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Good morning, it's Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, the 75th anniversary of V-J Day. Today is when the United States celebrates its military victory over the Empire of Japan. The treaty signed aboard the USS Missouri marked the official end of World War II, an unimaginable conflagration that claimed the lives of some 15 million combatants around the globe -- and at least three times that many civilians.

"It was too much death to contemplate, too much savagery and suffering," wrote historian Donald L. Miller. "For those who had seen the face of battle and been in the camps and under the bombs -- and had lived -- there was a sense of immense relief."

Although combat operations had effectively ended with the detonation of nuclear bombs over two Japanese cities in early August, Japan's formal surrender took place on this date, Sept. 2, 1945.

Two weeks earlier, Harry Truman heralded the end of the war in a White House news conference. "This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor," the president said. "This is the day when fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would."

That same day, in a radio address to the nation, Emperor Hirohito urged his people to accept the surrender. His emphasis was somewhat different: Hirohito blamed his country's defeat on the United States' deployment of the "new and most cruel bomb" over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That may be how it seemed to the emperor, but in truth Japan's plight was foreordained -- in a way Nazi Germany's was not -- after the events of Dec. 7, 1941.

* * *

For Americans who lived through it, and their numbers dwindle with each passing day, the fact that Pearl Harbor was bombed on a Sunday added to the perfidy of the attack. In his captivating book, "December 1941," author Craig Shirley set the scene this way:

"Sunday in America was a day for relaxing, whether you followed the fourth commandment or not. It was a day for church, for family meals, for reading the newspapers, listening to the radio, going for long walks, for afternoon naps, for working in the yard and visiting with neighbors.

"Sunday, December 7 was different."

Moving a huge armada across 4,000 miles of open water without detection, as the Japanese Imperial Navy did, remains a source of amazement and controversy. This much can be said with certainty: Japanese stealth depended on naval skill and discipline, and in fleet commander Isoroku Yamamoto, the emperor's navy had an officer up to the task. The invading flotilla refueled at sea on December 3. After that, the orders were for radio silence, only to be broken on the morning of the invasion with the code words "Tora! Tora! Tora!" ("Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!") -- if the surprise element of the attack had worked.

That very call went out a few minutes before 8 a.m. local time. In Hawaii, residents could see and hear the attacking planes. On the mainland, the news was first conveyed by CBS broadcaster Webley Edwards, who interrupted his popular program, "Hawaii Calls," with a terse bulletin. "Attention. This is no exercise. The Japanese are invading Pearl Harbor."

"Tora! Tora! Tora!" would become an infamous phrase in the United States, but Yamamoto's fleet, as the decorated Japanese admiral himself soon realized, had awakened the tiger in the hearts of tens of millions of Americans. Pearl Harbor roused an enemy who would be passive no more.

Did Yamamoto, who didn't survive the war, really utter the fateful words -- "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve" -- put in his mouth by Hollywood screenwriters? No, but it seems to have reflected sentiments he expressed.

Yamamoto, who didn't survive the war, wasn't alone in his misgivings. The first Japanese prisoner of war was captured at Pearl Harbor that day. His name was Kazuo Sakamaki, and he was one of 10 sailors on the five two-man Japanese mini-submarines that slipped into the harbor the morning of the attack. All were destroyed and the crewmen killed, save one.

Lt. Sakamaki was sent to the mainland to a Tennessee prison camp that housed captured soldiers who had fought for the Third Reich. Like the Germans, Sakamaki was surprised at the lack of brutality, the quality of the medical care, and the amount of food given the prisoners. As he knew, these amenities were denied to those unfortunate enough to be captured by the Japanese. Equally strange, the prisoners were allowed access to American news media, which Sakamaki soon came to realize essentially reported the truth about the progress of the war. When those outlets conveyed the news of the U.S. Navy's pivotal victory at the Battle of Midway, newly arrived Japanese POWs disbelieved it. Not Lt. Sakamaki. He'd paid close attention when he was transported by railroad across the United States, and had been awestruck by the vast size and industrial power of America.

As historian John Toland, who later interviewed Sakamaki, put it, the young officer had seen "countless factories and endless fields" on his long train trip across the country, and realized "that tiny Japan had yet to feel the full might of the United States."

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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