Potsdam Declaration

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The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement calling for the Surrender of Japan in World War II. On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S. Truman, United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China Chiang Kai-shek issued the document, which outlines the terms of surrender for the Empire of Japan as agreed upon at the Potsdam Conference. This ultimatum stated that, if Japan did not surrender, it would face "prompt and utter destruction".

Japan's initial rejection of the ultimatum led directly to Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9. Whether the ultimatum was intended to be acceptable without recourse to use nuclear weapons has been subject to considerable debate.

The declaration was one of Churchill's final official acts as Prime Minister before he left office the following day in favour of Clement Attlee.

Terms of the Declaration

On July 26, the United States, Britain and China released the Potsdam Declaration announcing the terms for Japan's surrender, with the warning, "We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay." For Japan, the terms of the declaration specified:

  • the elimination "for all time [of] the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest"
  • the occupation of "points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies"
  • "Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine." As had been announced in the Cairo Declaration in 1943, Japan was to be reduced to her pre-1894 territory and stripped of her pre-war empire including Korea and Taiwan, as well as all her recent conquests.
  • "The Japanese military forces shall be completely disarmed"
  • "stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners"

On the other hand, the declaration offered that:

  • "We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, ... The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established."
  • "Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit the exaction of just reparations in kind, ... Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted."
  • "The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established, in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people, a peacefully inclined and responsible government.

The only mention of "unconditional surrender" came at the end of the declaration:

"We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction." Contrary to what had been intended at its conception, the declaration made no mention of the Emperor at all. Allied intentions on issues of utmost importance to the Japanese, including whether Hirohito was to be regarded as one of those who had "misled the people of Japan" or even a war criminal, or alternatively whether the Emperor might potentially become part of a "peacefully inclined and responsible government" were thus left unstated.

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