MacArthur and VJ Day
Sept. 2 is the anniversary of V-J Day--Victory in Japan. The Pacific War was formally brought to an end, and with that the Second World War was over. The destruction in lives and property was unprecedented. The war in Europe, which had started with the Nazi invasion of Poland, ended with Soviet domination of Poland and most of Eastern Europe. The War in the Pacific ended with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and set the stage for a nuclear arms race that for the most part kept the next world war “cold” instead of “hot.”
To be sure, there were smaller and costly “hot” wars fought on the Korean peninsula and in Southeast Asia, and civil wars fought in China and elsewhere. The actual fighting did not stop with Japan’s formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri. As in the past, one war’s peace led to another era’s wars. World War II resulted in the demise of one expansionist totalitarian power (Nazi Germany), and the rise of another (the Soviet Union). But Nazism lacked communism’s universal appeal, so the ensuing Cold War against communism lasted much longer than the preceding hot war against Nazism -- the Cold War ended some 45 years later with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But on that gray, overcast summer day of Sept. 2, 1945, the hopes were great, and they were expressed most profoundly by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur at the surrender ceremony on the Missouri and later in a radio address to America and the world.
MacArthur, who after taking back the Philippines had been charged with planning the invasion of the main Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu, arrived in Japan at Atsugi airfield on Aug. 30, 1945, on a plane named Bataan II. The peace treaty ending the war had not yet been signed, and MacArthur was potentially in great danger -- a recent rebellion by Japanese pilots at the airfield had caused MacArthur’s flight to be delayed. Atsugi airfield had been home to some of Japan’s Kamikaze pilots. As MacArthur’s aide Lt. Gen. Robert Eichelbeger later noted, “American soldiers were outnumbered thousands to one . . . and I knew that one undisciplined fanatic could turn a peaceful occupation into a punitive expedition.”
MacArthur's boldest moment was at Atsugi
Before landing at Atsugi, MacArthur lectured his aides about the priorities for Japan’s occupation: “First destroy the military power . . . then build the structure of representative government . . . enfranchise the women . . . free the political prisoners . . . liberate the farmers . . . establish a free labor movement . . . encourage a free economy . . . abolish police oppression . . . develop a free and responsible press . . . liberalize education . . . [and] decentralize the political power.” It was a brilliant performance that astonished his aides, who were more immediately concerned with the security upon their arrival than Japan’s future.
After the Bataan II landed, MacArthur strode onto the metal stairway leading to the runway, wearing his famous “field marshal’s cap” (MacArthur had been made a field marshal of the Philippine army), his large corncob pipe clenched in his teeth. As historian Seymour Morris wrote, “All his life he had taken risks on the battlefield and never gotten hit. . . . Only an incurable romantic would do what MacArthur was doing, descending unarmed onto a kamikaze airfield like a swashbuckling Errol Flynn.”
Japanese historian Kazuo Kawai described MacArthur’s landing at Atsugi as “an exhibition of cool personal courage . . . and a masterpiece of psychology which completely disarmed Japanese apprehensions.” Winston Churchill later remarked “Of all the amazing deeds of bravery of the war, I regarded MacArthur’s personal landing at Atsugi as the greatest of the lot.”
MacArthur’s motorcade took him to Yokohama, where he saw first-hand the devastation caused by American bombers -- 80% of the city had been destroyed. The entire route from Atsugi airfield to Yokohama was lined by Japanese soldiers standing at attention but with their backs to the road -- a sign of respect, writes biographer Arthur Herman, “usually reserved for the emperor himself.”
On Sept. 1 MacArthur visited Tokyo, which had suffered relentless firebombing from American B-29s -- the destruction there was even greater than at Yokohama. He set up his headquarters as the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (SCAP) at the Dai-ichi insurance building. Later that evening at a formal reception at Tokyo’s Grand Hotel, MacArthur was reunited with his former comrade in arms Gen. Jonathan Wainwright who had spent four miserable years in Japanese prisons after surrendering in the Philippines.
