Versions of Document
Many primary documents relate to multiple themes in American history and government and are curated by different editors for particular collections. In the dropdown menu, we provide links to variant excerpts of the document, with study questions relevant to particular themes.Versions of Document
Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, but Allied leaders did not meet until July to decide how to handle the transition to peace. They gathered in Potsdam, Germany, just outside Berlin, from July 17–August 2, 1945. The major Allied delegations were led by US President Harry S. Truman – who as Vice President had become president upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt on April 12, 1945 – British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The Allies agreed to separate Germany and Berlin into four zones, each controlled by a different Allied nation (France, Britain, USSR, and the United States). Germany was also required to disarm completely. During the war, the Allies had called for Germany’s unconditional surrender, and the Potsdam Conference decided what “unconditional surrender” meant.
Meanwhile, the war in the Pacific continued. On July 16, 1945, a day before the Potsdam conference began, President Truman received word that the United States had successfully detonated an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. Truman took advantage of the meeting in Potsdam to issue a joint statement (with Britain and the Republic of China; the Soviet Union did not sign because it had not declared war on Japan) demanding Japan’s unconditional surrender. The Potsdam Declaration also outlined what continuing the war – or, alternatively, what peace – would mean for Japan.
Source: Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender, Issued, at Potsdam, July 26, 1945 (Birth of the Constitution of Japan, National Diet Library, Japan) https://goo.gl/vk6tQV.
Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender
Issued, at Potsdam, July 26, 1945
- We – the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war.
- The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.
- The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan. The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.
- The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.
- Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.
- There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.
- Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s war-making power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.
- The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.1
- The Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.
- We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. 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, but not those which would enable her to re-arm for war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be permitted. Eventual 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.
- 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.
A. How does Truman’s warning indirectly hint that the US has the atomic bomb? How did the Allies define the meaning of unconditional surrender for Japan? Which terms of surrender might Japan object to most? What incentives to surrender does the declaration give Japan?
B. How does this declaration apply the principles of the Atlantic Charter to the Pacific war?
- In the 1943 Cairo Declaration, the United States, Britain, and China had pledged to eject Japanese forces from all conquered lands, including China, Korea, and Pacific Islands.