The four-minute radio address ended a war, obliterated the 20-year imperial ideology, and began Japan's rebirth into what it is today.
On this day in 1945, one week after atomic bombs had obliterated the cities of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, radios across Japan crackled with another shocking announcement, one that would come to change the course of Japanese history perhaps as much as did the atomic bombs Little Boy and Fat Man. At noon, Emperor Hirohito spoke directly to his subjects for the first time in his reign. His announcement would shock Japan, but it would also transform it, altering in a few short minutes the entire mission of the Japanese nation in ways that it, and the world, still feel today.
Hirohito was more than Japan's head of state. He was its divine monarch and the personification of both the nation and its spiritual imperative for imperial expansion, "the literally living embodiment of Japan past and present, a paradigm of moral excellence," according to Herbert Bix's Pulitzer-winning biography. Hirohito both embodied and galvanized imperial Japan's race-based nationalism, its radically militarist ideology that had led it to sow war and much worse across Asia.
Hirohito personally sat, according to Bix, "at the center of his nation's political, military, and spiritual life in the broadest and deepest sense" during the expansion that "cost nearly 20 million Asian lives, more than 3.1 million Japanese lives, and more than 60,000 Western Allied lives." The Pacific War was, in the ultra-nationalist ideology that gripped Japan for the first half of the 20th century, a "holy war," and waged in Hirohito's name.
Japan's war-rattled civilians had good reason to fear that Hirohito's radio address might bring terrible news. Surrender was officially forbidden in the Japanese military, and in the closing years of the war, Japanese civilians were told that they too might have to choose death to protect the dignity of the nation and the sanctity of the imperial ideology. "The hundred million," the propaganda's term for the civilians at home, might have to embrace a death that would be beautiful in its tragedy, "like shattered jewels."
As the American military pressed in, Japan's war machine had turned inward, as John W. Dower documented in his masterful, Pulitzer-winning history. "Japanese died in hopeless suicide charges, starved to death in the field, killed their own wounded rather than let them fall into enemy hands, and murdered their civilian compatriots in places such as Saipan and Okinawa," he wrote. At home, "They watched helplessly as fire bombs destroyed their cities -- all the while listening to their leaders natter on about how it might be necessary for the 'hundred million' all to die 'like shattered jewels.'"
And this is what many Japanese feared their emperor would ask of them, Dower wrote: to "fight to the bitter end and die" as they'd been indoctrinated, or to end the imperial mission by their own hands in ritual suicide rather than allow foreigners that right.
When the emperor's voice beamed across the country (audio here), and out beyond it on shortwave signals for the troops stationed throughout East Asia, it was the first time that the vast majority of his subjects heard him. High-pitched, stilted, and in a classical Japanese more difficult to understand than what most people spoke in conversation. Still, the message was clear: surrender. The unthinkable.
"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," he said, referencing the allies' demand for unconditional surrender. But perhaps even more surprising than Hirohito's call for capitulation were the terms he used, which seemingly reversed the entire ideology of war and expansion that had been synonymous with his rule.
"To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations, as well as the security and wellbeing of our subjects, is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by our imperial ancestors and which lies close to our heart," he explained. "The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."
He declared that the military would be disarmed, suggesting this would happen not because disarmament had been forced upon Japan (it had), but because Japan had made the difficult choice to privilege peace. It wasn't wholly true, but it helped replace the imperial ideology of war with an ideology of peace that persists to this day.
Hirohito, after years of indirectly pressing his citizens to carry the burdens of war and imperialism, of an ideology that demanded international primacy, now asked them directly to carry the very different burdens of peace, humility, and lower status. "The hardships and sufferings to which our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great," he warned. "However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that we have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is not sufferable." He ended by urging his long-suffering citizens to "Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution" so as to "keep pace with the progress of the world."
To "endure the unendurable and suffer what is not sufferable" would become a sort of national motto in the following seven years of American occupation, "quoted times beyond counting" in Japanese media, according to Dower, such that it "carried a clear sense of purpose." It came to describe not just the humiliation of defeat, the pain of accepting what 20 years of ultranationalism had indoctrinated into Japanese as the ultimate pain, but Japan's struggle to find an entire new identity and place in the world.
"Enduring the unendurable" also meant surviving Japan's near-total collapse. The allied bombing campaign had destroyed one third of the nation's wealth, according to the American occupation authority's estimates, roughly comparable to the U.S. great depression. Urban living standards plummeted to 35 percent of pre-war levels. In the country's 60 or so largest cities, bombing had destroyed nearly half of the structures, rendering 30 percent of its residents immediately homeless. Food became scarce, and Dower documents some Japanese cities recommending "emergency diets" of "acorns, grain husks, peanut shells, and sawdust" as well as "silkworm cocoons, worms ... or a powder made by drying the blood of cows, horses, and pigs." Disease and starvation spread.
Meanwhile, millions of Japanese soldiers and colonists abroad found, with the empire's collapse, that they had no way to go home and little or no rights in the newly independent colonies. As many as 68,000 Japanese in China were conscripted into the communist insurgency, Dower reports, and around 1.6 million Japanese in the Soviet Union were made to contribute labor. Of those, 300,000 never returned home. In the 1980s, the Soviet government released the names of 46,000 who had been bured in Siberia; the rest have never been accounted for.
