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Remembering Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and United States President Barack Obama went last Tuesday to Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, where World War II started in the Pacific in 1941. It was on December 8, 1941, that Japanese planes mounted a surprise attack on the US military installations at Pearl Harbor, destroying 20 ships and over 300 planes and killing 2,400 people, including 1,000 entombed in the USS Arizona which was sunk in the harbor.

On the same day, Japanese planes bombed Camp John Hay in Baguio City and Fort Stotsenberg and Clark Air Field in Pampanga, the main base of the US Army Air Corps in the Western Pacific, destroying scores of fighter planes and bombers on the ground and killing thousands of enlisted men caught in their barracks.

December 8, 1941, is a “date which will live in infamy,” US President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared as the US joined World War II which, before Pearl Harbor, had been largely a European war with Britain and France against Germany.

That was 75 years ago. In the years that followed, Japan invaded the surrounding countries in Asia, including the Philippines which it occupied for three years. The US gathered its strength, joined the Allied forces that defeated Nazi Germany in Europe, and then focused its final resources on the world’s first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that finally ended World War II.

President Obama went to Hiroshima early this year to join in ceremonies commemorating the dropping of the bomb that killed 140,000 people in 1945, followed days later by the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki which killed 70,000. Obama made no apology for the US decision at the time, but called for a nuclear-free future for the entire world.

Prime Minister Abe similarly made no apology for Japan’s decision to bomb Pearl Habor but offered his condolences to the souls of all who died there. He and President Obama laid wreaths at the memorial which now stands above the sunken USS Arizona. “Even the deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and lasting peace,” President Obama said.

We in the Philippines, who were part of that war that began at Pearl Harbor and ended at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, share in the hopes for peace and friendship voiced by Prime Minister Abe and President Obama last Tuesday. Today we have our own fears and uncertainties, with rival powers asserting rival claims and flaunting rival war capabilities.

With the new weapons of mass destruction, the violence and the destruction of World War II would pale in comparison with what could befall us today. But, as always, our hopes for peace rise above our fears, especially as we begin the New Year.