Although Japan effectively capitulated on August 15, following the annihilation of two of its industrial cities, the formal surrender didn’t take place until this date in 1945. The ceremony was observed on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. A thousand carrier-based planes flew overhead in a magnificent martial display. From Washington, D.C., President Truman declared September 2 to be the official V-J Day.
As the senior Allied officer, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, presided over the affair. When the signing of the Instrument of Surrender was complete, the general delivered the first of two speeches, powerful for its poignant rhetoric and remarkable for its conciliatory tone:
We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored. The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies have been determined on the battlefields of the world, and hence are not for our discussion or debate. Nor is it for us here to meet, representing as we do a majority of the peoples of the earth, in a spirit of distrust, malice, or hatred. But rather it is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone befits the sacred purposes we are about to serve, committing all of our peoples unreservedly to faithful compliance with the undertakings they are here formally to assume.
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.
The terms and conditions upon which surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces is here to be given and accepted are contained in the Instrument of Surrender now before you.
After the ceremony was officially closed, MacArthur then delivered a stirring and discerning radio address to the American people and to the world:
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 is 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 unnamed 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 mold 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 concepts of war.
Men since the beginning of time have sought peace… Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. We have had our last chance. If we do not now 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 advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural development of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh…
And so, my fellow countrymen, today I report to you that your sons and daughters have served you well and faithfully with the calm, deliberated determined fighting spirit of the American soldier, based upon a tradition of historical truth 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.
How right the general was in 1945, and his far-sighted wisdom rings just as true today. “The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character,” he observed. “It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.” I’m mindful of God’s message to Zerubbabel when he faced the impossible: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Ultimately, carrying out the work of God will not come through human power, but by the strength of the Almighty. True peace comes only by way of the Prince of Peace.
Gen. MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers to head the occupation forces in Japan. He was given remarkable governing powers with which he helped to rebuild Japan, wrote a new constitution, instituted a parliamentary system of government, brought about land reforms, and set the country upon a new path to become one of the world's leading industrial powers. MacArthur remained in Japan until the end of the formal Allied occupation in 1951.
Sources: American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank (www.americanrhetoric.com); The History Reader (www.thehistoryreader.com)