“It is a day of great triumph, but the very glory of it should make us very humble. The world has been given a second chance and we Americans, together with our allies, are the trustees for the coming civilization. We must earn our rights to leadership by acts of justice and loving kindness. Let there be no more enmity, greed or hate, and let there be no arrogance, no superiority or inferiority, but humanity equal before God, dedicated to the moral law and brotherhood among nations.”
– Rabbi Samuel Wohl
(Photo: The famous Life magazine photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt on August 14, 1945)
These are the words spoken by the Rabbi of the Issac M. Wise Temple in downtown Cincinnati to the Cincinnati Enquirer in the “Victory Edition” of the paper published on the morning of August 15, 1945. The good Rabbi was declaring the sentiments of his people which could surely be shared by all Americans as well as the peoples of the victorious Allies on this date – August 14 in 1945, when the Emperor of Japan declared his government’s willingness to accept the terms of surrender of the Potsdam Declaration. World War Two, the most destructive conflict in human history was at long last over.
Emperor Hirihito Speaks to his People
On the afternoon of August 14, a Japanese radio broadcaster announced to the public that Emperor Hirohito would soon be making an Imperial Proclamation announcing the defeat. Most Japanese civilians were grave, solemn and quite mystified at the prospect of an address by the Emperor. They had never heard his voice in their lives; how would it sound? Gwen Terasaki remembers:
“They sat and listened intently when the high-pitched and quavering voice began. Leaning forward with brows furrowed and heads cocked to one side, they concentrated on the sound. There was an eeriness about it, the way the people strained as if they were deaf, for the voice was loud enough and distinct… the Emperor spoke in Court Japanese and only Terry could comprehend.”
The Emperor said that “We” had ordered the government to inform the Allies that they would accept their Joint Declaration (the Potsdam Declaration that Japan would have to surrender unconditionally), to ensure the tranquility of the subjects of the Empire, that the military situation could not be repaired and that the “general tendencies” of the world were running against them as well.
“What is worse, the enemy, who has recently made use of an inhuman bomb, is incessantly subjecting innocent people to grievous wounds and massacre. The devastation is taking on incalculable proportions. To continue the war under these conditions would not only lead to the annihilation of Our nation, but the destruction of human civilization as well….”
The Japanese civilians listening with Terasaki were stunned:
“As Terry translated and they grasped the sense of what was being said, that it meant surrender, the bandaged woman began to weep – not loudly or hysterically but with deep sobs that racked her body. The children started crying and before the Emperor had finished his people were weeping audibly. The voice stopped. Silently the old men, the women, and their children, rose and bowed to each other and without any sound each went along the path leading to his own house.“
President Truman Announces the News in the U.S.
The emperor was not only the political leader of Japan; he was also revered as a near-god, and many Japanese soldiers and sailors as well as civilians would not have fully accepted the news of defeat until they heard him speak those unthinkable words. As sadness spread throughout Japan, joy spread around the Western world. In the United States, news of Hirohito’s announcement reached airwaves on August 14 (due to the time difference), and that day was declared Victory in Japan–or V-J–Day. The jubilation was ecstatic. In his biography of our President, “Truman”, David McCullough writes of the scene at the White House in Washington D.C.:
(Photo: Citizens and workers of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, whose work in the Manhattan Project resulted in the atomic bomb, celebrate the end of World War II)
“In Lafayette Square, someone had started a conga line. Within minutes throngs of people had broken past the barriers and MP s and surged across the street to crowd the length of the White house fence. Streetcars and automobiles stranded in the mob were quickly covered with sailors in white who clambered on top for a better view. Everyone was cheering. Bells were ringing, automobile horns were blaring. The crowd sent up a chant: ‘We want Truman! We want Truman!’ With the First Lady beside him, the President went out on the lawn to wave and smile. He gave the V-sign as cheer after cheer went up. ‘I felt deeply moved by the excitement,’ he remembered, ‘perhaps as much as were the crowds…’”
Cincinnati Reflects, Celebrates
In Cincinnati, Norma Mc Dermott who was overjoyed that her fiance’, John P. Bolten would be coming home safely, sat down and clipped the banner headlines from that morning’s Cincinnati Enquirer, “WAR ENDS AS JAPAN QUITS” and pasted them onto the black pages of her war-time scrap book. Across the top of that page in large block letters of white ink she carefully wrote the date of “VJ Day” as the previous day became known: “August 14, 1945”. But she also included on the lower left hand corner of that same page a carefully drawn white cross, next to which she wrote out the names of three men whom she had known, who had been killed in action, with three gold stars above them: “ Sgt. Felix Powlwoski, Cpl. Martin J. Fiore, Pvt. Daniel Masi.” Meanwhile the citizenry was determined to whoop it up! According to the Enquirer:
“Within an hour (of the announcement of Japanese surrender) the downtown area was jammed by happy, laughing men, women and children, parading arm in arm through the paper-littered streets.
Noise makers were brought out to add to the bedlam. Streams of colored paper were waved above heads; confetti filled the air. Many marched with small flags held aloft.”
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“The Cincinnati Enquirer“, August 15, 1945
“The War-time Scrap Book of Norma McDermott“, possession of the author.
“Truman” by David McCullough, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992.
“World War Two” by Arthur Sulzberger, American Heritage Publ. Co., New York, 1966