World leaders face the risks in reconciling with past enemies
Reconciliation can be tricky. It took 70 years for an American president to visit the site of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and nearly 75 for a Japanese leader to announce he would visit Pearl Harbor, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did Monday. Abe is likely to receive a warm reception later this month at the memorial for more than 2,300 Americans who died in the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian naval base. That hasn’t always been the case for other world leaders visiting similar sites, particularly when memories are fresher.
Reagan in Bitburg
US President Ronald Reagan and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl stirred a global outcry in May 1985 when the American leader visited a German military cemetery that included the remains of 49 members of Adolf Hitler’s Waffen SS troops. Reagan stuck to his promise to visit the cemetery in Bitburg despite a torrent of criticism from Jewish groups, US veterans and others. He added a stop at the BergenBelsen concentration camp to his trip. Kohl defended the invitation as a “demonstrative gesture of reconciliation.”
Clinton in Vietnam
US President Bill Clinton received a rock-star welcome in Vietnam in November 2000. Clinton was the first American president to visit after the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975 and claimed the lives of more than 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American soldiers. Clinton remains popular in Vietnam because the United States normalized relations with its former foe in 1995 while he was president. Relations were completely normalized in May with US President Barack Obama announcing the lifting of a ban on weapons sales to Vietnam during his visit to the country.
Ahmadinejad in Iraq
Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Iraq in March 2008, becoming the first leader to travel there after the two bordering nations fought a bloody war that killed 1 million people in the 1980s. His visit came five years after a US-led invasion toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who started the 1980s conflict. The influence of Iran in Iraq has grown in the time since, with Iranian backed Shiite militias now leading the fight in some battlefields against the extremist Islamic State group.
Vucic in Srebrenica
Anger boiled over in July 2015 when Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic attended a commemoration 20 years after the slaughter of Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Tens of thousands came to mark the anniversary of Europe’s worst massacre since World War II, the killing of 8,000 Muslims by Bosnian Serbs. Vucic, once an ultra-nationalist, came to represent Serbia at the commemoration in an apparent gesture of reconciliation. Thousands booed and whistled as he entered the cemetery to lay flowers. Protesters threw water bottles and other objects as he hastily left. His glasses were broken, but there were no serious injuries.
Obama in Hiroshima
US President Barack Obama risked criticism at home when he decided to visit the memorial to the 140,000 killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. Japanese generally welcomed his visit and praised his speech, which called on humankind to prevent war and pursue a world without nuclear weapons. He didn’t apologize for the bombing, and Japan didn’t ask for an apology. Just visiting Hiroshima would have been politically difficult, if not impossible, for previous US presidents to do.—AP