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Obama's Hiroshima visit can open way to broader reconciliation

The visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima on May 27 is historic in that it not only demonstrated his determination to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, but also represented a step toward true post-World War II reconciliation between Japan and the United States.

    The friendly ties between the two countries today were built upon the outcome of that tragic war. However, attention had hitherto been focused only on the strength of the bilateral alliance, while the negative side to the relationship -- inflicting damage and suffering damage -- has been left on the back burner. This left the peoples of both countries with complex feelings.

    Opinions regarding the inhumanity of atomic bombs have been suppressed in Japan because the country has left its national security in the hands of the U.S. At the same time, dissatisfaction with the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, known as the Tokyo Trials and which placed war responsibility squarely on Japan, has continued to smolder.

    In the U.S., the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been justified as saving lives by bringing the war to an end earlier. Moreover, the nuclear attacks have been regarded as inevitable sacrifices Japan must accept as repayment for its surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor.

    The bilateral friendship could be damaged unless the two countries try to heal the deep scars on both sides, and bridge the gap between the two countries over the war. President Obama has taken the first steps down the inevitable path toward reconciliation.

    The passage of 71 years since the end of the war gave a boost to Obama's decision to visit Hiroshima. However, everybody should take it seriously that many hibakusha, or atomic-bombing survivors, did not ask the president to apologize for the attacks.

    President Obama might not have made up his mind to visit Hiroshima without many hibakusha sending the message, "We would like the president to visit the atomic-bombed city to see what actually happened here rather than offer an apology."

    It is natural, then, to think it inevitable for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit the Pearl Harbor. Prime Minister Abe should follow the example of Obama's important step and follow the path to a bright future for Japan-U.S. ties. By dealing with the bitter past -- the atomic bombing and the attack on the Pearl Harbor -- Japan and the U.S. undoubtedly can bring about new mutual bonds.

    Relativizing history and creating a new historical space is the best way to reach reconciliation. In this sense, reconciliation between Japan and the U.S. could serve as an opportunity to reconsider reconciliation between Japan and its Asian neighbors as well.

    Park Yu-ha, professor at Sejong University in South Korea, wrote in her book "For reconciliation" (Heibonsha), "Historic reconciliation can be achieved if broad-mindedness in victims is met by modesty in the aggressors."

    In 20th century history, Japan was both an assailant and a victim. Broad-mindedness, tolerance, modesty and courage are preconditions for reconciliation between all countries.

    To achieve such reconciliation, President Obama's latest visit to Hiroshima should not end up being a success story only for Japan and the United States. (By Hiroshi Komatsu, chief editorial writer)

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