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No Apologies

Editorial | Updated :

More than 70 years after World War II ended, Pearl Harbour bears witness to diplomatic grandstanding and belated expressions of pious sentiment… instead of apologies for the catastrophe that killed 2,400 Americans and prompted the US to enter the war. It sure was a historic moment on Wednesday when the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, stood next to Barack Obama at the USS Arizona Memorial to offer what he called “everlasting condolences”. The message, however, is unlikely to be as “everlasting” as the hideous memories of the war that shook the world for six years (1939-45). Just as Mr Obama did not offer an apology when he became the first sitting US President to visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial in May, Mr Abe did not explicitly apologise but instead harped on reconciliation and an alliance of hope between the two countries… clothed with the caveat that Japan “must never repeat the horrors of war again”. President Obama followed Prime Minister Abe’s remarks, saying the US-Japan alliance was “a reminder that the deepest wounds of war can give way”. Markedly, both leaders have stopped short of an apology to the handful of survivors  ~ now nudging 90 ~ to whom the exchange of pleasantries means little. Nor for that matter does the photo-opportunity with the heads of two nations that were once at war. An apology for Hiroshima and Pearl Harbour would have been a defining moment in history not least for President Obama who would have been the first President to have said “sorry” for the holocaust… while in office. Mr  Abe’s visit signified an eagerness to close the door on the post-war era, but Japan must make similar gestures to its Asian neighbours if it is to play the role to which it aspires in  the Continent. Quite the most critical aspect of the visit was that both Mr Abe and Mr Obama were  present together. After seven decades, that entente cordiale ought now to be etched in stone at the USS Arizona Memorial. There is a lesson to be drawn from the homilies of both leaders, almost echoing the response of  EH Carr to his query ~ What is History? The discipline, he had answered,  is essentially a hyphen between the past and present. The past cannot be forgotten, if today’s turbulent world is to accept the message of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Pearl Harbour. Nonetheless, the world has to move ahead. That precisely was the overriding message as Shinzo Abe and Barack Obama tossed flower petals into the Wishing Well at the USS Arizona Memorial.