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Endgame for Japan: From the Potsdam Declaration, the Atomic Bombs, and Surrender, the Defeat of Japan in Diaries from 75 Years Ago

(Above: February 27, 1945: Douglas MacArhur and Sergio Osmeña at the ceremony in Malacañan Palace in which the civilian authority of Commonwealth was restored in the capital)

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II in the Pacific. The Philippine Diary Project contains three unique perspectives on the final month of the conflict, from the time of the Potsdam Declaration from Berlin in July, 1945, to the landing of the Allies in Tokyo in August, 1945. They are the points of view of:

Leon Ma. Guerrero, from his College yearbook as reproduced in Erwin S. Fernandez’s “The Originary Filipino: Rizal and the Making of Leon Ma. Guerrero as Biographer,” Philippine Studies, Vol. 57 No. 4 (2009)

First, Leon Ma. Guerrero, journalist and diplomat, who was with the Philippine Second Republic’s embassy in Tokyo. He’d started his diary (as published, anyway) on January 1, 1945. Guerrero features prominently in the Bataan and Death March diary of his friend, Felipe Buencamino III, with whom Guerrero served in the Intelligence Section of the Philippine Army. After the fall of Bataan, Guerrero went on to continue in propaganda, this time, on behalf of the Japanese, maintaining his pen name of Ignacio Javier.He would go on to join the embassy established by Jorge Vargas in Tokyo. A lawyer, diplomat, and former journalist, Guerrero recorded events in the Japanese capital and the resort town in which diplomats had evacuated, from the privileged position of an embassy staffer, with the shrewd eye of someone who’d already had government and political experience, and a reporter’s gift for jotting down the telling detail.

Jose P. Laurel and his son Salvador H. Laurel in Nara, Japan, 1945

Second, there is the diary of Salvador H. Laurel, the son of Japanese Occupation-sponsored President Jose P. Laurel, who was with his father in exile in Nara, Japan; his father had assigned him to keep a diary from the start of their evacuation from Manila to Baguio in December, 1944, and then on to their flight into exile in Japan. He combines the perspective of a young man and someone in the unique position of being able to observe the dying moments of his father’s regime.

Antonio de las Alas

Third, writing in Iwahig Penal Colony in Palawan, there is the diary of Antonio de las Alas, who had been Minister of Finance in the Laurel government, a fixture in the prewar government (having served in the Quezon government and, at the oubreak of the war, he had just been elected to the senate), and who was under Allied detention for collaborating with the Japanese. His is a senior government official’s perspective, familiar with both the Americans and the Japanese, and observing the changes in affiliations and alliances as senior officials like himself went into eclipse.

Our story begins in mid-July, with the meeting of the “Big Three” –Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman and Joseph Stalin– in the capital of defeated Germany: in a suburb of Berlin called Potsdam, to be exact.

The Potsdam Conference was the follow-up to the Yalta Conference, where Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin had agreed that three months after the defeat of Germany, Russia would join the United States and Great Britain in waging war against Japan. Russia had maintained neutrality in the Pacific War, but the Western Allies, concerned about the expected immense casualties that an invasion of Japan would cost, wanted Russia to join the fight.

In the meantime, also because of the anticipated great cost in lives of a Japanese invasion, the United States had pursued the Manhattan Project and Harry S. Truman had authorized the use of the atom bomb against Japan.

On July 16, 1945, the atomic bomb had been successfully tested in New Mexico: Truman informed Churchill and Stalin of this fact in Potsdam the next day, July 17.

What follows contains day headings in italics come from The Last Days of Imperial Japan 1945 – 1951. Day information in underlined italics comes from World War Two in the Pacific: Timeline of Events 1941-1945,  while the days also feature the front page of Free Philippines, the newspaper put out by the Office of War Information of the U.S. Army in the Philippines.

A quick summary of how the focus of events had shifted to the looming task of planning “Operation Olympic” –the expected invasion of Japan in 1946:

July 5, 1945 – Liberation of Philippines declared.
July 10, 1945 – 1,000 bomber raids against Japan begin.
July 14, 1945 – The first U.S. Naval bombardment of Japanese home islands.
July 16, 1945 – First Atomic Bomb is successfully tested in the U.S.

July 22, 1945

Walking in the resort town of Gora in the outskirts of Tokyo, young diplomat (and former journalist and Bataan veteran) Leon Ma. Guerrero jots down some sounds and sights:

Sights in the mountain resort of Gora:

A Japanese sporting a buckle labeled “Philippine Commonwealth”;

A Japanese boy playing with a model airplane but this one carried an American star on its wings instead of the Japanese sun;

A rickety brown inn along a rocky slope, full of school-children evacuated from Tokyo and Yokohama. The parents of two-thirds of them had perished in the last air-raids. Somehow the teachers had broken the news to their charges after many days of troubled apprehension. Perhaps the orphans wept that day and perhaps they still do it at nights but when I passed by, they were laughing and chasing one another in the chill sunlight.

July 23, 1945

A one-line entry by Leon Ma. Guerrero in Tokyo:

The railway volunteer fighting corps will be formally organized on the 1st of next month.

More substantial is Antonio de las Alas’ summary of news received in their detention cells in the Iwahig Penal Colony in Palawan:

The newspapers bring two pieces of news; one elated us, and the other alarmed us.

The first seems to indicate an early end of the war. United Press reports in New York that the United States government administration is taking steps to draft the United States unconditional surrender terms. New York Herald Tribune states that the possible terms as reported from reliable sources are the following: (1) Return of all territories seized by force; (2) Complete destruction of Japanese fleet and air force; (3) Dismantling of all shipbuilding facilities capable of turning out air crafts and munitions; (4) Japan will not be invaded, only a token “supervisory force” will be sent to Japan; (5) Japan is to retain her form of government, including the Emperor, and to manage her own political, economic and social affairs; and (6) Japan may be supplied with iron, coal, oil and other resources needed for civilian use.

Some parts of the above terms need clarification. For instance, what shall be done with Manchuria, Korea and Formosa?

If I were Japan, I would grab peace under the above terms. Japan is already beaten. With the hundreds of superfortresses, her annihilation or almost complete destruction is assured. Furthermore, due to her own fault, her dream of union among the countries of Greater East Asia has been blasted. Because of her record in these countries, it will take a century before her nationals will be welcomed in these countries. Not only did she disqualify herself to be the leader of any union to be organized here, but she will probably not even be admitted until she shows that she can treat other people as civilized people do. China may want to be the leader. If Manchuria and Formosa are returned to her, she will be the strongest nation in the world and may even dominate the world. The Chinese are not only good businessmen, but they have also shown themselves to be good soldiers. But they were also shown to be cruel at times. I believe that for the safety of the Orient, China be divided into at least three nations: North and South China, and Manchuria.

It is rumored that in Washington these terms for surrender were received with general approval.

He adds another item of news that will feature prominently in the weeks to come:

The above news must be related to other news. It is reported that Russia is acting as intermediary and that Stalin took with him to Berlin the surrender terms, evidently to submit them to the Conference between him, Truman and Churchill. Another news item is that before the Russian delegation left for Berlin, the Japanese Ambassador Sato, had a conference with Foreign Commissar of Foreign Affairs Molotov and with the Vice-Commissar.

Something must be in the offing. All of us expect or at least hope that termination of the war will come.

July 24, 1945

In Tokyo, Leon Ma. Guerrero reported that,

Near midnight on the 22nd a Japanese convoy moving under heavy rainclouds suddenly it came upon eight American destroyers about 20 kilometers off the sou