On July 26, 1945 President Truman, Prime Minister Attlee, and Stalin demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan. The Japanese military refused to surrender. The pro-peace civilians did not act until the atomic bombs were dropped.

The declaration itself is interesting, partly because it was almost entirely written by Americans and partly because it defines America’s “enemy” to be eliminated so accurately:

Potsdam Agreement
Annex II
(b)Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender, July 26, 1945

(6) There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.

(7) Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s war-making power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.

(8) The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.

(9) The Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.

(10) We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.

(11) Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit the exaction of just reparations in kind, but not those [industries] which would enable her to re-arm for war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be permitted. Eventual Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted.

(12) The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government.

(13) We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.

The US did not define our enemy as the Japanese people. The Americans claimed that its enemy was also the enemy of the Japanese people. They targeted a highly specific enemy, the top echelons of the military, for elimination.

There is an abstract lesson in this ultimatum. It was an act of cultural destruction. The objective was to purge Japan of a military culture and convert it into a pacifist culture. To do so required not just a narrow destruction of the Japanese Army and the dictatorship, but the culture that produced it.