The Problem with Soundbites: The Case of Fumio Kyuma

The Soundbite:
On June 30, 2007, Japan's defense minister, Fumio Kyuma said "I understand that the bombing ended the war, and I think that it couldn't be helped," referring to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States during World War II.

The Backlash:
Fumio Kyuma's comments drew ire from politicians and survivors of the bombings, and some lawmakers called for his dismissal. Five groups representing Nagasaki atomic bomb victims faxed a message of protest Sunday to the Defense Ministry asking Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma not to attend a peace ceremony which is held annually on Aug. 9, the anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city. Kyuma has since resigned.

The Reality:
Kyuma, who is from Nagasaki, said the bombing caused great suffering in the city, and that he still wonders whether the bombings were absolutely necessary when a U.S. victory was certain. He said he did not resent the U.S. because the bombs prevented the Soviet Union from entering the war with Japan. On the day of the Nagasaki bombing, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria, and if not for the bombing, Japan would have otherwise kept fighting and ended up losing a greater part of its northern territory to the Soviet Union. He said that the U.S. must have thought that the bombs "could prompt Japan's surrender, thus preventing the Soviet Union from declaring war against Japan . . . . Luckily Hokkaido was not occupied. In the worst case, Hokkaido could have been taken by the Soviet Union."

The Result:
A perfectly appropriate comment about the strategic considerations of the U.S. at the end of WWII was taken totally out of context and completely misunderstood. Kyuma did not mean that it was "inevitable" in the sense that it should have happened, but rather reflected on the point of view of the U.S. and its concern with the Soviet Union's interest in Japan. At worst, his comments could be construed as weighing the atomic bombings as perhaps a better alternative to the possibility of further lives being lost against Soviet and U.S. invasions over time and an occupation by the Soviet Union and/or splitting up of Japan. Instead, everyone overreacted, perhaps fueled by the fact that most news reports conveniently omitted any reference to his comments on how the bombings caused suffering and may have been unnecessary, and his comments related to the discussion of a Soviet invasion and occupation.