December 7, 1941, started out like any other Sunday at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, but everything changed just before 8 a.m., while many people were still sound asleep in their beds. Hundreds of Japanese fighter planes appeared in the sky over the base and destroyed or damaged about 20 U.S. naval vessels, eight battleships, and more than 300 airplanes. More than 2,400 people were killed and 1,000 more injured. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan and America entered into a conflict that became World War II. It would be a bloody four more years before Victory Over Japan, otherwise known as V-J Day, would happen.
Today, August 15, marks 75 years since Japan surrendered, and Americans have been celebrating the day ever since. But the victory was not cheap. Thousands of lives were lost, and entire cities destroyed. Between March and July 1945, more than 60 Japanese cities and towns were hit with about 100,000 tons of explosives. On July 26, 1945, Japan was asked to surrender via the Potsdam Declaration and was promised that, if it did not, it would face “prompt and utter destruction.” Japan refused the terms.
The New and Most Cruel Bomb
On August 6, the Enola Gay, an American B-29 Superfortress bomber, flew over Hiroshima and dropped an atomic bomb, killing more than 70,000 people. Five square miles of the city was obliterated. But that wasn’t the end of it. Another bomb was soon dropped, this time on Nagasaki, killing 40,000 people. The United States had kept its word and delivered destruction upon the country.
The day after the Nagasaki bombing, and after suffering more than 120,000 deaths, the Japanese government agreed to the Potsdam Declaration terms. On August 15 – August 14 in the U.S. – Emperor Hirohito addressed his people via radio broadcast and asked them to accept the surrender because of the “new and most cruel bomb.” He warned, “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.”
President Harry S. Truman held a press conference at the White House and announced Japan’s surrender:
“This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor. This is the day when Fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would.”
Is America Still Feared?
Images of Americans celebrating the victory include the famous Life Magazine photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a uniformed sailor kissing a nurse in the middle of New York City’s Times Square. General Douglas MacArthur, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, and Chief of Staff of the Japanese army Yoshijiro Umezu met aboard the U.S. Navy battleship Missouri on Sept. 2 to sign the official surrender of Japan, successfully ending WWII.
Seventy-five years ago, the United States flexed its muscles and showed the world just how powerful it was, and that those who dare endanger our nation will suffer mighty and awful consequences. The world has changed much since that time, and even though President Donald Trump has negotiated a historic Israel peace deal, foreign and domestic threats to the U.S. are still prevalent. With the inner chaos tearing the nation apart, one has to wonder: Is the United States still viewed as a world power? Do other nations still have a healthy respect for our military capabilities?
Read more from Kelli Ballard.