The Power of Reconciliation: An Historic Visit to Pearl Harbor

On December 27, President Obama welcomed Prime Minister of Shinzo Abe of Japan to Hawaii to further reconciliation between our people and the close alliance between our nations. Following their meeting, President Obama and Prime Minister Abe made an historic visit to the USS ARIZONA Memorial to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. At the memorial, President Obama said:

“Our presence here today  --  the connections not just between our governments but between our people; the presence of Prime Minister Abe here today  --  reminds us what is possible between nations and between peoples. Wars can end. The most bitter of adversaries can become the strongest of allies. The fruits of peace always outweigh the plunder of war. This is the enduring truth of this hallowed harbor.

It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different. The sacrifice made here, the anguish of war, reminds us to seek that divine spark that is common to all humanity. It insists that we strive to be what our Japanese friends called otagai no tame ni  -- ‘with and for each other.’”

The attack on Pearl Harbor  --  the day that President Roosevelt said would live in infamy  --  took place 75 years ago this month. Our countries waged a brutal war across the Pacific Ocean over four years. Americans will forever be proud of the brave men and women of our armed forces who served in World War II, and we will never forget those who paid the last full measure of devotion for our country. Their service protected our freedom, and changed the course of history around the world.

But just as our military showed the character of our country at war, we also showed the world who we are by what we have forged in peace. Following one of the most violent conflicts in human history, the United States and Japan built a deep and abiding friendship  --  an alliance that has underwritten unprecedented economic growth and security in the Asia Pacific for half a century. It is an alliance based on mutual interests and shared values and the ties between our people.

This week’s visit to Pearl Harbor demonstrates to the world how two nations that were once the bitterest of adversaries can become the closest of allies.

It sends a powerful message to the nations of the Asia Pacific  --  many of whom were combatants in World War II  --  and to the entire world about what can be accomplished when former adversaries choose the path of peaceful reconciliation and alliance.

Today our countries work together on every major global issue  --  including the fight against climate change and the protection of the environment; promoting trade and inclusive economic growth; offering humanitarian assistance and crisis response, enhancing global health, and bolstering a rules-based international order.

The United States and Japan are Pacific powers, and our alliance has never been stronger. Since taking office, President Obama has pursued a policy the focused more American resources and engagement in the Asia-Pacific, a region that will increasingly define opportunity and security in the 21st century. The cornerstone of this Asia Rebalance is our network of alliances, including our alliance with Japan. Japan hosts more forward-deployed U.S. troops than any other country and serves as home port for our only forward-deployed aircraft carrier. In 2011 when a tsunami devastated Japan and created the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear facility, the United States stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our Japanese allies to respond and rebuild.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan speak with U.S. veterans of World War II in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 27, 2016. [Official White House Photo by Pete Souza]

On December 7, 1941, as Japanese planes rained down bombs from the sky over Hawaii, it might have seemed impossible that 75 years later a Japanese Prime Minister would be welcomed on to the USS Arizona as a friend and ally. And yet the U.S.-Japan alliance demonstrates that we don’t have to be defined by the conflicts of the past  --  we can honor the sacrifice of those who fought to win a war, and forge a new beginning through the just and lasting peace that has been built between our nations.

Our work together is not finished, but as President Obama and Prime Minister Abe demonstrated at Pearl Harbor, enemies can become friends, adversaries can become allies, and our nations  --  and the world  -- are better because of it.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan toss petals into the wishing well at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 27, 2016. [Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson]

About the Author: Ben Rhodes serves as White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting. 

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan pause for a moment of silence following a wreath laying at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 27, 2016. [Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson]
Posted by Ben Rhodes
December 28, 2016


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