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Legacy of war in Asia

US remembers top-secret ‘Manhattan Project’ at special parks. Japanese nationalists say they glorify war crimes

Japanese nationalists take exception to US historical park that commemorates the project that developed the atomic bomb

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 3:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 9:40pm

Japanese nationalists are demanding that displays at national parks in the United States commemorating the development of the first atomic weapons state that the subsequent attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes.

A number of facilities that make up the Manhattan Project National Historical Park are already open to the public, including museums and tours of locations in the Tennessee town of Oak Ridge, Los Alamos in New Mexico and Hanford in Washington state.

The facilities are being expanded and “interpretative themes” are being developed, said Kris Kirby, superintendent of the park.

“We will be discussing and developing exhibits based on these interpretative themes as we move forward, but we have not yet started those discussions so I cannot speak to the details,” she said.

“What we want to do is to make sure that we provide multiple and broad perspectives and not draw firm conclusions, but to leave those conclusions to our visitors, giving them sovereignty of thought.”

Plans on the development of the displays are expected to start next year, with exhibits being added to the venues “over the next few years, depending on funding”, Kirby said.

Demands that the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki be described as war crimes in the museum exhibits and literature have not been considered yet, she added.

And that is a serious concern to Hiromichi Moteki, acting head of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact in Japan and a former high school history teacher.

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Moteki has previously described the plan for a national park to mark the attacks as “very strange” and insists that they be remembered as war crimes.

“I think there will be problems as they move forward with the project because the officially held view in the US government, as well as the opinion commonly held by American people, is that these were righteous actions,” he said.

“For us, they were a clear breach of international law at that time.

“If it is made clear in the displays that these were war crimes, then that will be fine. But if that is not made clear then this is nothing but a false story.”

Moteki has also claimed that the attacks were deliberately aimed at civilians rather than targets with military significance at a time when the war was already effectively over.

The Allies’ position was that the bombs were necessary to hasten the Japanese surrender and to avoid an invasion of the home islands, a scenario that military planners believed would cost hundreds of thousands of lives among the invasion force.

Watch: 2015 opening of Manhattan Project park

A bomb named Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed three days later by the detonation of the Fat Man over Nagasaki.

Estimates of the number of dead in Hiroshima vary from 90,000 to 166,000, while as many as 80,000 died in Nagasaki.

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The mayors of the two Japanese cities have also expressed their concerns over the US national park project, writing to former US president Barack Obama, the US National Park Service and successive US ambassadors to Tokyo.

Tomihisa Taue, the mayor of Nagasaki, in 2015 wrote to Obama to express concern that the new national park “may lead to justification of the atomic bomb attack and the promotion of the development of nuclear weapons”.

John Roos, the ambassador to Japan when the plan for the park was first announced, wrote to both mayors to reassure them that the facility would serve as “an educational and commemorative facility”.

Kirby confirmed that her department had received expressions of concern that the parks would be “a celebration of the bombs”.

“These facilities are not going to be a celebration but a respectful commemoration of history”, she said.

“There are many opinions to be taken into account, this is a controversial issue and so we are going to proceed very carefully”.