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Furor Sends ‘Mushroom Cloud’ Stamp Back for Redesign

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Postal Service indicated Wednesday that it will bow to White House pressure and redesign a proposed “mushroom cloud” stamp that it had planned to issue next year to commemorate the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, the service said it is “mindful of the sensitivities on this issue” and is “taking into consideration the views of the Department of State and the White House, as well as other groups and individuals.”

“Our stamp program was designed to recognize significant people and events in American history--not designed to generate controversy,” the statement said.

The carefully worded statement was issued on the 53rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The announcement came after the White House, concerned about protests from Japan that the design was insensitive, sided with Tokyo and intervened with the Postal Service.

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Officials said that White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta called Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon Jr. on Wednesday to tell him of the President’s concerns about the stamp. On Tuesday, the State Department had called for withdrawal of the controversial design.

The proposed stamp, part of a sheet of 10 such commemoratives to be issued in 1995 to mark major turning points in World War II, contained a picture of a nuclear mushroom cloud, with the legend: “Atomic bombs hasten war’s end, August 1945.”

The United States dropped its first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 of that year in an effort to speed the end of the war and avert thousands of additional U.S. casualties. Three days later, it dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki. A week later, Japan surrendered.

News of the proposed stamp drew a formal diplomatic protest from Japan, which pointed out that the first bomb had killed an estimated 140,000 Japanese, while the one dropped on Nagasaki killed some 70,000.

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Some later critics of the U.S. decision to drop the bomb have charged that the estimates of likely U.S. troop casualties from a U.S. ground offensive in Japan were inflated, and that Washington decided to use the nuclear weapon primarily to frighten the Soviet Union.

White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers told reporters on Wednesday that the White House did not object to the idea of commemorating the bombings, but said officials thought that the artwork depicting the nuclear mushroom cloud was a poor choice for the occasion.

“We agree that the atomic bomb helped speed the end of the war but, again, there could be more appropriate ways to depict that event,” Myers said. “A different artwork would perhaps be more appropriate,” she added.

Even so, the fact that the White House had chosen to make known its displeasure on Pearl Harbor Day was not expected to go over well with veterans, some of whom already have been dismayed over Clinton’s handling of the military and his efforts to avoid the draft in 1969.

Lew Wood, spokesman for the American Legion, said Wednesday that while his group did not have a “specific position” on the A-bomb stamp, he recalled that the government did not back Japanese objections to an earlier stamp, in 1991, commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The President is always entitled to his opinions,” Wood said. But he added that it was “ironic that a decision such as that would be made on this (Pearl Harbor) day.” More than half the Legion’s members are World War II veterans.


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