Japan’s Unconditional Surrender…
NHK Broadcast It Abroad before Decided
CHRONICLE ＞ 1945 ＞ Japan’s Unconditional Surrender…NHK Broadcast It Abroad before Decided ｜ Emperor Speaks to People on Air
Tables of major events
- 1/27. Auschwitz Camp liberated. Holocaust by Nazi Germany revealed.
- 2/4~11. Yalta Conference (U.S. Britain, Soviet Union)
- 3/10. Great Tokyo Air Raid
- 7/17~8/2. Potsdam Conference
- 8/6. A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
- 8/9. A-bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
- 8/10. NHK broadcasts Japan’s acceptance of Potsdam Declaration to world.
- 8/15. Emperor announces surrender on radio, ending Pacific War.
- 9/4. GHQ suspends overseas foreign-language broadcasts.
- 9/10. GHQ suspends overseas Japanese broadcasts.
- 10/24. UN launched (ratified by 29 nations).
WITH DEFEAT IN SIGHT, BROADCASTING SET ITSELF APART FROM MILITARY
In 1945, Japanese forces were losing all over Asia. Air raids in Tokyo and elsewhere were reducing Japan to rubble. In August, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sending shock-waves throughout the world. NHK reported the attacks to the world, despite the military’s call for restraint for strategic reasons. As defeat seemed inevitable, international broadcasting was regaining its intrinsic role. And Japan accepted unconditional surrender under the Potsdam Declaration.
Reporting on Hiroshima Attack
7/17-8/2/45. Potsdam Conference. From the left, British PM Churchill, US President Truman, and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Stalin.
Atomic Bomb Dome one month after the A-bomb attack on Hiroshima (8:15 a.m., 8/6/45). Former Hiroshima Prefecture Industry Promotion Museum.
“Civilians were all at the street en route to work, and elementary school children were… all going to morning ceremonies. One eyewitness confessed they suffer from severe burns…. Skins were turned off and many were in agony.”
This is from a broadcast from Japan on the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima on August 6. A recording of it is kept at the U.S. National Archive as it was received by the U.S. government on August 14. NHK had started broadcasting the tragic details on August 7.
Japan’s overseas broadcasts were the first to report to the world on A-bombs’ destructive power and inhuman effects. Foreign media quoted the broadcasts.
The military opposed such reports, saying they would shock the people and only help a U.S. ploy to disseminate propaganda. The Intelligence Bureau and Foreign Ministry defied the opposition.
Another A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The Soviets hit Japan despite the Neutrality Pact. Japan decided to accept the Potsdam Declaration for unconditional surrender.
An Overseas Broadcast Reported Surrender before it Became Official
An overseas broadcast on August 10 played another key role. It reported Japan’s decision to surrender before the government’s official announcement. The Foreign Ministry took the initiative. Vice Minister Shunichi Matsumoto told the Domei news agency and NHK to report the upcoming surrender. He said, “We need to tell enemy soldiers.” This was a decision to reduce casualties as much as possible.
The ministry’s secretary Saburo Ota wrote in a note what he did when he received Matsumoto’s order:
“I put ‘Japan accepts Potsdam Declaration’ in the lead. Then I thought every word in Japan’s acceptance document should be in the broadcast. In a humid and hot room with black curtains for air defense, Yasuho typed the script. I rushed to NHK with it, and asked the head of the international division, Muto, to keep reporting it until NHK was told to stop. Then I returned.”
Ota’s note is consistent with testimony on the NHK side. An international news reporter in those days, Koichi Sumitomo, sent the following letter to former NHK international news department member Setsuro Kitayama, who was researching international broadcasting. Sumitomo told him that what had happened on that night was so impressive that he still remembered it vividly.”
“On that day, I happened to be on night duty. At around 9 o’clock, I got an English script and an order to air it. Its purpose was to tell the Allied Forces about Japan’s readiness to accept the Potsdam Declaration on condition that the emperor’s supreme right would not be infringed.”
“The script went as follows: ‘The Imperial Japanese Government has just announced that it is ready to accept the Potsdam Declaration on the understanding that the Imperial prerogative shall not be prejudiced.’ Here is the full text of the announcement….”
Ota says the military stopped the broadcast half-way through, and an MP came to investigate the next day. In his memoir, then senior official of the overseas division Kusuo Ohya says the MP shouted, “The imperial decision is yet to be made. You are traitors!”
But when defeat was imminent, the military no longer had the power to influence overseas broadcasting.
When the war with the U.S. began, overseas broadcasts were used to send coded messages. When the war was to end, broadcasting reverted to its intrinsic role of reporting facts fast.
Emperor Speaks to People on AirTells Japanese Forces Abroad to Disarm in Orderly Way and Pull Out
IN HIS OWN VOICE, EMPEROR ANNOUNCES END OF WAR TO PEOPLE
Emperor’s Words Translated
The emperor’s words on August 15 that ended the Pacific War were translated into English. His message was aired worldwide. After the war, many documents were burned. But an NHK research team found the following original translation:
“We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the Government of the United States, Great Britain, China and Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.”
The emperor’s words were aired overseas as it was in Japanese, too. His voice was heard by Japanese troops and civilians in many parts of Asia. This led to orderly disarmament without confusion. After the war, with permission by the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces, Japan continued broadcasting overseas for only its troops and civilians yet to come home.
Broadcasting is for Peace
What was it like to work in overseas broadcasting when it was defined as an important function to achieve war? Susumu Mizuniwa (formerly of NHK’s international broadcasting department) became one of a few people who provided us with testimony. He says, “In those days, overseas broadcasting was considered as important as or even more important than domestic broadcasting.” And he adds:
“Everybody worked with pride. But broadcasting is for reporting facts. In that sense, we were not so sure of what we were doing. Broadcasting is for peace. But once war begins, it is hard to resist.”
Japan-US Dialogue and International Broadcasting
“‘Unconditional surrender’ is a military term. It means ending resistance and abandoning arms. It does not mean forced submission. It is not aimed at rooting out the Japanese race.”
In May 1945, Navy intelligence officer Ellis M. Zacharias spoke in Japanese on shortwave radio from the U.S. He was explaining President Truman’s statement telling Japan to surrender.
Japan was under strict information control. But those in overseas broadcasting could hear shortwave broadcasts. This gave them a new role as diplomatic channels.
Zacharias lived in Japan before the war and learned Japanese. The Japanese side listened carefully to his words. The Japanese government transcribed them and distributed them as top secrets. And some in Japan began to move in response. In June, Japan sent this message to the U.S. on an overseas broadcast:
“Japan can present conditions for surrender with minor changes to Truman’s statement.”
This was in fact an offer to negotiate an end to the war. This broadcast dialogue went on to cover what the Potsdam Declaration meant. Overseas broadcasting was used as a means to fight a war. But it also helped narrow the distance between the peoples of the two countries who hoped to end the conflict.