Sixty-four years ago the Emperor of Japan released a taped recording to be read over local radio. For many of his countrymen, it was the first time they had ever heard his voice. He announced that, “…the war situation [had]developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage,” and that the Allies had developed a terrible new weapon. Therefore, it was in Japan’s best interest to surrender.
His decision was not without suspense. Many of his military leaders preferred to fight on, despite the devastating losses suffered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki days before. Their hope was that the inevitable invasion of their homeland would be so costly to the Allies that Japan could negotiate a peace under conditions more favorable than total surrender.
As summarized brilliantly in the Department of Energy website titled, “The Manhattan Project“, Japanese military ethics required total submission to the Emperor, but also required an absolute refusal to surrender. This paradox resulted in a split among the military leaders – some followed the Emperor’s desires; others refused (there was at least one attempt to steal the Emperor’s recording before it aired). General Anami Korechika, the Minister of War, committed suicide rather than surrender or contradict the Emperor’s wishes.
After the recording was aired, the debate was essentially over and the Japanese surrendered unconditionally – but with one concession. The Emperor was allowed to remain in his position, but only in a ceremonial role. This set the stage for the occupation of Japan, and its eventual reemergence as one of the worlds leading economic powers.
After years of conflict and millions of lost lives, peace had been restored.
The remarkable and heroic performance of the American forces in World War II resulted in total victory against the world’s most powerful military powers, and it took them less than four years to do it. Our greatest generation? You bet.
If you see a World War II veteran walking down the sidewalk or browsing the isles at the grocery store, shake his (or her) hand and thank him. We are who we are today because of them.
They are our heroes of the week.