The war in Europe was already over. In fact, as Aug. 15, 1945, rolled around, it was only a formality that the war in the Pacific would soon end, too. Japan had suffered the wrath of a new weapon dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9. Though some in the Japanese military lobbied to fight on, Emperor Hirohito did not follow their counsel. He feared that if war continued, with the awesome power of the atomic bomb and the Soviet Union’s declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria, the Japanese race could be eliminated.
In Hirohito’s surrender announcement to his people he said, “Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. 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.”
Although VJ Day isn’t until Sept. 2, it was on Aug. 15 when it was announced to the world that Japan had surrendered and the war, that was said to be the last world war, was over. Like the war in Europe, it had been costly. According to the Pacific War Online Encyclopedia, the war in the Pacific cost 70 million lives, 22 million of those military. Of the military deaths, 111,606 were U.S. forces with 253,000 wounded. Japan lost 1.7 million from its military. It’s estimated that China lost 4 million military and 18 million civilians. Is it any wonder China continues to have difficult relations with Japan?
The days since World War II have been astounding. The United States has continued to be the world’s leader in almost every category of measurement, and Japan has come back from devastation with help from its conqueror to become the world’s third largest economy. The country took on a pacifistic rather than militaristic attitude that has served it well over the past 70 years. With an ever-aggressive China, that’s becoming problematic, and the U.S. has been urging Japan to expand its military.
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Last month, according to The New York Times, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal passed the lower house of Parliament that would allow, for the first time since World War II, the Japanese military to send its troops on combat missions overseas. That proposal still must be approved by the upper chamber where it’s also expected to pass.
Even with that approval in hand, some Japanese are against expanding a military role. Many are still haunted by memories of what happened 70 years ago when the nation’s military got too full of itself, and in the words attributed to Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto following the attack on Pearl Harbor: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Yamamoto may have had some inkling that he now faced what would later be called “The Greatest Generation.”