Under Nuclear Shadow of Trump, Abe's Pearl Harbor Visit Mixes Business and Penitence

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presents a wreath at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl in Honolulu on Dec. 26, 2016. (Photo: Hugh Gentry/Reuters)

Under Nuclear Shadow of Trump, Abe's Pearl Harbor Visit Mixes Business and Penitence

Veteran's peace group issues apology to people of Japan and the world for 1945 nuclear attacks

Overshadowed by the threats of a renewed nuclear arms race under incoming President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama made a historic visit to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday in a symbolic show of unity and reconciliation.

Daniel Kritenbrink, Obama's top Asia adviser in the White House, said the visit was part of an effort to "directly deal with even the most sensitive aspects of our shared history."

Although Japanese leaders have visited Oahu's Pearl Harbor before, "Abe will be the first to visit the memorial constructed on the hallowed waters above the sunken USS Arizona," AP notes, where more than 2,300 Americans died during the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing, spurring U.S. engagement in World War II.

Last spring, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Japan, where U.S. forces dropped an atomic bomb, killing 140,000 people and effectively ending the war.

"Abe will not apologize for Pearl Harbor, his government has said. Nor did Obama apologize at Hiroshima in May," AP noted, which many observers saw as a slight, given the United States' vast nuclear weapons arsenal.

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Despite the leaders' unrepentance, national military organization Veterans for Peace issued a statement of atonement on Tuesday to the people of Japan "and to all the people of the world" for U.S.' usage of nuclear weapons.

"This hugely atrocious crime against humanity should never have happened," the group stated. "As military veterans who have come to see the tragic futility of war, we promise that we will continue working for peace and disarmament."

While recognizing "the historic significance" of the two visits, the group says they "continue to be dismayed at the lack of accountability that the U.S. has taken towards unleashing the most devastating attack the world has ever seen."

To date, the "U.S. remains the only country in the world that has used nuclear weapons, of which the side effects are still being felt today, seventy years later," the veterans note.

Tuesday's ceremony comes against the troubling backdrop of a potentially renewed nuclear arms race after the president-elect declared on Twitter last week that the U.S. "must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability," and later expanded on those comments, saying: "Let it be an arms race."

What's more, Washington Post's David Nakamura adn Brittany Lyte reported Tuesday, "the geopolitical backdrop for the event has been clouded by President-elect Donald Trump's pugnacious and unpredictable foreign-policy pronouncements. During the campaign, Trump raised alarms in both countries when he questioned the value of the U.S. military's basing agreements in Japan and suggested the island nation consider developing its own nuclear weapons."

Abe was the first national leader to visit Trump following his November victory and, according to the Japan Times, the Japanese leader "hopes his trip will be seen favorably by Trump and his advisers as they begin to address the U.S.-Japan relationship."

As Sheila Smith, a Japan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Post: "What Abe will want to do with Trump is to hug him close, and teach him about Japan and Asia."

"I suspect they're holding their breath a little bit," Smith added. "But I do think in Mr. Abe's personal visit and his subsequent follow-up, he's trying to be the ally of choice for Mr. Trump."

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