Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Significance of August 15

It goes without saying that for me, personally, today (August 15) is a very significant date, for this is my birthday.
Little did I know, though, growing up as a boy in rural northwest Missouri that August 15 is one of the most significant dates in Japanese history and also an important date for the Roman Catholic Church.
In Japan, August 15 is usually referred to as shusenbi (“end of the war day”), although since 1982 it has been officially designated by the Japanese government as “the day for mourning of war dead and praying for peace.”

In the U.S. September 2, when the signing of the surrender document aboard the USS Missouri occurred, is considered V-J Day. But it was on August 15, 1945, that Emperor Hirohito announced on radio to the startled and grieving Japanese public that Japan had accepted the terms of surrender included in the Potsdam Declaration of July 26.

In classic understatement, the Emperor told the Japanese citizens, who were hearing his voice for the first time, “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage.” (Even then, the Emperor’s speech was not a direct broadcast; it was replayed from a phonograph recording made in the Tokyo Imperial Palace a day or two before.)
For centuries before that fateful day in 1945, and long before it was made a Church dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven had been celebrated on August 15. That is the event by which Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” according to the Catholic Church, and it is still a “holy day of obligation.”

Doubtlessly, it was by intention that Ignatius Loyola and his six friends in 1534 formed the Society of Jesus on August 15. Then, exactly fifteen years later, Francis Xavier, one of the seven original Jesuits and the first Christian missionary to Japan, first set foot in that country.

In the book about Takashi Nagai that I mentioned earlier this month, author Paul Glynn tells about the 400th anniversary of that event being celebrated by Dr. Nagai and other Christians in Nagasaki on August 15, 1949.

And in his book Bells of Nagasaki, Dr. Nagai tells of going to the dawn mass on August 15, just six days after the bombing, in celebration of the Feast of the Assumption (p. 77).
On November 23, 1945, there was a memorial mass for the more than 8,000 Christians who were victims of the Nagasaki atomic bomb. Dr. Nagai gave an address to those who had gathered by the ruins of the Urakami Cathedral.

In that notable speech, Dr. Nagai said, “On August 15th, the imperial edict that put an end to the fighting was officially issued, and the whole world saw the light of peace. August 15th is also the great feast of the Assumption of Mary. It is not for nothing that the Urakami Cathedral was consecrated to Her(p. 107).

(That Cathedral, which in 1945 was the largest church building in Asia, was called St. Mary’s Cathedral in English.)

Last Sunday most Christians and many others all across Japan thought deeply about the tragic events that took place in Japan 70 years ago this month and about the end of the war on August 15.

Let us join with them, and people all around the world, to remember that today is an appropriate day for mourning the war dead—in all countries—and praying for world peace.


  1. Yes, Leroy, today is an occasion for mourning. My father would have been 100, today. As I remember him, I also recall that, as an officer and an engineer in the Navy, his CBs built the landing strips in the island hopping campaign as allied forces made their way through the South Pacific to the Japanese mainland. As I remember him talking about the battles, it was pretty ugly. And, of course, he was a very hawkish Christian (his ThD in Christian Social Ethics) who embraced a kind of Augustinian notion of "necessary evil" when it came to WWII and the resistance of aggression. He never denied the evil of war; but, he never abandoned the horrific social implications of the Augustinian notion of human fallenness, either. I do miss him. I wish we had been able to discuss these things more while he was alive.

    1. Milton, thanks for reading and responding to this morning's blog article. I didn't realize your father and I shared the same birthday. My father was also born in 1915, but he didn't pass the physical so didn't have to serve in World War II. I can understand how those who did were hawkish, for as has often been said, "war is hell."

    2. A lot of us in the war were there not by choice but because we were required to. At the end of the terrible war, we were returned to our homes again. I
      was discharged on December 15, 1945

    3. Tincan488, at this point I don't know who you are, but thanks for sharing this. You must have been very happy and relieved on August 15 and even happier on December 15 in 1945. Blessings on you!

  2. A friend sent me a email with this message: "And of course for Japanese colonies 8.15 is liberation day."

    I knew that in South Korea today is celebrated as Independence (liberation) Day.

    Today is also being celebrated as Independence Day in India and Pakistan.

  3. A very close relative was drafted and inducted into the army two days after Pearl Harbor. After basic he went to Hawaii. He told me their ship was destined for the Philippines, but the Philippines fell while they were enroute, thus they went to Hawaii. He was in several major battles, Marshall Islands, Saipan, and Okinawa; received the Purple Heart somewhere along the way. He was stationed in Okinawa when the war ended. When the Korean conflict broke out, someone had the audacity to ask him, "What would you do if you were over there?" He had the audacity to answer, "I'd run like hell!"

  4. For the record, the words "terms of surrender" and "Potsdam Declaration" do not appear in the text of the Emperor's 8/15 broadcast.

    1. That is true--and may be why in the U.S. Sept. 2 is considered V-J Day.

      But it is still true that Aug. 15 is considered "end of the war day" in Japan, and it came to be understood that what the Emperor said on that day meant that Japan was accepting the terms of surrender of the Potsdam Declaration.

    2. While it has come be understood that on August 15 1945 the Emperor anounced that Japan was accepting the terms of surrender of the Postdam Declaration, seventy years later it is still not acceptable in Japan to say or write that "Japan surrendered on August 15th according to the terms of the Potsdam Declaration". In other words, Japan commemorates the end of the war on August 15th while avoiding to the greatest extent possible the use of the verb "surrender " in the active tense. To this very day Japan deals with its WWII history euphemistically.

  5. Happy birthday, Bro. Leroy! And I second the wish that all would pray for peace. As impossible as it may be with sinful humanity, we have to keep trying. Getting along with our neighbor is a good place to start.

    1. Thanks, Tom. -- And I agree. As the song says,

      Let there be peace on earth
      And let it begin with me.
      Let there be peace on earth
      The peace that was meant to be.
      With God as our father
      Brothers all are we.
      Let me walk with my brother
      In perfect harmony.

  6. Well at least birthdays are good to celebrate. Glad we could celebrate at least part of it with you.

    The rest brings a spectrum of views which one may take, and highlights splits in the faith and variant perspectives on history.