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Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma has resigned over the remark that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States at the end of World War II “could not be helped.” His comments on Saturday had offended Japanese people, the world’s first victims of nuclear weapons.

The Aug. 6, 1945, bombing of Hiroshima killed some 140,000 people, and the Nagasaki bombing three days later, some 70,000 people. Many survivors still suffer from illnesses related to radiation exposure, including cancer. Mr. Kyuma’s remarks not only made light of these people’s sufferings but also could undermine Japan’s and other parties’ efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

In a speech at a university in Chiba Prefecture, Mr. Kyuma said that although the U.S. knew Japan’s surrender was imminent, it dropped the atomic bombs to prevent the Soviet Union from entering the war against Japan: “Hokkaido could have been taken by the Soviet Union. . . . My conclusion is that (the atomic bombing of Nagasaki) ended the war and that (the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) could not be helped.”

In saying so, Mr. Kyuma, from Nagasaki Prefecture, justified the first use of nuclear weapons in history. He should have recognized that his remarks can be taken to condone future use of such weapons, thus undermining the efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, which indiscriminately kill people and cause continuing devastating effects on survivors’ health through radiation exposure. This must serve as a precious lesson for everybody in the world, including the North Koreans who have been using the matter as a bargaining chip.

The Japanese public censured him over the remarks. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had tried in vain to protect Mr. Kyuma by saying that the latter had merely expressed U.S. thinking.

Some Asian people regard the atomic bombings as having ended Japan’s aggression against them. To gain support in Asia and elsewhere for efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, politicians must neither make thoughtless comments on the weapons nor try to dilute Japan’s responsibility for its wartime behavior.

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