PAYING RESPECTS. U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Japanese
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bow their heads while participating in a
wreath laying ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial, part of the
World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, at Joint Base Pearl
Harbor-Hickam, Hawai‘i, on December 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #1 (January 2, 2017), pages 7 &
At Pearl Harbor, U.S. and Japan seek absolution
from the war
By Josh Lederman and Caleb Jones
The Associated Press
PEARL HARBOR, Hawai‘i — In a historic pilgrimage, the leaders of
Japan and the United States took to the hallowed waters of Pearl Harbor
to prove that even the bitterest enemies can become allies. Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe did not apologize, but conceded Japan "must never
repeat the horrors of war again."
Seventy-five years after Japan’s surprise attack sent America
marching into World War II, Abe and President Barack Obama peered down
at the rusting wreckage of the USS Arizona, clearly visible in
the tranquil, teal water. More than 1,000 U.S. war dead remain entombed
in the submerged ship, and in a show of respect, Obama and Abe dropped
purple petals into the water and stood in silence.
"As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting
condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as
to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by
a war that commenced in this very place," Abe said later at nearby Joint
Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
That was the closest Abe would get to an apology for the attack. And
it was enough for Obama, who also declined to apologize seven months ago
when he became America’s first sitting president to visit Hiroshima,
where the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in a bid to end the war.
It was enough, too, for Alfred Rodrigues, a U.S. Navy veteran who
survived the attack. The 96-year-old said he had no hard feelings and
added, "War is war."
"They were doing what they were supposed to do, and we were doing
what we were supposed to do," Rodrigues said before the visit.
Abe, who became Japan’s first leader to visit Pearl Harbor with a
U.S. president, said the visit "brought utter silence to me." His
remarks capped a day that was carefully choreographed by the U.S. and
Japan to show a strong and growing alliance between former foes.
They started with a formal meeting at another nearby military base,
in what the White House said was likely Obama’s last meeting with a
foreign leader before leaving office in January. It was a bookend of
sorts for the president, who nearly eight years ago invited Abe’s
predecessor to be the first leader he hosted at the White House.
Obama, speaking after he and Abe laid green-and-peach wreaths at the
memorial, called the harbor a sacred place and said that "even the
deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and lasting peace."
It’s a notion Obama tried throughout his presidency to put into
practice, as he reached out to former adversaries Iran, Myanmar, and
"As we lay a wreath or toss flowers into waters that still weep, we
think of the more than 2,400 American patriots, fathers and husbands,
wives and daughters, manning heaven’s rails for all eternity," Obama
Then the two leaders greeted survivors in the crowd. They shook hands
and hugged some of the men who fought in the December 7, 1941 battle
that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called a "date which will live in
Japanese leaders have visited Pearl Harbor before, but Abe was the
first to go to the memorial above the sunken USS Arizona, where a
marbled wall lists the names of U.S. troops killed in the Japanese
For Abe, it was an act of symbolic reciprocity, coming seven months
after Obama and Abe visited Hiroshima together and renewed their calls
for a nuclear-free future. Still, both governments maintain that the
visits were separate and not contingent upon one another.
The visit was not without political risk for Abe, given the Japanese
people’s long, emotional reckoning with their nation’s aggression in the
war. Though the history books have largely deemed Pearl Harbor a
surprise attack, Japan’s government still insists it had intended to
give prior notice that it was declaring war and failed only because of
"There’s this sense of guilt, if you like, among Japanese, this
‘Pearl Harbor syndrome,’ that we did something very unfair," said Tamaki
Tsukada, a minister in the Embassy of Japan in Washington. He said he
believes Abe’s visit would "absolve that kind of complex that Japanese
In the years after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated roughly
120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps before dropping atomic
bombs in 1945 that killed some 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in
Since the war, the U.S. and Japan have built a powerful alliance that
both sides say has grown during Obama’s tenure, including strengthened
military ties. Yet there are questions about whether the relationship
will degenerate under President-elect Donald Trump, a possibility
neither Obama nor Abe addressed.
Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff in Kailua, Hawai‘i, and Mari
Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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