The Defeat of Japan, 1945

The Meaning of Victory: August, 1945
John Lewis
The Ayn Rand Institute
OCON 2007, Telluride, Colorado
July 6-15, 2007

In 1945 America gained an unconditional victory over Japan using the most horrific violence ever unleashed by man; the result has been the most benevolent turnaround of an entire nation in history. How was this victory achieved? What is its meaning? What lessons does it hold for us today? This course will consider first the basic events of the defeat, as a means to more deeply understand the concept of Victory, and its opposite, Surrender.

The 1945 victory has implications beyond Japan’s physical capacity to wage war. Politically, the Japanese were forced to confront—and repudiate—their values. This reduced their militaristic concepts to their essential, inescapable meanings. No one in Japan could again think of “war” without bringing to mind smoke, death, and Hiroshima. The victory affirmed the efficacy of the good, and allowed Japan to grow into a peaceful, productive society—the concrete meaning of the values they adopted after their total exhaustion and defeat.

This contains material from the forthcoming book, Nothing Less than Victory: Military Offense and the Lessons of History from the Greco-Persian Wars to World War II (Princeton University Press, 2008).

Dramatis Personae

Allied Leadership:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US President (to April, 1945) (FDR)
Harry S. Truman, US President (HST)
Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister (to July, 1945) (WC)
Clement Attlee, British Prime Minister
Josef Stalin, Chairman, Soviet Communist Party
Chiang Kai-shek, Premier of China
General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Allied Powers (SCAP)
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz
General Curtis LeMay, Chief of Air Force

Japanese Leadership:

Hirohito, Emperor
Marquis Koichi Kido, Lord Privy Seal
The Supreme Council for the Direction of the War (The “Big Six”) established April 1945:
Baron Kantaro Suzuki, Premier
Shigenori Togo, Foreign Minister
General Korechika Anami, Army Minister
Ushijiro Umeza, Chief of the Army General Staff
Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Naval Chief of Staff (replaced Koshiro Oikawa in May)
Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, Naval Minister
Neotake Sato, Ambassador to Russia
Hidecki Tojo, Premier (to July, 1944)
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (killed April, 1943)


1853 Commander Perry opens Japan to the West
1868 Restoration of the Meiji Dynasty
1890 Emperor’s Rescript on Education
1895 Japanese victory in Sino-Japanese War. Russia, France, and Germany
then force a humiliating Japanese retreat from Liaotung Peninsula, Manchuria.
1904-5 Treaty of Portsmouth ends Russo-Japanese War (US mediated)
1918 WWI ends; British blockade has killed 500,000 Germans
1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria (breaks Treaty of Portsmouth)
1937 Japanese invasion of China
8/1941 Atlantic Conference (FDR, WC); pledges end to Nazi tyranny, with a just peace to follow
12/1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Malaya
12/8: Japanese Emperor’s War Rescript
6/1942 Battle of Midway; Japanese Navy broken
8/1942 US offensive against Guadalcanal and New Guinea begins
1/1943 Casablanca Conference: FDR, WC, Stalin. FDR states Unconditional Surrender as his goal
3/1/1943 Americans sink Japanese convoy en route to New Guinea, Battle of the Bismarck Sea
8/1943 Quebec Conference: FDR, WC. Japan to be defeated within a year of Germany
11/1943 11/22-25: Cairo Conference: FDR, WC, Shiang Kai-shek. Cairo Declaration of Japan’s defeat
11/28-12/1: Tehran Conference: FDR, WC, Stalin. Russia promises to enter war in Asia
7/1944 Fall of Saipan, in the Marianas. Tojo government falls. “Big Six” est. under PM Koiso
12/1944 Japan abandons Leyte, Philippines
1/1945 MacArthur returns to Luzon, Philippines
2/1945 Yalta Conference: FDR, WC, Stalin. To discuss post-war arrangements
Japanese Prince Konoe “Memorial to the Throne,” in Jushin consultations
US takes Iwo Jima (Adm. Nimitz); Japan now within large-scale bombing range
2/3: Berlin firebombed; 2/13: Dresden firebombed
3/1945 US air blitz (Gen. Lemay): Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya firebombed
4/1945 Suzuki becomes Premier of Japan
4/5 USSR states it will not renew non-aggression pact with Japan
4/8: Ketsu-Go, Japanese “Decisive Battle” defense plan, finalized
4/12: FDR dies; HST President
4/13; 4/15: Tokyo firebombed. 4/25 HST briefed on the A-Bomb
5/1945 5/8: Germany surrenders
Firebombed: Nagoya (5/14 & 17);: Tokyo (5/23 & 25); Yokahama (5/29)
6/1945 US takes Okinawa (4/1 to 6/21). 76,000 defenders inflict 72,000 US casualties
6/1 – 6/15: 9 cities firebombed
6/19: “The Marianas Turkey Shoot” over Philippine Sea: 300 Japanese planes downed
7/1945 7/17 to 8/2: Potsdam Conference: HST, Stalin, WC / Atlee
7/26: Potsdam Declaration (signed by HST, WC, Chiang Kaishek).
WC loses elections during the conference
7/29: USS Indianapolis sunk, delivering “Little Boy” a-bomb
8/1945 Firebombings: 8/1-5: Hachiogi, Nagaoka, Mito, Toyama, Nishinomiya-Mikage, Saga, etc.
8/6: Hiroshima a-bombed ( “Little Boy”)
8/8: USSR enters war in Asia
8/9: Nagasaki a-bombed (“Fat Man”); Japanese “Big Six” remain deadlocked
8/10: Japan offer to surrender if Emperor remains; 8/12 US response: “Emperor is subordinate”
8/14: Japanese surrender; 8/15: Emperor’s message to Japan
9/1945 9/2: Surrender signed on the Missouri
6/1950 South Korea invaded by the north
5/1951 Macarthur relieved by Truman
4/28/1952 US Occupation of Japan ends