Hirohito's historic address marked the end of World War Two and the end of imperial Japan's ultranationalist ideology, but it was also a beginning: of the American occupation and of a new Japan. "The losers wished to both forget the past and to transcend it," Dower wrote, and Japan set about to rise out of the ashes of its own destruction, this time with ideals and goals almost the polar opposite of before. "The ideals of peace and democracy took root in Japan -- not as a borrowed ideology or imposed vision, but as a lived experience and seized opportunity."
In a generation, Japan achieved both full democracy and the amazing, much-studied "economic miracle". This is still the Japan of today: developed, democratic, and peaceful. The factors, internal and external, that led the country from an ultranationalist war machine to a land of passivity and high-tech exports are as numerous as they are impossibly complicated. But the moment, 67 years ago today, when Hirohito's near-falsetto came over the airwaves and commanded Japanese to "endure the unendurable" are a central inflection point in the Japanese death and rebirth that played such a major role in the 20th century.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Beyond the Wall,” the sixth episode of the seventh season.
Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
Despite warnings, Trump gazed directly at the eclipse.
During the solar eclipse today, President Donald Trump stepped onto the White House balcony with his wife and his son Barron, and he looked up at the sun.
According to White House reporters, an aide shouted a warning that he should not look at the sun. Nevertheless, he persisted.
There were parts of the United States, along path of totality, that allowed people to look directly at the eclipse. But Washington, D.C., was not among them.
How much damage can a person do by staring at the sun for a few seconds?
As many children are warned, there is indeed no “safe” amount of time to stare directly at the sun. Note that no ophthalmologists recommend any amount of glancing or squinting at the eclipse. Against the energy of the sun, human eyelids are like a dam built of tissue paper.
The cartoonist defended the president in a podcast debate with Sam Harris. The portrait he painted of Trump supporters was not flattering.
Sam Harris, the atheist philosopher and neuroscientist, has recently been using his popular Waking Up podcast to discuss Donald Trump, whom he abhors, with an ideologically diverse series of guests, all of whom believe that the president is a vile huckster.
This began to wear on some of his listeners. Wasn’t Harris always warning against echo chambers? Didn’t he believe in rigorous debate with a position’s strongest proponents? At their urging, he extended an invitation to a person that many of those listeners regard as President Trump’s most formidable defender: Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, who believes that Trump is “a master persuader.”
Their conversation was posted online late last month. It is one of the most peculiar debates about a president I have ever encountered. And it left me marveling that parts of Trump’s base think well of Adams when his views imply such negative things about them.
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
Ever since it was first published in 1982, readers—including this one—have thrilled to “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard’s masterpiece of literary nonfiction, which describes her personal experience of a solar eclipse in Washington State. It first appeared in Dillard’s landmark collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and was recently republished in The Abundance, a new anthology of her work. The Atlantic is pleased to offer the essay in full, here, until the day after the ‘Great American Eclipse’ on August 21.
It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering. We had crossed the mountains that day, and now we were in a strange place—a hotel in central Washington, in a town near Yakima. The eclipse we had traveled here to see would occur early in the next morning.
The past week brought violent conflict over symbols and values held sacred—and an act of sacrilege.
Taboo and sacredness are among the most important words needed to understand Charlottesville and its aftermath. Taboo refers to things that are forbidden for religious or supernatural reasons. All traditional societies have such prohibitions—things you must not do, touch, or eat, not because they are bad for you directly, but because doing so is an abomination, which may bring divine retribution. But every society also makes some things sacred, rallying around a few deeply revered values, people, or places, which bind all members together and make them willing to sacrifice for the common good. The past week brought violent conflict over symbols and values held sacred—and saw President Trump commit an act of sacrilege by violating one of our society’s strongest taboos.
A tour of the solar eclipse’s path reveals a nation that fought to maintain a different sort of totality.
Totality is everything, say those who chase solar eclipses. When the moon fully obscures the sun and casts its shadow on Earth, the result is like nothing you’ve seen before—not even a partial eclipse. A merely partial eclipse does not flip day to night, because the sun is bright enough to light our fields of vision with only a tiny fraction of its power. But when the sun and moon align just so, a little piece of Earth goes dark in the middle of the day. In this path of totality, night comes suddenly and one can see the shape of the moon as a circle darker than black, marked by the faint backlight of the sun’s corona. Astronomers and eclipse chasers chart carefully to be sure that they can watch from exactly the right place at the right time. They know that you cannot compromise with the sun. For a dark sky, the sun must be banished altogether.
“Medicare for all” is a popular idea, but for Americans, transitioning to such a system would be difficult, to say the least.
French women supposedly don’t get fat, and in the minds of many Americans, they also don’t get stuck with très gros medical bills. There’s long been a dream among some American progressives to truly live as the “Europeans1” do and have single-payer health care.
Republicans’ failure—so far—to repeal and replace Obamacare has breathed new life into the single-payer dream. In June, the majority of Americans told Pew that the government has the responsibility to ensure health coverage for everyone, and 33 percent say this should take the form of a single government program. The majority of Democrats, in that poll, supported single payer. A June poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation even found that a slim majority of all Americans favor single payer.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”