By NANCY and JOHN BARTLIT
Japan surrendered at noon on August 15, 1945, ending World War II in the Pacific. On August 6, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and another on August 9 on Nagasaki.
For 75 years, Americans have struggled with Americans to sort out the human dimensions of these events. That August was the crossroads of Japan’s internal conflict. The stark events, as told by Japan’s wartime leaders, became readily known in the U.S. only in the last 20 years.
In the final summer of WWII, Japan’s Supreme War Council wrestled with turning points in Japan’s history and its future. These gripping events are told in the Japanese movie “The Emperor in August” (2015).
The movie, with Japanese actors and English subtitles, follows the book “Japan’s Longest Day” (1965—on Amazon 2002) by the Pacific War Research Society in Japan. Using the society’s firsthand interviews of council members, the movie relates the council’s fierce struggles to accept surrender.
Final clashes included a military coup, when more than a thousand troops took over the Imperial Palace, seeking to destroy the emperor’s recorded decree. The outcome was uncertain throughout the night. The coup failed and the next noon, August 15, Emperor Hirohito’s surrender speech was broadcast on Japanese radio.
A large war is concluded most suitably by knowing facets that take many decades to emerge.
Editor’s note: John and Nancy Bartlit have lived in Los Alamos for 58 years. Nancy taught school in Japan 13 years after the war ended. During the 1980s, John collaborated with engineers from the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute in a large energy project at Los Alamos National Laboratory.