Peter Hoskin

From the archives: A world at peace

From the archives: A world at peace
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To mark last year's Armistice Day, we republished The Spectator's editorial reponse to the end of the first world war. This year, here is the editorial from the end of the second world war:

A world at peace, The Spectator, 17 August 1945

The world is at peace. That assertion is possible at last. The war that most concerned this country and Russia ended in May. The war that most concerned the United States and parts of the British Commonwealth has ended in August. It has laid unequal strains on various Allied Powers. Britain and America have been at war with Japan for nearly four years, Russia for no more than a week. China for eight — and in effect for fourteen — years. Relief and thankfulness will be experienced in proportion to the nearness and duration of the danger, and no aspect of the Japanese surrender will cause deeper satisfaction in Great Britain than the opportunity at last afforded to China, if she can solve her internal problems successfully, to continue her progress towards the great station in the world for which her vast resources, the patience and industry of her people and her latent political capacity abundantly qualify her. Meanwhile her economic needs are urgent, and UNRRA, which is pledged to lend its help as soon as access can be obtained, will find another added to its many heavy burdens. Here in Britain, as elsewhere, the news of Japan's surrender, after a series of rumours, anticipations and denials, comes as something of an anticlimax. The end of the German war meant something tangible and visible. It brought relief from the peril, far greater than was realised at the time, from Germany's secret weapons, and its effects were visible in such symbolic (as well as practical) alleviations as the end of the black-out. But if the Japanese war was more distant, and its end therefore stirs public feeling less deeply, there is an element in it which makes it more dramatic than any like event in the history of the world. Japan's defeat has been certain from the first. In the last few months, with the arrival of a vast British Fleet to join the even vaster American fleet in the Pacific, with the loss to Japan of island after island until her enemies stood on her very threshold, the relentless grip has been closing on the home of Japanese militarism until the only question was how much destruction would be needed to force capitulation. Then, as spectacular and incredible climax, came the newest and most awful device in the history of warfare. Two atomic bombs have ended Japanese aggression. The world waits now to hear whether they have ended aggression for all time.

It must wait long to be sure of that. Meanwhile the supreme fact is that the gates of the temple of Janus can at last be shut, for prayers for victory are no longer needed in a world at peace. But to be at peace, even if it were certain that the peace were lasting and universal, spells no relaxation from effort. Japanese aggression is crushed as Germany's has been, but to undo the consequences of the aggression will be as long and arduous a task, and exact as painful sacrifices, in the one case as in the other. Fortunately, all temptation to compromise with Japan for the sake of an earlier end has been resisted. The Potsdam demands were rigorous in the last degree and they have been insisted on to the uttermost. Japan's reply, after her first experience of the atomic bomb, called for rapid and firm decision on the part of the Allied Governments widely separated from one another, and it is a testimony to the efficiency of the system of communication established between them that agreement on the one doubtful question, the position of the Emperor, was immediately reached. Japan has accepted her doom, a fitting price for the dastardly crime — not, indeed, unprecedented, for all Japan's wars are begun in the same way — of Pearl Harbour. The whole of the Japanese Empire, the fantastically named co-prosperity sphere, disappears; Japan herself is to be confined to her four main islands, and any others which the allies may decide to leave her; the militarist order in Japan is to be overthrown for ever; her disarmament by land, sea and air is to be as complete as in the case of Germany; war criminals are to be punished with the same stern justice as in Europe; freedom of speech and religion and respect for fundamental human rights is to be established; all war industries are to be destroyed, and other industries applied to the payment of just reparations; there will be occupation of the main Japanese islands till these objectives have been attained and a responsible Government has been brought into being in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.

These are catastrophic terms, but, as the Japanese reply indicated, the hardest condition of all, if it was an implied condition, was the overthrow of the semi-divine Emperor. The decision of the Allies on that point is unquestionably wise. The demand, prevalent in Australia, for the trial and punishment of Hirohito as a war-criminal is intelligible, but to make him the instrument through which the Allies' purposes are to be effected is much more judicious. In the one case he might have retained, as a martyr, the aura which surrounded him as the Son of Heaven, and any scion of the Royal House could have appealed successfully at any future time to the people. But a Son of Heaven who accepts the day-to-day commands of the head of an occupying army, and constitutes himself the instrument of retribution on his country, exchanges the attributes of heaven for those of earth. What the future government of Japan will be is as yet impossible to predict; the soil is by no means prepared for democratic institutions as the West understands them; but at least the hold of the royal tradition on the people will be rudely broken. Thus American fleets by sea and air write a strange commentary on the achievement of the American fleet under Commodore Perry which, less than a hundred years ago, forced Japan open to the world, and began the regime of treaty posts and extra-territoriality which lasted till 1899. Swiftly after that did Japan rise to the position of a Great Power. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance gave her a prestige which she deeply prized, and which enabled this country to exercise a restraining influence on her, as in the case of the notorious Twenty-one Demands on China in 1915; it is interesting, if unprofitable now, to speculate how far, if at all, the course of history would have been different if the treaty had not been denounced by the Coalition Government after the end of the last Great War at the instance of the United States and some British Dominions. Now Japan will be compelled to live the life which, with her teeming population, she has always declared it impossible to live, confined to her metropolitan islands and cut off politically, though not of necessity economically — for "access as distinct from control" is guaranteed her — from those raw materials for industry which she has been acquiring from occupied Chinese territory. The fact that she may still want to buy them, if she has anything to buy with, does not mean that China will necessarily choose to sell. Whatever difficulties that may create are part of the just penalty for Pearl Harbour and everything after it.

This article has been headed "A World at Peace" in full consciousness of all the qualifications with which such a title should be hedged. The best that can be said as yet is that there is cessation of war, though even that may continue sporadically for a time in various theatres. Peace as something established, positive and constructive, has still to be achieved, and the process will be neither short nor easy. The actual rehabilitation of the territories, British and American and Chinese and Dutch and French, ravaged by Japanese armies and air forces must be long and costly. But at least the process can be begun forthwith. The slaughter is over.

The Allied prisoners are free — those who survive — and their repatriation can begin at once. The incomparable heroism of the Fourteenth Army in particular wins its reward; no body of men in any campaign, West or East, more amply deserve the gratitude of their country. And the end of the war in the Pacific will, after the necessary interval for readjustment, ease the rigours of life in every Allied country. Expenditure on the Services will drop substantially; demobilisation can be carried out in greater volume; shipping will be released, first and foremost for relief agencies like UNRRA and then to supply the more normal needs of European and American countries. Above all, for this ultimately is the supreme consideration, the work begun at San Francisco — the United Nations Charter has been already ratified by the United States and will be here, too, before this month is out — can go forward in a spirit of new confidence and resolve. In such an hour none surely of the late Prime Minister's political opponents, least of all his actual successor, will grudge a tribute of profound appreciation of the immeasurable contribution Winston Churchill made to a victory in whose celebration the caprice of fate has denied him his appointed place. Two men beyond all others were the architects of victory — Churchill and Roosevelt.