The Surrender of Japan August 14 - September 2, 1945

In August 1945, the Japanese situation was desperate. The major cities were devastated by atomic or conventional attack, and the casualties numbered in the millions. Millions more were refugees, and the average consumption was below 1200 calories a day. The fleet was lost, and the merchant shipping could not leave home waters or sail from the few possessions still held without braving submarine or mine attack. Oil stocks were gone, rubber and steel were in short supply, and the Soviets were moving against the only sizable forces the Japanese had left, the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. They were a starving and undersupplied force. Many divisions had transferred to the Pacific, where they died in the island battles.

Clearly the time to surrender had come. Incredibly, many in the military wanted to fight on, preferring death to capitulation. The cabinet, made up of elder statesmen, tried to send out peace feelers through neutral Sweden, Soviet Union, and Switzerland as early as June 1945. The only condition was the continued existence of the of Imperial Throne. Unwilling or unclear of the Japanese offer, the Allies refused and issued the Potsdam Declaration on July 26th.

The Emperor was sympathetic to the peacemakers. The Army members of the cabinet were not willing to give up, and Prime Minister Suzuki had to move carefully. If there was a perceived weakness in the cabinet, even the Emperor might be assassinated. The idea that the Emperor would support surrender was inconceivable to many in both the Army and the Navy. Suzuki cautiously sought out others on the cabinet, finding all but two generals in support. On July 28, the government issued a carefully worded response to the Potsdam Declaration, which unfortunately used a word with a double meaning. English-language broadcasts used the word "ignore" and the Western press picked up that sentiment. Truman announced he had rejected the peace offer and dropped the atomic bombs.

The Emperor was sympathetic to the peacemakers. The Army members of the cabinet were not willing to give up, and Prime Minister Suzuki had to move carefully. If there was a perceived weakness in the cabinet, even the Emperor might be assassinated. The idea that the Emperor would support surrender was inconceivable to many in both the Army and the Navy. Suzuki cautiously sought out others on the cabinet, finding all but two generals in support. On July 28, the government issued a carefully worded response to the Potsdam Declaration, which unfortunately used a word with a double meaning. English-language broadcasts used the word "ignore" and the Western press picked up that sentiment. Truman announced he had rejected the peace offer and dropped the atomic bombs.

Truman accepted the surrender, and announced that the war was over on August 15th. Wild celebrations occurred in every Allied capital and most cities. US Army General Douglas C. MacArthur arrived at Atsugi Airfield on August 30th. His staff, lightly armed with pistols, wondered if they would meet a firing squad. As they arrived, thousands of Japanese civilians surrounded the plane and gave him a warm welcome. The occupation of Japan was about to begin.

On September 2nd, 1945, a huge force of Allied ships gathered in Tokyo Bay. Aboard the battleship USS Missouri, the Japanese signed the formal surrender document, watched by thousands of Allied representatives and the crew. MacArthur presided over the signing, accompanied by his former subordinate General Wainwright, who had been a POW since 1942. General Percival, commander at Singapore in 1942, was also present.

The Japanese Imperial Forces began surrendering in massed formations over the next six weeks. By October 7, 1945, when 1,000,000 Japanese Army soldiers were surrendered in Peking, many Japanese soldiers were being sent home. The Soviet POWs would wait years to return to Japan. The last one was announced as wanting to go home in 2006.

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The Japanese Surrender Ceremony aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 was one of the most pinnacle moments in World History.

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