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Japan’s WWII vets, hibakusha give mixed reactions on Abe’s plan to visit Pearl Harbor

Kyodo

Survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings on Japan and war veterans gave mixed reactions to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s announcement Monday that he will visit Pearl Harbor, which Japan attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, bringing the United States into WWII.

“More than 70 years have passed (since the end of the war) and it seems to be too late,” said Sunao Tsuboi, a 91-year-old influential atomic bomb survivor in Hiroshima, a city devastated by a U.S. nuclear attack. But he also said the move can be seen as “future-minded,” noting that both countries lost people in the war.

Shigeaki Mori, 79, another atomic bomb survivor in Hiroshima, praised the planned visit. “It’s wonderful. I want the two leaders to pledge never to fight a war at the place where the war between the two countries started,” he said.

Mori became an iconic figure after U.S. President Barack Obama hugged him during his historic visit to Hiroshima in May.

In Nagasaki, another atom-bombed city, a member of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council said Abe’s move may be part of his efforts to “demonstrate the importance” of the close ties between the former adversaries, at a time when uncertainties linger over the shape of the alliance under U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

“It might be a ceremony aimed at keeping the status quo (of the firm bilateral relationship),” said 76-year-old Shigemitsu Tanaka, adding that Abe should “apologize” over the attack.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are controversial wartime memories for the two countries. U.S. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack, but avoided an apology.

Kuniyoshi Takimoto, who took part in the Pearl Harbor assault operation as part of an aircraft carrier’s maintenance personnel, said Abe is trying to “score” popularity points.

“Japan is like a country that is under the rule of the United States and the prime minister is just hoping to keep the bond strong,” Takimoto, 95, who lives in the city of Osaka, said.

While Abe said he will visit Pearl Harbor to mourn those who died in the attack and to show his determination toward peace, Takimoto said there is a contradiction between the prime minister’s words and actions.

“He is turning this country into one that can wage war again, and I don’t know why he can say such things as ‘We will never repeat the horrors of war,’ ” he said, apparently referring to Japan’s new security legislation, which has loosened post-World War II constraints placed on its troops by the pacifist Constitution.

A son of Kaname Harada, a former Japanese fighter pilot who took part in the Pearl Harbor attack and died in May at the age of 99, said Abe has “other things to do inside the country” to create a world without war, rather than traveling to the historic site.

Harada had repented his wartime deed while alive, thinking himself a murderer, and talked about his experiences to others so that there would be no fighting in the world.

But Takanari Harada, 66, from Nagano, said, “I don’t think a world my father had hoped to see will be achieved through a visit (to Pearl Harbor) by a politician.”

Meanwhile, Tomokazu Kasai, a 90-year-old former fighter pilot, said it is important for the Japanese leader to make a pledge for peace at a site “where many Japanese and U.S. soldiers died for their own countries.”

Amid a decrease in the number of people who experienced the war, the resident of Hyogo Prefecture said, “I hope the visit will be a good chance to renew our thoughts to never engage in war again.”