Obama Hails The 'Power Of Reconciliation' On 75th Anniversary Of Pearl Harbor Attack

A lot has changed between the U.S. and Japan since.

75 years ago, Japan drew the United States into World War II when it launched a surprise military strike on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. The attack caught Americans flat-footed, killing thousands and leading the U.S. government to declare war on Japan the next day. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Dec. 7, 1941, as "a date which will live in infamy."

The attack on Pearl Harbor had horrific consequences for Japanese Americans. As retaliation for Japan's strike, the government rounded up more than 110,000 people of Japanese ethnicity and moved them to internment camps with broad support from the American public, who became deeply suspicious of them. As World War II drew to an end, the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 100,000 men, women and children. Today, that controversial decision still prompts fervid discussion. 

75 years later, the U.S. and Japan are close economic allies and the racism expressed towards Japanese Americans is nowhere near as acceptable or as present as it was in the '40s. In May, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. Later this month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will return the favor in a historic visit to the USS Arizona Memorial with Obama. 


In his statement commemorating the anniversary of Pearl Harbor on Wednesday, Obama held up the transformation of American-Japanese relations as proof of the impermanence of enmity.

"As a testament that even the most bitter of adversaries can become the closest of allies, I look forward to visiting the USS Arizona Memorial later this month along with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe," Obama said. He also honored those who gave their lives, those who fought, and those who survived the Pearl Harbor attack.

A 2014 dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

"Their courage and resolve remind us of that fundamental American truth — that out of many we are one; and that when we stand together no undertaking is too great," he said.

Obama also spoke highly of the relationship between the two countries today. Abe's visit, he said, "will stand as a tribute to the power of reconciliation and to the truth that the United States and Japan — bound by an alliance unimaginable 75 years ago — will continue to work hand-in-hand for a more peaceful and secure world."

Cover image via The White House / Pete Souza.


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