Just weeks after the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined President Barack Obama at the USS Arizona Memorial. Abe is the first Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial, which marks the resting place of the over 1,000 U.S. service members who died in Japan’s surprise 1941 attack.
The image of two world leaders joined in remembrance and reconciliation was both historic and symbolic. Obama emphasized how far U.S.-Japan relations have come during his remarks at the memorial on Tuesday. He lauded the nations for choosing “friendship” despite their history and called for inclusivity and measured judgment.
“I hope that together, we send a message to the world that there is more to be won in peace than in war. That reconciliation carries more rewards than retribution,” he said.
Some have interpreted Obama’s message on Tuesday as a thinly veiled shot at president-elect Donald Trump, whose campaign proposals included banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
“It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward,” Obama said Tuesday at the memorial. “We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.”
On Wednesday, Trump hit back at Obama on Twitter for his “inflammatory” statements, though it’s unclear whether he was specifically responding to the president’s remarks at Pearl Harbor.
Trump’s comments about defense spending during his campaign and his threat to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership could challenge relations between the U.S. and Japan. Obama has spent much of the transition attempting to smooth things over with foreign leaders worried about the president-elect’s remarks, and he has warned Trump to deal cautiously with leaders in China, Taiwan and Russia.
“As nations, and as people, we cannot choose the history that we inherit. But we can choose what lessons to draw from it, and use those lessons to chart our own futures,” Obama said on Tuesday.