PD Editorial: Pearl Harbor visit tightens bonds for US, Japan

Shinzo Abe may not be the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Pearl Harbor, but that shouldn’t detract from Tuesday’s tribute to the 2,400 Americans killed in the 1941 attack that drew the United States into World War II.

Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor is a timely and fitting symbol of the post-war reconciliation between the United States and Japan and the enduring strategic and economic ties between the Pacific Rim nations. And it follows President Barack Obama’s historic trip earlier this year to Hiroshima, the site of the first nuclear bombing.

On Tuesday, the leaders placed wreaths, joined in a moment of silence and tossed flower petals into the water at the USS Arizona Memorial.

“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 after the ceremony. Abe didn’t apologize for the attack, but he said “we must never repeat the horrors of war again.”

The reciprocal visits to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor are the product of years of diplomacy, and they have been aptly described as “spiritual bookends,” commemorating the beginning and end of World War II.

Yet they weren’t universally popular in either country. Some Americans want an official apology for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the brutal treatment of Allied prisoners of war, and some Japanese want the same for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. President-elect Donald Trump regularly criticized Japan during his campaign, including at least one tweet about Pearl Harbor and pointed remarks about its security treaty with the United States.

Even the announcement of Abe’s visit caused a stir. He described it as the first by a Japanese prime minister, but archival news accounts show that three others, including Abe’s grandfather, visited Honolulu in the 1950s. However, there’s no record that any of them participated in a memorial ceremony at Pearl Harbor. Nor is there any evidence that Abe intended to deceive.

It really doesn’t much matter if this is the first visit or the fourth. The relationship between the United States and Japan stands as a pillar of stability and trust. With an increasingly aggressive China, a nuclear threat from North Korea and an unpredictable leader in the Philippines, those bonds are more important than ever. Tuesday’s commemoration will only make them stronger.

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