad­cast”) made no direct refer­ence to Japan’s sur­ren­der or defeat. Neither did it contain the words “apolo­gize” or “sorry.” Instead, the emperor said he had in­structed his govern­ment to accept the terms of the Pots­dam Decla­ra­tion fully. This cir­cum­lo­cution con­fused many listeners who were not sure if Japan had sur­ren­dered or if the emperor was exhorting his sub­jects to resist an enemy in­vasion. The poor audio quality of the radio broad­cast, as well as the for­mal courtly lan­guage in which the speech was delivered, added to the confusion.

Right: Recently appointed Foreign Minister Mamo­ru Shige­mitsu, along with Army gene­ral and Supreme War Council mem­ber Yoshijirō Umezu, signs the Japa­nese Instru­ment of Surrender on board USS Missouri as Gen. Rich­ard K. Suther­land and Toshi­kazu Kase, a high-ranking Japa­nese Foreign Minis­try offi­cial, watch. Septem­ber 2, 1945. Both Shige­mitsu and Umezu were tried as war crimi­nals at the Inter­na­tional Mili­tary Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo and imprisoned.

Obliterating Japan: The U.S. Army Air Forces 1945 Strategic Bombing Campaign