In Show Of Reconciliation, Japan's Leader Visits Pearl Harbor | WYPR

In Show Of Reconciliation, Japan's Leader Visits Pearl Harbor

Dec 27, 2016
Originally published on December 27, 2016 7:33 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today - a moment full of symbolism. The Japanese prime minister joined President Barack Obama at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. They took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial to the USS Arizona, the battleship that sunk in the attack 75 years ago.

NPR's Elise Hu was with the president, and she joins us now. Elise, describe the scene at the USS Arizona.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Well, it's a beautiful day today here in Hawaii, but the entire memorial is rather somber. And out of respect for the dead, the two leaders were completely silent during their visit. For those who haven't been to it, the memorial's all white, built on top of the submerged hull of the USS Arizona, which, as you mentioned, was sunken in that surprise air attack by Japan 75 years ago now.

The heart of that memorial, Robert, is a small room. It lets in a lot of sunlight with a wall of names of more than 1,000 victims who are still entombed in the ship. And that's where President Obama and Prime Minister Abe paid respects to the victims with a moment of silence.

They then went to a viewing well, another part of the memorial where you can actually look and see underwater the rusty, submerged ship. There, they tossed some flower petals into the water before another moment of silence.

SIEGEL: Now, afterwards, they did make public remarks. What did they say?

HU: Prime Minister Abe spoke first. Here he is through an interpreter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHINZO ABE: (Through interpreter) I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place and also to the souls of the countless innocent people who became victims of the war.

HU: President Obama spoke after that. He peppered his speech with anecdotes about the victims, the towns they came from, their heroic acts in the final moments of their lives and details about what a balmy and beautiful Sunday it was 75 years ago on the day of the attack.

But this visit was really about reconciliation between the U.S. and Japan, about pointing out that despite being fierce adversaries during the war itself, since then, Japan and the United States have managed to become strong allies.

SIEGEL: And Elise, why did Prime Minister Abe and President Obama decide to do this right now?

HU: So this is seen as a bookend or a reciprocation for President Obama's visit earlier this year - about seven months ago - to Hiroshima, one of the cities where the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb near the end of World War II, killing at least 90,000 people. President Obama used the visit then to help heal the remaining wounds of war and showcase how reconciliation has worked. This visit by Prime Minister Abe is in a lot of ways a response to that, and he hit on similar things.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Elise Hu with President Obama in Honolulu today. Elise, thanks.

HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.