Obama, Japan’s PM pay homage to Pearl Harbor victims

Japanese Prime Minister and Obama

Japanese Prime Minister and Obama

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Barack Obama made a joint pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday, laying wreaths for the victims of the Japanese aerial attack that prompted the United States to enter World War II.

The two leaders stood solemnly in front of a wall inscribed with the names of those who died and took part in a brief wreath-laying ceremony, followed by a moment of silence.

Abe offered his “sincere condolences” to the victims, adding: “We must never repeat the horrors of war.”

Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor with torpedo planes, bombers and fighter planes on the morning of December 7, 1941, pounding the fleet that was moored there in the hope of destroying US power in the Pacific.

Tuesday’s ceremony was the first time that an American president and a Japanese leader have appeared together at the wreckage of the USS Arizona, where 1,177 sailors and Marines died and which is now a memorial. The attack left 2,403 dead in all.

Abe’s visit comes months after Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima, the Japanese city that suffered a US nuclear attack on August 6, 1945.

In announcing his plans to reporters, Abe said that the trip was planned in return for Obama’s visit.

“President Obama’s message for a world without nuclear [weapons] upon his visit to Hiroshima was engraved in the heart of the Japanese people,” Abe was quoted as telling reporters in Tokyo when the trip was announced in early December. “I will visit Pearl Harbor with President Obama. This will be a visit to soothe the souls of the victims. We should never repeat the ravages of the war.”

Obama’s trip to Hiroshima was equally historic; he was the first sitting president to visit the site of the 1945 atomic bomb attack, which killed more than 100,000 Japanese during the initial blast and the resulting fallout.

American deaths during the war in the Pacific are believed to have surpassed 100,000 while historians estimate that more than 6 million Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos and others died at the hands of Japan’s army.

Experts said the Pearl Harbor ceremony would be momentous. “It’s very significant as a statement of the importance of the US-Japanese relationship, particularly the security alliance,” said David Warren, a former UK ambassador to Japan and an associate fellow in the Asia programme at Chatham House, ahead of Abe’s visit. “It’s a turning of the historical page.”

With an estimated death toll of 60 million civilians and soldiers killed, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, World War II remains the deadliest in history.

It also ushered in an ugly chapter for the United States: the mass internment of Japanese citizens. About 120,000 people of Japanese descent living on the Pacific coast, the vast majority of whom had been born on US soil, were forcefully relocated to camps in the interior of the country. At the same time many Japanese enlisted, often serving in primarily Japanese units that were sent to serve in some of the most dangerous conditions.