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, 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 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 transmitter U.S. Office of War Information: Japanese POW operates OWI printing press

Left: Established by an executive order of President Frank­lin D. Roose­veltin 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 8‑1/2 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 airdropping U.S. Office of War Information: 2117 leftlet

Above: Loading OWI leaflets for trans¬port 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.

Japan and the Asia-Pacific War (Color Film from 1937 to 1947)