A planned American commemorative stamp, declaring that atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki “hastened” the end of World War II, is an “affront to the feelings of the Japanese people,” Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama declared Friday night.
“We must make Japan’s thinking known to the United States in an appropriate way,” the Socialist leader told reporters.
The stamp, to be issued by the U.S. Postal Service next year as one of a series to commemorate the 50th anniversary of World War II’s end, depicts an atomic bomb mushroom cloud and carries a caption reading, “Atomic bombs hasten the war’s end, August, 1945.”
The flare-up marked the second acrimonious dispute that has erupted over the upcoming anniversary.
Plans by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to display the Enola Gay, the B-29 aircraft that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and artifacts of the bomb’s effects in Hiroshima and Nagasaki stirred protests from American veterans groups and the U.S. Congress.
They complained that depictions of the suffering caused by the devices’ use distorted the historical backdrop of the bombings. In the wake of the protests, the Smithsonian agreed to remove part of the displays showing the devastation caused by the bombs.
Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador Walter F. Mondale warned of impending emotional trouble over commemorations of the end of World War II that are being planned in both countries. “Here we are 50 years after the war, and we still cannot agree on the facts of what happened,” Mondale said.
Americans generally believe that the bombs--which killed about 140,000 of Hiroshima’s 340,000 residents and 70,000 of Nagasaki’s 270,000 in 1945--saved hundreds of thousands of American troops who might have been forced to have staged a ground invasion of the Japanese mainland.
But the Japanese believe that the civilian toll and the survivors’ distress over radiation illnesses even decades later made the attacks inhuman and unjustifiable.
Murayama made his statement after Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kozo Igarashi and leaders of organizations of survivors of atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945, all condemned the stamp as an attempt to justify the bombings.
“It is disagreeable to see such a stamp in view of the special feeling of the Japanese people,” Kono said.
Igarashi noted that “more than 300,000 people (including those who died after 1945) were killed, and even now there are those who are suffering atomic bomb illnesses. We want (the United States to realize) that pain exists deep in the hearts of the Japanese people.”
One official who tried to avoid criticizing the stamp was forced to retract his remark.
Terusuke Terada, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, initially said the timing of Japan’s surrender nine days after the Hiroshima bomb lent credence to the “way of thinking” that the bombs did hasten Japan’s surrender.
In withdrawing his remark, Terada said only that he wanted “to avoid historical judgments at this stage.”
In Washington, the Postal Service replied to Japanese criticism of the planned stamp, saying a citizens’ advisory committee had studied the issue carefully.
“With regard to the specific stamp in question, we would be remiss in omitting such a watershed and historically critical event as the use of the atomic bomb,” agency spokesman Robin Wright said. ". . . Our purpose is to provide a comprehensive history of the events of World War II, and we are not making a value judgment on any of those events.”
Times staff writer Jim Mann in Washington contributed to this report.