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this day in history 1945

Emperor Hirohito announces Japan’s unconditional surrender

On this day in 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan announces the news of his country's unconditional surrender in World War II over a radio broadcast to the Japanese people. After meeting with the Soviet Union in Potsdam, near Berlin, to determine post-war terms for defeated Germany, the governments of the United States and Great Britain (together with China) issued an ultimatum to the Japanese government in late July 1945. It offered a simple choice: surrender unconditionally to the Allies in World War II, or risk total annihilation.

In their carefully worded reply, the Japanese failed to capitulate completely, and on 6 August, the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the world's first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, another such bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The threat of further nuclear attacks drove Japanese officials on 10 August to accept the terms put forth by the Potsdam Declaration and submit their unconditional surrender. On the afternoon of 14 August, a Japanese radio broadcaster told the public that Emperor Hirohito would soon make an Imperial Proclamation announcing the defeat.

The following day at noon, Hirohito went on the radio himself, blaming Japan’s surrender on the enemies' use of "a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which is incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives." The emperor was not only a political leader in Japan, he was also revered as a near-god, and many Japanese did not fully accept the news of defeat until they heard him speak those unthinkable words. As sadness and shame engulfed Japan, joy spread around the Western world. In the United States, news of Hirohito's announcement reached airwaves on 14 August (due to the time difference), and that day was declared Victory in Japan – or V-J – Day.

That afternoon, President Harry S. Truman addressed a crowd that had gathered outside the White House, saying "This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbour. This is the day when Fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would." That day, photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped one of the most famous photos ever published, a shot of a sailor in full uniform kissing a nurse in the middle of New York City's Times Square. The photo, published by Life magazine, became a symbol of the general atmosphere of jubilation in the United States following the end of World War II.