Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma recently got himself into trouble by saying the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Japan toward the end of World War II “couldn’t be helped.” He made the gaffe ahead of the Aug. 6 anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Kyuma was forced to resign, despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to defend him.
This episode was in sharp contrast to an earlier furor over the education ministry’s orders to Japanese high school textbook publishers that they delete passages stating that the Japanese military had coerced civilians into committing suicides en masse during the Battle of Okinawa. All local assemblies in Okinawa, including the prefectural assembly, have adopted resolutions demanding that the ministry retract the orders. For his part, the education minister has evaded responsibility by passing the buck to the textbook examiners’ board.
The government apparently has concluded that the suicides are a local issue but that the nuclear attacks remain a national issue that could affect the outcome of the July 29 Upper House election.
Early this year Kyuma made some gaffes that could be construed as anti-Washington. On Jan. 24, he said the United States launched a war against Iraq on the assumption that it possessed nuclear weapons but that the decision was a mistake. On Jan. 27, he said he told U.S. officials that Washington should not impose its views on Tokyo regarding plans to relocate the U.S. Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa. U.S. officials reportedly expressed displeasure over Kyuma’s remarks, and his latest blunder was probably an off-the-cuff comment intended to mitigate U.S. dismay.
Although it is the world’s only nation to be targeted with atomic bombs, Japan has failed to express explicit opposition to nuclear arms in the United Nations General Assembly, in deference to the U.S. In 1967, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato established “three nonnuclear principles” of not possessing, manufacturing, or bringing into Japanese territory nuclear arms. But the third principle was effectively invalidated after Japan and the U.S. allegedly reached a secret agreement to exempt port calls and the transit of U.S. nuclear-armed warships and aircraft from prior consultations with Japan.
The government has failed to act on the opposition demand that the three nonnuclear principles be enacted into law. The problem derives from Japan’s security treaty with the U.S., the world’s largest nuclear power, and its reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Whatever the government’s intentions are, Kyuma’s gaffe on the nuclear attacks proved that the Japanese public’s “nuclear allergy” is strong.
The day after Japanese media reported Kyuma’s resignation, I made my first visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and was stunned. Among the almost 20,000 items on display were the tattered uniform of a middle-school boy who was exposed to radiation while preparing to evacuate a building, the charred contents of a lunchbox, and other belongings of dead victims.
One exhibit showed a middle-school student, with skin hanging from his body due to extensive burns, sucking on pus oozing from nail-less fingers to try to slake his thirst. A painting showed a group of female students and their teacher, all naked after the blast blew off their clothes, walking aimlessly among the rubble.
In a guest book signed by visitors, U.S. composer Leonard Bernstein wrote, “Too many words already — not enough action!” His lament of the slow progress in nuclear disarmament talks shone like an excellent piece of music.
Nuclear disarmament is stalled by U.S. policy that continues to justify the nuclear attacks. Most people in the contemporary world view Auschwitz (the Holocaust), Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the nuclear bombings) and Kosovo (ethnic cleansing) in the same context. The former Auschwitz concentration camp and the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima (the ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industry Promotion Hall) are registered as World Heritage sites, symbolizing World War II tragedies. The U.S. opposed registration of the Hiroshima memorial as such, to no avail.
The number of foreign visitors to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in fiscal 2006 hit an all-time high of 149,100. Despite its efforts to justify the atomic bombings, the U.S. will never escape the judgment of history.
A number of books critical of the bombings have been written by authors of the former allied powers. Bill Emmott, former editor of the Economist magazine, asks in “Japan’s New Golden Age — of the coming 10 years,” why the U.S. had to drop the second bomb on Nagasaki only three days after the first one was dropped on Hiroshima. He questioned the ethics of the second bombing.
A.C. Grayling, professor of philosophy at the University of London, writes in his “Among the Dead Cities” that “very little difference in principle” exists between the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. The same moral judgment applied, he says.
U.S.-developed technology for building atomic bombs has spread to Britain, France, the Soviet Union, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. North Korea and Iran use the nuclear threat as diplomatic cards. Ironically, the U.S. is now terrorized by the threat of nuclear terrorism.
To end the vicious cycle of nuclear proliferation, the U.S., the first to use nuclear bombs as a weapon of war, should apologize to Japan for the bombings and pledge to abandon all nuclear arms.
Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a recent policy debate to demand a U.S. apology for the nuclear bombings, but the latter declined. The government can hardly be expected to take such action when the Liberal Democratic Party, during its long rule, has become so cozy with Washington, as demonstrated by the secretive deal on port calls and transit by U.S. nuclear-armed warships.
It is hoped that, in the Upper House election, the opposition camp wins a majority as the first step in wresting power from the LDP.
Kiroku Hanai is a journalist and former editorial writer for the Tokyo Shimbun.