JS Tip 452: Problems in Communication II

From the Communication Workshops: Problems in Communication, Part II

Some Background

We’ve been talking about communication that fails horribly. Last week, we defined communication as “the intact transfer of an idea from one person to another.”

A Second Case Study

On July 26th, 1945, in the Potsdam Declaration, the Allies offered the Empire of Japan terms of surrender to end World War II.

The Japanese cabinet knew they must respond quickly, but they’d not yet formed an answer.

Facing the press on July 28th, Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki said the cabinet would maintain an attitude of mokusatsu.

Unfortunately, mokusatsu has two meanings. The word can mean “ignore” or it can mean “refrain from comment.” The cabinet’s intent was to “refrain from comment.” 

Translators from the Domei news agency chose the wrong meaning. Radio Tokyo reported Japan would ignore the offer of surrender.

When President Harry Truman heard this report, he nodded his head and said, “Drop the bomb.” (Google “The Meaning of Mokusatsu” on the internet.)

A Discussion

The death toll in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was over 250,000 people.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson confirmed in his report on the final decision to use the atomic bomb that the error in interpretation of the word mokusatsu was what led to the attack on Hiroshima.

We’ll explore a final example next week. 

Mark Brooks