President Barack Obama joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday at Pearl Harbor to pay their respects at a site where 75 years ago a surprise Japanese attack thrust America into World War II.
Obama recalled how the attack was seared not only into the lives of a generation of Americans, but in particular those who lived and worked in Hawaii. Yet far removed from that conflict, the president emphasized that the U.S. and Japan have formed an alliance that has benefited not only the two countries, but the entire world.
“Over the decades our alliance has made both of our nations more successful, it has helped underwrite an international order that has prevented another world war and that has lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty,” Obama said.
“Today the alliance between the United States and Japan, bound not only by shared interests, but also rooted in common values, stands as the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asian Pacific and a force for progress around the globe.”
As was expected, Abe did not apologize for the strike. Instead he offered his “sincere and everlasting condolences” speaking poetically, at one point quoting President Lincoln’s malice-toward-none line from his Second Inaugural Address, as well as talking of the 2,403 U.S. servicemen who died on Dec. 7, 1941.
Abe said the weight of the moment left him speechless.
“Each and every one of those servicemen had a mother and father anxious about his safety, many had wives and girlfriends they loved and many must have had children they would have love to watch grow up,” Abe said. “When I contemplate that solemn reality, I am rendered entirely speechless.”
At a formal meeting Tuesday afternoon, Obama and Abe sat next to each other in front of their countries’ flags and shook hands but made no remarks as reporters were allowed in briefly, according to The Associated Press.
Earlier, they participated in a wreath-laying ceremony aboard the USS Arizona Memorial, which commemorated the 1,177 sailors and Marines who were killed when a direct hit from a Japanese bomber caused the ship to explode and sink.
Abe was the first Japanese leader to visit the memorial, which opened in 1962. The two leaders then delivered remarks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“The two leaders’ visit will showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies, united by common interests and shared values,” the White House said before the trip.
The historic meeting, likely Obama’s last with a foreign leader before he leaves the White House next month, comes amid the president’s annual vacation in Hawaii. It also comes seven months after Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Japan, one of two targets for America’s atomic bombs in the summer of 1945.
In Hiroshima, where he visited its Peace Memorial Park and delivered an address in May, Obama did not apologize for America’s decision to drop bombs on either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, nor did he reexamine the decision to do so. Instead, Obama insisted that neither nation is “bound by genetic codes to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Abe suggested to reporters earlier this month that his impending visit was reciprocal. “President Obama’s message for the world without nuclear upon his visit to Hiroshima was engraved in the heart of the Japanese people,” he said. “This will be a visit to soothe the souls of the victims. We should never repeat the ravages of the war.”
Even in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the president pointed out how a Naval captain from Missouri ordered a Japanese pilot receive a funeral with full military honors, including his country’s flag stitched by an American.
Obama said the ability to reconcile the past is part of the harbor’s identity and it is this acceptance that has allowed America and Japan to move beyond their once hostile relationship.
“I hope that together we send a message to the world that there is more to be won in peace than in war. That reconciliation carries more rewards than retribution. Here in this quiet harbor, we honor those we lost and we give thanks for all that our two nations have won together as friends.”
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