AUTHORCoughlin, William J.
TITLEThe Great Mokusatsu Mistake: Was This the Deadliest Error of Our Time?
PERIODICAL TITLEHarper's Magazine
DATE PUBLISHED1953
VOLUME NUMBER206
ISSUE NUMBER1234
PAGE NUMBERS31-40
ISSN0017-789X
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This article examines the serious consequences of an error in the translation of a response issued by the Cabinet of Japan to the Allies’ Potsdam Declaration, a surrender ultimatum, during World War II. Issued by Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuki, the statement announced that the Cabinet had taken a stance of mokusatsu, which can be translated as either “making no comment on” or “ignoring” something. According to the article, when the statement was issued, Japan’s media construed the message to mean that the Cabinet was ignoring the ultimatum, while the intended message was that comment was being withheld pending an announcement. The article investigates Japan’s rebuffed attempts to get the Soviet Union to mediate a peace, the internal debate within the Japanese government over surrender, and the intent of the Cabinet’s message. The author asserts that Suzuki’s ambiguous choice of wording led directly to the United States government’s subsequent use of the atomic bomb against Japan.


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