I was surprised to discover, after actually reading the famous "Potsdam Declaration", issued in July 29, 1945, that it says nothing about Japan. The public statement released concerning Japan was the "Potsdam Statement", which was issued on July 26th.The confusion is an easy mistake to make. The tone of the "Declaration" and the "Statement" are similar, as they were both issued in triumphant from amidst the rubble of a vanquished and occupied Nazi Germany. But where the "Decrlaration" is also a working blueprint for the shape of Europe's future, the "Statement" is pure American politics: part boastful victory display, and part pure posturing for the voters back home. It was signed by the U.S., Great Britain and China, but it had been written by and for the Americans.
The Pacific was America's war, beginning on December 7, 1941, the "date which will live in infamy...". And the Potsdam Statement began with a blunt warning, “The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry…of the whole German people…” The statement was blunt and it was accurate.
In the 44 months since Pearl Harbor the United States had largely supplied the allied victory in Europe, and at the same time the nation had built eight new battleships, 13 heavy cruisers, 2 large cruisers, 33 light cruisers, 18 heavy aircraft carriers, 76 light or jeep carriers, more than 600 destroyers and destroyer escorts, plus 4,000 large landing craft and 79,000 small landing craft, all of this almost solely for use against Japan.
The U.S. Marine Corp had grown to over half a million men and the U.S. Army to one million men in actual fighting divisions in the Pacific. And it was this force, supplied in abundance and seeking revenge, which was descending upon Japan in the summer of 1945. Americans could be forgiven if they had come to believe that they were the single greatest military machine on the planet.
It was that supreme confidence and a sense of moral outrage and the thurst for revenge which explained the haughtily tone in which the U.S. informed Japan that the “Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay. There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest. Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan's war-making power is destroyed …Japanese territory…shall be occupied…Japanese sovereignty shall be limited….as we determine…(and) stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals…We call…(for the) unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces,…The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.” It could almost have been written by an American political speechwriter; In fact, it was.
But the Japanese, reading this statement, noted two things; first, the Russians had not signed it; and two, there was no direct mention of the Emperor. They had of course already noticed that American propaganda often included hateful images of the Emperor. And the section about removing “...those who have deceived and misled” seemed to the Japanese, and to most Americans, to refer directly to the Emperor. In 1945 the Japanese leadership was prepared to destroy the entire nation to prevent Hirohito, and the army leadership, from standing trial like mere mortals.
From the 1890’s on, all Japanese children were indoctrinated in the belief that the nation and the Emperor were synonymous, that Japan began and ended with the Chrysanthemum Throne. According to the Imperial Cult, the Emperor was a spiritual leader, closer to a pope than a king. His subjects fought “for the Emperor” even as they took orders from mortal men who ran the government, men like Tojo.
Hirohito certainly approved of the wars against China, England and America, but they were not "his" wars. He had not ordered them and was often a mere prop for the war makers. He was not expected to speak at meetings of his "Big Six" cabinet. Besides, Japan had a long and ancient history of ignoring or “working around” in-convienent imperial wishes; which was the problem the Emperor now faced in ending the war.
Like all Kings and Presidents, he was a prisoner of his office, but the Edo Palace was especially confining. Without a free press Hirohito only knew what his staff and advisors told him. And they rarely knew everything going on what was nominally his kingdom. Worse, the Emperor could only act through his staff. He, like everyone else in Japan, believed the nation could not survive without the Emperor. And he had come, finally, to believe his throne could not survive unless the war was ended quickly. Now he had to convince the Americans that without his moral impinture, there would be no Japan which could surrender to the Americans.
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