ABE’S VISIT HAS TRANSFORMED MEANING OF “PEARL HARBOR”
The topic of this essay may appear somewhat dated, but I wish to relate how pleased my dear old professor at the University of Hawaii was with the December 27 joint Pearl Harbor visit by Shinzo Abe and Barak Obama. I studied at the university in the 1960s.
A renowned specialist on modern Japanese political history, Emeritus Professor George Akita (91) is a Nisei born in Honolulu to immigrant parents. Noting that he was 15 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Prof. Akita had this to say about the visit by the two leaders:
“Yoshiko-san, the important thing for Japan and the US now is to continue making efforts to become closer allies. I have always pondered what December 7, 1941 did to our two countries. Seventy-five years on, I read and watched news about the Pearl Harbor attack with particular interest this year, and noticed a marked change in how the US mass media refer to the incident: it was mostly referred to as a ‘surprise attack’—instead of a ‘sneak attack’ as before. Don’t you think the difference of nuance between the two expressions is significant?
“Seventy-five long years after the attack, I believe Americans have begun to understand the circumstances under which Japan launched the attack. As Prime Minister Abe remarked, our bilateral relations should by all means be solidly based on the spirit of reconciliation.”
During the American occupation (1945-1952), Professor Akita was stationed in Japan as a young GI, and met a Japanese woman who later was to become Mrs. Akita. Her soul now rests in eternal peace at the Punchbowl National Cemetery, which Prof. Akita as a former US serviceman also has chosen as his final resting place.
My close Hawaiian friend Jeanne Maeda observed:
“The leaders of Japan and the US got together for the first time since the end of the bitterly-fought war to jointly offer flowers at Pearl Harbor and pray for the repose of all the dead. Our two nations fought but have forgiven each other. That, I believe, is the way things should be.”
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda, who accompanied Abe to Hawaii, stated that December 27, 2016 was a day that forever transformed the meaning of the Pearl Harbor attack, noting:
“Prime Minister Abe proposed to President Obama that Japanese and Americans start remembering December 7 as ‘a day of reconciliation,’ instead of the day to ‘Remember Pearl Harbor”—a reference long reminiscent of resentment, bitterness, and retribution. In Hawaii, I strongly felt that not only the president but American society in general was ready to accommodate the wishes of Mr. Abe and the people of Japan.”
“The Brave Respect the Brave”
Hagiuda mentioned that he was freshly moved by what he saw at the Arizona Memorial, observing:
“Museums of history anywhere in the world necessarily tend to depict history in favor of the host nation. However, at the Arizona Memorial, the exhibits note that Japan did its utmost to avoid the war and that behind the fatal attack was America’s economic blockade against Japan. Also, the US Marine Corps have gone to the extent of burying the body of a Zero pilot, Commander Fusata Iida, who was hit during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Iida gave up on returning to his carrier, and crashed his Zero plane into the Kaneohe Marine base. The Marines erected a marker at the site where his plane crashed, and maintain the marker to this day.
Amid the strong anti-Japan atmosphere that permeated American society after the war, the Marines praised Lt. Iida as a brave soldier who had fulfilled his duties as a serviceman, and buried his remains with respect. America thus has demonstrated to Japan its traditional value of the brave respecting the brave—be they friends or foes. That is not the only value America has demonstrated to Japan, according to Hagiuda.
“Even now, the US government is maintaining operations to recover and identify the remains of American soldiers killed or missing in action in past wars, including World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Remains collected in the Asia-Pacific region are sent to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI) of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) of the Defense Department, for forensic, dental, and DNA identifications. If the remains are judged to be those of Japanese soldiers on the basis of personal belongings found with the remains, the DPAA will notify the Japanese government. Possible families are traced, and the DNA of the remains are checked against the DNA of members of their family. If the DNA matches, the remains are returned to the family. I felt a deep sense of gratitude when I became aware of the extent of the DPAA’s operations.”
Looking back over the history of World War II, Japan and the US fought bitterly not only militarily but also diplomatically, fiercely maneuvering and conspiring against each other. If we think negatively, it is easy to give up on the future. It is important for both nations to break away from such negativity and look earnestly to our future, as President Obama stressed in Japanese—“Otagai no tame ni” (“with and for each other.”)
The world is now in totally uncharted waters, a world of conspiracy and manipulation of information in which Japan is grossly incompetent. That Russia interfered with the US presidential election with cyberattacks is now almost certain, as confirmed in a report submitted to President Obama by the CIA.
It is highly likely that President Putin, who is thought to be most delighted with the defeat of Hillary Clinton, will similarly launch cyberattacks to interfere with the coming presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled this year in a host of European nations, aiming at establishing political and social conditions favorable to Russia.
The world has now entered a dangerous era in which not only big nations but small nations such as North Korea—and even terrorist forces around the world—can resort to such disruptive measures. Sadly, Japan is the least viable big power in this category.
Needed: Reinforcement of Japan’s Capabilities
An additional predicament for Japan is its neighbor China, which “tells lies as easily as it breathes.” This was actually an expression that DPA (Democratic Party of Japan) head Renho used to criticize Abe during December 7 head-to-head deliberations at the Diet over legislation aimed at legalizing casinos in Japan. She completely mistook the target of her scathing criticism, which should have been most appropriately directed at the Communist Party of China.
On December 10, the Chinese Defense Ministry claimed “(two) Japanese fighters launched jamming shells against Chinese Air Force aircraft training (in the Western Pacific).” The Japanese Defense Ministry swiftly refuted the Chinese claim with a set of concrete facts, pointing out that the Chinese claim was a complete fabrication.
China doesn’t attack with lies alone, as is shown in the unprecedentedly tough measures it has recently taken against the US. On December 15, a Chinese Navy ship ignored protests from a US Navy ship and stole an American undersea research drone in the South China Sea as the crew was watching.
On the previous day, it was confirmed that the Chinese had installed close-in weapon systems (CIWS) capable of shooting down enemy aircraft and short-range incoming missiles on all of the seven reclaimed islands of the Spratlys in the South China Sea. This suggests that China’s confidence in its own military capabilities continues to grow.
The Chinese also sent their sole aircraft carrier Liaoning cruising through the channel between Okinawa Island and Miyakojima Island, breaking through the so-called “first island chain” that encircles China. The provocative sally roughly coincided with Abe’s mission of reconciliation to Pearl Harbor. Later, the Liaoning headed to the South China Sea and entered port on Hainan Island at China’s second largest naval base, continuing its intimidation of the nations in the region.
Against such a backdrop, the policies of the Trump administration remain a mystery. There appears to be a full force of anti-China hardliners within the new administration, but the new president, who has a strong pragmatic streak, may in fact possibly try to move closer to Beijing.
Trump’s policy towards another bully—Russia—remains unclear. Faced with the challenge of the opacity of the current international scene, there are two things Japan should seriously concentrate on: one, Japan’s capabilities must by all means be fortified in all fields; and two, Japan must earnestly continue reinforcing its alliance with the US.
In that vein, the visit to Pearl Harbor by Abe did indeed carry a profound meaning.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 736 in the January 5, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)