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Japan's Surrender and the Bomb

On 25 April, President Truman was presented with a report on the atomic bomb project underway in New Mexico – a matter of secrecy (but not to Stalin, thanks to spying). On May 1, President Truman approved a recommendation by Secretary of State Henry Stimson to establish an Interim Committee regarding the Bomb. At a press conference on 8 May 1945, after announcing Germany's surrender, Truman warned the Japanese that continued resistance would bring it "utter destruction to its war production," and he declared that the US would fight "until the Japanese military and naval forces lay down their arms in unconditional surrender."

On May 12-13, at a meeting of President Truman's Interim Committee, without Truman, it was decided that targets for the new atom bomb would be Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Kokura. One of those present, Secretary of State Stimson, didn't like the idea of including Kyoto, an ancient capital of great cultural value that had not yet been touched by US air power. Stimson went to Truman. Truman agreed with him, and Kyoto was removed from the list.

The Battle of Okinawa was still being fought, Japan's Supreme War Leadership Council spoke of its determination "to continue the war until the objective of the Greater East Asia War is achieved." On radio, Baron Suzuki, Japan's last wartime prime minister, called on the Japanese "to continue the war with the spirit of a kamikaze pilot."

The historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa writes that Emperor Hirohito was concerned about the preservation of kokutai — the survival of national and cultural identity. And for its preservation Hirohito was still willing "to risk one last battle."

By early June, Japan's government was seeking help from the Soviet Union to negotiate an end to the war. Also, the Japanese had a contact in Switzerland and contact with Alan Dulles of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. Japan's officials seeking an end to the war wanted a settlement that kept Emperor Hirohito on his throne. But nobody in the United States with the power to do so was ready to promise Hirohito's status.

On 18 June, Japan's Supreme War Council concluded that Moscow should be asked to mediate. On 22 June at the Imperial Palace, Prime Minister Suzuki gave his opinion that the war had to be continued "at all cost," but he deemed it "necessary to try diplomacy as well."

On 17 July, a Big Three meeting at Potsdam, near Berlin, began (Truman, Stalin and Britain's Prime Minister Clement Attlee). In Berlin, US Secretary of State Stimson was informed of the successful test of the Bomb in New Mexico, and he informed Truman, including the news that the Bomb would be ready for a drop on Japan in early August. In his diary, Truman wrote, "we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance."

On 26 July an ultimatum was sent to Japan called the Potsdam Declaration. It called for Japan's surrender and warned that it would not accept any deviation from the conditions it expressed. "There are no alternatives," it proclaimed, and added: "We shall brook no delay."

Members of Japan's Supreme War Council released news of the proclamation to Japan's newspapers, with orders not to editorialize on the issue. Several newspapers editorialized anyway. One newspaper, the Mainichi, called Truman's position laughable. Others wrote that Japan would move its war effort forward "unfalteringly to a successful conclusion." Prime Minister Suzuki announced that he would have no comment on the Proclamation, and the word he used was mokusatsu, which could be interpreted to mean "treat with silent contempt," and this was how Suzuki's words were interpreted in the United States.

President Truman believed that the Japanese had rejected his proclamation, and he believed that use of the atomic bomb would quickly end the war. The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August. President Truman spoke by radio to his fellow Americans.

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base.

Hasegawa writes:

There is no convincing evidence to show that the Hiroshima bomb had a direct and immediate impact on Japan's decision to surrender... If anything, the atomic bomb on Hiroshima further contributed to their desperate effort to terminate the war through Moscow's mediation.

Japan's cabinet was not going to allow themselves to be terrorized into submission. The cabinet remained combative toward the United States. And on August 9 the US dropped its second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki. Also on August 9 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan.

Emperor Hirohito accepted the Potsdam Declaration on August 15, and he spoke to the Japanese nation for the first time by radio:

...In conformity with the precepts handed down by our Imperial ancestors we have always striven for the welfare of our subjects and for the happiness and welfare of all nations. This is precisely why we declared war against Great Britain and the United States.

...It was not our intention to infringe on the sovereignty of other nations or to carry out acts of aggression against their soil.

...Despite the valor of our land and naval forces, despite the valor of our heroic dead and despite the continued efforts the situation has not taken a turn for the better and neither has the aspect of the world situation taken a more favorable turn. Moreover, the enemy has employed its outrageous bomb and slaughtered untold numbers of innocent people.

...Accordingly, to continue the war under these circumstances would ultimately mean the extinction of our people and the utter destruction of human civilization. Under these circumstances how were we to save the millions of our subjects or justify ourselves to save the spirits of our Imperial ancestors.

...Let us be strong in our moral principles and firm in our ideals.

The official surrender was signed on September 2 aboard the battleship USS Missouri. A Gallup poll in August 1945 had 85 percent approving and 10 percent disapproving of the decision to drop the atomic bombs. It was believed the alternative to dropping the bombs was another invasion of Japan, another Okinawa but bigger, that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved the lives of many American "boys."


General Eisenhower had been opposed to dropping the bomb, having stated that Japan was in effect already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary. And others were to ask why the US was in such a hurry, why it didn't choose the alternative of waiting for Japan to surrender while under siege. It would be suggested that the Truman administration had been concerned about ending the war quickly because the Soviet Union was scheduled to enter the war against Japan on August 15 and headed in the direction of Japan-occupied Manchuria and Korea.

CONTINUE READING: The Allied Occupation of Japan

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