The Japanese surrender at the end of WWII was very much different than that of Germany four months earlier…

HERE is one article.

These are some ‘other’ details, that don’t often get discussed… Or, as some people say, the rest of the story… Remember, the Japanese are a seagoing culture…

Why did the US choose a US Navy Iowa-class battleship as the location for Japan’s surrender in World War 2 even though they were in Tokyo Bay and could have used a building on land?

Pure symbolism.

Nothing says “you’re utterly defeated” than having to board the enemy’s massive battleship in the waters of your own capital city. A naval vessel is considered sovereign territory for the purposes of accepting a surrender. You just don’t get that if you borrow a ceremonial space from the host country. In addition, the Navy originally wanted the USS South Dakota to be the surrender site, since it had been in battle the longest, but it was changed it to USS Missouri, Missouri being Truman’s home state, and his daughter had commissioned it.

The Japanese delegation had to travel across water to the Missouri, which sat at the center of a huge US fleet. It’s a bit like those movie scenes where someone enters a big-wig’s office, and the big-wig is sat silhouetted at the end of a long room, behind a massive desk. The appellant has to walk all the way to that desk along a featureless space, feeling small, exposed, vulnerable and comparatively worthless before the mogul enthroned in dramatic lighting before him. By the time he gets there the great speech he had prepared is reduced to a muttered sentence or two.

In addition, the USS Missouri flew the flag of Commodore Perry’s 19th century gun-boat diplomacy mission that opened the closeted Edo-era Japan to the world force upon them the Meiji restoration which ended the rule of the samurai class. The symbolism here is pretty clear – 

This is how we want you to be, and remember what happens to countries that defy us.

It was particularly humiliating for a proud country like Japan, and that was entirely the point. The symbolism of the ceremony was even greater than that. The ship was anchored at the precise latitude/longitude recorded in Perry’s log during his 1845 visit, symbolizing the purpose of both visits to open Japan to the West. Perry’s original flag was also present, having been flown all the way from the Naval Academy for the ceremony. And the Japanese faced that flag when they came to sign the surrender.

When the Japanese delegation came aboard, they were forced to use an accommodation way (stairs) situated just forward of turret #1. The freeboard (distance between the ship’s deck and the water line) there makes the climb about twice as long as if it had been set up farther aft, where the freeboard of the ship is less.

NOTE: This was even more of an issue for the Japanese surrender party as the senior member, Foreign Affairs Minister Shigemitsu, was crippled by an assassination attempt in 1932, losing his right leg in the process (and they had sailors simulate the time it would take to climb the stairs then walk aft).

The #1 and #2 turrets had been traversed about 20 degrees to starboard. The ostensible reason for this was to get the turret overhangs out of the way to create more room for the ceremony on the starboard veranda deck, but in fact this would have only required traversing turret #2 had it been the real reason. However, the turret position also put gun tubes directly over the heads of the Japanese. They were literally boarding the ship “under the gun”. The honor guard of US sailors (side boys) were all hand-picked to be over six feet tall, a further intimidation of the short-statured Japanese.

The surrender documents themselves, one copy for the Allies and one for the Japanese contained identical English-language texts, but the Allied copy was bound in good quality leather, while the Japanese copy was bound with light canvas whose stitching looked like it had been done by a drunken tailor using kite string. After the signing ceremony, the Japanese delegation was not invited for tea and cookies; they were shuffled off the ship as an Allied air armada of over 800 aircraft flew overhead as a final reminder that American forces still had the ability to continue fighting should the Japanese have second thoughts on surrender.

Part of this was done at MacArthur’s request, and part by the Admiral’s staff to interject the Navy symbolism.


Symbolism… — 33 Comments

  1. There is so much symbolism in the military traditions. I talked to a Marine that did some Vietnam KIA funerals. He mentioned some traditions that take place during the flag folding and ceremonial fired salute.

