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Second World War - Final End

The Allies demanded unconditional surrender of the Japanese.

Faced with the prospect of an invasion of the Japanese home islands, the Imperial Headquarters concluded, “We can no longer direct the war with any hope of success. The only course left is for Japan’s one hundred million people to sacrifice their lives by charging the enemy to make them lose the will to fight.”

In February 1945, Prince Konoe Fumimaro warned the Emperor that if the war continued, the Imperial house might be in greater danger from an internal revolution than from defeat. The Emperor replied that it was premature to seek peace, “…Unless we make one more military gain.”

In April 1945, the Fundamental Policy of the Japanese government was reiterated as being to fight on, and to choose honourable death of the hundred million over surrender.

In June, the Emperor lost confidence in the chances of achieving a military victory. The battle of Okinawa was lost, and he learned of the weakness of the Japanese army in China, of the navy, and of the army defending the Home Islands.

On 12th July, the Japanese Foreign Minister stated, “His Majesty the Emperor, mindful of the fact that the present war daily brings greater evil and sacrifice upon the peoples of all the belligerent powers, desires from his heart that it may be quickly terminated. But so long as England and the United States insist upon unconditional surrender, the Japanese Empire has no alternative but to fight on with all its strength for the honour and existence of the Motherland.”

On 17th July, the Foreign Minister stated, “Although the directing powers, and the government as well, are convinced that our war strength still can deliver considerable blows to the enemy, we are unable to feel absolutely secure peace of mind ... Please bear particularly in mind, however, that we are not seeking … mediation for anything like an unconditional surrender.”

On 21st July the Cabinet stated, “With regard to unconditional surrender we are unable to consent to it under any circumstances whatever.”

The Allies confirmed their position in an ultimatum given on 26th July, “We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”

On 27th July, the Japanese Prime Minister stated, “[The ultimatum] … is nothing but a rehash of [an earlier declaration]. As for the Government, it does not find any important value in it; the government will just mokusatsu it. We will do nothing but press on to the bitter end to bring about a successful completion of the war.”

The meaning of the word mokusatsu, literally “kill with silence,” is not precise; it can range from “ignore” to “treat with contempt” — which actually described fairly accurately the range of effective reactions within the government. However, the statement was taken as a clear rejection by the press, both in Japan and abroad, and no further statement was made in public or through diplomatic channels to alter this understanding.

The atom bomb, Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima at 8.15am on 6th August 1945. Later that morning confused reports reached Tokyo that Hiroshima had been the target of an air raid, which had levelled the city with a “blinding flash and violent blast.”

Later that day, U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s broadcast was received, announcing the first use of an atomic bomb, and promising, “We are now prepared to obliterate rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have ... It was to spare the Japanese from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26th was issued. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on Earth.”

At 4am on 9th August, word reached Tokyo that the Soviet Union had broken the neutrality pact and had entered the War against Japan.

The twin shocks of the destruction of Hiroshima and the Soviet entry had immediate profound effects on the Japanese Prime and Foreign Ministers who agreed that the government must end the War at once. However, the senior leadership of the Imperial Japanese Army took the news in its stride, grossly underestimating the scale of the attack. With the support of the Minister of War, the army started preparing to impose martial law to stop anyone attempting to make peace.

The Cabinet met at 10:30am on 9th August. In the middle of the meeting, news arrived that Nagasaki had been hit by Fat Man, the second atom bomb. By the time the meeting ended, the cabinet were split over what to do.

The Cabinet met again on 13th August but were still deadlocked.

Eventually, at noon on 15th August, the Emperor’s recorded speech to the nation, the Imperial Rescript on Surrender, was broadcast:
“... Despite the best that 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 one 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 interest.

“Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. 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.

“Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.

“The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.”

Following the signing of the Instrument of Surrender, many further surrender ceremonies took place across Japan’s remaining holdings in the Pacific. With many Japanese troops still fighting the Allied troops, often in remote areas, it took until the spring of 1946 for all major units to actually lay down their arms. Some individuals, especially on small Pacific Islands, refused to surrender at all (believing the declaration to be propaganda or simply considering the act too much against their code). Some may never have heard of it. The last known survivor emerged from his hidden retreat on Mindoro, Philippines in 1980, while two other Japanese soldiers, who had joined communist guerrillas at the end of the war, fought in southern Thailand until 1991.

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