On this day in 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered, accepting the conditions of the Potsdam Agreement. World War II was over! During the previous week and a half, the United States had dropped atomic bombs on both Hiroshima (6 August) and Nagasaki (9 August)—an act which unleashed heretofore unknown savagery upon the Japanese people. The bombing also decisively ended the war. As the Germans had surrendered three months earlier, Japan’s submission meant World War II was now history. The Emperor made a broadcast to his people and the Potsdam Agreement was read over the radio. From Washington, President Truman made a 7:00 pm nationwide broadcast.
“Worldwide revelry” would be an understatement. Soldiers and civilians alike—both at home and overseas—celebrated raucously. People gathered in huge crowds, crying, laughing and cheering. Life magazine described the outpouring “as if joy had been rationed and saved up for three years, eight months and seven days since Sunday, December 7, 1941.” Times Square saw its largest gathering in history; it was here, on this day, that photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt shot his iconic image of a sailor and nurse locked in a kiss.
Interestingly, Victory over Japan Day is celebrated on three different dates (in different places). Emperor Hirohito surrendered on 15 August and the Japanese commemorate that date. Because of the time difference, it happened to be 14 August in the United States when the surrender was announced. And it wasn’t until 2 September that the surrender was finalized—and signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay—and this is the date commemorated in the U.S.
One (unknown) American celebrated the victory by making the folksy inlaid wooden box, above. A large V (for “Victory”) is underlined with a “dot, dot, dot, dash”—Morse Code for the letter “V.”