Select Bibliography (* = recommended)

Sakaguchi Ango On Decadence,
The most succinct statement of one Japanese man’s repudiation of militaristic values.

Armstrong, A. Unconditional Surrender: The Impact of the Casablanca Policy upon World War II (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974). A hostile criticism of unconditional surrender policy.
* Dower, J., Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (NY: W.W. Norton, 1999). An account of the US Occupation, with emphasis on the effects on the Japanese.
* Frank, R.B. Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (NY: Random House, 1999).
Gluck, C. and Graubard, S.R., (eds.), Showa: The Japan of Hirohito (NY: Norton, 1990/1992).
Holles, E. Unconditional Surrender (Howell Soskins Publishers, 1945). The first account of the defeat of Germany, by a CBS correspondent who valued unconditional surrender.
Inoguchi, R., Nakajima, T., and Pineau, R. The Divine Wind (Annapolis: Bantam, 1960). By kamikaze pilots.
Yoshio Kodama, I Was Defeated (Japan: Radiopress, 1959). By an imprisoned Japanese officer.
MacArthur, D. Reminiscences (NY: NMcGraw Hill, 1964). The general’s own account.
Manchester, W. American Caesar (NY: Random House, 1978). A magisterial biography.
* Eiji Takamae The Allied Occupation of Japan (NY: Continuum, 2003). A comprehensive account of the occupation, with a focus on the structure and operation of the occupation powers.
* Weintraub, S. The Last Great Victory: The End of World War II, July / August 1945 (NY: Dutton, 1995).

Select Works on the Atomic Bombings and the Japanese Decision to Surrender

Alperovitz, G. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (NY: Vintage Books 1967). The revisionist book that denied the bomb was intended to defeat Japan, but was rather used against the Soviets.
* Sadao Asada, “The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan’s Decision to Surrender—A Reconsideration,” in Pacific Historical Review 67.4(1998), pp. 477-513. Repudiates Alperovitz.
Bernstein, B. J., “Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender” in Hogan, M.J. (ed.), Hiroshima in Myth and Memory (Cambridge: 1996), pp. 38-79
Bix, H.P. “Japan’s Delayed Surrender: A Reinterpretation,” in Hogan, Hiroshima, pp. 80-115.
Butow, R.J.C. Japan’s Decision to Surrender (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1954).
Drea, E. “Previews of Hell: The End of the War with Japan,” Military History Quarterly 7 (1995) pp. 74-81
Fussell, P. Thank God for the Atom Bomb (NY: Summit Books, 1988). An American soldier’s view.
Gentile, G. P. How Effective is Strategic Bombing? Lessons Learned from World War II to Kosovo (NY: New York University Press, 2001)
Kagan, D. “Why America Dropped the Bomb,” Commentary, 100.3 (Sep. 1995), pp. 17-23; also, reader and author responses, Commentary 100.6 (Dec. 1995), pp. 3-14
* Maddox, R.J. Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995). Counters Alperovitz snd other revisionists.
Walker, J. S. Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004). His subjectivist premise denies firm answers to many questions.

Excerpt from “Darakuron” (“On Decadence”) by Sakaguchi Ango.

“The heroes of the special attack corps are mere apparitions; human history will begin with those who have become black marketeers. Widows being held up as apostles of virtue are mere apparitions; human history will begin with those who adopt visions of renewal. And finally the Emperor, he too is a mere apparition; a true imperial history will begin with the emperor becoming a common man.”

Excerpts from Roosevelt’s Speech before Joint Session of Congress, Dec. 8, 1941

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan . . . It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu . . . As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounded determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

From the Casablanca Conference, February, 1943: Excerpt from FDR’s statement to reporters
I think we have all had it in our hearts and heads before, but I don’t think that it has ever been put down on paper by the Prime Minister and myself, and that is the determination that peace can come to the world only by the total elimination of German, Japanese and Italian war power . . . The elimination of German, Japanese and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy and Japan.

