Response to H-Diplo Roundtable XXIII-18
Marc Gallicchio. Unconditional: The Japanese Surrender in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. ISBN: 9780190091101 (hardcover, $27.95).
25 January 2022
Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Thomas Maddux | Production Editor: George Fujii
Queries about the Potsdam Declaration
The recent H-Diplo roundtable on Marc Gallicchio’s book, Unconditional, raised a number of interesting issues, which, I am sure, will further be discussed by specialists. This post is not meant to be a rebuttal to the author’s response to my comments, but rather is to solicit opinions of those who know more about the internal debate with the Truman administration than myself on the issue of unconditional surrender and those who have examined more closely the relevant archival materials than I have. Being a non-Americanist, I am genuinely puzzled about a couple of issues associated with the Potsdam Declaration.
The Potsdam Declaration was a crucial document that had consequential impact on Japan’s surrender, the US decision to drop the atomic bombs, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s decision to hasten the date of attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korea. Despite the importance of the document, I have a number of questions I have been struggling to answer for many years.
The first is what seems to be a contradiction between Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson’s July 2 draft and the final form of the declaration. The Potsdam Declaration demanded, not “unconditional surrender,” but “unconditional surrender of the armed forces.” The question arises then of why Truman decided to delete the promise to allow the Japanese to “maintain a constitutional monarchy under the current dynasty,” as stipulated in Stimson’s draft? Was limiting “unconditional surrender” merely to the armed forces meant to be a carrot to make it easier for the Japanese to accept the ultimatum? If so, why did Truman delete the promise to “maintain a constitutional monarchy under the present dynasty?” The contradiction was the first question that Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo and other foreign ministry officials raised. This issue also lies at the heart of Truman’s concept of “unconditional surrender.” Was this a clever maneuver on the part of the president to be silent about the possibility of maintaining a constitutional monarchy to avoid criticism from the anti-monarchy hard-liners such as Archibald MacLeish and Dean Acheson in the State Department and from the expected opprobrium of the public opinion who might view Truman as an appeaser to the Japanese emperor, while obliquely holding out the possibility that the emperor would be spared, as Gallicchio argues?
This is an attractive interpretation, but evidence to support it is lacking. Did Truman already have a long-term policy to reduce the emperor to a mere a symbol of the state, as Supreme Command of Allied Powers General Douglas MacArthur forced the Japanese to accept in Japan’s post-war constitution, depriving him of political role, while preserving the imperial institution to survive without abolishing it altogether? If so, I would like to see the evidence.
Or was this a tacit acceptance of the emperor’s role in order to persuade to the armed forces to lay their arms down? In other words, did Truman have to accept the emperor’s role only for a short term for the practical purpose of forcing the Japanese armed forces to surrender, without thinking much about his role in the long term during the occupation?
Secretary of State James F. Byrnes states in his memoirs: “The copy in my files indicates that several suggestions made by [Prime Minister Winston] Churchill were incorporated, and the President inserted one or two with his pen.” But we do not know specifically what amendments Churchill offered and what insertions Truman made to Stimson’s draft.
In my opinion, it is important to trace the process through which the ultimatum to Japan went through various drafts and examine who were involved in these drafts at each stage. Especially, I would like to see Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew’s assistant Eugene Doorman’s four-and-a half page draft he presented to Grew on May 27, and its relationship with SWNCC 150. I do not have these drafts in my possession. Does anyone have these documents or know where to obtain them?
Finally, there is one sentence in the Potsdam Declaration that was not included in Stimson’s draft: “The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.” I have long wondered: who added this sentence and for what purpose? Was this meant to be a warning about the atomic bombings?
I believe answers to these questions give us a better understanding of this important document.
Tsuyoshi Hasegawa is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His major publications include: The Northern Territories Dispute and Russo-Japanese relations, 2 vols (International and Area Studies Publications, 1998); Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005). The most recent publications include Crime and Punishment in the Russian Revolution: Mob Justice and Police in Petrograd (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017); The February Revolution Petrograd, 1917: The End of the Tsarist Regime and the Birth of Dual Power (Leiden: Brill, 2017, Paperback edition, Haymarket Books, 2018).
 James F. Byrnes, All in One Lifetime (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 296.