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UPROAR AFTER JAPAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS A-BOMBS HAD POSITIVE SIDE

by Suvendrini Kakuchi

READ
Japan's New History Texts Called Revisionist (2001)

(IPS) TOKYO -- Nationalists and pacifists alike have welcomed the resignation this week of Japan's high profile defense minister, Fumio Kyuma, in the wake of uproar over his reference to the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as events that "couldn't be helped."

Opposition lawmakers demanded Kyuma's resignation, arguing he must take responsibility for what he said at the start of the Upper House election campaign that kicked off on the weekend. Kyuma told a public gathering that, but for the bombing, World War ll would have dragged on, leaving Japan vulnerable to deeper penetration by the Soviet Union.

"The problem with Kyuma's statement is his insensitivity to one of the most atrocious indiscriminate mass killings in human history,' said the Asahi newspaper on Wednesday. More than 300,000 Japanese were killed in the world's first and only nuclear bombings.


Ironically, on the other side of Japan's World War ll debate, nationalists who are growing more strident with calls to boost Japanese military strength, 62 years after its defeat, are also angry with Kyuma.

"I am glad Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepted Kyuma's resignation. The atomic bombing was a human tragedy justified by the Americans as necessary to stop Japan's war of aggression," said Yuko Tojo, 68, granddaughter of Hideki Tojo, a ‘class A' war criminal hanged by the victorious allies.

Experts contend that the two arguments compile the essence of why the Japanese continue to flounder when it comes to reaching a national consensus on its role in World War ll.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima city and followed it up with a second nuclear bombing, three days later, on Nagasaki. Together the attacks left an estimated 160,000 people dead and tens of thousands of people maimed by radiation, but decisively ended the war.

Kyuma will be replaced by national security adviser Yuriko Koike who is now set to become Japan's first female defense minister.

"The huge uproar over Kyuma illustrates the anger the public feel at the U.S. and the destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the other hand, the stance of the nationalists signals the upsurge in deep-rooted nationalism in Japan. They are using the atomic bombing to shore up the old victimization angle that Japan cannot be blamed for the war,' said Fuyuko Nishisato, a writer and peace activist.

Nishisato, a researcher on the former Japanese Imperial Army's sex slave system, under which Asian women were forced to provide sexual services to soldiers, says that Abe accepted Kyuma's resignation under the weight of public pressure at election time.

Support ratings for Abe are at an all time low -- less than 30 percent last week. Kyuma is the third cabinet minister to resign during the last nine months of his tenure and it is being viewed as another blow to his political future that will be tested July end.

"The evidence was quite clear to Abe as public response was quite fierce against Kyuma. The show of anger indicated to him how deeply ingrained the atomic bombing is in the public psyche,' she pointed out to IPS.

The Kyuma incident and reaction among nationalists in Japan, according to analysts, have pushed to the surface yet another important undercurrent in politics.

Hirotada Asakawa, a former journalist and presently a political commentator at Tohoku Fukushi University, says politics in the country are at a crossroads. "New political candidates such as Tojo would never have been entertained a few decades ago. But the fact that she can campaign is the result of the rise of the conservatives, thanks to Abe,' he said.

Tojo is running as an independent candidate in the July elections. Speaking to the press on Tuesday, she called for a restoration of "Japan's dignity" after its defeat in 1945 through the scrapping of the peace constitution and visits to Yasukuni Shrine to pay respect to soldiers like her father who is reviled in Asia for his harsh colonization of such countries as China and Korea.

"Japan was forced into the war when western countries that had colonized Asia, slapped an economic embargo on us. My father is not guilty of starting the war but of losing it,' she said.

Tojo's stance represents a growing trend in Japan to support Abe's patriotism and his push to revise the post-war constitution dictated by the U.S. and to make Japan a "normal" country with a military again.

Last month's resolution passed in the U.S. Congress requesting Japan to formally apologise to the now aging "comfort women" (military sex salves) also raised the hackles of conservatives here. Some of them attribute anything from the rise in juvenile crime to the North Korea missile threat to a non-militarized Japan.

Still, Asakawa explains that the uproar against Kyuma's statements show that the conservatives and their views have limited support. "Voters see Tojo's utterances as a step back in history. My research has shown that the conservative argument that Japan can be a proud nation again by revising its war past is not a popular one,' he explained to IPS.

Nishisato says the upcoming election is a crucial one for the Japanese. If Abe's party, the Liberal Democratic Party, gets less than the current 109 seats its holds in the 245 Upper House, the result would be boost for people like her who have long lobbied for the government to apologise to Asian victims of Japanese colonization.

"If not,' Nishisato warns, "there is the highly likely prospect of a rise in narrow-minded nationalism in Japan.'



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Albion Monitor   July 3, 2007   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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