TOKYO — Japan’s defense minister yesterday said the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States during World War II was an inevitable way to end the war, drawing criticism from atomic bomb survivors.
“I understand that the bombing ended the war, and I think that it couldn’t be helped,” Fumio Kyuma said in a speech at a university in Chiba, just east of Tokyo.
The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War II, in the world’s only nuclear attacks.
Mr. Kyuma, who is from Nagasaki, said the bombing caused great suffering in the city. Part of his speech was aired by public broadcaster NHK.
The remarks, rare for a Japanese Cabinet minister, were quickly criticized by atomic bomb victims.
Mr. Kyuma said later that his comments had been misinterpreted, telling reporters he meant to say the bombing “could not be helped from the American point of view.”
“It’s too bad that my comments were interpreted as approving the U.S. bombing,” he said.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States 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. City officials say about 74,000 died.
Bombing survivors have developed various illnesses from radiation exposure, including cancer and liver diseases.
“The U.S. justifies the bombings, saying they saved 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,” he said.
“The use of nuclear weapons constitutes the indiscriminate massacre of ordinary citizens, and it cannot be justified for any reason,” Kyodo quoted Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue as saying.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to play down Mr. Kyuma’s comments.
“I understand he explained American views in those days,” Mr. Abe was quoted as saying by Kyodo. “At any rate, it is Japan’s mission to abolish nuclear weapons, and Japan is playing a key role at the U.N.,” he said.