Friday, August 14th, marks the 75th anniversary of the surrender of the Empire of Japan, ending the Second World War. To commemorate this event, the National Archives Moving Image and Sound Branch would like to present films from our holdings documenting the tremendous moment in world history.
After the surrender of German forces on the 8th of May, known as Victory in Europe (VE) Day, the allies turned their focus to Japan, one of the last remaining Axis powers. The United States knew that any invasion of the Japanese main islands would exact a high price. The U.S. military planners estimated that American forces would sustain over 1 million casualties and estimated that Japan might suffer over 10 million in defense of its home islands. In preparation for the anticipated invasion, the government ordered over 1.5 million purple hearts, a citation given to U.S. service members wounded in combat.
Making matters worse, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the key architects of war strategy, had suddenly died of a stroke at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia on April 12, 1945, leaving Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s vice-president, responsible for concluding the war.
President Truman had four options laid out before him to conclude the war: 1. continue the conventional bombing of Japanese cities that had started in 1944; 2. an invasion of Japan that would cost millions of lives on both sides; 3. a demonstration of the newly developed atomic bomb on an unpopulated island; or, 4. drop the atom bomb on an inhabited Japanese city. Ultimately Truman and the interim committee he had formed felt that only a direct military use of the atomic weapons would force a Japanese capitulation, with the committee stating that “We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war. We can see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.”
On August 6th, 1945 an American bomber dropped an atom bomb code-named “little boy”, detonating above the city and reducing it to ruins. Three days later on August 9th, 1945 another bomb code-named “fat man” was dropped above the city of Nagasaki. To read more about the affects of the atomic bombings, please check out Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki By Kaitlyn Crain Enriquez, Archivist for the National Archives Still Pictures Branch documenting photographic records of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before and after the atomic bombings. After six days of heated debate among the top officials of the Japanese government, the decision was made to surrender.
Across the United States citizens took in the news that the largest war in history had finally ended. Department of the Navy cameramen captured scenes around Washington D.C. as military and civilians took in the news.
As the scenes above, taken from the film, titled Celebration of VJ Day, 08/14/1945 (428-NPC-19594) show people milling about in Lafayette Square in front of the White House waiting for President Truman to make a big announcement. WTOP, the local CBS affiliate for the Washington area, is also visible, ready to report the big announcement and capture people’s reactions. As word spread, and newspapers with official accounts of surrender became available, people can be seen reading and reacting to the news that the war had come to an end. The film then switches to downtown as an impromptu celebration rains ticker-tape as people celebrate in the streets.
Halfway across the United States, in North Platte, Nebraska, word of the Japanese surrender reached the public and members of the armed forces around 6 P.M., touching off a spontaneous parade down the main thoroughfares of the town, captured by members of the Army Signal Corps.
Scenes from the film, titled General Patton Reviews Artillery Demonstration, Grafenwohr, Germany; V-J Day Celebrations, North Platte, Nebraska (111-ADC-5123) show eager townspeople snatch up copies of the local newspaper to take in the news for themselves. Not long after cars, tractors, and even horses can be seen parading up and down the main thoroughfare of the town, waving American flags and celebrating.
The surrender was made official twenty-six days later when the battleship U.S.S. Missouri sailed into Tokyo Bay and representatives from the united nations and the empire of Japan signed the formal instruments of Japanese surrender. The National Broadcast Corporation had reporters on hand to give a play-by-play description of the event to broadcast around the world via radio. United News was also there to film the ceremony, preserved as the film Japanese Sign Final Surrender (208-UN-171B), which can be viewed below. The treaty was then sent to Washington, D.C. to be presented to President Truman on September 7th, 1945, and then put on public display at the National Archives building before being formally accessioned into our holdings where it remains to this day, which has been covered by the Article “On Display: The Japanese Instrument of Surrender” by Darlene McClurkin for the National Archives Pieces of History blog.
United News Film of the Funeral of President Roosevelt and activities of the Newly sworn-in President Truman (200-UN-151)
White House Press Release announcing the use of the atomic bomb found in the Foreign Relations of the United States, by the Office of the Historian for the Department of State.
NBC Radio Report to the Nation on the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb (NBC-NBCa-149)
NBC Radio Broadcast of Japanese Surrender (200.124)
formal treaty of Japanese Surrender documents signed aboard the U.S.S. Missouri digitized by the National Archives and referred to as the Instrument of Surrender
Harry S Truman’s Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb is an article written by the National Park Service detailing Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb, the aftermath, and Truman’s later views about his decision.