Although the language on the emperor's radio broadcast to the nation was very stilted, it ran something like this (see also the other link which has similar but not exactly the same language):



After deeply pondering the general trends of the world and the current conditions of our Empire, I intend to effect a conclusion to the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure. My subjects, I have ordered the Imperial Government to inform the four Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our Empire is willing to accept the provisions of their Joint Declaration. [NOTE no mention of surrender.]

It is the role of the Emperor to strive for prosperity and happiness throughout the world, and for the security and well-being of the Japanese people. I declared war on America and Great Britain to protect the Japanese people and to bring peace and stability to the East Asian region. I did not declare war to infringe on the rights of other nations, or to expand Japanese territory.

This war has now lasted four years, and despite the best efforts of the military, the government and the Japanese people, this war has develped not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interests.

Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and most cruel bomb with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. If we continue to fight this war, this weapon will destroy the Japanese nation and bring about the total extinction of human civilization.

Such being the case, how are we to save the millions of our subjects, or to atone ourselves before the hallowed spirits of our imperial ancenstors? This is the reason why we have ordered the acceptance of the joint declaration. [NOTE: still no mention of surrender here.]

I express my deepest regret to our allies in East Asia who have worked hard with us to achieve freedom in this region. The thought of our Imperial subjects dying in the battlefields, sacrificing themselves in the line of duty, and those who died in vain and their relatives, pains my heart and body to the point of fragmentation.

As for the bearing of the wounds of war, the tragedies of war, and the welfare of the those who lost their families and careers, it is the object of our profound solicitude. From today hereafter, the Empire will endure excruciating hardships. I am keenly aware of the feelings of my subjects, but in accordance to the dictates of fate, I am willing to endure the unendurable, tolerate the intolerable, for peace to last thousands of generations.

The road ahead for Japan will be very difficult and I am aware that many Japanese will feel dishonoured. However due to the current situation, I have resolved that there is no option but to work to achieve peace for all the generations to come. To do this we must "endure the unendurable".

Having been able to save and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, we are always with you, our good and loyal subjects, relying on your sincerity and your integrity. We ask you to remain calm and to refrain from fighting with your fellow citizens, so that we do not lose the confidence of the world.

Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishableness of its divine land; mindful of the heavy responsibility and the long road ahead, we must focus completely on the future's construction. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, nobility of spirit, and work with the determination and resolution so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world. All you, our subjects, we command you to act in accordance with our wishes.

[NOTE: The emperor still commands, the people are still his subjects, and "the innate glory of the Imperial State" is still paramount!]


Below I have abridged and adapted statements from three scholars who reflected upon this rescript and on the process of how the Pacific War was actually ended:

1. From Jown W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (Norton, 1999, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner)

The millions of Japanese who gathered around neighborhood radios to hear [the emperoror's radio] broadcast were not "citizens" but the emperor's subjects, and, it was in his name that they had supported their country's long war against China and the Allied Powers. In Japanese parlance, it had been a "holy war"; in announcing Japan's capitualtion, the forty-four year-old soverign faced the challenge of replacing such rhetoric with new language.

This was a formidable challenge. Fourteen years earlier, in the sixth year of his reign, Emperor Hirohito had acquiesced in the imperial army's takeover of three Chinese provinces known collectively as Manchuria. Eight years previously, Japan had initiated open war against China in the emperor's name. From that time on, Hirohito had appeared in public only in the bemedalled militarty garb of commander in cheif. In December 1941, he issued the rescript that initiated hostilities against the United States and various European powers. Now, three years and eight months later, his task was not merely to call a halt to a lost war, but to do so without disavowing Japan's war aims or acknowledging the nation's atrocities--and in a manner that divorced him from any personal responsibility for these many years of aggression. . .

...The emperor never spoke explicitly of either "surrender" or "defeat." He simply observed that the war "did not turn in Japan's favor, and trends of the world were not advantageous to us." He enjoined his subjects to "endure the unendurable and bear the unbearable"--words that would be quoted times beyond counting in the months to come. [NOTE, actually that, as pointed out below in Sasaki-Uemura's comments, "The emperor did not ask the Japanese people "to bear the unbearable."   He declared that he himself "would suffer what cannot be borne."]

With this rescript, the emperor endeavored to accomplish the impossible: to turn the announcement of humiliating defeat into yet another affirmation of Japan's war conduct and of his own transcendant morality. He began by reiterating what he had told his subjects in 1941 when Japan declared war on the United States--that war had been begun to ensure the survival of Japan and the stability of Asia, not out of any aggressive intent to interfere with the soverign integrity of other countries. . .With reference to the recent atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the emperor went on to present Japan's decision to capitulate as nothing less than a magnanimous act that might save humanity itself from annihilation by an atrocious adversary. "The enemy has for the first time used cruel bombs to kill and maim an extremely large number of the innocent," he declared, "and the heavy casualties are beyond measure. To continue the war further could lead in the end not only to the extermination of our race, but also the destruction of all human civilization." By accepting Allied demands to end the war, the emperor declared it was his purpose to "open the way for a great peace for thousands of generations to come."

