Setting an Example

US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida(Photo: Twitter/@POTUS)

In another move to close a dark chapter of history and usher in a new dawn, Japan and the United States signed an agreement on 29 June 2023 to establish sister park arrangements between the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. The signing ceremony was held at the US embassy in Tokyo between US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel and Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui. Both parks are symbols of World War II animosity between the two countries. Ahead of the G-7 summit in May 2023 in Hiroshima, the US side had sounded out the Japanese side on the idea of establishing a sister relationship between the two parks.

The Hiroshima municipal government responded warmly and welcomed the idea. Under the sister park arrangement, the two parks will promote exchanges and share experiences in restoring historic structures and landscapes, the use of virtual reality and digital images for preservation and education, and best practices in youth education and tourism management. While the site in Hawaii is associated with the start of World War II, the one in Hiroshima symbolises the War’s end.

The Hawaii Park represents the memory of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise aerial attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island, Hawaii on 7 December 1941 that precipitated the entry of the US into World War II. The US dropped two atom bombs on 6 August 1945 in Hiroshima, killing about 140,000 people and on Nagasaki three days later, killing another 70,000 in the closing days of the War. The war was brought to an end following the announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender by then Showa Emperor Hirohito, and closed a chapter of nearly half a century of Japanese aggression across Asia. Since then, through the journey of over seven decades of diplomatic ties, both Japan and the US have built a powerful alliance. By agreeing on the deal, both sides want to promote peace and mutual understanding between the parties to the Pacific War as the two parks share a common goal in this regard.


The deal is a step towards realising the “Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament” announced at the G-7 summit. Both sides expect visitors to the parks shall get an opportunity to think about the importance of peace and the stupidity of war and start taking action to realise a peaceful world without nuclear weapons. While the USS Arizona Memorial, part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, stands as a stark reminder of the December 1941 attack by Japan, the affected dome and the Peace Museum in Hiroshima where the effects of the bombing on humans are depicted so vividly is a moving reminder to visitors of what devastations atom bombs can cause to humanity.

Emanuel rightly remarked at the signing ceremony, “Nobody can go to Pearl Harbor, and nobody can go to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and enter the front door, walk out the exit door and be the same person”. It is difficult to disagree with him as this writer experienced the same feeling when he visited the Peace Museum during his first visit to Japan in April 1979 and exited with moist eyes. Since the two parks are related to the beginning and end of the war, the sister park arrangement needs to be seen as proof that mankind, despite making the mistake of waging a war, can come to its senses and reconcile as well as pursue peace.

The role of the Mauryan King Ashok who turned from being called Chandashoka because he waged war against Kalinga but soon turned into Dharmashoka after he saw the devastation in the battlefield and became the biggest promoter of Buddhism easily comes to mind. Those who promote nuclear weapons anywhere in the world must visit the Peace museum in Hiroshima. There are critics, however, to the sister park deal in Japan. Some atomic bombing survivors still affected with the radiation of the nuclear bombing called Hibakusha have concern that the deal could help justify the use of nuclear weapons and should thus be reconsidered.

Their anguish and angst are genuine and must be respected but they have to be told about the large merits of the deal. Both Hiroshima Peace Museum and Pearl Harbor are revered places in the psyche of the people of these cities and their concerns and sensitivities need to be respected and considered dispassionately. Critics primarily in Japan say the two events are fundamentally different. They argue that while the Pearl Harbor attack targeted a naval base, the bombing of Hiroshima indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians. They also allege the survivors were not consulted in advance. Actually, these two parks emerged as places of reconciliation when then President Barack Obama became the first serving American President to visit the Museum. He did so in May 2016 and paid tribute to atom bomb victims. Then Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor in December the same year. Indeed, the signing of the sister park deal is another historic accomplishment.

This sister park arrangement is the second between the US and Japan, following one signed in 2016 between Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania and Gifu Sekigahara Battlefield Memorial Museum in what is now Gifu prefecture. The Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 was an important battle in Japan’s feudal history. Gettysburg in 1863 is considered a turning point in the US Civil War. In these two respective events ~ attack on Pearl Harbor and dropping of bombs ~ both Japan and the US were victim and offender.

By this sister deal, both now aim to heal their wounds through cooperation. In times when historical quarrels frequently hinder constructive diplomacy, this agreement sets an example for other mature, progressive states to follow. Shall North Korea draw some lessons from this?

(The writer is former Senior Fellow at the NMML, MP-IDSA, New Delhi, and ICCR Chair Professor at Reitaku University, Japan)