The Japanese Surrender and the End of World War II

The Japanese Surrender

On September 2, 1945, aboard the battleship USS Missouri, Japanese representatives—Foreign Minister Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu—signed the official Instrument of Surrender. The eight-paragraph document declared Japan’s complete capitulation to the Allied powers.

Until this point, many in the Japanese military had resisted surrender. But loyalty to the Emperor meant that open rebellion was unlikely.

Background

Following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese leaders struggled to find some way out of the war. One faction on the Supreme Council favored accepting the Allies’ terms of surrender; however, Emperor Hirohito would not give up his role as ceremonial head of state.

The Allies had long intercepted and decoded the internal communications of the Japanese government and knew that some in Tokyo advocated surrender. At Potsdam, the Allies sought to leverage this support by demanding unconditional surrender and threatening “prompt and utter destruction.”

On Sunday 2 September 1945, representatives from the Japanese government and military signed the instrument of surrender on board the USS Missouri. Authorized by President Truman, the ceremony marked the formal end of the Second World War in Asia. The book traces how ideological battle lines still loomed even after hostilities had ended, with conservatives back in the United States attacking New Deal-era officials in the occupation and reviving revisionist histories of the American decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan.

Signing the Instrument of Surrender

The Instrument of surrender (item HSR/V/8) was signed by representatives of Japan on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, 2 September 1945. It was an official document recording “the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan and its Imperial General Headquarters.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Chief of the Army General Staff Yoshijiro Umezu sign on behalf of the Japanese government. Acting as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, US General Douglas MacArthur stands behind them. Representatives of the Republic of China, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, France, Australia and New Zealand also sign.

When the Japanese delegation pointed out that they had signed their names below rather than above their titles, MacArthur’s brusque chief of staff Gen. Richard Sutherland crossed out the pre-printed list and handwrote the correct titles under each signature, initialing them to forestall further protest. The resulting historical blooper is preserved in this photograph. This is an Allied copy of the document, bound in leather, and one of a limited number that were provided to attendees at the ceremony.

The Ceremony

The Japanese surrender was celebrated as V-J Day in America, but the event was cloaked with more symbolism than just its date. Commodore Matthew Perry’s four ships had sailed into Tokyo Bay in 1853, forcing Japan to open its doors to the world—and now, a century later, the Japanese government would finally sign its instrument of surrender aboard the USS Missouri. As foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu signed on behalf of the Japanese government and military, American General Douglas MacArthur, acting as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, accepted the document.

On August 15, Emperor Hirohito appeared on national radio to announce Japan’s surrender, explaining that it was “the only way to pave the way for a peaceful reunification of the country and a new era.” He had previously declared that war was unwinnable after the atomic bombings, blaming them on the United States. In the weeks following the signing, he reaffirmed his commitment to peace.

The Allied Occupation

On September 2, 1945, aboard the battleship Missouri, a delegation of nine Japanese dignitaries, led by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu, signed the official Instrument of Surrender. Prepared by the War Department and approved by President Truman, it formally proclaimed “the unconditional surrender of the Imperial General Headquarters, of all the armed forces of Japan.”

The event was broadcast on national radio in the United States, and the emperor spoke to his people for the first time on this occasion, urging them to bear with what he called the unavoidable conclusion.

For a brief moment afterward, some diehard opponents of surrender hoped that a negotiated settlement through the Soviet Union might still be possible, but those hopes were dashed by the devastating atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagas. It was also feared that fanatical Japanese airmen might launch suicide attacks on Allied troops, but none did so. The Allied occupation that followed established tribunals to address war crimes and launched a seven-year period of economic reform, including land reform.

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