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Mokusatsu (黙殺) is a Japanese word meaning "to ignore" or "to treat with silent contempt". It is composed of two kanji: 黙 (moku, literally "silence") and 殺 (satsu, literally "killing"). The government of Japan used the term as a response to Allied demands in the Potsdam Declaration for unconditional surrender in World War II, which influenced President Harry S. Truman's decision to order the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Mokusatsu was employed in the morning edition of the Asahi Shinbun during World War II on July 28, 1945 to designate the attitude assumed by the government to the Potsdam Declaration. This newspaper and others had been quick to announce that the Declaration had been rejected by Japan, since the ultimatum (in addition to being transmitted to the Japanese government diplomatically via Swiss intermediaries) was transmitted via radio and airdropped leaflets to the Japanese public. It is questionable whether the Japanese press were acting on reliable government sources when they first announced the Declaration's rejection. Later that day in a press conference, the word was again used by the Premier Kantarō Suzuki to dismiss the Potsdam Declarations as a mere rehash of earlier rejected Allied proposals, and therefore, being of no value, would be killed off by silent contempt (mokusatsu). Suzuki's choice of the term was dictated more by the need to appease the military, which was hostile to the idea of "unconditional surrender", than to signal anything to the Allies.
The expression can also mean to just let a topic or subject die by refusing to follow up on it. The reasons for the "mokusatsu" response could as easily be contempt as embarrassment, discomfort, or even simply not knowing what else to do in response.
- Some years ago I recall hearing a statement known as "Murphy's Law" which says that "If it can be misunderstood, it will be." Mokusatsu supplies adequate proof of that statement. After all, if Kantarō Suzuki had said something specific like "I will have a statement after the cabinet meeting," or "We have not reached any decision yet," he could have avoided the problem of how to translate the ambiguous word mokusatsu and the two horrible consequences of its inauspicious translation: the atomic bombs and this essay.
Although mokusatsu may not have been intended to communicate to the Allies a refusal to surrender, the Potsdam Declaration ultimatum nevertheless allowed for only one acceptable answer, unconditional surrender. Any other answer would, as the declaration warned, cause "prompt and utter destruction." It was only after destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs, two assassination attempts on Prime Minister Kantarō Suzuki, and an attempted military coup against the Emperor (the Kyūjō Incident), that the Emperor himself broadcast acceptance (Gyokuon-hōsō) of the Potsdam Declaration terms, i.e., unconditional surrender, officially ending the Pacific war.
- Toland, p. 774.
- Mokusatsu: One Word, Two Lessons - Fall 1968 - Vol. XIII, No. 4
- Toland, John (2003 (1970)). The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. New York: The Modern Library. ISBN 0-8129-6858-1.