What followed would never be forgotten. Through the decades to come, the day would replay itself in her memory like an old filmstrip, a staccato newsreel in black and white. She was working outdoors when a messenger arrived breathless from the village. It had been announced that the emperor would be making a personal broadcast at noon, he exclaimed before rushing off. Everyone was to come and listen.

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What followed would never be forgotten. Through the decades to come, the day would replay itself in her memory like an old filmstrip, a staccato newsreel in black and white. She was working outdoors when a messenger arrived breathless from the village. It had been announced that the emperor would be making a personal broadcast at noon, he exclaimed before rushing off.

Everyone was to come and listen. The news that America, the land of the enemy, had disappeared into the sea would hardly have been more startling. The emperor was to speak! In the two decades since he had ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, Emperor Hirohito had never once spoken directly to all his subjects. Half a century later, Aihara could still recall every detail. She rushed to the village, repeating over and over to herself a line from the Imperial Rescript on Education, which everyone knew by heart from daily recitation during their school years.

The villagers had gathered around the single local radio over which the single state-run station was received. Reception was poor. He did not speak in colloquial Japanese, but in a highly formal language studded with ornamental classical phrases.

Aihara was just exchanging puzzled glances with others in the crowd when a man who had recently arrived from bombed-out Tokyo spoke up—almost, she recalled, as if to himself. Before she knew what happened she found herself lying face down on the ground. Others who collapsed around her—as she later pictured the scene—lay on their backs. An announcer was speaking. One of his sentences burned itself into her mind, where it would remain for the rest of her life: "The Japanese military will be disarmed and allowed to return to Japan.

Her husband, who had been drafted into the army and sent to Manchuria, might soon return! The war had, after all, permanently shattered her life. This was a formidable challenge. From that time on, Hirohito had appeared in public only in the bemedalled military garb of commander in chief. In December , he issued the rescript that initiated hostilities against the United States and various European powers.

It was Hirohito himself who first broached the idea of breaking precedent and using the airwaves to speak directly to his subjects. The text of his announcement, not finalized until close to midnight the previous night, had been composed and delivered under great pressure.

Much intrigue was involved in recording and then hiding it from military officers opposed to a surrender. Despite its chaotic genesis, the rescript emerged as a polished ideological gem. Sophisticated listeners such as the Tokyo man in her village explained the broadcast to their puzzled compatriots.

Radio announcers immediately summarized the rescript and its import in everyday language. Like insects in amber, lines and phrases from the broadcast soon became locked in popular consciousness. The emperor never spoke explicitly of either "surrender" or "defeat. He began by reiterating what he had told his subjects in when Japan declared war on the United States—that the war had been begun to ensure the survival of Japan and the stability of Asia, not out of any aggressive intent to interfere with the sovereign integrity of other countries.

In this spirit, Hirohito now expressed deep regret to those countries that had cooperated with Japan "for the liberation of East Asia.

To continue the war further could lead in the end not only to the extermination of our race, but also to the destruction of all human civilization. When he contemplated those of his subjects who had died in the war, the bereaved kin they left behind, and the extraordinary difficulties all Japanese now faced, he exclaimed, "my vital organs are torn asunder. To evoke such emotions in August was an impressive accomplishment. That this was the first time the emperor had spoken directly to the public made the appeal all the more effective.

Perhaps he was indeed not just a symbol of their suffering, but the most conspicuous victim of the lost war. Certainly his subjects could imagine that previous imperial exhortations to fight and sacrifice had not reflected his true intentions, but had been extracted by evil advisers.

It was "as if the sun had at long last emerged from behind dark clouds. It was essential to remain united as a great family, firmly believing in "the invincibility of the divine country" and devoting every effort to the reconstruction of a nation that would preserve its traditional identity while keeping pace with "the progress and fortune of the world. This was, then, not merely the official closing statement of a lost war, but the opening pronunciamento of an urgent campaign to maintain imperial control as well as social and political stability in a shattered nation.

Some residents of Tokyo did make their way to the imperial palace, still standing amid a ruined cityscape. This was, in fact, a misleading image. The number of people who gathered before the imperial residence was relatively small, and the tears that ordinary people everywhere did shed reflected a multitude of sentiments apart from emperor-centered grief: anguish, regret, bereavement, anger at having been deceived, sudden emptiness and loss of purpose—or simple joy at the unexpected surcease of misery and death.

It was clear, he observed with some ambivalence, that they felt a great burden had been lifted. Through the long years of war, fighting men had been forbidden to surrender. There was no greater shame than this, they were told. As the war drew closer home, civilians had also been indoctrinated to fight to the bitter end and die "like shattered jewels," as the saying went.

Several hundred individuals, most of them military officers, committed suicide—just as many Nazi officers did on the capitulation of Germany, where there never had existed a comparable cult of patriotic suicide. Indeed, at the official level, the most notable immediate response to the momentous broadcast of August 15 was pragmatic and self-serving. Military officers and civilian bureaucrats throughout the country threw themselves frenetically into the tasks of destroying their files and disbursing vast hoards of military supplies in illicit ways.

With them came a new, imperious figure of authority in the person of General Douglas MacArthur, who had been designated the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan.