He then proceeded to offer himself as the embodiment of the nation's suffering, its ultimate victim, transforming the sacrifices of his people into his own agony with a classical turn of phrase ["pains my heart and body to the point of fragmentation"; or, elsewhere, more graphically, "my vital organs are torn asunder." (See Dower pp. 34-37)


2. From Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (Harper Collins, 2000; also a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History)

Professor Bix might be the harshest critic on the question of war responsibility.   He argues that at every stage of the war's unfolding, Emperor Hirohito played a highly active role in supporting the actions carried out in his name.   This is not the "standard" or official view.   Bix argues that the emperor was reluctant to face the fait accompli of defeat, and then to act decisively to end hostilities, and it was this reluctance, plus certain official acts and policies of his government, that were what kept the war going...Knowing that they were objectively defeated, yet indifferent to the suffering that the war was imposing on their own people, let alone the peoples of Asia, the Pacific and the West whose lives they had disrupted, the emperor and his war leaders searched for a way to lose without losing--a way to assuage domestic criticism after surrender and allow their power structure to survive.

He argues that they let several opportunities to end the war pass, beginning in February 1945 when Konoe and others reported that the Neutrality Pact would not keep the Soviet Union out of the war.   Again, after the Battle of Okinawa had been lost in June, another opportunity went by the boards.   Finally, when the Potsdam Declaration arrive July 17-18, the emperor and his government could have acted decisively.   But they did not.   Even after the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there was no response.

How much was the US at fault for not clarifying that "unconditional surrender" would not mean the end of the emperor system?   I think considerably, but Bix is less hopeful on that.   Fearful of social turmoil arising from a citizenry sick of war and bombardment, the leadership did not want the kokutai being assaulted from within, either.   In that sense, the atomic bomb was heaven sent, a gift from the gods--it enabled Hirohito to become the savior of his people and preserve his status.   By accepting the provisions of the "Joint Declaration," without even identifying what they might be, Hirohito could occupy the higher moral ground, claiming that he was acting to save human civilization form total extinction.    "Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith of the imperishability of its divine land, ever mindful of its heavy burden of responsibilities, and of the long road before it."

Thus began the redefinition of Hirohito as a pacificst, antimilitarist, and completely passive onlooker in the war--none of which he had ever been. (525-27)

The emperor's rescript of August 14 never used the word "surrender."   Japan, however, became the victim of the cruel atom bomb "whose destructive power is quite incalculable; it has taken many innocent lives.   Should we continue to fight, [that bomb] would result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation--even the total extinction of human civilization." (quoted, 529)

3. Adapted from (and supplemented) Wesley Sasaki-Uemura, Organizing the Spontaneous: Citizen Protest in Postwar Japan (University of Hawai'i Press, 2001), pp. 55-56; 65.

Japan's widespread devastation from World War II forced the Japanese to reexamine beliefs that they had held before their defeat.   They had been engaged in a "sacred war" that did not admit the possibility of defeat; there would only be victory or else annihilation and communal unity in death.   [The generation born in the early 1930s had grown up in an era in which cries of praise for soldiers filled the air, and as schoolchildren they were taught only how to die proudly for the country and the emperor.   Young men who were fourteen or fifteen years old when the war ended in 1945 had assumed that the only path that lay before them was the path to the front and to death on the battlefield.   Young people like this were not taught how to live.]   But, in a way, surviving meant betraying those who had died, because they had been taught that dying together and being with the community of dead heroes was the highest value.   They had no pride at all in surviving the war, so when it ended, all they could feel was dependence.   When they finally reassessed what they had believed in, they also had to grapple with the problems of having to deny the value of their friends' and relatives' deaths.

Despite all they were taught about the glory of dying for the emperor, in fact, Japan did lose the war and decisively so, and the emperor did surrender--even though he never actually used the word surrender in his famous radio broadcast.   His recorded broadcast proclaimed that "according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable."

This euphemism for surrender has been widely quoted, but what is striking about the phrase concerns the question of agency.   The emperor did not ask the Japanese people "to bear the unbearable."   He declared that he himself would suffer what cannot be borne...For the Japanese state, the one absolute, nonnegotiable condition in seeking an end to the war had been the continued existence of the emperor's status as sovereign ruler.   Above all, the emperor had to survive as the sacred and inviolable personification of Japan, according to the prewar ideology, but now he was about to make himself subject to other powers that might depose him or try him as a war criminal...Directly after declaring that he would "endure the unendurable," the emperor proclaimed, "Having been able to save and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, we are always with you, our good and loyal subjects," calling on them, in effect, not to put up further resistance and bring retaliation from the enemy.   For the emperor, the unendurable was losing the symbolic import of his position, his "death" as a sovereign. [Hence, the final words of his broadcast refer to "the glory and essence of our Imperial State," and the need to "keep pace with the progress of the world."]

For the Japanese subjects, however, death was not unendurable.   They were taught that dying together for the sake of the emperor was a glorious communion with all the ancestral spirits watching over the land...The one thing that would be unendurable for a good Japanese subject would be to survive, shamefully ostracized from the community of death.   The good soldier, the patriotic subject, had only been trained to die; such subjects were not prepared to live on after the war.