December 7, 1941, started out like any other Sunday at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But everything changed just before 8 a.m., while many people were still sound asleep in their beds. Hundreds of Japanese fighter planes appeared in the sky over the base and destroyed or damaged about 20 U.S. naval vessels, eight battleships, and more than 300 airplanes. More than 2,400 people were killed and 1,000 more injured. The following day America entered into a conflict that became World War II. It would be a bloody four more years before Victory Over Japan, otherwise known as V-J Day, would happen.
Today, August 15, marks 75 years since Japan surrendered and Americans have been celebrating the day ever since. But the cost of the win was not cheap. Thousands of lives were lost, cities were destroyed, and peace was a hard-won victory. Between March and July 1945, Japan suffered about 100,000 tons of explosives from the Allies on more than 60 cities and towns. On July 26, 1945, Japan was asked to surrender via the Potsdam Declaration and was promised if it did not, it would face “prompt and utter destruction.” They refused the terms.
On August 6, the Enola Gay, an American B-29 plane, flew over Hiroshima and dropped an atomic bomb, killing more than 70,000 people. The bomb also destroyed five square miles of the city. But that wasn’t the end of it. Another bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki, killing 40,000 people. The United States had kept its word and delivered destruction on the country.
The day after the bombing of Nagasaki, and after more than 120,000 deaths, the Japanese government agreed to the Potsdam Declaration terms. On August 15 in Japan (August 14 in the U.S.), Emperor Hirohito addressed the people via a radio broadcast and asked them to accept the surrender because of the “new and most cruel bomb.” He warned, “Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation but would also lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”
On August 14, President Harry S. Truman held a press conference at the White House and announced Japan’s surrender: “This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor. This is the day when Fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would.”
Images of Americans celebrating the victory include the famous Life Magazine photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt of the sailor in uniform kissing a nurse in the middle of New York City’s Time Square. General Douglas MacArthur, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, and Chief of Staff of the Japanese army Yoshijiro Umezu met aboard the U.S. Navy battleship Missouri on September 2 to sign the official surrender of Japan, successfully ending WWII.