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 “Stormborn,” the second 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.
Spencer Kornhaber: Game of Thrones ended its latest episode with a good-old-fashion pirate ambush, eliminating two out of three of the Sand Snakes and subjecting Theon to a humiliating self-directed walk of the plank. As far as late-episode twists go, Euron Greyjoy’s at-sea ambush was a solid one, injecting real suspense and unsettling violence into what had seemed like a straightforward sail. Yet, in the end, it was also a typical Thrones-ian calamity: You’d best bet against the side you want to win.
Thirty-one year old Ezra Cohen-Watnick holds the intelligence portfolio on the National Security Council—but almost everything about him is a mystery.
Just 24 days into his tenure as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn was forced to resign, having reportedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials. When Flynn departed, the men and women he’d appointed to the National Security Council grew nervous about their own jobs, and with good reason. The new national-security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, promptly began clearing out Flynn’s people, among them Dave Cattler, the deputy assistant to the president for regional affairs, Adam Lovinger, a strategic affairs analyst on loan from the Pentagon, and KT McFarland, Flynn’s deputy, who was eased out with the ambassadorship to Singapore. Even Steve Bannon, among the most powerful people in the White House, was removed from the meetings of the NSC Principal’s Committee, where he had been installed early on in the administration.
Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.
TOKYO—Japan’s population is shrinking. For the first time since the government started keeping track more than a century ago, there were fewer than 1 million births last year, as the country’s population fell by more than 300,000 people. The blame has long been put on Japan’s young people, who are accused of not having enough sex, and on women, who, the narrative goes, put their careers before thoughts of getting married and having a family.
But there’s another, simpler explanation for the country’s low birth rate, one that has implications for the U.S.: Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
This was the first resignation of its kind in France in six decades, but it was enough to remind me how much Americans take healthy civil-military relations for granted. Unlike the French, for example, who have had some terrible episodes between their civilian and military leaders over the years, Americans have never had to disband a parachute infantry regiment because it literally threatened to drop onto the nation’s capital and depose the elected government.
That’s not to say we haven’t had our issues, but aside from Douglas MacArthur’s repeated (and successful) attempts to embarrass himself and his profession, Americans have rarely had to worry about the U.S. military and its leadership as a threat to the Republic.
A conservative group is resisting congressional efforts to kneecap FOIA.
The health-care clusterfudge continues. Senator John McCain has brain cancer. President Trump throws another public tantrum. Russia, Russia, Russia.
That about covers the Big Political Headlines of the week. Now for something really sexy: the creeping assault on the Freedom of Information Act.
Stop right there! No clicking over to that Tucker Carlson YouTube rant. This is another one of those ticky-tacky, below-the-radar issues that may sound like a nonprescription substitute for Ambien but is, practically speaking, super important—especially in the Age of Trump.
FOIA is what enables regular people to pester powerful federal agencies into handing over information about what they’ve been up to. FOIA’s website calls it “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.” Though a tad grandiose, that characterization is pretty much accurate. And never has such a tool been quite so vital as with the current White House, which has adopted a policy of unabashedly lying about pretty much everything.
She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.
The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.
Why some progressives are minimizing Russia’s election meddling
When it comes to possible collusion with Russia, Donald Trump’s most interesting defenders don’t reside on the political right. They reside on the political left.
Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich aren’t defending a principle. They’re defending a patron. Until recently they were ultra-hawks. Now, to downplay Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections, they sound like ultra-doves. All that matters is supporting their ally in the White House.
For left-wing defenders like Max Blumenthal and Glenn Greenwald, by contrast, ideology is king. Blumenthal and Greenwald loathe Trump. But they loathe hawkish foreign policy more. So they minimize Russia’s election meddling to oppose what they see as a new Cold War.
Getting too little sleep can have serious health consequences, including depression, weight gain, and heart disease. It is torture. I know.
I awoke in a bed for the first time in days. My joints ached and my eyelids, which had been open for so long, now lay heavy as old hinges above my cheekbones. I wore two pieces of clothing: an assless gown and a plastic bracelet.
I remembered the hallway I had been wheeled down, and the doctor’s office where I told the psychiatrist he was the devil, but not this room. I forced myself up and stumbled, grabbing the chair and the bathroom doorknob for balance. I made it to the toilet, then threw water on my face at the sink, staring into the mirror in the little lavatory. My tousled hair shot out around my puffy face; my head throbbed. I looked hungover.
In those first moments, I remembered the basics about what had landed me in the hospital: Some pseudo-philosophical ranting and flailing brought on by a poorly executed experiment to see how long I could last without sleep.
The world has many coming-of-age traditions: sweet sixteens, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras. But in one African country, 'initiation' is endangering the health of girls and boys.
CHIRADZULU, Malawi — A slight frame gives her the appearance of a child, but the hardened look Grace Mwase wears makes her seem older than her 14 years. In many villages across Malawi, a largely agrarian sliver of a country in southern Africa, custom dictates that both boys and girls as young as eight attend a rite of passage known as “initiation,” after which they are no longer seen as children. The practice is most entrenched in the country's south, where Mwase's Golden Village is located.
Mwase was just 10 when she was led, along with about a dozen other girls, to remote huts outside her village during winter vacation from school in August. The girls were accompanied by older women from their village in Chiradzulu district, near the border with Mozambique. The women, known as anamkungwi, or “key leaders,” told them that when they returned to their villages they should cook and clean—and have sex. According to Mwase, most of the two weeks she spent at the initiation camp were dedicated to learning how to engage in sexual acts. She had been excited for this time with friends away from home, but that feeling quickly gave way to dread as she learned the true purpose of initiation.