Tokyo, Japan August 14, 1945

Two days after the United States had dropped a second atomic bomb on a major Japa­nese city, this on Naga­saki on August 9, Emperor Hiro­hito (post­humously referred to as Emperor Shōwa) personally inter­vened during an Imperial Con­ference (Gozen Kaigi) to let die­hard hawks in his govern­ment and armed services know that for Japan’s sake the war must end.

Notwithstanding the limited and ceremonial role the emperor played at imperial con­fer­ences, Hiro­hito drew upon the power of his moral and spiri­tual leader­ship to issue the first of two seidans (imperial per­sonal opin­ions). In the first he pro­posed accepting the provi­sions of the Pots­dam Declara­tion issued by the United States, Great Britain, and China on July 26, 1945, that demanded Japan’s capit­u­la­tion. Already the promise in the declara­tion of “prompt and utter destruc­tion” if Japan did not comply was con­firmed, not only by the atomic wea­pons that oblit­erated Hiro­shima on August 6 and Naga­saki three days later with mur­der­ous effi­ciency, but by reports from Japan’s Air Defense General Head­quarters: Out of 206 cities, 44 had been almost com­pletely wiped out, while 37 others, including the capital Tokyo, had lost over 30 per­cent of their built-up areas. Almost 2 mil­lion mili­tary person­nel and civil­ians were dead, with another 8 mil­lion wounded or home­less. “I do not wish my peo­ple to fall into deeper distress or destroy our culture,” the emperor told his audi­ence, which included obsti­nate mem­bers of the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War. “The time had come when we must bear the unbearable.”

In a second deeply moving imperial seidan on this date, August 14, the emperor accepted the limita­tions that the Allies had im­posed on his sovereign prerog­a­tive to rule the country after its surrender: “No matter what happens to me, I want to save the lives of all my peo­ple. If we con­tinue the war, the whole coun­try will be reduced to ashes, and I cannot endure the thought of letting my people suffer any longer.”

In an odd turn of events perhaps, the U.S. Office of War Infor­mation assisted Emperor Hiro­hito by publi­cizing the cala­mity Japan faced short of surren­der and, in so doing, boosting the peace momen­tum. Two days before, on August 12, the OWI, using radio and B‑29 leaf­let drops over major Japa­nese cities, dis­closed the news of the Japa­nese govern­ment’s secret negoti­ations with the Allies. Hiro­hito found him­self in a quan­dary: civil­ians, rattled in every direction, now knew of their emperor’s effort to con­clude the war but ominously so did younger militants in his military.

Fearing an army coup the emperor took an added mea­sure on August 14 to ensure the war ended peace­fully for his 70 mil­lion subjects. In an action with­out prec­e­dent, Hiro­hito issued an imperial decree (rescript) announcing his coun­try’s capit­u­lation, to be delivered to both the Allies through diplo­matic chan­nels and the nation in his own voice in a radio address the next day. A faction of the mili­tary, aware that the broad­cast would doom any efforts to prolong the war, ordered ele­ments of the Imperial Guard Divi­sion to take over Hiro­hito’s palace on the night of August 14/15 and seize the recording. The coup failed. The insur­gents could not break into the emperor’s base­ment bunker, where a pale Hiro­hito and staff had taken refuge, or find the recordings. At noon on August 15 a stunned popu­lace listened to their emperor’s high, shaking, unfamiliar voice over the airwaves effectively announcing the end of World War II.

U.S. Propaganda Assists Hirohito in Closing Peace Deal

U.S. Office of War Information: OWI personnel adjusting KSAI radio transmitterU.S. Office of War Information: Japanese POW operates OWI printing press

Left: Established by an executive order of President Frank­lin D. Roose­velt in June 1942, the U.S. Office of War Infor­ma­tion was empowered to con­duct propa­ganda cam­paigns abroad that would con­trib­ute to an Allied victory against the Axis. Propa­ganda included print and news media. The OWI bom­barded Japan with radio messages through its 50,000-watt station on Saipan in the Marianas, Radio KSAI. The station also picked up 100,000-watt short­wave trans­mis­sions from the OWI station in Hono­lulu, Hawaii, and relayed them to the Japa­nese home­land, where censored news was the norm, as well as to Japanese-occupied terri­tories, where enemy soldiers were tempted into surrendering by the pro­mise of fair treat­ment as pri­soners of war. Japa­nese lan­guage radio broad­casts con­sisted of news reports on the true status of the war, bombing warnings, and messages from Japa­nese POWs held on Saipan urging their country­men to surrender. On the day the text of the Pots­dam Declara­tion was released, July 26, 1945, KSAI began broad­casting the surrender terms to the Japa­nese nation at regular inter­vals. Thus, Japa­nese offi­cials learned of the Allies’ condi­tions for ending the war a day ahead of the offi­cial com­muni­ca­tion sent through diplo­matic chan­nels. In this photo OWI person­nel are seen adjusting the KSAI radio transmitter to new frequencies to avoid jamming by Japan.

Right: A young Japanese POW operates an OWI printing press on Saipan that turned out news­papers and leaf­lets (mostly done “four up” on 8½ x 11‑in paper) for delivery to the Home Islands and to combat zones. Less than 48 hours after Japan’s surrender offer of August 9 was received in Washing­ton, D.C., three-quarters of a mil­lion leaflets giving notifi­cation of Japan’s surrender offer and the Allies’ accep­tance thereof had been printed on OWI’s three high-speed presses. By the next after­noon, production of OWI leaflet #2117 totaled well over 5 million copies.

U.S. Office of War Information: Transporting leaflets to B-29s for airdroppingU.S. Office of War Information: 2117 leftlet

Above: Loading OWI leaflets for trans­port to a U.S. air­field on Saipan (Left panel). Saipan’s naval base designated two 15-member Navy crews to pack the Japa­nese capit­ul­ation leaf­lets (Right panel) into bomb casings for delivery by B‑29s. Beginning August 12 and for the next three days air­craft runs departed Saipan for major popu­la­tion centers such as Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya to air­drop news of Japan’s secret peace nego­ti­a­tions with the Allies. The 4‑in x 5‑in leaf­lets, the text of which had been radio-phoned from Washing­ton, D.C., rained down by the millions, roughly 5.5 mil­lion on the night of August 13/14. “These Amer­ican planes [read the Japanese text] are not dropping bombs on you today. Amer­ican planes are dropping these leaf­lets instead because the Japa­nese Govern­ment has offered to surrender, and every Japa­nese has a right to know the terms of that offer and the reply made to it by the United States Govern­ment on behalf of itself, the British, the Chinese, and the Russians. Your govern­ment now has a chance to end the war imme­diately.” The next two para­graphs described the Japa­nese surrender offer verbatim and the Allies’ willing­ness to accept the offer. KSAI radio ham­mered the mes­sage home hour after hour. Through leaf­let drops and by radio ordi­nary Japa­nese learned for the first time that their govern­ment was trying to surrender. Incred­i­bly, a full 72 hours passed before Japan’s leader­ship, including Emperor Hirohito who found a 2117 leaf­let on his palace grounds, learned through diplomatic channels of the Allies’ acceptance of their surrender offer.

Timeline’s “The Bloody History of the Pacific Theater: Battles Won and Lost”