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News Navigator: How did the Pacific War end?

People bow in front of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo after hearing that the war was over.

Aug. 15, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The Mainichi Shimbun answers common questions readers may have about how the Pacific War ended.

    Question: What kind of war was the Pacific War?

    Answer: In December 1941, the then Imperial Japanese Army and Navy attacked Southeast Asia and Hawaii, which started the war between Japan and countries such as the United States and Britain. It ended with Japan's surrender in the summer of 1945. Among the lives lost in the conflict, 3.1 million of them were Japanese.

    Q: Is it true that at the start, Japan had the upper hand?

    A: Yes, but as the war prolonged, the counterattack by the much stronger U.S. military advanced. The U.S. takeover of the Mariana Islands including Saipan in the summer of 1944 proved the decisive blow. From there, the U.S. military began repeatedly bombing Japan. The following year, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place. Japan was hoping that the Soviet Union, with which it had signed a neutrality pact, would fulfill the role of a mediator for Japan in making peace with the Allied Powers. But the Soviet Union invaded Japan on Aug. 9, 1945, the same day the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Still, Japan refused to surrender.

    Q: Why didn't it surrender? Given that Japan was losing its major outposts and being invaded, you would think it would have no choice but to surrender.

    A: Allied Powers such as the U.S. and Britain called on Japan to surrender in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945, but the Japanese government did not immediately comply. The Japanese government was intent on maintaining the national polity and the framework of the nation with the Emperor at the center. But because the Allied Powers refused to accept those conditions, Japan hesitated to accept the Potsdam Declaration. Even after the atomic bombs were dropped there was some momentum to keep the war going, but in the end it was then Emperor Hirohito's decision to accept the Potsdam Declaration that brought about an end to the war.

    Q: If not, would there have been more damage and casualties?

    A: Yes. But for a long time, there has been a deep-rooted belief that the decision to surrender should have been made much sooner. We should remain aware that in any era, the deeper a crisis a country is in, the greater influence a ruler's decisions have on the people's lives.

    (Japanese original by Toshio Kurihara, Cultural News Department)

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