At Pearl Harbor, US and Japan seek absolution from the war
search

At Pearl Harbor, US and Japan seek absolution from the war

Shinzo Abe offers ‘sincere and everlasting condolences’ to US victims of 1941 attack; both leaders hail reconciliation during historic pilgrimage

US President Barack Obama (R) listens as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at the USS Arizona Memorial on December 27, 2016 at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)
US President Barack Obama (R) listens as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at the USS Arizona Memorial on December 27, 2016 at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) — In a historic pilgrimage, the leaders of Japan and the United States took to the hallowed waters of Pearl Harbor on Tuesday 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 US 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 US dropped an atomic bomb in a bid to end the war.

It was enough, too, for Alfred Rodrigues, a US 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.

US President Barack Obama(L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe place wreaths at the USS Arizona Memorial December 27, 2016 at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)
US President Barack Obama(L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe place wreaths at the USS Arizona Memorial December 27, 2016 at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

Abe, who became Japan’s first leader to visit Pearl Harbor with a US president, said the visit “brought utter silence to me.” His remarks capped a day that was carefully choreographed by the US 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.

Japanese officials said that in their talks, Abe and Obama agreed Tuesday to closely monitor the movements of China’s first and sole aircraft carrier, which has sailed into the western Pacific for the first time. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported Monday that the aircraft carrier and five warships sailed 90 nautical miles south of Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by China. Beijing called it a routine training exercise.

In their last meeting before Obama leaves office next month, the two leaders affirmed that movements by the Chinese carrier Liaoning “warrant close attention from mid-term and long-term perspectives,” the officials said. Late last week, the Liaoning advanced into the western Pacific after passing the so-called “first island chain,” a sea defense line China unilaterally draws running from southern Japan to Taiwan, the Philippines and the southern South China Sea.

White House officials who accompanied Obama to Hawaii did not comment on the announcement from the Japanese, and in an unusual move, they didn’t release a written description of the meeting.

But in Washington Tuesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the US recognizes lawful uses of the sea, and the same rights apply to the US, China and other nations.

He said, “as we often make the case with our own naval vessels sailing … in those same waters, it’s freedom of navigation.”

Earlier this month, a Chinese navy vessel seized an US Navy underwater glider that the US said was conducting oceanic research in international waters off the Philippines. The US called the seizure illegal and made a diplomatic protest. China returned the glider five days later.

US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greet Pearl Harbor survivors Emmet Hyland, Al Rodriguez and Sterling Cane at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam's Kilo Pier on December 27, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images/AFP)
US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greet Pearl Harbor survivors Emmet Hyland, Al Rodriguez and Sterling Cane at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam’s Kilo Pier on December 27, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images/AFP)

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.” The two leaders greeted survivors in the crowd, shaking hands and hugging some of the men who fought in the Dec. 7, 1941, battle that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called a “date which will live in infamy.”

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 US troops killed in the Japanese attack.

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.

In the years after Pearl Harbor, the US 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 Nagasaki.

Since the war, the US and Japan have built a powerful alliance that both sides say has grown during Obama’s tenure.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

Join us!
A message from the Editor of Times of Israel
David Horovitz

The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.

Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.

Become a member of The Times of Israel Community
read more:
comments