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Abe's duplicitous visit to Pearl Harbor more about forgetting than reconciling

Updated: 12 27 , 2016 14:42
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TOKYO, Dec. 26 -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor which will culminate with a final summit with outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday will see the Japanese leader take part in a remembrance ceremony at the USS Arizona monument where thousands of U.S. sailors and marines were killed in a surprise attack by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941.

It was this sneak attack that was a catalyst for the United States to join World War II and emerge victors with the eventual nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that forced Japan's unconditional surrender, a historical fact that to this day does not sit well with some rightist factions with significant political sway here and wholesale revisionist intentions.

The visit to Pear Harbor by Abe, which was previously hailed by the foreign ministry here as being the first by a Japanese prime minister, is in fact not, according to latest government saying. Some political observers thus question the ministry's own understanding, or at least, publicization of its own history, as Japan is, under Abe's leadership, aggressively trying to have its historical wrongdoings rewritten, or, better yet, forgotten.

"When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes his visit to Pearl Harbor, just after Christmas, it will be a dovish act that masks a hawkish intent," said political watcher Joji Sakurai, in a recent article on the matter.

"Pragmatism appears to be tempering Mr. Abe's rightwing instincts, which include an alarming penchant for historical revisionism regarding wartime Imperial army depredations. Yet it may be argued that this very pragmatism is driven by a conservative agenda," Sakurai continued.

"Mr. Abe's dream is to revise Japan's pacifist constitution, drawn up by the U.S. under postwar occupation, so allowing the country to have a real army. The thumping majority in parliament's upper house that the prime minister won in July has allowed him to test the waters on achieving that goal," added Sakurai.

Sakurai and other experts on the matter have been quick to point out that Abe's Pearl Harbor trip will come with no apology for Japan's savage attack in 1941 and is, shrewdly, a duplicitous move by the hawkish leader to earn bonus points at home from the electorate, particularly following the disappointing outcome for Japan following Abe's recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Abe will also be able to appease his ultra-rightwing backers by sticking to a revisionist agenda and not apologizing for Japan's wartime atrocities, not just regarding Pearl Harbor, but all the countries before, during and after WWII, who were brutalized by the Imperial Japanese Army, while simultaneously showing Japan's renewed commitment to its alliance with the U.S. as future ties remain equivocal under the incoming administration led by President-elect Donald Trump.

This multi-faceted strategy, in fact, has not been denied by Abe, who will also be looking to up his support rate ahead of an imminent lower house election, after which the rightist leader will further his plans to remilitarize Japan with a "clean historical slate" by way of a referendum on revising the nation's pacifist constitution.

"Part of the reason for his comments about history directed to the United States and other nations lies in the view held abroad of Abe as a historical revisionist. Although his main support base within Japan consists of conservative elements, those in the prime minister's office feel Abe can gain support among the more liberal side of Japan by visiting Pearl Harbor along with Obama, who has voiced the goal of seeking a nuclear-free world," the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said in a recent editorial on the matter.

"At the same time, Abe made clear that the visit to Pearl Harbor was an effort at strategic diplomacy' rather than one involving apology," the popular daily newspaper said.

And criticism for Abe's inauthenticity has come from all sides, including the United States. The Japan Times in a recent article on the matter quoted U.S. Navy veteran Louis Conter, who survived the Pearl Harbor attack, as saying that Abe should indeed offer an apology for Japan's furtive attack that propelled the U.S. into the war.

"I have no bad feeling toward the Japanese. But Abe should face up to history and apologize, Conter, 95, said in a recent interview at the site of the USS Arizona, which was sunk in the Imperial Japanese Navy's raid.

But as with all of Japan's wartime wrongdoings, Abe's "no apology" stance remains unrelenting. The attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base on the island of Oahu in Hawaii in 1941 killed some 2,400 U.S. military personnel and civilians, and Abe's "theatrics" to honor those who died may well be nauseating for some U.S. military veterans, but it will be doubly so for other countries and victims that Japan brutalized in the past and has since completely ignored as per its revisionist agenda.

Nippon Kaigi, to which Abe himself and the majority of his Cabinet and a number of influential members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led bloc are unabashed members of, describes itself as existing to: "Change the postwar national consciousness based on the Tokyo Tribunal's view of history as a fundamental problem" and to "revise the current Constitution," and sees its mission as to "promote patriotic education, the revision of the Constitution of Japan, and support for prime ministers' official visits to Yasukuni Shrine".

Based on this, political pundits here attest that not only are Abe's gestures to "mourn" or "pacify" those it abused and persecuted in the past, as is the case in Pearl Harbor, and was with the "comfort women" issue in South Korea recently, disingenuous. His modus operandi is one that sees "reconciliation" as tantamount to simply "forgetting" and making sure that generations to come in Japan and the world forget as well.

Yujin Yaguchi, a professor of American studies at the University of Tokyo, explicated how the current Abe-led administration adheres to a warped principle of denying and not facing history squarely, while setting about institutionally revising it, so that the true facts may one day be forgotten once and for all.

"By commemorating Pearl Harbor, if the whole society marginalizes the whole process that led to Pearl Harbor, that commemoration becomes an act of forgetting as well," explained Yaguchi.

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