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Editorial: Abe’s speech at Pearl Harbor is another missed opportunity

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking in Hawaii 75 years after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, spoke emphatically about “the power of reconciliation” between the former enemies.


Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama each delivered a speech Dec. 27 at the site of the military strike that sparked the U.S. entry into World War II.


In his address, Abe focused on the future and stressed Japan’s commitment to never wage war again.


“We must never repeat the horrors of war,” he said. “We, the people of Japan, will continue to uphold this unwavering principle, while harboring quiet pride in the path we have walked as a peace-loving nation over these 70 years since the war ended.”


Missing from his speech, however, was a reflection on the past.


Abe’s address offered few clues to his thoughts about the Dec. 7, 1941, attack and the consequent war, which caused tremendous damage not only to Japan and the United States but also to many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. He said little about how he views these events in a historical context.


Abe may think that the future is what matters and there is no need for Japan to keep reiterating its remorse and repentance over the war.


In 1991, the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, then Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe issued a statement saying, “Japan is deeply remorseful over these past actions,” referring to the attack itself and other deeds taken by the country during the war.


In his speech delivered to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in April last year, Abe himself spoke about Japanese people’s “feelings of deep remorse over the war” and added, “Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that.”


A future-oriented attitude must be based on continuous efforts to overcome the past.


It is a great pity that Abe, speaking as Japan’s leader standing alongside the president of the United States, missed out on such a superb opportunity to send out to the world a clear message about his overall view of the war.


Abe’s speech was also short on attention to Asia.


The Pacific War was not simply a war between Japan and the United States. Japan’s move to open war with the United States, Britain and their allies resulted from its 10 years of invasion into China, which started with the 1931 Mukden Incident, and its military advance into Southeast Asia as part of its efforts to end the quagmire of war in China.


Japan must not forget that its wartime actions caused dreadful suffering also to people in these Asian nations.


The day after Abe departed for Hawaii, the administration resumed land reclamation work for relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa to the Henoko district of Nago, a city in the prefecture, in the face of strong opposition from the prefectural government and local citizens.


Okinawa hosts more than 70 percent of the facilities used exclusively by the U.S. military in Japan. This is one consequence of Japan’s decision to go to war.


In his speech, Abe touted Japan’s security alliance with the United States as “an alliance of hope,” but he did not refer to Okinawa.


While stressing the “reconciliation” between Japan and the United States, Abe has made no serious effort to realize reconciliation with Okinawa, which has long borne the burden of hosting so many U.S. military bases.


We find it impossible to support the stance Abe has taken toward the issue.

Abe probably wanted to ensure that his speech at Pearl Harbor would bring an end to Japan’s postwar struggle with the legacies of the war.


But his words rather portrayed him as a leader who was trying hard to draw attention to “a beautiful future” while failing to talk about the past and listen to the voices of Okinawa.

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