How important was the Allied defeat of Japan that ended World War II in 1945? So important that V-J Day – V standing for Victory, J for Japan – is commemorated not once but twice in less than a month.
The first – August 14 – is the day Japan admitted defeat by Allied forces, and accepted the terms of surrender. It marked the end of the 3½-year-long war in the Pacific that began when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and drew the United States officially into World War II.
Just six months later, in June 1942, the Allies defeated the Japanese in the Battle of Midway. The victory was considered to be the turning point in the war in the Pacific, because it came before the American military industrial complex ramped up to full strength to overpower the Japanese and their limited resources. By the end of 1944, the Allies had taken back most of Japan’s early gains, and were on their way to bloody but vital victories at Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
On July 26, 1945, the USS Indianapolis delivered the components of the first atomic bomb to Tinian Island. That same day, the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration, demanding Japan’s surrender. If Japan complied, it would have a peaceful government left to “the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.” Refusal would result in “prompt and utter destruction.” Three days later, a Japanese submarine sank the USS Indianapolis, along with its 881 crew members.
The Japanese refused to surrender. The Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, and another that devastated Nagasaki three days later, with the combined death toll surpassing 110,000 Japanese citizens. On the afternoon of August 14 (in the United States, August 15 in Europe), Japan’s Emperor Hirohito accepted the terms of the surrender, stating, “Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation but would also lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”
That created the second commemorated V-J Day 19 days later, on September 2, 1945. Japanese Foreign Minister Mamora Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu boarded the battleship USS Missouri to sign the formal surrender, with General Douglas MacArthur accepting for the Allies.
“Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed!” MacArthur said.
With the fighting over and the ink dry, World War II officially ended.