Japanese official: A-bombing 'couldn't be helped'

Japan's Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma has stirred up a hornet's nest at home with a remark that can be interpreted as meaning the atomic bombing of Japan is not something that is blameworthy. From an AP/Kyodo [the Japanese version of AP] dispatch:

Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said Saturday he thinks the dropping of the atomic bombs by the U.S. in the closing days of World War II "could not be helped," as it was aimed at preventing the Soviet Union from entering the war against Japan.

"I understand the bombings brought the war to its end. I think it was something that couldn't be helped," Kyuma said in a speech at a university in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture.

I am all but certain the phrase he used in Japanese was "shikata ga nai," a very common expression meaning that there was no alternative, and connoting that blame is not to be meted out to the person or persons responsible.

Many in Japan, particularly those associated with Hiroshima and Nagasaki but including many others, take the position that Japan was victimized by a war crime, as so many civilians were killed and maimed and so much non-military destruction took place.   For example:

"The U.S. justifies the bombings saying they saved many American lives," said Nobuo Miyake, 78, director general of a group of victims living in Tokyo. "It's outrageous for a Japanese politician to voice such thinking. Japan is a victim."

Kazushi Kaneko, 81, head of a group of survivors in Hiroshima, said Kyuma "ignores the fact that many A-bomb survivors are still suffering today." Bomb survivors have developed various illnesses from radiation exposure, including cancer and liver diseases.

In Nagasaki, Nobuto Hirano, 60, a child of an A-bomb victim, said the remarks are unacceptable and inappropriate, considering that Kyuma is elected from a Nagasaki district.

"It is unforgivable to make comments that justify the dropping of the A-bombs," Hirano said. "I'm more depressed than angry."

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said, "The use of nuclear weapons constitutes the indiscriminate massacre of ordinary citizens, and it cannot be justified for any reason."

Speaking in the city of Nagasaki, Nobel prizewinning novelist Kenzaburo Oe said Kyuma's remarks are "meaningless and criminal," adding that a lawmaker must be critical of nuclear weapons, the largest burden borne by human beings, if he or she seriously seeks peace in the future.

While I consider it likely that Kyuma was speaking only for himself, this does represent an interesting moment for Japan, which is only now coming to the point of re-evaluating its role in World War II, as the generation which conducted and lived through the war is moving beyond this mortal coil. As with victims of the atomic bombs, many veterans and their families have opposed formal apologies for Japanese war crimes, out of a sense that this dishonors the sacrifices made on the Emperor's behalf. Japanese school textbooks notoriously downplay war crimes, for example. This greatly aggravates Japan's relations with other Asian nations, in particular.

Minister Kyuma, by the way, raised eyebrows in Japan with his criticism of the United States' decision to go to war in Iraq. He is apparently a member of the once-rare but now increasing species of Japanese public figures willing to be outspoken.

Hat tip: D.M. Giangreco