TOKYO -- Japan's defense minister said Saturday that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States during World War II was an inevitable way to end the war, drawing criticism from atomic bomb survivors.
"I understand that the bombing ended the war, and I think that it couldn't be helped," Kyuma said in a speech at a university in Chiba, just east of Tokyo.
The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War II, in the world's only nuclear attacks.
Kyuma, who is from Nagasaki, said the bombing caused great suffering in the city. Part of his speech was aired by public broadcaster NHK.
He also said he did not resent the United States, because the bombs prevented the Soviet Union from entering the war with Japan, according to Kyodo News Agency.
The remarks, rare for a Japanese Cabinet minister, were quickly criticized by atomic bomb victims.
Kyuma said later that his comments had been misinterpreted, telling reporters he meant to say the bombing "could not be helped from the American point of view."
"It's too bad that my comments were interpreted as approving the U.S. bombing," he said.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped a bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, killing at least 140,000 people in the world's first atomic bomb attack. Three days later, it dropped another atomic bomb, "Fat Man," on Nagasaki. City officials say about 74,000 died.
Japan, which had attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, surrendered Aug. 15, 1945.
Bombing survivors have developed various illnesses from radiation exposure, including cancer and liver diseases.
"The U.S. justifies the bombings saying they saved American lives," said Nobuo Miyake, 78, director-general of a group of victims living in Tokyo. "It's outrageous for a Japanese politician to voice such thinking. Japan is a victim."
Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue was quoted as saying by Kyodo, "The use of nuclear weapons constitutes the indiscriminate massacre of ordinary citizens, and it cannot be justified for any reason."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to play down Kyuma's comments.
"I understand he explained American views in those days," Abe was quoted as saying by Kyodo. "At any rate, it is Japan's mission to abolish nuclear weapons and Japan is playing a key role at the U.N.," he said, according to Kyodo.
In America, the bombings are widely seen as a weapon of last resort against an enemy that was determined to fight to the death but instead surrendered unconditionally, six days after Nagasaki was attacked.
Critics -- including many Japanese and also some Americans -- believe President Truman's government had other motives: a wish to test a terrifying weapon and the need to strengthen Washington's hand against Moscow in what would become the Cold War.
In January, Kyuma called the U.S. decision to invade Iraq a "mistake" because it was based on the false premise that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Kyuma later said those remarks, too, were misinterpreted. He said he meant to say that he thought at the time that the United States needed to be "more cautious."