    I’ve seen the pictures, read the books, watched the newsreels, and still get a bit choked with it all…. But I didn’t ever read about the things you mentioned. So much more depth to this ceremony than I ever knew…

    Thank you. I feel like I hold something very precious and expensive now.

  2. While all of this might not have been necessary to prevent “resistance”, I would argue it to be worth the effort. The difference might well be measured in lives on both sides.

  3. Interesting – I did not know about those items. I think it is particularly interesting how they echoed Perry.

    • Nor had I, though sometime in the last few years I read a short account by one of the Japanese who was there and didn’t really mention any of that, BUT found something else jarring. He had believed that everyone, both sides, had the shortages and deprivations. (Paraphrased from memory) “It was only then that I realized just how badly we had been beaten. I could smell butter on that ship. We had almost nothing, and they had plenty.”

      • Wow. I had no idea. Fascinating. Thanks, ONFO.

        My girlfriend told me the post-WWII pejorative term for American gai-jin (foreign devils)was “butta-suko”: butter stinkers. The difference in dairy consumption made for different BO.

        Aside:as a child, her mother watched the Allied fire-bombing of their homes and didn’t know why it was happening.

        The word “propaganda” did not take on a negative connotation until after Hitler and his thugs.

  4. Like the others, I’ve read the accounts. And none of them mentioned what you describe here. I’m sure those things were particularly galling to the Japanese, and rightly so. Thank you.

  5. Wow, this is very cool. Never knew any of this. I know the Japanese were pretty hated by the troops so it doesn’t surprise me. I guess it wouldn’t be cool to do that in today’s PC climate.

  6. Symbols matter, because they represent things that matter.
    This week, I taught my 14-nearly-15 year old Kenneth how to spit-shine his shoes for ROTC. Spit-shined shoes MATTER, not because the NCO needs a mirror, but because they show that you have DEDICATED a significant amount of time to the task; they symbolize self-sacrifice and dedication to service. I don’t think Kenneth gets that yet; I didn’t, at his age, and I don’t think I did until I was long out of the Army. I think I got a hint of the truth as I watched the Old Guard at the Tomb.

    The link to the article provided me with a shocking fact I’d never before grasped: one million Japanese non-combatants died during the Pacific war, from all causes. For every Japanese non-combatant death, between 17 and 18 other non-combatants died; about two-thirds of them Chinese.

    • And it would have been worse, if the Bombs hadn’t worked.

      There were two alternate plans, well, basically one plan working with another.

      One plan was the actual invasion of Japan. Which would have left pretty much no actual Japanese alive in any area that we controlled, once all the terrorism started. May have ended up with no Japanese alive in Japan, except for a small handful of shattered individuals. But the toll on US lives would have been huge, both in deaths and injured citizens (soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and any civilian who went over there also, like aid workers,) and in materials. We would not have survived as a recognizable country afterwards.

      The other plan was the complete naval blockade and destruction of the agriculture of Japan. Though it was already being done, we had plans to flatten and burn every city, poison every water source, destroy all the crops. Which, again, would have killed a significant number of Japanese, again, leaving only a few shattered and starving individuals.

      Combine the two, and it literally would have been “make a desert and call it peace.”

      So shoving a whole snootful of symbolism and ‘We Won’ down their throats, while hordes of civilians and their military stood by watching, was a needful thing. We had to prove that we won, like a Shogun or an Emperor of old, and we did.

      Without the bombs, 1 million non-combatants would have been a drop in the bucket.

      • I’ve read that we haven’t exhausted the supply of Purple Hearts that were struck for the assumed casualties of Operation Olympic and Operation Downfall. Those 2 bombs saved a s–t ton of American lives, and the entire Japanese existence. I doubt we would have left much standing as their civilian population were true believers just like their military…

        • Yes, we are still using the Purple Hearts that were struck for the Invasion. What’s really bad was after war analysis showed that our projected casualty numbers would have been much lower than what would have happened. Tanks as good or better than Shermans, hordes of suicide torpedoes, suicide boats, suicide trucks, suicide planes.

