On the morning of December 7th, 1941, the United States was stunned when a Japanese strike force of bombers and fighters flew into Pearl Harbor and dropped bombs and torpedoes on the battleships and other vessels moored there. The attack left 2,403 Americans dead, caused the complete destruction of two battleships, and pushed the nation into joining a war it had been trying to remain out of.

Though the United States was also forced into battle with Germany and Italy, Japan became the nation’s primary enemy. The war in the Pacific was arguably the main focus of the revenge-driven citizens of the United States. The Pearl Harbor attack was the worst attack ever carried out on American soil by a foreign power, and that it came as a complete surprise to the nation only further enraged citizens and government officials.

Atomic bomb explosion over Nagasaki, August 9, 1945

For just under four years, the United States and the other Allies engaged the Japanese in the Pacific, struggling for the first few months before finally getting their footing and overtaking Japan’s forces. Though Japan would find it hard to score a victory after the Battle of Midway, the war continued for another three years, with both sides suffering heavy losses.

Finally, after the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the United States realized the losses would continue to mount if the war was allowed to continue. To finally put an end to the fighting, it employed the use two atomic bombs over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs were dropped on August 6th and August 9th of 1945, killing over 120,000 Japanese citizens.

While the use of the atomic bombs continues to be controversial, on August 15th, 1945, six days after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Japanese announced their surrender. After earning victory over Japan, the Allies recognize the day that the Japanese surrendered, though there are discrepancies as to which date Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day is actually celebrated.

From differences in time zones to celebrating when the actual surrender document was signed, there are three recognized days that victory over Japan is celebrated.

For the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia, Victory Over Japan day takes place on August 15th. North Korea and South Korea also celebrated the fall of the Japanese Empire, though their Victory Over Japan Day was also celebrated as National Liberation Day as their nations were freed from Japanese control.

Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender, September 2, 1945

The United States recognizes September 2nd as Victory Over Japan Day, though it’s not a widely celebrated or even recognized holiday. September 2nd marks the day that Japan officially ended the war by signing the Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri, where Japanese officials were surrounded by Allied officers as they signed the document that would finally end World War II.

Due to time zone differences, Victory Over Japan Day is celebrated by Taiwan and China on September 3.

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