By Todd Crowell
TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — the site of the Dec. 7, 1941 surprise Japanese aircraft carrier attack that launched World War II.
It made for a neat bookend to United States President Barack Obama’s historic visit seven months earlier to Hiroshima, the site of the atomic bomb attack on Aug. 7, 1945 that effectively ended the war.
Obama did not apologize for the dropping of the atomic bomb despite calls in Japan to do so.
Likewise, Abe did not apologize for the Pearl Harbor attack, despite calls from some Americans to do so.
The premier spent the first day of his two-day visit paying tribute at various cemeteries and memorials spotted round Oahu.
He laid flowers at the National Memorial Cemetery, better known as the Punchbowl, where many veterans of World War II are interred.
But he also had time Monday to visit several memorials to Japanese. One was for the victims of the Ehimi Maru training ship tragedy when it sank in a collision with a rapidly surfacing U.S. submarine off Hawaii in February 2001.
He also visited the gravesite of a Japanese fighter pilot who crashed and died during the air assault on Pearl Harbor.
On the second day, Abe joined Obama in visiting the Memorial to the USS Arizona, which is the key remembrance of the attack. A Japanese bomb fell into the ship’s ammunition magazine, essentially blowing the ship apart.
While the other seven battleships sunk in the attack were raised, repaired and put back into service, the Arizona was a total loss. Its crew of 1,177 remains entombed in the sunken vessel to this day, representing nearly half of the 2,400 Americans killed that fateful day.
The ghostly outline of the underwater vessel is clearly visible from the memorial bridge.
It was originally reported that Abe would be the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor while in office, just as Obama was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.
However, it was soon learned that Shigeru Yoshida and Abe’s grandfather, former premier Nobutuke Kishi, and two others also visited.
But those visits took place in the 1950s and 1960s before the Arizona memorial was built — so it can accurately be said that Abe is the first Japanese premier to visit the memorial.
“As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here,” Abe said at the memorial.
The premier’s visit, and that of Obama to Hiroshima, is not likely to put to rest many of the controversies that still surround the attacks. That’s one reason neither leader offered an apology in their remarks.
An endless debate continues to rage over whether the two atomic bombings in 1945 — one on Hiroshima and the other on Nagasaki, which left more than 200,000 people dead by the end of the year — were really necessary to end the war short of a bloody invasion.
[Map of US showing Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Map by Thomas Steiner/GNU Free Documentation License]