Ja­pan, US bury­ing WWII ghosts af­ter 70 years

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

An Amer­i­can pres­i­dent in Hiroshima. A Ja­panese prime min­is­ter at Pearl Har­bor. One long­time taboo has al­ready fallen this year, and the other soon will. On Dec 27, Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe will visit the Hawai­ian US naval base at­tacked by Ja­pan in 1941. He will be joined by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who seven months ear­lier trav­eled to Hiroshima to pay trib­ute to the 140,000 peo­ple killed there by a US atomic bomb in 1945. The two at­tacks book­end World War II in the Pa­cific. The im­por­tance of the vis­its may be mostly sym­bolic for two coun­tries that, in a re­mark­able trans­for­ma­tion, have grown into close al­lies in the decades since they faced off in bru­tal con­flict. At the same time, it’s sig­nif­i­cant that it took more than 70 years for US-Ja­panese re­la­tions to get to this point.

The two ges­tures of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion are in some ways an at­tempt to sweep out the fi­nal ghosts of the war. “De­spite the am­i­ca­ble re­la­tion­ship that the two coun­tries have en­joyed since the end of the Pa­cific War, deep-rooted neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment has re­mained in both coun­tries,” said Narushige Michishita, a se­cu­rity ex­pert at the Na­tional Grad­u­ate In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Stud­ies in Tokyo. “The Obama-Abe joint visit to Pearl Har­bor will change this.” Sev­eral fac­tors have helped both Obama and Abe step in hal­lowed places their pre­de­ces­sors did not:

For young Amer­i­cans, Pearl Har­bor is an event in his­tory text­books, but Ja­pan is more likely to con­jure up images of manga and sushi. Ja­panese stu­dents learn about the atomic bomb­ings of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, but the mes­sage is not to hate Amer­ica but to pre­vent such a tragedy from hap­pen­ing again. “The amount of time passed is an im­por­tant fac­tor,” said Tsu­neo Watan­abe, a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Sasakawa Peace Foun­da­tion in Tokyo. “As sur­vivors be­come fewer, the event be­comes part his­tor­i­cal mem­ory,” said Tosh Mi­no­hara, a US-Ja­pan ex­pert at Kobe Univer­sity in Ja­pan. To the mix, he added the con­cern in the US and Ja­pan about China’s emer­gence as a mil­i­tary power in the Pa­cific. “I think the ap­pear­ance of a new potential ad­ver­sary also made this pos­si­ble,” he said. “The US will have to de­pend on Ja­pan more and more.”

Obama, a lib­eral Demo­crat, and Abe, a rel­a­tively staunch con­ser­va­tive, seem un­likely part­ners for this dance. On a 2014 visit to Ja­pan, Obama was de­scribed by the Ja­panese me­dia as “busi­nesslike,” in con­trast to Abe, who was said to be look­ing to de­velop a per­sonal bond with the Amer­i­can leader. Their in­ter­ests dove­tailed over Hiroshima. For Obama, a world with­out nu­clear weapons is a stated if un­achieved goal, and Hiroshima was a pow­er­ful place to de­liver that mes­sage one more time in the last year of his pres­i­dency.

Abe could bask in the lime­light as the Ja­panese leader who brought an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to Hiroshima, a visit long hoped for by sur­vivors of the atomic bomb and widely wel­comed by the pub­lic. At the time, Abe said he had no “spe­cific plan” to visit Pearl Har­bor, sidestep­ping sug­ges­tions that rec­i­proc­ity was called for. How­ever, in an­nounc­ing his visit to Pearl Har­bor on Mon­day, he re­vealed that he has been think­ing about the im­por­tance of a visit and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion for more than a year, and that he and Obama fi­nal­ized it when they met at a G-20 meet­ing in Peru last month.

Some Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tives and mil­i­tary vet­er­ans op­posed Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, but he rode out the storm. In con­trast, Ja­panese con­ser­va­tives have been rel­a­tively quiet about Abe’s planned visit to Pearl Har­bor, and even sup­port­ive. The right-lean­ing Sankei news­pa­per called it “an at­tempt to end the post­war era” and move be­yond “a frame­work of win­ners ver­sus losers.” It helps that Abe is a con­ser­va­tive him­self. He also faces few po­lit­i­cal challengers af­ter hold­ing onto of­fice for com­ing on four years, mak­ing him the fourth-long­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter since World War II. “He gets un­der­stand­ing from his con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers, who give him credit for his ... poli­cies,” Watan­abe said. “A visit to Pearl Har­bor by a lib­eral leader would have been more dif­fi­cult.” Obama’s visit to Hiroshima also helped in a so­ci­ety in which gift-giv­ing and fa­vors should be re­cip­ro­cal. “In a way, it was only ap­pro­pri­ate,” Mi­no­hara said.— AP

PEARL HAR­BOR, Hawaii: This De­cem­ber, 1941 file photo shows the USS Ari­zona, sunk and burn­ing fu­ri­ously. Her for­ward mag­a­zines had ex­ploded when she was hit by a Ja­panese bomb. — AFP

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