December 7, 1941,” said Franklin Roosevelt, “is a date that will live in infamy.” The attack on the US naval base in Hawaii by the Japanese pulled the Americans into the World War II and set up the beginnings of the world order for decades to come. It marked the definitive end of the US’s isolationism and prodded it to be a superpower with a dominant role, however contentious, in world affairs. Shinzo Abe will be the first Japanese prime minister to visit Pearl Harbour, at the end of the month to “console the souls of the victims” and “showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies”.
Abe’s visit to Hawaii comes at a time when the world order that began with the attack on Pearl Harbour looks like it is shifting. Japan, under Abe, is under siege from an increasingly ascendant and belligerent China in the South China Sea. Earlier this year, Japan’s government increased its defence budget for the fifth straight year. Those insecurities have only been exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump, who has threatened to abrogate alliances that have been in place since the end of the second world war, and even make allies “pay for American protection”. And while Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in May 2016 was meant to evoke the horrors of nuclear war, a Trump presidency threatens to be far more cavalier about the proliferation of atomic weapons.
After meeting with Trump on November 17, Abe expressed confidence that the president-elect was a “trustworthy” leader, one who could keep up Japan’s most important alliance. The visit to Pearl Harbour, perhaps, is meant to show him how far that alliance has come.