From the moment he uttered the words, Fumio Kyuma's fate was sealed. For a Japanese to even hint that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in any way acceptable or understandable is to draw questioning looks from fellow countrymen. For a politician, a cabinet member and the defence minister to do so is tantamount to heresy. To add another layer of public distaste, Mr Kyuma represents a constituency in Nagasaki prefecture. But maybe not for much longer, judging by the opinions of the residents of the second and last city in history to be razed by a nuclear weapon. At a lecture in Chiba prefecture on June 30, the then defence minister said: 'I understand that the bombings brought the war to an end. I think it was something that could not be helped.' His comment echoed the position that the United States takes on the issue: the bombings shortened the conflict and did away with the need for a seaborne invasion of Japan's main island, thereby avoiding the deaths of countless allied soldiers, sailors and airmen. Simultaneously, the sudden collapse of the military government meant that Soviet Russia did not have time to muster an occupation force and was kept out of post-war Japan. Japan's residents, however, do not look at the attacks in terms of lives saved. Although there are frequent disagreements over the mentioning of 'comfort women' or the Rape of Nanking in school history textbooks, no such debate exists over the atomic bombings. Children are told in graphic detail about the raids and their aftermath. Nearly every child will go on a school trip to pay their respects at shrines, memorials and museums set up to mark the events of August 1945. Japanese history views the bombings in isolation, divorced from the atrocities that preceded them, and Mr Kyuma, 66, should have realised that he was entering politically dangerous waters when he began to speak. 'I was furious when I heard what he said,' said Masato Hirose, who was 15 when the bomb was dropped on his home town of Nagasaki. 'He is a politician from this prefecture and it's unthinkable that he has not heard of the disastrous effects of the bombings and what happened afterwards. He clearly does not think about the suffering and grief of the survivors. It makes me angry when I think about it and talk about it. 'I would like to go to his electoral constituency and put up signs demanding that the voters there not support him at the next election. I'm very concerned that other countries, when they hear the defence minister of Japan supporting the use of nuclear weapons, might conclude that they should also have the right to have them. 'I want Kyuma and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to work to abolish all nuclear weapons, and I believe that the president of the United States should apologise for the attacks.' Like hundreds of other Nagasaki residents, Mr Hirose staged a dignified protest in the city's Peace Park in the days after Mr Kyuma's speech, and as the criticism of the minister rose - along with criticism of Mr Abe's failure to immediately sack him. Mr Kyuma bowed to the inevitable on Tuesday, telling reporters he 'did not want this issue to have an impact on the elections for the upper house. That is what I am most concerned about'. Unfortunately for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, analysts said it was inevitable he would still be on the public's mind on polling day, July 29. 'Even more than the fiasco over the government's handling of the pensions issue, this will affect people's sentiments,' said Noriko Hama, a professor of economics at Kyoto's Doshisha University. 'People are very angry and very frustrated. It seems to be just one awful thing after another for Mr Abe and I don't think there is any way that he can get away from it all. 'The atomic bombings are one thing that are just not open to discussion in Japan. They're a total taboo, and for good reason. This was not just some obscure American academic making these comments; this was the defence minister of Japan and he has really hurt the sensibilities of the people of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, indeed the whole country. 'What he said just goes to show me the extent of his idiocy.' Professor Hama was also critical of the leadership qualities displayed by the prime minister, saying Mr Abe's reluctance to fire a minister who had made such a monumental error of judgment would come back to haunt him at the polls. 'Abe is very slow to react in situations like this because he finds it hard to let people who he has hand-picked go because it shows he made an error of judgment,' she said. 'He does not have the courage that is required for this job.' The opposition Democratic Party of Japan sought to capitalise on the government's latest discomfort. Not long ago, Mr Kyuma criticised the US for the war in Iraq and questioned Japan's role in the Middle East. Also, he is the third cabinet member to leave - one other resigned and the third committed suicide - since Mr Abe took office. Opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa demanded that Mr Abe ask the US to apologise for the attacks when he next meets President George W. Bush, forcing the prime minister to point out that Japan's security is ensured by the nuclear umbrella that Washington provides. And although Japan ostensibly sticks to its three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, producing or permitting such weapons on its territory, the last of the tenets has been frequently violated by the US military. By Tuesday, Mr Kyuma realised he would not be able to ride out the furore and resigned. But Professor Hama does not believe he will be too disappointed at his brief stint as head of the military. 'He'll probably just fade away from the national scene, but he won't mind too much because he has a strong support base in his home constituency,' she said. 'He'll just go back to the local pork-barrel politics and while he's not up for re-election this time around, I'm fairly sure that he'll win again when his turn comes. 'He's really popular outside Nagasaki city and he'll probably even get a lot of sympathy votes.'