A-bomb comment ousts Japanese minister
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TOKYO ” Japan’s defense minister resigned under an avalanche of criticism Tuesday for suggesting that the United States was justified in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because the attacks saved Japan from a Soviet invasion.
The departure of Fumio Kyuma further weakens the unpopular government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of parliamentary elections. The resignation took effect immediately.
“I told Prime Minister Abe, ‘I’m sorry but I must take responsibility and resign.’ The prime minister said, ‘That’s very unfortunate … but I accept your decision,”‘ Kyuma told reporters.
Abe quickly named hawkish national security adviser Yuriko Koike, a popular woman politician, to succeed Kyuma in hopes of stabilizing the government ahead of elections.
Kyuma, who represents Nagasaki in the lower house, set off the furor on Saturday during a speech at a university in Chiba, outside of Tokyo.
“I understand that the bombings ended the war, and I think that it couldn’t be helped,” he said.
Kyuma said the World War II bombings, which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, caused great suffering. But otherwise, he said, Japan would have kept on fighting and ended up losing a greater part of its northern territory to the Soviet Union, which invaded Manchuria the day Nagasaki was bombed.
Kyuma’s comments echoed an enduring historical debate over whether the bombings were necessary. Washington has argued the bombs were needed to avoid a potentially bloody land invasion. Many, however, also suspect the U.S. wanted to end the war before the Soviets ” who had already occupied much of Europe, setting the stage for the Cold War ” could invade Japan.
The statement contradicted the Japanese stance, fiercely guarded by survivors and their supporters, that the use of nuclear weapons is never acceptable. A ban on possession of such weapons is a pillar of Japan’s postwar pacifist regime.
“That comment tramples on the feelings of the A-bomb victims, and as a target of the bomb, Nagasaki certainly cannot let this go by,” Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue wrote in a protest letter handed to Kyuma on Tuesday morning.
The bomb comment hit Abe’s increasingly unpopular government at a sensitive time, coming just a few weeks before the July 29 election. A poll earlier this week showed the government, which has been pummeled by a series of scandals, with less than 30 percent support.
Kyuma’s repeated apologies and Abe’s reprimand of his defense chief had failed to quell the furor, which on Tuesday generated more public criticism among Abe’s own ministers, several of whom called the comment inexcusable.
“I would feel sorry if I became a burden in the upcoming elections … so I decided to resign,” Kyuma told reporters a few hours after his resignation.
The opposition had been preparing to submit a formal request for Kyuma’s resignation later on Tuesday. Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of the main opposition party, Democratic Party of Japan, called the resignation “quite natural.”
“This is not something that just a resignation would resolve,” he said. “Abe’s appointment of him also must be questioned.”
On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped a bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, killing at least 140,000 people in the world’s first atomic bomb attack. Three days later it dropped another atomic bomb, “Fat Man,” on Nagasaki where about 74,000 are estimated to have been killed.
Japan, which attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in 1941, surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945.
The horrific toll of the bombs is at the core of Japan’s postwar pacifist identity, and the government maintains bans on the possession, development or introduction of nuclear weapons on Japanese territory.
More than six decades after the bombings, Japanese remain sensitive to anything surrounding nuclear technology and the military. A civic group opposed to the stationing of a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft on Tuesday filed suit to block the deployment.
Japan’s opposition to nuclear arms, however, is maintained alongside a security treaty that puts the country under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, which bases some 50,000 troops on Japanese territory.
This wasn’t the first time Kyuma had been in trouble. In January, Kyuma raised eyebrows in Washington by calling the U.S. decision to invade Iraq a “mistake” because it was based on the false premise that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The nuclear flap is just the latest scandal to strike Abe’s government. He has been struggling to overcome the fallout from the loss of pension records affecting millions of cases, and his scandal-tainted agriculture minister committed suicide in May.
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