REORIENTING PEARL HARBOR MEMORIES: From Antagonists to Allies, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Reorientation of the USS Arizona Memorial| YUJIN YAGUCHI
In the closing days of 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a visit to Honolulu, Hawai’i, to meet with US President Barack Obama, who was vacationing in his childhood state. This would be the prime minister’s ninth and final meeting with President Obama, whose term was ending in less than a month. The highlight of this occasion was the visit the two men made to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to make an official visit to what Emily Rosenberg has labeled the popular “icon” of American culture that commemorates the deaths and sacrifice of servicemembers and civilians killed by the Japanese navy’s sudden attack on a Sunday morning in December 1941.1
This paper examines how Prime Minister Abe’s speech at Pearl Harbor, and subsequent Japanese media coverage of the visit, (re)presented and (re)interpreted the meaning of Pearl Harbor to a Japanese public. It argues that this site of former antagonism between the two nations now serves as a symbol of international alliance that celebrates the power of a US-led liberal world order in the transpacific region in which Japan willingly plays a secondary role. This article draws upon transcripts of Abe’s speech and accounts of the event published in mainstream Japanese newspapers—Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei), Yomiuri Shimbun (Yomiuri), and Asahi Shimbun (Asahi). It also discusses collaborative activities of Japanese and American citizens to commemorate the attack, to delineate how a national event like the prime minister’s visit works to sideline grassroots efforts that potentially generate more nuanced and layered understandings of the past and the place.2
Erika Doss has written that “war memorials weld feelings of gratitude with national imperatives, cultivating affective modes of citizenship and patriotism and persuading publics of the necessity of war itself,” arguing that “contemporary American war memorials are agents of national thanksgiving.”3 The USS Arizona exemplifies this point clearly as far as the visitors from the United States are concerned. To many American visitors, the USS Arizona Memorial is a “sacred ground” where fellow Americans sacrificed their lives protecting the nation.4 Since its construction in 1962, the white memorial, which stands above a sunken ship under the blue sky of Hawai’i, has attracted millions of visitors from the United States. It has functioned as a national shrine commemorating and honoring the patriotism of those who defended American liberty and freedom against evil. In so doing, it has forged…
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