Today is the anniversary of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender announcement, ending the Pacific Theater of World War II (although a formal surrender wasn’t signed until September 1st). Japan’s road to accepting defeat in the war was long and torturous, with the cabinet of Kantaro Suzuki bitterly divided over the issue for months, and the military resisting until the Emperor’s proclamation compelled most to surrender. Except for a handful of fanatical officers who led a failed coup attempt to save Japan from what they considered a humiliating surrender.
What caused Japan’s surrender remains the subject of heated debate. It’s widely considered, at least in Western historiography, that the American dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the near-simultaneous entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific War, convinced the Japanese government that continued resistance would be futile and destructive. However, there were still die hards within the government pressing for a “Decisive Battle” on the Home Islands, despite the severely depleted state of the country’s military and infrastructure. Revisionist historians have claimed that Japan was in fact planning to surrender prior to Hiroshima, a notion which is controversial at best and speculative at worst. Then again, it’s still debatable whether the atomic bomb played the decisive role.
Since I did not have time to write a proper article, here are some sources to consider:
The Atomic Heritage Foundation provides an overview of historigoprahic debates over Japan’s motives for surrender.
Richard B. Frank (author of the book Downfall) wrote a two-part article for the National WW2 Museum, arguing the traditional view that the Japanese government resisted surrender until Hirohito forced their hand.
Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s essay arguing that the Soviet entry was the decisive factor, but concluding that “neither the atomic bombs nor Soviet entry into the war served as “a knock-out punch” that had a direct, decisive, and immediate effect on Japan’s decision to surrender.” Hasegawa expanded upon this argument in his book Racing the Enemy, which considers the deliberations of American, Soviet and Japanese leaders in tandem.
George P. Brown largely seconds Hasegawa’s opinion, arguing that America’s demand for “unconditional surrender” needlessly prolonged the war.
Herbert P. Bix, author of the classic Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, argues that the Emperor’s actions throughout 1945 prolonged rather than ended the war.
Richard Samuels discusses Harry Truman’s decision making and how Republican opponents fanned the arguments against unconditional surrender and using the atomic bombs.
Short article by military historian Ian W. Toll on the Kyoju Incident, the Japanese named for the failed coup d’etat of August 14-15.
Thomas B. Allen and Norman Pollar on the Emperor’s decision to surrender and the effect of his radio broadcast.