On September 2, in an imposing ceremony on the deck of the U. The ceremony was laden with symbolism. Missouri was the home state of President Harry S. Truman, whose major decisions regarding Japan had been to use the atomic bombs on two Japanese cities and to hold firm to the policy of "unconditional surrender" of his deceased predecessor Franklin D. One of the flags displayed on the Missouri was the same Old Glory that had been flying over the White House on December 7, , when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Another, rushed by plane from Annapolis, was the standard with thirty-one stars used by Commodore Matthew Perry on his flagship Powhatten when his gunboat diplomacy forced Japan to end more than two centuries of feudal seclusion. Two Japanese officials signed the surrender documents: General Umezu Yoshijiro, representing the imperial armed forces, and the diplomat Shigemitsu Mamoru, representing the imperial government.

Those present to sign the surrender documents, however, stood in the shadow of those who were missing: for the emperor did not participate in these proceedings, nor did any representative of the imperial family or the Imperial Household Ministry.

This concession on the part of Allied authorities caught observers in the camps of both victor and vanquished by surprise. Until the end of the war, even unabashedly proimperial American officials such as the former ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew had assumed that the emperor would and should sign the formal articles of surrender.

And even after the Japanese learned that the emperor would be personally spared this ordeal, they still assumed that an intimate representative from the court, perhaps blood kin to the sovereign, would be required to sign the surrender documents on his behalf. In his address on the Missouri, MacArthur spoke eloquently about the hope of all humanity that "a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past—a world founded upon faith and understanding—a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish—for freedom, tolerance and justice.

Where defeated Japan was concerned, the supreme commander declared that the terms of surrender committed the victors to liberate the Japanese people from a "condition of slavery" and to ensure that the energies of the race were turned into constructive channels—what he referred to as expanding "vertically rather than horizontally.

Still, to most patriots the surrender ceremony "spelled doom," as one American general present on the Missouri put it. The imperial navy had long since been demolished. Its merchant marine lay at the bottom of the ocean. The defeated imperial army was scattered throughout Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean, its millions of surviving soldiers starving, wounded, sick, and demoralized. But Tokyo Bay was clogged with hundreds of powerful, well-scrubbed American fighting ships.

At a thunderous theatrical moment, the sky was all but obscured by a fly-by of some four hundred glistening B bombers accompanied by fifteen hundred Navy fighter planes.

The imperial soil was being desecrated by the landings of wave upon wave of well-fed, superbly equipped, supremely confident GIs—an army of occupation whose numbers, in a short time, would surpass a quarter of a million.

A country that had celebrated its mythic "2,year anniversary" in , and prided itself on never having been invaded, was about to be inundated by white men. In Japanese eyes, the inescapable impression of September 2, , was that the West—which meant, essentially, the United States—was extraordinarily rich and powerful, and Japan unbelievably weak and vulnerable.

This was a simple observation, but it carried enormous political implications. The scene in Tokyo Bay, coming in the wake of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, offered a stunning lesson in the kind of material strength and affluence that might be attained under American-style democracy. Nine days after the surrender ceremony, MacArthur observed at a press conference that Japan had fallen to the status of "a fourth-rate nation"—a blunt statement of reality guaranteed to tear asunder the vital organs of every Japanese leader from the emperor on down.

From the moment Commodore Perry had forced Japan open, its leaders had been obsessed with becoming an itto koku, a country of the first rank. Indeed, fear that such status was being denied Japan was commonly evoked with great emotion as the ultimate reason for going to war against the West.

Japan would be relegated to "second-rate" or "third-rate" status, claimed Prime Minister Tojo Hideki among others, if it failed to strike out and establish a secure imperium in Asia. Like a reopened wound, the term yonto koku—"fourth-rate country"—immediately became a postsurrender catchphrase. In mid-October, in a memorandum to President Truman summarizing conversations with MacArthur and his aides, the special presidential envoy Edwin Locke, Jr.

Virtually all that would take place in the several years that followed unfolded against this background of crushing defeat. Despair took root and flourished in such a milieu; so did cynicism and opportunism—as well as marvelous expressions of resilience, creativity, and idealism of a sort possible only among people who have seen an old world destroyed and are being forced to imagine a new one.

Quantifying Defeat The ravages of war can never be accurately quantified. Even when large bureaucracies are put to the task of calculating total casualties and estimating the extent of physical destruction, the results are typically a potpourri of implausibly precise numbers masking areas of uncertainty. In defeated Japan, it took years to arrive at generally accepted estimates of the price Japan paid for its lost war.

The number of deaths usually cited for the armed forces—1. On the other hand, estimates vary considerably where civilian deaths in air raids are concerned. When war-related military and civilian deaths outside Japan after August 15, are taken into consideration, the picture becomes even murkier. All told, probably at least 2. Millions more were injured, sick, or seriously malnourished. Approximately 4. This included four-fifths of all ships, one-third of all industrial machine tools, and almost a quarter of all rolling stock and motor vehicles.

Sixty-six major cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had been heavily bombed, destroying 40 percent of these urban areas overall and rendering around 30 percent of their populations homeless. In Tokyo, the largest metropolis, 65 percent of all residences were destroyed. The first American contingents to arrive in Japan—especially those that made the several-hour journey from Yokohama to Tokyo—were invariably impressed, if not shocked, by the mile after mile of urban devastation they encountered.

Russell Brines, the first foreign journalist to enter Tokyo, recorded that "everything had been fattened


Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

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