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August 15, 1945

"American servicemen and women gather in front of "Rainbow Corner" Red Cross club in Paris to celebrate the unconditional surrender of the Japanese."

Photo credit: Unknown, but in Office of the Chief Signal Officer collection.

Japan Surrenders. Emperor Hirohito Breaks the News of Surrender to the Japanese People.

Following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (see 6th and 9th August entries) and the 8th August invasion by the Soviet Union of the Imperial Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, Japanese civilian and military leaders were still unable to agree on accepting the Potsdam Declaration's surrender terms (see 17th July entry and further readings). On the 10th August Emperor Hirohito instead broke the tradition of imperial non-intervention in government and ordered that surrender be accepted, provided it did not have “any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of his Majesty as a sovereign ruler.” The communications between the USA and Japan governments went through the Swiss government.  On 11th August President Truman and Secretary of State Byrnes replied with an amended form of the Potsdam Declaration that acknowledged the Emperor, but still refused to guarantee his position (received in Japan on 12th August).

Meanwhile General Groves reported that a second plutonium core would be ready for shipment on 12th and 13th August, with a bombing possible on 17th or 18th August.  But on 10th August President Truman had ordered a halt to further atomic bombing until further orders were issued (see 9th August entry). So no further A-bombs were dropped on Japan. However no-one had any qualms about dropping regular and fire-inducing bombs on Japanese cities.  American leaders were growing impatient, so on 13th August General  Henry Arnold, US Army Air Force, launched the largest raid on Japan of the war with over 1000 B-29s and other aircraft, carrying  and dropping 6000 tons of bombs on 6 Japanese cities. Thousands more Japanese civilians died while their leaders delayed.

The Japanese people learned of the surrender negotiations for the first time when, on  14th August, B-29s showered Tokyo with thousands of leaflets containing translated copies of the American reply of 12th August .  Later that day, the emperor called another meeting of his cabinet and instructed them to accept the Allied terms immediately, explaining "I cannot endure the thought of letting my people suffer any longer"; if the war did not end "the whole nation would be reduced to ashes."

The only question remaining now was if Japan's military leaders would allow the Emperor to surrender.  Loyalty to the Emperor was an absolute in the Japanese military, but so was the refusal to surrender, and now that the two had come into conflict, open rebellion was a possible result.  The Emperor recorded a message on 14th August on a gramophone record in which he personally accepted the Allied surrender terms, to be broadcast over Japanese radio the following day.  This way everyone in Japan would know that surrender was the Emperor's personal will.  Some within the Japanese military actually attempted to steal this record before it could be broadcast, while some junior Army officers attempted a more general military coup in order to seize power and continue the war.  Neither succeeded. Other elements of the Japanese military remained loyal to the Emperor.

At 2:49 p.m. on 14th August (1:49 a.m. Washington DC time), the Japanese news agency announced the surrender. At 4:05 p.m. in DC the surrender announcement was received by the US government via the Swiss government.

On 15th August, 1945 at noon in Tokyo, the Emperor's broadcast announcing Japan's surrender was heard via radio all over Japan.  For most of his subjects, it was the first time that they had ever heard his voice.  It is called the Jewel Voice Broadcast (玉音放送, Gyokuon-hōsō). The Emperor explained that "the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage," and that "the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb." He never used the word “surrender”; he did not explicitly mention the Soviets as a factor in the surrender. He did say “Having been able to safeguard and maintain the Kokutai, We are always with you, our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.” (Note: “Kokutai” means the Emperor’s sovereignty).


Under “Further readings” you will find a link to the full text of the Jewel Voice Broadcast.

Here is a brief review on the use of area bombing during World War II and its consequences on many subsequent wars fought by the US. The 13th February and 9th March entries in this 1945 timeline briefly describe the fire bombings of Dresden, Germany and Tokyo, Japan by, mostly, American planes.  If you have not read those entries this would be a good moment to do so.

Looking back before 1945 to the early days of World War II we observe that Germany and Japan took the lead in wholesale bombing of cities and this sparked outrage from then President F.D. Roosevelt and many others. After entering the war in 1941 following Pearl Harbor, the US continued to claim the moral high ground by abjuring civilian bombing.  The U.S and British bombing, in contrast to bombing by Germany and Japan, kept to strategic targets such as enemy forces, railroads and factories. The most efficient bombing strategies were considered to be those that pinpointed destruction of military targets, not those designed to terrorize or kill noncombatants. Through the middle of 1944 the US Air Force proclaimed its adherence to precision bombing. However, this approach failed not only to force surrender on either Germany or Japan, but even to inflict significant damage on their war-making capacity. German artillery and interceptors took a heavy toll on US planes, but as new styles of US aircraft with longer ranges became available and more of them, and napalm was invented (at Harvard University) and radar was perfected, so it became feasible to bomb at night with more planes per air-raid. So by early 1945 US B29 planes joined the British Air Force in the very destructive fire-bombing of Dresden (see 13 February timeline entry) and other German cities.

But it was in the Pacific theatre, and specifically in Japan, that the full brunt of air power would be felt. Between 1932 and 1945, Japan had bombed Shanghai, Nanjing, Chongqing and other Chinese cities, testing chemical weapons in Ningbo and throughout Zhejiang province. In the early months of 1945, the United States shifted its attention to the Pacific as it garnered the capacity to attack Japan from newly captured bases in the Pacific islands of Tinian and Guam. While the US continued to proclaim adherence to tactical bombing, tests of firebombing options against Japanese homes throughout 1943-44 demonstrated that M-69 bombs were highly effective against the densely packed wooden structures of Japanese cities. So the 2-day attack on Tokyo took place in March 1945 (see 9 March entry), succeeding in destroying a quarter of the city with a minimum of US causalities. This and subsequent firebombing of 66 Japanese cities may have terrorized Japanese civilians but it did not lead to an early Japanese surrender.

So there was a gradual erosion of the stigma associated with the systematic targeting of civilian populations from the air. By the end of WWII it became the centerpiece of American war-making and set a military precedent for targeting civilian areas that persisted in the Korean and Vietnam wars and continued to be used in the Gulf and Iraq wars.

But the WWII conventional bomb attacks in 1945 have been largely overlooked. Both the US and Japan governments and the media decided the crucial story was the atomic bomb. Survivors of the Tokyo firebombing feel their pain has been forgotten, by history and by the government. After the war, only veterans and victims of the atomic bombings received special support. The authorities were and continue to be reluctant to acknowledge civilian suffering from the wartime leaders' refusal to end the war earlier.

This brief review has described the beginning of the current era of US warfare, which uses indiscriminate aerial bombing while keeping nuclear weapons of mass destruction in reserve as a terrorizing  strategy; it started in 1945 and we must continue to work against these bombing strategies and nuclear weapons, the use of which breaks international law as promulgated by the United Nations.  The two Mark Selden articles listed in “Further Readings” provide more historical details and scholarly references.


Further readings: Has the full text of the Potsdam Declaration Has the full text of the Emperor’s surrender speech, recorded on 14th and broadcast on 15th August 1945  American Fire Bombing and Atomic Bombing of Japan in History and Memory by Mark Selden  A Forgotten Holocaust: US Bombing Strategy, the Destruction of Japanese Cities & the American Way of War from World War II to Iraq by Mark Selden

“The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” by Denise Kiernan, published by Touchstone, 2013. Learn about the Manhattan Project which brought about the atomic bomb through the eyes of many young women who worked in it.

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