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The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement that called for the surrender of all Japanese armed forces during World War II. On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S. Truman, United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China Chiang Kai-shek issued the document, which outlined the terms of surrender for the Empire of Japan as agreed upon at the Potsdam Conference. This ultimatum stated that, if Japan did not surrender, it would face "prompt and utter destruction."
Terms of the Declaration
On July 26, the United States, Britain, and China released the Potsdam Declaration announcing the terms for Japan's surrender, with the warning, "We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay." For Japan, the terms of the declaration specified:
- the elimination "for all time [of] the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest"
- the occupation of "points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies"
- that the "Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku, and such minor islands as we determine," as had been announced in the Cairo Declaration in 1943.
- that "[t]he Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives."
- that "[w]e do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners."
On the other hand, the declaration offered that:
- "The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established."
- "Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit the exaction of just reparations in kind, but not those which would enable her to rearm for war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be permitted. Eventual Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted."
- "The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established, in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people, a peacefully inclined and responsible government."
- "We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction."
Contrary to what had been intended at its conception, disenfranchising the Japanese leadership so the people would accept a mediated transition, the declaration made no direct mention of the Emperor at all. It did, however, insist that "the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest must be eliminated for all time". Allied intentions on issues of utmost importance to the Japanese, including whether Hirohito was to be regarded as one of those who had "misled the people of Japan" or even a war criminal, or alternatively whether the Emperor might potentially become part of a "peacefully inclined and responsible government" were thus left unstated.
The "prompt and utter destruction" clause has been interpreted as a veiled warning about American possession of the atomic bomb which had been successfully tested in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, the day before the Potsdam Conference opened. Although the document warned of further destruction like aerial bombings, it didn't mention anything about the atomic bomb.
Leaflets and radio broadcasts
The Declaration was released to the press in Potsdam on the evening of July 26 and simultaneously transmitted to the Office of War Information in Washington. By 5 p.m. Washington time, OWI's West Coast transmitters, aimed at the Japanese home islands, were broadcasting the text in English, and two hours later began broadcasting it in Japanese. The Declaration was never transmitted to the Japanese government through diplomatic channels. The Japanese government did not disclose the declaration to the Japanese people. However, the ultimatum was heard by some who listened to the OWI broadcasts, and leaflets describing it were dropped from American bombers. Although picking up leaflets and listening to foreign radio broadcasts had been banned by the government, the American propaganda efforts were successful in making the key points of the declaration known to most Japanese.
After the successful atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, President Truman in a widely broadcast speech, picked up by Japanese news agencies, warned that if Japan failed to accept the terms of the declaration, it could "expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth." As a result, Prime Minister Suzuki felt compelled to meet the Japanese press, to whom he reiterated his government's commitment to ignore the Allies' demands and fight on.
The extent of the Allies' demands brought home to the Japanese leaders and people the extent of the success Japan's enemies had achieved in the war.
Subsequently, the United States Army Air Forces dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. These two bombings devastated the two cities, killing tens of thousands of civilians and military personnel and destroying military bases as well as industries in a matter of seconds within a radius that stretched for more than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers). The number of casualties in the months after the war is estimated to range from 150,000 to over 200,000.
- Cairo Declaration (1943)
- Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945)
- Pacific War (1941–1945)
- General Order No. 1 (Aug. 1945)
- Japanese Instrument of Surrender (Sep. 1945)
- Treaty of San Francisco (1951)
- "Potsdam Declaration: Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender Issued, at Potsdam, July 26, 1945". National Science Digital Library.
- "Milestones: 1937-1945 / The Potsdam Conference, 1945". United States Department of State, Office of the Historian.
- "Potsdam Declaration". Birth of the Constitution of Japan. National Diet Library.
- "'Potsdam Declaration'". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2. 1966.
- Hellegers, Dale M. We the Japanese People: World War II and the Origins of the Japanese Constitution. Volume I. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002. Page 134.
- Foreign Relations of the United States: diplomatic papers: the Conference of Berlin (the Potsdam Conference) 2: 1376-1377. 1945.
- Scoenberger, Walter (1969). Decision of Destiny. Columbus: Ohio University Press. pp. 248–249.
- Rhodes, Anthony (1976). Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. p. 262.
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