Statesmanship at Pearl Harbour


Conspicuous gestures of reconciliation between nations to heal the deep emotional wounds of wars will have connotations that go beyond the symbolic. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, through his visit to Pearl Harbour this week, and U.S. President Barack Obama, with his homage at the peace memorial at Hiroshima earlier in May, have undertaken this bold and difficult journey on behalf of their peoples more than 70 years after atrocities were committed against each other during World War II. That so much time should have been lost in both instances to put the painful past behind them only speaks to the powerful presence of nationalist sensibilities that invariably distort the moral force of reconciliation. That this should have occurred only now, despite the enduring economic engagement of several decades between Washington and Tokyo, merely underscores their ticklish nature and the strong political overtones involved. In the case of Japan, the conservatives have long regarded any attempt to own up the slaughter of hundreds of U.S. marines at Pearl Harbour in 1941 as nothing but a betrayal of the national interest. In fact, in comparison, earlier visits to the naval base by Japanese leaders were relatively low-key affairs.

As for Washington, veterans of the war have seen little justification in the claim that the devastation caused by the twin nuclear bombings had to be condoled. In their view, the horror in Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to a close sooner than it might otherwise have been. They have also sought to repudiate the narrative that the dropping of the atom bomb was a calculated demonstration of U.S. and western military superiority in a Cold War scenario. These competing nationalistic accounts have possibly helped the current generation in the two countries to see such views with a healthy dose of scepticism. Messrs Abe and Obama have displayed a statesmanlike readiness to rise above partisan accounts, emphasising instead the need to bridge the gulf that neither history nor geography could have narrowed. President-elect Donald Trump’s pre-election rhetoric painted a picture of Japan as a nation that ought to be prepared to invest more in its own defence. The favourable public opinion in both countries towards each other will possibly prove critical in consolidating upon the current strengths in the economic partnership and weathering the uncertainties of the future. Prime Minister Abe and President Obama have shown how history can be revisited in a realistic manner. It remains for countries grappling with their own complex pasts to draw the right lessons from this.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 2:30:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Statesmanship-at-Pearl-Harbour/article16955070.ece

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