- The end of World War II is a significant moment in history, not only because it ended the deadliest and most destructive conflict in recorded history, but also because it was the time that America emerged as one of the world’s two superpowers.
- The conflict between the US and Japan began when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
- By 1945 they were losing to Allied forces and surrendered after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States.
Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945. That was the end of World War II. Many people in both the US and Japan said that they were happy with this peace. On September 2, 1945, there was a ceremony to surrender formally to show that Japan wanted peace with other countries too.
Japan bombed the US naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and it was a surprise attack. The United States then declared war on Japan the next day because they were allies of Germany, which had been at war with the United States for a while already.
Over the next three years, the Allies had new technology and were able to fight an easier war in the Pacific. They dropped bombs on Japan.
The damage was big, but they didn’t have many casualties. In 1945, the Allies had bombed Japanese cities and towns 60 times in 3 months with 100,000 tons of explosives.
When Germany surrendered, the Allied countries were celebrating the end of fighting in Europe on V-E Day, but they knew that there was still more fighting to do.
There were signs that Japan would not give up. Battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa were marked by bloodshed. Americans knew that Japan had never surrendered to a foreign power before.
The Atomic Bombs
After Okinawa was taken over by US forces in June of 1945, an attack on the Japanese homeland was planned. But before the attack happened, World War II quickly ended.
Allied leaders issued the Potsdam Declaration, which was a call for Japan to surrender. It said that if they surrendered, they would be given a government according to “the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.” But if they did not surrender, then there would be destruction.
The Japanese government in Tokyo refused to give up and on August 6, an American B-29 plane dropped a bomb in Hiroshima. It killed more than 70,000 people and destroyed five square miles of the city. Three days later, America dropped another bomb in Nagasaki. It killed 40,000 people there too.
When the bomb exploded in Hiroshima, the light was so bright that it could blind people. Buildings were destroyed and many people died or became badly injured. There were 90,000 buildings before the explosion but only 28,000 remained after the bomb was dropped.
The nuclear explosions created many more problems. They caused people to suffer illnesses and die from the radiation. Thousands of people died from injuries and sickness in the weeks, months, and years following the explosion.
It was the first and only time atomic bombs were used in a war. Scientists who made the bombs were proud but scared too. The atomic bomb had a lot of power and could destroy cities on its own. Many people now believe that using these bombs again is bad because they cause so much destruction.
Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when an American pilot flew over her home in a plane on August 6, 1945. The bomb (called Little Boy) that he dropped exploded.
Sadako wasn’t near the bomb, but she saw a bright white light and heard a big boom from her home. There were fires all around where she lived and radioactive black rain fell from the sky after Little Boy detonated over her hometown.
Sadako left with her mother and brother to escape from the fire, which had started burning everywhere because of Little Boy’s explosion.
Sadako was twelve years old when she started to show signs of leukemia and had to go into the hospital. Sadako stayed happy even though she was sick. She also cheered up her family and friends who were sad.
People thought origami cranes would help people who were sick get better. Origami cranes live for 1000 years, and if you fold one crane for every year a crane lives, your wish will come true.
This is why Sadako wanted to fold one thousand origami cranes. She collected lots of paper to do this but her sickness killed her before she could finish folding them all.
Today this statue remembers her story. On it, there is this inscription: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”
On August 15, the Japanese government accepted the Potsdam Declaration. On August 14, Emperor Hirohito told his people to stop fighting.
He blamed the new and most cruel bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki for Japan’s defeat. If they continued to fight, it would not only lead to destruction in Japan but also human civilization.
Victory Over Japan Day
People celebrated this announcement by calling it “Victory over Japan Day” or V-J Day. The date became an official holiday in America and Europe on May 8, 1945, when it happened to be Victory in Europe Day or V-E Day.
On V-J Day, people were happy. They felt relieved and excited. These feelings showed up in images from celebrations around the United States and the world.
In one photo taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine, a sailor passionately kissed a nurse in New York City’s Times Square.
On September 2nd, 1945, General MacArthur and the Japanese minister Mamoru Shigemitsu with the chief of the Japanese army Yoshijiro Umezu together signed Japan’s surrender. This made World War II end.
New York City’s Times Square was crowded with people who were celebrating the end of the war. In North Platte, Nebraska, there were fireworks and other celebrations. People in San Francisco celebrated too because soon troops would come home through that city.
In Honolulu, people had a parade with bands and stuff. In the backyards, they drank toasts in the sun. Veterans and their girlfriends also cheered because they knew something good had happened. They were cheering for what Americans had wanted since Pearl Harbor was attacked.
President Truman said:
This day is a new beginning in the history of freedom on this earth. Our global victory has come from the courage and stamina and spirit of free men and women united in determination to fight.
British Prime Minister Clement Atlee said:
The last of our enemies is laid low.
The prime minister thanked other countries for helping Britain in the war. He said they were: Australia, New Zealand, India, Burma, and the USSR. But he also said some special thanks went to America because without their help the war would still be going on in the East.
People all over London lit up their buildings with lights. There were people on the streets singing, dancing, and lighting fires!
The next night King George VI talked to his country and all of his people during a broadcast from Buckingham Palace. He said:
Our hearts are full to overflowing, as is your own. Yet there is not one of us who has experienced this terrible war who does not realise that we shall feel its inevitable consequences long after we have all forgotten our rejoicings today.
In Japan, there were no celebrations when the people heard about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito blamed this on the new and most cruel bomb. He said:
Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation but would lead also to the total extinction of human civilization.
The people of the world were happy to defeat Japan, but it was also a sad day because many people died. More than 65 million other people died in the war. No one could count how many died. It was too sad to think about.
As Time Passed…
Many people stopped holding V-J Day celebrations because they were worried about offending Japan. Now, Japan is one of our closest friends.
People also felt bad for Japanese Americans and were sad that the US had to use nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Today, Rhode Island celebrates a holiday for V-J Day. It’s on the second Monday of August and it is called Victory Day.
People in other places celebrate V-J Day too, including Seymour, Indiana; Moosup, Connecticut; and Arma, Kansas. They do parades there.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton did not call the day the 50th anniversary of World War II. He called it the “End of the Pacific War.”
Some people complained that this was too nice to Japan who had been in wars with America. They said it was insensitive to veterans who were treated badly by Japanese forces.