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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
75 years

Japanese PM offers 'everlasting condolences' but holds back from full apology at Pearl Harbor

He and President Obama laid wreathes at the site of the attack.

US Japan Obama Pearl Harbor Carolyn Kaster Carolyn Kaster

JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER Shinzo Abe offered his “sincere and everlasting condolences” to those who died as a result of his Japan’s 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, in a historic meeting with US President Barack Obama at the site of the attack.

However, Abe held back from a full apology.

Seventy-five years after Japan’s surprise attack on the naval base that sent America marching into World War II, Obama and Abe dropped purple petals into the water and stood in silence at at the rusting wreckage of the USS Arizona. More than 1,000 people remain entombed in the submerged ship, and in a show of respect.

“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.

We must never repeat the horrors of war again.

That was the closest Abe would get to an apology for the attack. And it was enough for Obama, who also declined to apologise 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.

US Japan Obama Pearl Harbor Carolyn Kaster Obama and Abe pause after tossing flower petals into the Wishing Well at the USS Arizona Memorial. Carolyn Kaster

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.

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 to closely monitor the movements of China’s first and sole aircraft carrier, which has sailed into the western Pacific for the first time.

US Japan Obama Pearl Harbor AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Obama, speaking after he and Abe laid green-and-peach wreaths at the memorial, called Pearl 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 7 December, 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.

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Associated Foreign Press
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