August 15

This Day in History

World War II

Aug 15, 1945:

The Japanese emperor speaks

On this day in 1945, Emperor Hirohito broadcasts the news of Japan's surrender to the Japanese people.

Although Tokyo had already communicated to the Allies its acceptance of the surrender terms of the Potsdam Conference several days earlier, and a Japanese news service announcement had been made to that effect, the Japanese people were still waiting to hear an authoritative voice speak the unspeakable: that Japan had been defeated.

That voice was the emperor's. In Japan's Shinto religious tradition, the emperor was also divine; his voice was the voice of a god. And on August 15, that voice—heard over the radio airwaves for the very first time—confessed that Japan's enemy "has begun to employ a most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives." This was the reason given for Japan's surrender. Hirohito's oral memoirs, published and translated after the war, evidence the emperor's fear at the time that "the Japanese race will be destroyed if the war continues."

A sticking point in the Japanese surrender terms had been Hirohito's status as emperor. Tokyo wanted the emperor's status protected; the Allies wanted no preconditions. There was a compromise. The emperor retained his title; Gen. Douglas MacArthur believed his at least ceremonial presence would be a stabilizing influence in postwar Japan. But Hirohito was forced to disclaim his divine status. Japan lost more than a war—it lost a god.

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