HONOLULU — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his “sincere and everlasting condolences” Dec. 27 at Pearl Harbor for those who died in the Japanese attack there in 1941, while praising the power of the reconciliation between Japan and the United States in the 75 years since then.
In a speech following talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at the harbor, Abe gave his condolences in his capacity as prime minister “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.”
After both leaders made their speeches at Kilo Pier, located in the base that came under Japanese attack in 1941, Abe spoke with and embraced a number of Pearl Harbor survivors present.
The joint ceremony that followed the leaders’ summit, their last before Obama leaves office in January, took place at the USS Arizona Memorial, built above the U.S. battleship sunk in the surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941 that prompted the United States’ entry into the war.
Abe neither apologized for the attack, nor spoke of the “deep repentance in my heart” that he described in a speech delivered in English before the U.S. Congress in April last year.
Before taking his place in the front row at Kilo Pier to hear the leaders’ speeches, Pearl Harbor survivor Sterling Cale told reporters a spoken apology was not necessary.
“We didn’t say sorry for Nagasaki and Hiroshima, (so) they don’t have to say they’re sorry for (Pearl Harbor),” said 95-year-old Cale, a retired sergeant major of the U.S. Army.
“The activity of laying a wreath is an activity of saying ‘we’re sorry,’ and he’s saying that for the whole country — you don’t have to say (the word ‘sorry’), something that is gone in a couple of minutes,” he said.
“Japan and the United States … are now, and especially now, taking responsibility for appealing to the world about the importance of tolerance and the power of reconciliation,” Abe said in his statement, read in Japanese.
U.S. Pacific Command Chief Adm. Harry B. Harris, of Japanese and American heritage, escorted the leaders through the memorial, a white bridge-like building straddling the wreck of the Arizona.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada observed the wreath-laying ceremony, as did U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.
Together with Obama, Abe laid a wreath before a wall engraved with the names of those killed in the attack before observing a moment of silence.
The leaders then threw flowers into the sea above the Arizona before departing on a barge for Kilo Pier, a short distance across the water.
“We must never repeat the horrors of war again … I pledge that unwavering vow here as the prime minister of Japan,” Abe said in his speech.
Abe and Obama both applauded the veterans of Pearl Harbor and World War II present as they stood up or raised their hands during Obama’s address.
In focusing on a broad idea of forsaking war rather than on repentance, Abe echoed Obama’s speech in Hiroshima in May.
Obama also eschewed an apology when he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city where the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs in the war’s final days in 1945.
“Today the alliance between the United States and Japan, bound not only by shared interest but also rooted in common values, stands as the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific, and a force for progress around the world,” Obama said in his speech.
“Our alliance has never been stronger. In good times and bad we are there for each other,” Obama said.
While hailing his progress with Obama, Abe also faced the need to lay a foundation for cooperation with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, whose policy direction on the bilateral alliance and the wider Asia-Pacific region remains unclear.
“It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward,” Obama said.
Obama also hailed in his speech the bravery of Japanese American soldiers in World War II, who fought even as their families were forced from their homes and businesses into concentration camps in the name of national security.
Abe is not the first sitting Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry. His grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, is among the three prime ministers on record as previously having done so.
The visit offers Abe a chance to improve his image on the world stage and among Japanese voters, particularly those disappointed by the mixed outcome of his two-day summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Japan earlier this month.
On Dec. 26, Abe visited sites of importance in the history of Japan-U.S. relations in and around Honolulu, including U.S. and Japanese military graves and a memorial to a Japanese naval pilot who died in the Pearl Harbor attack.