Mokusatsu: an ambiguous word with drastic consequences

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Over the past decades, there have been many language misunderstandings in historical contexts which have been a topic for discussion. The atomic bombing conducted by the United States on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the final stages of World War II in 1945 may be one of the most significant mistranslations. Many reflexion on this issue with dramatic consequences has been done. “The first authoritative explanation of how and why it was decided to use the bomb came in February 1947 from Henry L. Stimson, wartime Secretary of War and the man who more than any other was responsible for advising the President.” This explanation did not answer all the questions or still the critics.” we can read in Louis Morton’s article (1997) entitled The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb. Few years ago, the American historian and writer Gar Alperovitz has published a controversial book with the same title as Morton’s article’s: The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (2010). This book demonstrates that the United States did not need to use the atomic bomb against Japan. Alperovitz evaluates one of the most debated precursory events to the Cold War, an event that was responsible for the evolution of post-World War II American politics and culture.

On July 26, 1945, the United States, Great Britain and China issued the Potsdam Declaration. The Allies called upon the Japanese government to proclaim unconditional surrender of its armed forces. Two days later, Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuki met with the press and said that his cabinet was holding to a policy of Mokusatsu. He employed the word Mokusatsu [1] many times, and which can mean a number of things: take no notice of; treat (anything) with silent contempt; ignore [by keeping silence]; and remain in a wise and masterly inactivity. The translator at the Domei News Agency translated his message and from the towers of Radio Tokyo the news flashed to the world that Japan had decided “to ignore” the Potsdam Ultimatum. The United States interpreted Mokusatsu as “take no notice of”. Thus, the Americans concluded Japan was not contemplating their ultimatum and dropped two atomic bombs.

 

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