Abe Should Visit Pearl Harbor

How the United States and Japan Can Strengthen Ties

The Japanese national flag flutters at half-mast in the foreground of the atomic bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in western Japan August 6, 1998.  Kimimasa Mayama / Reuters

According to the New York Times, U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima during this month’s G-7 summit in Japan. His doing so will be a welcome gesture that would encourage the nuclear nonproliferation regime, help strengthen the U.S.-Japanese alliance, and aid Washington’s rebalance to Asia, which depends on strong partnerships with regional allies. The timing couldn’t be better: all of those initiatives have been challenged by North Korea’s recent nuclear tests and China’s increasing military assertiveness in the South China Sea. 

A number of different groups, including U.S. veterans, Washington Republicans, and regional powers in Asia, fear that a presidential trip to Hiroshima, no matter how carefully choreographed, will be taken as an official state apology for the U.S. nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II—something that politicians on both sides of the aisle have been loath to give. The reasoning is understandable: it would be difficult to visit such an emotionally and historically charged site without expressing remorse simply by being present, and even the appearance of an apology would dishonor the sacrifice of the tens of thousands of American soldiers who died in the Pacific War.

It could also give credence to Japanese ultranationalists who seek to revise Japan’s World War II history. Indeed, since the war, Japan has struggled to come to terms with its own wartime activities. For example, Abe’s trip to the United States in May 2015 was marked by omission and equivocations during his speeches on Japanese war crimes during World War II. Japanese ultranationalists have sought to exonerate Japan from the Nanjing massacre, a mass murder and rape that killed anywhere from 40,000 to 300,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians; the Bataan Death March, in which Japanese soldiers forced U.S. and Filipino troops to march 65 miles to prison camps in the Philippines; and the comfort women system, the institutionalized prostitution of women and children in Japanese-occupied territories. Abe himself has

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