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(News Focus) Obama's planned Hiroshima visit sparks concern about diluting Japan's wartime aggression

All Headlines 09:50 May 13, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, May 12 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima has sparked criticism and concern that it could end up giving impunity to Tokyo's wartime aggression at a time when history still deeply matters in the region.

Obama is scheduled to visit Hiroshima on May 27 in what the White House described as a "historic" trip that will make him the first sitting American president to do so since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city at the end of World War II.

White House officials said Obama wants to use the visit to "highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons" and "to honor the memory of all innocents who were lost during the war."

The planned visit, however, raised concern that it could dilute Japan's wartime aggression by making the country look like a victim, even though U.S. officials said the visit shouldn't be interpreted as an apology, and Obama won't revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb.

Bruce Klingner, a senior analyst at the Heritage Foundation, called Obama's decision "a big mistake."

"Obama may not apologize for America's wartime use of atomic weapons ... but coming without a preliminary visit by the Japanese prime minister to Pearl Harbor, Obama's trip will appear to affirm the oft-expressed Japanese view of itself as victim due to its unique status as the only country to have suffered an atomic attack," he said in an article in the Daily Signal.

"Focusing the visit on the 'evils' of nuclear weapons will only contribute to this dynamic," Klingner added.

The Asian affairs expert said that the story of Hiroshima is not simply a story about the first use of nuclear weapons and the U.S. decision to use the atomic bomb was "not an isolated event but the culmination of an extraordinarily brutal war on which hinged no less than the future of the world."

"The horrors wrought by the atomic bomb on Hiroshima cannot be fairly or accurately discussed but in the context of the millions of American and Japanese casualties avoided by the rapid end of the war, which obviated the need for an invasion of Japan," he said.

Klingner also stressed that history "remains very much alive in East Asia" and Japan's contribution to World War II "still heavily influences impressions of modern-day Japan, particularly in China and South Korea."

Obama's decision to go to Hiroshima could also be a reward for a nation that has done everything possible to help address American economic and security needs in a region marked by China's rise, including expanding Japan's military roles overseas.

"The visit will also symbolize how far the United States and Japan have come in building a deep and abiding alliance based on mutual interests, shared values and an enduring spirit of friendship between our peoples," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said.

Evans Revere, a former senior State Department official, noted that many sensitivities are involved in such a visit, including the concerns of the families and loved ones of American and allied troops who, as prisoners of war, died in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"Many American veterans of World War II have understandably strong feelings about the visit, fearing it might send the wrong message. There are also strong views held by some of Japan's neighbors, including Korea and China, who were victims of Japanese aggression," he told Yonhap News Agency.

Such concerns have been exacerbated in recent years as exhibits at the atomic bomb museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki often failed to adequately explain the wartime context of the attacks or what led to the bombings, said Revere, currently senior adviser for the Albright Stonebridge Group.

"There has also been a tendency by some to regard Japan as the victim of the war and to overlook the horrific damage that the war did to people throughout Asia, including the terrible toll it took on U.S. and allied troops," he said.

"These sensitivities and concerns will be uppermost in the mind of President Obama," he said. "President Obama will certainly deliver an appropriate message of sympathy to all of the innocents who lost their lives in the attacks."

Richard Samuels, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The New York Times that right-wing Japanese and "amnesiacs who deny Japan's destructive war in Asia and insist they were the victims" will use Obama's visit as a "chance to reiterate that they were right."

The professor also said that the visit, which comes amid the heating up presidential campaign, "will be a rich target for those who say this is the next stop on the Obama apology tour."

The paper also noted that Americans of the World War II generation and many of their children believe that the decision to drop the bomb "saved tens of thousands of American lives that would have been lost in an invasion of Honshu, Japan's main island."

USA Today said that American veterans groups have urged Obama not to visit Hiroshima until the Japanese apologize for the wartime treatment of American prisoners of war, thousands of whom died of abuse and starvation in Japanese prison camps.

"And while polls show that most Japanese do not expect Obama to explicitly apologize for the bombing, many Japanese are likely to interpret his mere visit as an apology," the paper said.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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