          A friend of mine took a naginata class from a little old Japanese lady, who at 12-13yoa was in charge of a bunch of suicide kids. She, armed with a full bladed nag or yari (machete on a stick or dagger on a stick) while her ‘troops’ were prepared with sharpened bamboo spears and grenades. They, and the adults left, all were prepared to die killing US troops. The grnadparents were all ready to shoot, stab, blow up stuff. Marriage-age women were prepared to murder while

          Very bad. Which is why the statement I said about terrorism. Our 2nd line and rear area forces would have seen similar but much harder and more violent acts of terrorism than what was seen in the Vietnam war.

          Those two bombs saved Japan. And they saved us, as we wouldn’t have been us after 6-10 years of killing everything in existence.

          All we are currently doing with the Olympic and Downfall medals is making sure the medal is clean, replacing the ribbon, and maybe reboxxing them.

          At current combat injury rate, the US should run out of them sometime late this century.

          • Those bombs have me life; my Dad was in training for the invasion.

  7. All- Thanks for the comments, glad you enjoyed it. PE- Exactly! 🙂 WSF- That they did, and they made them with very specific attention to detail.

    Posted from my iPhone.

  8. Talk about rubbing their noses in it. Also, McArthur ordered his officers to wear their Khakis instead of dress uniform. Made it look like this was just another day in the life of the US Navy.

  9. So, if it worked for the Japanese, which it did…why do we not do similar to others? Guess we haven’t been hard enough to win anything since the end of WWII? What happened to turn our country into what the majority are today? What happened to the concept of firm discipline? Or if going to make war on someone, to make war until they beg for mercy? Where did we get off-track as a country?

  10. Psychological war is perhaps under-utilized in the modern era.

  11. Gregg- That was both MacArthur and Nimitz.

    Suz- Because we haven’t WON since then… sigh

    JMI- That it is.

  12. The answer to suz’s question is not simply that we haven’t won since.

    Compressing my historical views some, the history books I grew up on treated the Civil Rights movement as something that was spontaneously generated from the Boomers, and had nothing to do with earlier events. This is very untrue, as WWII appears to have been a significant influence on men of the era. The stories the GI told themselves after their time in Europe and maybe the Pacific left many of them more opposed to the use of similar terror against the Blacks. There were related effects in other ways.

    Key issue here is that those who fought on the ground or carried out the occupations were exposed to both the propaganda of the Allies and of the Axis, and saw the real situation on the ground that had been bought by Axis propaganda. Seeing the falseness and evil of the Axis propaganda machine left them in hindsight wondering about the Allied propaganda. And FDR was a evil man who pulled a lot of shit. The WWII cohorts, older, perhaps feeling guilty and possibly wiser set a guard against being fooled again that way, and screwed up because the communists really were that evil, and again were people who needed killing because they were incompatible with America.

    You maybe see something similar with some of FDR’s Democrat footsoldiers in the ’60s and ’70s. Perhaps starting to figure out deep down that they had been played, but unable to admit it to themselves, but it was safe for them to talk about the problem behavior if they blame it on Republicans.

    A lot of the people were the same, but they had become disenchanted.

    So, it isn’t just a matter of us being degenerates who are not the match of our Heroic fore-bearers, and must be content to live ordinary lives void of myth and legend.

    We still have some of the cultural traits which were behind the consensus or partial consensus that waged the wars against the indians and the Axis Powers. The plain fact is, America’s armed forces have made the world very safe for Americans. The modern American experience has very little of the events which persuaded Americans that dead indians were good indians, that Japanese would be spoken only in Hell, and that left the symbols of the NSDAP so unfashionable that we still don’t use them even so far into implementing NSDAP policy. (The last is partly a comment on abortion. I am not talking about Trump.)

