Seventy years after Japan surrendered in the bloodiest war in the world has ever known, Japanese still debate not only its causes but why it came to an abrupt end days after the United State dropped atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Portrayed in the West as a war caused by a militaristic Japan that was brought to its knees by the dual bombings that killed tens of thousands and virtually wiped two Japanese cities from the map, World War II is seen in more nuanced terms in Japan.
“The atomic bombing didn’t have any effect whatsoever on the decision of ending the war by the Emperor,” says Hiroyuki Fujita, a Japanese journalist and member of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, a nationalist group. “The Emperor had already made up his mind to end the war.”
Fujita’s views represent a growing trend in Japan toward a revision of generally accepted positions on the war by most historians – a trend that that is constantly criticized by neighboring countries.
In his speech commemorating the surrender Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struck many of those themes, acknowledging Japan’s role, but asserting that the guilt should not be passed on without end.
“Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war,” Abe said, recalling what he called “the histories of suffering” of Japan’s neighbors. He pledged Japan would continue to promote “peace and prosperity of the region.”
But he also noted that 80 percent of Japanese today were born after World War II. “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.”
For the 20 percent born before the war ended, it’s difficult to overstate the change it brought.
When Japan’s national radio broadcast a recording of Emperor Hirohito calling for his country to surrender to allied forces, it was the first time most had heard the emperor’s voice. “We have ordered our government to communicate to the governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration” that called for Japan’s unconditional surrender, he said in a tone so soft it seemed out of character for a man who had had been considered a god until that moment.
Despite Fujita’s skepticism that the atomic bombs had influenced the emperor, Hirohito made it clear that the threat displayed with the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was driving his decision.
“Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization,” he said.
By the end of the war, most Japanese cities had been burned to the ground in fire bombings. Hundreds of thousands of civilians had died. The nation was on the brink of starvation. Hirohito called on his people to be prepared for “enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable” in hopes that peace could return.
In Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese and U.S. cities are holding a memorial service with the U.S. Navy to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Mayors and city council members from Honolulu and Nagaoka are coming together with the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander for Friday’s event.
Nagaoka is the hometown of the late Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the U.S. into the war in 1941.