HONOLULU – The 75 years of resentment behind them, the leaders of the United States and Japan come together in Pearl Harbor for a historic pilgrimage to the site where the bloodshed of the surprise attacks thrust America into the second world War.
Prime minister shinzo Abe’s visit Tuesday with President Barack Obama, is powerful evidence that the former enemies have transcended the recriminatory impulses that burdened relations after the second world war, the japanese government has said. Although Japanese leaders have visited Pearl Harbor, Abe will be the first to visit the memorial that now rests on the holy waters above the sunken USS Arizona.
For Obama, it is probably the last time that he had a meeting with a foreign leader as president, White House assistants said. It is a bookend of sorts for the president, who almost eight years ago, invited Abe ‘ s predecessor to be the first leader that Obama organized at the White House.
For Abe, it is an act of symbolic reciprocity, the next six months after Obama became the first sitting president of the united states to visit Hiroshima in Japan, where the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in the hope of ending the war.
“This visit and the visit of the president of Hiroshima city earlier this year, would not have been possible eight years ago,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, Obama’s top Asia adviser in the White House. “We are here today is the result of years of efforts at all levels of the government and the society, which has allowed us to jointly and directly with even the most sensitive aspects of our common history.”
More than 2,300 Americans died on Dec. 7, 1941, when more than 300 Japanese fighters and bombers attacked. More than 1,000 others were injured. In the following years, the US imprisoned about 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps, before they the atomic bomb in 1945, that killed approximately 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki.
Abe will not apologize for Pearl Harbor, his government has said. Nor did Obama apologize at Hiroshima in May, a visit that he and Abe used to emphasize their elusive pursuit of a nuclear weapons-free future.
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No apologies necessary, said 96-year-old Alfred Rodrigues, a U.S. Navy veteran who survived what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called a “date which will live in infamy.”
“War is war,” Rodrigues said he looked at old photos of his military service. “They did what they had to do, and we did what we had to do.”
After a formal meeting in the morning, Obama and Abe are scheduled to lay a wreath aboard the USS Arizona Memorial, which is accessible only by boat. Then they will go to the nearby Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, where the two leaders speak.
Obama and Abe signed off on the visit last month when they met in Peru on the sidelines of an economic summit. Although the parallels with Obama’s Hiroshima visit are palpable, both governments said that a visit is not dependent on the other.
Meanwhile, China criticized Abe’s visit as an unfair attempt to absolve Japan of its war of aggression.
“Try to get the liquidation of the history of the second world War by paying a visit to Pearl Harbor and the consolation of death is just wishful thinking on Japan,” said Hua Chunying,a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman in Beijing, on a regular briefing.
“Japan can never turn this page without the atonement of China and other victim countries in Asia,” she said. “The japanese leaders should stop being so evasive and dodge, and instead take a responsible attitude towards history and the future, deeply and sincerely reflect on the history of aggressive war, and the drawing of a clear break with the past.”
Abe’s visit is not without political risks, given the Japanese the long, emotional reckoning with their nation’s aggression in the war. Although the history books are largely considered Pearl Harbor a surprise attack, the japanese government insisted as recently as this month that it was intended to be the U.S. notice that it is to declare war, and not only because of “bureaucratic bungling.”
“There is a feeling of guilt, if you want to, under the Japanese, this ‘Pearl Harbor syndrome,’ that we did something very unfair,” said Tamaki Tsukada, minister in the Embassy of Japan in Washington. “I think the prime minister’s visit will in a sense relieve that kind of complex that Japanese people have.”
Since the war, the united states and Japan have a strong alliance that both sides say has become more pronounced during Obama’s tenure. There are questions about what the relationship will look like under President-elect of Donald Trump.
During the campaign, Trump suggested that Japan and South Korea should acquire nuclear weapons so the U.S. would no longer be saddled with the costs of defending them, a disturbing thought in many Asian capitals. But after Trump’s election, Abe became the first foreign leader to meet with him, sitting in the Trump Tower with the business mogul and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.
Although there is no Japanese prime minister has visited the USS Arizona Memorial, the former Japanese leader leader Yoshida Shigeru visited Pearl Harbor in 1951, six years after Japan surrendered. He stopped there on his way home from signing the San Francisco peace treaty with the US and others, and paid a courtesy visit to the office of Adm. Arthur W. R. Radford.
Other prime ministers have visited since Pearl Harbor and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as Punchbowl.