  13. We could have won, did win after Tet, until Uncle Walter said on national tv that we lost. What a rat-bastige commie Uncle Cronkite was. Perfect front for the enemy, beloved, seemingly nice, seen as a voice of reason.

    We won at Tet. We won in Grenada. We won in Panama. But our media and Congress wouldn’t allow us to celebrate like we should have.

    We should have won in GW1 but the media, the leftists in Congress and international pressures stopped us.

    Don’t even get me started on how Congress and #44 screwed up Iraq and Afghanistan.

  14. Hey Old NFO;

    YOur post was awesome, and it tied in with my “Iowa” post…Man great minds think alike…er wait one…LOL. The symbolism was very important, to the Japanese culture symbolism is everything, and we had to prove to them how badly they were beat so there would be no guerilla movements after the war stirring up trouble. And it has worked, to my knowledge there were no guerilla activity until the 1970’s and that was the red brigade crap fomented by the Soviet Union and the Japanese police handled that.

  15. Symbolism:

    In the official photos of the ceremony MacArthur sits at a desk. Behind him, standing, are two skinny guys.

    The captions seldom name them. They are General Jonathan Wainwright of the USA and General Arthur Percival of Britain.

    Both of them had been hauled out of Japanese prison camps, hosed off, dressed up, and stood up front and center. Not as an a symbol to the Japanese, but as an “in your face” to MacArthur and his chain of command. Sort of like the representations of Death in medieval paintings.

    Wainwright, of course, was famous for surrendering to the Japanese at Bataan. Wainwright had been systematically lied to by MacArthur, who repeatedly told him to hold out and wait for reinforcements. There were no reinforcements; “Dugout Doug” had already fled to Australia and had washed his hands of the troops left behind. A lot of people knew what had happened and were very unhappy about it, and they found Wainwright and put him on the Missouri to show they had not forgotten what happened to him.

    Percival was famous for surrendering Singapore. He was set up from afar; what happened was considerably more complicated than what happened to Wainwright, but it came down to the fact that some very influential people had made some really bad decisions, and they needed a scapegoat. Percival was there because, though it’s not often mentioned nowadays, the Pacific forces were a joint command with the British. Also, Douglas MacArthur *personally* got a lot of people killed by refusing to even talk with the Brits above him in his chain of command. The Wikipedia entry for Percival tries to make him look like an incompetent, which he definitely wasn’t.

    Wainwright and Percival weren’t there because they were screwups. They were there because they had been screwed, and there were people who were will boiling mad about it. And when those photographs were published, it was a warning to those who had done the screwing.

    When MacArthur was done posing for the cameras, Wainwright and Percival signed the document of surrender as the two Allied witnesses.

    And that’s who those two skinny dudes were, and why they were there.

  16. Clearly, this is one of your better efforts. I also enjoyed reading the erudite contributors, especially TRX, BobTheRegisteredFool, and Beans.

    My father fought in WWII, as did many of my neighbors. None of them had anything good to say about the enemy (Axis). I graduated HS in 1970, and clearly remember having a history teacher who was somewhat sympathetic to the Japanese – why, I don’t know, but he was.

    I took his opinions home with me and discussed them with my parents after dinner. The Old Man set me straight and outlined just what happened – we dropped one bomb, and the Japs refused to give up, so we dropped another one. Had the Emperor of Japan continued to refuse, we’d have dropped a third.

    After I read about Unit 731, I would have dropped another atomic bomb on Japan just on general principals. They deserved it.

    We helped rebuild Japan after the war, which is more than I would have ever done.

  17. My dad flew seaplanes in the Pacific during WWII and traveled some in Japan after the surrender. He said that by the time he was finished (he was transfered to flying helecopters off an Australian cruiser off Korea) he said that he was feeling pretty sorry for the common people.

  18. All- Really appreciate the comments and additional facts! Thank you!!!

    Posted from my iPhone.

  19. Unlike the Germans the Japanese only needed one lesson. Wonder how many the Chinese will need?