'A better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage'
The next day was officially V-J Day, and the surrender ceremony was held on the veranda deck of the Missouri. The American flag overhead fluttered in the wind -- it was the same flag that had flown over the Capitol Building on Dec. 7, 1941. Prior to having the representatives of the warring nations sign the instrument of surrender, MacArthur briefly spoke of the hopes of the future: “It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope of all mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past -- a world founded upon faith and understanding; a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish--for freedom, tolerance and justice.”
After the surrender document was signed, MacArthur concluded with the following words: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.”
After the ceremony, MacArthur in a radio broadcast spoke these memorable words:
My Fellow Countrymen:
Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won. The skies no longer rain death - the seas bear only commerce - men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world lies quietly at Peace. The Holy Mission has been completed. And in reporting this to you, the people, I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles and the beaches and in the deep waters of the Pacific which marked the way. I speak for the un-named brave millions homeward bound to take up the challenge of that future which they did so much to salvage from the brink of disaster.
As I look back on the long, tortuous trail from those grim days of Bataan and Corregidor, when an entire world lived in fear; when Democracy was on the defensive everywhere, when modern civilization trembled in the balance, I thank a merciful God that he has given us the faith, the courage and the power from which to mould victory. We have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no turning back. We must go forward to preserve in Peace what we won in War
A new era is upon us. Even the lesson of Victory itself brings with it profound concern, both for our future security and the survival of civilization. The destructiveness of the War potential, through progressive advances in scientific discovery, has in fact now reached a point which revises the traditional concept of War.
Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start workable methods were found in so far as individual citizens were concerned but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balance of power, Leagues of Nations all in turn failed leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advance in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.
We stand in Tokyo today reminiscent of our countryman, Commodore Perry, ninety-two years ago. His purpose was to bring Japan to an era of enlightenment and progress by lifting the veil of isolation to the friendship, trade and commerce of the world. But alas the knowledge thereby gained of Western science was forged into an instrument of oppression and human enslavement. Freedom of expression, freedom of action, even freedom of thought were denied through suppression of liberal education, through appeal of superstition and through the application of force. We are committed by the Potsdam Declaration of Principles to see that the Japanese people are liberated from this condition of slavery. It is my purpose to implement this commitment just as rapidly as the armed forces are demobilized and other essential steps taken to neutralize the war potential. The energy of the Japanese race, if properly directed, will enable expansion vertically rather than horizontally. If the talents of the race are turned into constructive channels, the country can lift itself from its present deplorable state into a position of dignity.
To the Pacific basin has come the vista of a new emancipated world. Today, freedom is on the offensive, democracy is on the march. Today, in Asia as well as in Europe, unshackled peoples are tasting the full sweetness of liberty, the relief from fear.
In the Philippines, America has evolved a model for this new free world of Asia. In the Philippines, America has demonstrated that peoples of the East and peoples of the West may walk side by side in mutual respect and with mutual benefit. The history of our sovereignty there has now the full confidence of the East.
And so, my fellow countrymen, today I report to you that your sons and daughters have served you well and faithfully with the calm, deliberate, determined fighting spirit of the American soldier and sailor based upon a tradition of historical trait, as against the fanaticism of an enemy supported only by mythological fiction. Their spiritual strength and power has brought us through to victory. They are homeward bound -- take care of them.
MacArthur’s vision for Japan came to fruition due in part to his enlightened leadership as postwar administrator of the country. But his hopes for mankind and the world were repeatedly dashed as the Cold War struggle and decolonization led to future violence and war throughout the rest of the 20th century. And MacArthur’s hopes for a future of peace and freedom are no closer to being realized today, as the world lurches towards a Cold War between the U.S. and China, violence in the Middle East continues, civil strife plagues so many lands, and the specter of international terrorism again rears its ugly head.