FDR on Unconditional Surrender: from his 1943 State of the Union Speech:

Washington may be a madhouse–but only in the sense that it is the Capital City of a Nation which is fighting mad . . . if we do not pull the fangs of the predatory animals of this world, they will multiply and grow in strength–and they will be at our throats again once more in a short generation.. . . It is clear to us that if Germany and Italy and Japan—or any one of them—remain armed at the end of this war, or are permitted to rearm, they will again, and inevitably, embark upon an ambitious career of world conquest. They must be disarmed and kept disarmed, and they must abandon the philosophy, and the teaching of that philosophy, which has brought so much suffering to the world.

Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender
Issued, at Potsdam, July 26, 1945
By The United States, England and China

1. We the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war.

2. The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.

3. The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan. The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.

4. The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.

5. Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.

6. There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.

7. Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s war-making power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.

8. The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.

9. The Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.

10. We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.

11. Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit the exaction of just reparations in kind, but not those which would enable her to re-arm for war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be permitted. Eventual Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted.

12. The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government.

13. 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.

Excerpts from the Basic Initial Post Surrender Directive to Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers for the Occupation and Control of Japan. JCS 1380/15. Nov. 3, 1945.

The basis of your power and authority over Japan is the directive signed by the President of the United States designating you as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and the Instrument of Surrender, executed by command of the Emperor of Japan. These documents, in turn, are based upon the Potsdam Declaration of 26 July 1945, the reply of the Secretary of State on 11 August 1945 to the Japanese communication of 10 August 1945 and the final Japanese communication on 14 August 1945. Pursuant to these documents your authority over Japan, as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, is supreme for the purpose of carrying out the surrender . . .

The ultimate objective of the United Nations with respect to Japan is to foster conditions which will give the greatest possible assurance that Japan will not again become a menace to the peace and security of the world . . . Certain measures considered to be essential for the achievement of this objective have been set forth in the Potsdam Declaration. These measures include, among others, the carrying out of the Cairo Declaration and the limiting of Japanese sovereignty to the four main islands and such minor islands as the Allied Powers determine; the abolition of militarism and ultra-nationalism in all their forms; the disarmament and demilitarization of Japan, with continuing control over Japan’s capacity to make war; the strengthening of democratic tendencies and processes in governmental, economic and social institutions; and the encouragement and support of liberal political tendencies in Japan. The United States desires that the Japanese Government conform as closely as may be to principles of democratic self-government, but it is not the responsibility of the occupation forces to impose on Japan any form of government not supported by the freely expressed will of the people.

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers your mission will be to assure that the surrender is vigorously enforced. . .

By appropriate means you will make clear to all levels of the Japanese population the fact of their defeat. They must be made to realize that their suffering and defeat have been brought upon them by the lawless and irresponsible aggression of Japan, and that only when militarism has been eliminated from Japanese life and institutions will Japan be admitted to the family of nations. They must be told that they will be expected to develop a non-militaristic and democratic Japan which will respect the rights of other nations and Japan’s international obligations. You will make it clear that military occupation of Japan is effected in the interests of the United Nations and is necessary for the destruction of Japan’s power of aggression and her war potential and for the elimination of militarism and militaristic institutions which have brought disaster on the Japanese . . .

The dissemination of Japanese militaristic and ultra-nationalistic ideology and propaganda in any form will be prohibited and completely suppressed. You will require the Japanese Government to cease financial and other support of National Shinto establishments . . .

You will not assume any responsibility for the economic rehabilitation of Japan or the strengthening of the Japanese economy. You will make it clear to the Japanese people that (a) You assume no obligations to maintain, or have maintained, any particular standard of living in Japan, and (b). That the standard of living will depend upon the thoroughness with which Japan rids itself of all militaristic ambitions, redirects the use of its human and natural resources wholly and solely for purposes of peaceful living, administers adequate economic and financial controls, and cooperates with the occupying forces and the governments they represent . . .

As soon as practicable educational institutions will be reopened. As rapidly as possible, all teachers who have been active exponents of militant nationalism and aggression and those who continue actively to oppose the purposes of the military occupation will be replaced by acceptable and qualified successors. Japanese military and para-military training and drill in all schools will be forbidden. You will assure that curricula acceptable to you are employed in all schools and that they include the concepts indicated above.

Excerpts from MacArthur’s speech before Joint Session of Congress, April 19, 1951:

Efforts have been made to distort my position. It has been said in effect that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting . . . But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.

In war there is no substitute for victory.

There are some who for varying reasons would appease Red China. They are blind to history’s clear lesson, for history teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier war. It points to no single instance where this end has justified that means, where appeasement had led to more than a sham peace.

General Douglas MacArthur on American Policy and the War in Korea:

The American tradition had always been that once our troops are committed to battle, the full power and means of the nation would be mobilized and dedicated to the strategic course which would make that victory possible. Not by the wildest stretch of the imagination did I dream that this tradition might be broken. (Reminiscences 334-335)