It wasn't the end of the killing and the dying. Fanatical hold-outs would continue to fight in the jungles of South-East Asia and on Pacific islands, and the Soviet Union's invading forces would continue to pound the Japanese Army in China for a few days more. Nevertheless, on August 15th, 1945, Japan formally surrendered to the Allied Powers, and the Second World War officially came to an end.
If any conflict could be described as 'cataclysmic', World War II would qualify, I think. We'll never know the exact casualty figures - only averaged totals from numerous sources, more or less trustworthy. Consider these examples:
- As an example of a single incident, after the Doolittle Raid the Japanese searched high and low in China for the fliers who'd taken part. In the process they butchered up to (and perhaps more than) a quarter of a million Chinese civilians who happened to be in the search area. This was partly in reprisal for the help China gave to the US fliers, and partly out of sheer homicidal rage on the part of the Japanese over the 'loss of face' incurred through the bombing. Accurate estimates of the slain are impossible to make - they were often calculated on the basis of towns, villages and farms wiped off the map in their entirety. (I often think that the Doolittle Raid should never have taken place, due to the known risk of such reprisals. I can't possibly believe that the raid's propaganda value - its only real value: it certainly had minimal military effect - outweighed the cost of so many lives. However, Chinese peasants were of no importance to the US government in the global scheme of things. It's a dismal reflection on the lack of morality on all sides during wartime.)
- To look at a single country, the Soviet Union never admitted the full scale of its losses. It's only after the USSR broke up and Western historians gained access to the former über-state's archives that we learned at least 26.6 million (and possibly as many as ten million more) of its men and women, military and civilian, were killed or wounded in one way or another. That's more than any other combatant nation. It's a horrifying number. Total war-related casualties, during and after the fighting, military and civilian, from all causes, among all participating nations, probably totaled at least 75 million and may have been as many as 100 million. It's impossible to calculate them with any certainty.
August 15th, 1945 drew an official line under the greatest conflict (thus far) in human history. However, it was not the end of war, as all too many of us have experienced over the seventy years separating us from V-J Day. We, as a human race, haven't learned from any of the countless wars in our past. I guess it's a built-in lemming-like self-destructive tendency . . . more's the pity.
My father was one of those who might have had to leave Europe, after achieving victory there over Germany, and head for the Far East to fight the Japanese. He once said to me, matter-of-factly, that most of those involved (including him) reckoned they probably wouldn't be coming back, because predicted casualties for the mopping-up of the Japanese Empire were extraordinarily high. He was profoundly grateful that the atomic bombs made his further participation unnecessary.