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Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor: Can the 'Sister Park' Pact Foster Peace?

The Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor "sister park" pact highlights the potential for nations once at war to cultivate peace through cooperation — but concerns remain.



Mayor Matsui Kazumi and Ambassador Rahm Emanuel attends signing ceremony at the American Embassy in Tokyo. (© Rahm Emanuel Twitter)

In June, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, two crucial sites of World War II, became "sister parks." Signatories to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) were Kazumi Matsui, Mayor of Hiroshima, and Rahm Emanuel, United States Ambassador to Japan. 

US delegates initially proposed the idea to Japanese counterparts just before the Hiroshima G7 Summit in April. Closely tied to the "Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament" signed at the summit, municipal officials welcomed the plan.

By linking the two memorials, officials aspire to foster reconciliation and peace via youth education, tourism, and other cultural exchanges. 

Several distinguished politicians lauded the deal. Former US President Barack Obama, the first sitting US leader to visit Hiroshima Peace Park in 2016, was one of them.

Atomic Bomb (Genbaku) Dome in Hiroshima Peace Park. (© Kenji Yoshida)

Mending Old Wounds Through Cooperation

This agreement is historically and politically significant for a couple of reasons. 

First, the site in Hawaii is associated with the start of World War II and the one in Hiroshima its end. 

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, launched on December 7, 1941, opened the war in the Pacific theatre. And this blitz formally drove America to join the Allied war efforts that same year.

In contrast, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki compelled Emperor Hirohito to accept unconditional surrender, concluding years of devastating war.


In these respective events, Japan and America were both the victim and the offender. But the recent agreement illustrates that historic animosity aside, even nations once at war with each other can heal their wounds through cooperation.

Sign of Burgeoning Alliance

It is likewise politically noteworthy, as it signifies the enduring partnership between Tokyo and Washington amid rapidly evolving geopolitics. To those who doubt the resilience of the Japan-US alliance, it surely sends a powerful message. 

In his congratulatory remark, Mr Obama echoed a similar conviction: "My visit to Hiroshima and Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor were key steps in deepening the alliance between our two nations. This agreement today marks another historic accomplishment."

In times when historical quarrels frequently hinder constructive diplomacy, this agreement sets an example for other mature, progressive states to follow.

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor.

Concerns and Objections Remain

Despite the promising endeavor, objections have been raised primarily in Japan. Notable opposition came from the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, often called Hibakusha.

In June, civic groups consisting of atomic bomb survivors petitioned Hiroshima City to suspend the project. The petitioners claimed the agreement was made abruptly without discussing it with citizens and nuclear bomb survivors. They argued that the meaning of such a pact was unclear and should be put on hold until further debate.

Some critics say the two events are fundamentally different. "While the Pearl Harbor attack targeted a naval base, the bombing of Hiroshima indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians," said Hiroshi Harada, former director of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. 

Kunihiko Sakuma, chairman of the Hiroshima Council of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, questioned whether using atomic bombs was even necessary. 

"It [the use of atomic weapons] did not end the war and save the lives of American soldiers, as the US claims. The US dropped the atomic bomb as part of its strategy to anticipate how it would lead the post-war world," he said.

Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. (© Kenji Yoshida)

Continued Discussion Needed 

These are all well-found grievances. 

Even conservative estimates of the immediate death toll in the Hiroshima bombing suggest 66,000. By the end of the year, some 140,000 (civilians) had perished. In a separate atomic raid, another 64,000 people died in Nagasaki three days after the bombing of Hiroshima. 

Scholars like Michael Walzer, a foremost authority on just war theory, contend: "In the summer of 1945, the victorious Americans owed the Japanese people an experiment in negotiation. To use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorize civilians, without even attempting such an experiment, was a double crime." (Just and Unjust Wars, p 241) 

America's lack of commitment to reducing nuclear stockpiles is equally concerning. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the United States has the second most active nuclear warheads after Russia. 

Despite promises of gradual disarmament, US leaders have largely failed to carry them out. Ironically, the Obama administration cut one of the least number of arsenals compared with other post-Cold War presidents. Former President Donald Trump even considered encouraging other states (including Japan) to acquire nuclear weapons. 

Fostering peace and reconciliation requires genuine commitment. Thus, the two states should continue to communicate and hash out ways to address the concerns presented. 

Preserving the 'Uniqueness' of Hiroshima 

Indeed, the tragedies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unprecedented in its magnitude. The two cities became "testing grounds" for one of the most destructive weapons in human history. 

The surviving voices of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the ruins conserved in Hiroshima Peace Park today serve as a stark reminder for all. 

John Hersey, an American journalist at the New Yorker, once wrote in his semi-exposé"What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has been the memory of what happened at Hiroshima." (Hiroshimaepigraph) 


While the sister park pact is a big step forward in promoting peace, the "uniqueness" of Hiroshima must be preserved to avoid repeating catastrophes of the past. 


Author: Kenji Yoshida