The oil that continues to bubble up from the remains of the USS Arizona is an apt metaphor for how the nation feels about Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Seventy-five years later, Americans still well with emotion at the thought of the 2,400 killed and 19 ships damaged or destroyed in the sneak attack, launched before Japan had declared war on the United States. A visit to Pearl Harbor only makes the emotion sharper.
President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday laid wreaths at a memorial over the Arizona and spoke with aging veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack. The first Japanese leader to visit the memorial, Mr. Abe did not apologize for the bombing — something that will rankle some Americans — but expressed “sincere and everlasting condolences” for those lost there and during the nearly four years of World War II that followed.
From the memorial, the Arizona is visible beneath the water, the surface discolored from the two to nine quarts of oil that ooze from the battleship each day. Nearly half of those lost at Pearl Harbor were aboard the Arizona, hit with a bomb of nearly 1,800 pounds that tore through the forward deck, igniting fuel stores and powder magazines. Many crew members were incinerated; the remains of some remain aboard.
Mr. Abe’s visit followed Mr. Obama’s trip in May to Hiroshima, one of two cities on which America dropped atomic bombs in August 1945. The bombings caused mass civilian casualties but ended a war of Japan’s making without the invasion that would have cost untold American lives. Mr. Obama did not offer an apology at Hiroshima, but some critics complained that his remarks sounded too much like one.
The reciprocal visits underscored how far U.S.-Japanese relations have come — and the importance of confronting the past in order to move forward. But it’s OK for Americans to be of two minds — to be grateful for Japan’s friendship today while still feeling hurt about Pearl Harbor. The oil can’t be put back in the ship.