Japan may apologize, but Bush says he won't

December 02, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- As Japan's Parliament considered marking the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor with an apology, President Bush, in a taped interview broadcast yesterday, refused to offer a similar gesture for the atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly four years later.

Mr. Bush reacted strongly when told by a television interviewer that some of the Japanese leadership wanted the United States to apologize.

"For what?" Mr. Bush responded in any icy tone. "Not from this president. I was fighting over there. I had my orders to go back there when the war ended," said Mr. Bush, who as a World War II Navy pilot was shot down in the Pacific by the Japanese.

The president made his comments in an interview taped last week and broadcast on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley."

"War is hell," but President Harry S. Truman's decision "spared millions of American lives," Mr. Bush said. "Do we mourn the loss of innocent civilians? Yes. Can I empathize with a family whose child was victimized by those attacks? Absolutely. But I can also empathize with my roommate's mother, my roommate having been killed in action."

The Kyodo News Service and Japan Times newspaper reported yesterday that the lower house of Japan's Parliament is likely by week's end to adopt a resolution apologizing to its former enemies.

According to the reports, the measure would also express appreciation for the help that a defeated Japan received in recovering from wartime devastation and express its intention to remain peaceful, consistent with its postwar constitutional ban on using force internationally.

The resolution would mark a sharp departure from past Japanese government policy of refusing to concede openly that Japan had been the aggressor in the Pacific war. Emperor Akihito took a step in that direction during an Asian trip last spring, when he expressed regret for the suffering that Japan caused during the war.

On the ABC program, Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Taizo Watanabe confirmed that such a move was under consideration in Parliament but that Japan was not expecting a reciprocal apology for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

"That is a separate matter," he explained. "The Pearl Harbor attack memory is something which hangs over the minds of many people, and many people feel that we should do something about it, to reflect on what we have done in the past and what we should do in the future with this memory deep in our mind."

Administration officials have said that they are neither demanding nor expecting an apology from Japan for the Pearl Harbor attack. One senior policy-maker told reporters last week that the White House hopes to use the Pearl Harbor anniversary as an opportunity to "move forward."

In the interview, Mr. Bush insisted that his own memories of Pearl Harbor were "not in the forefront of my mind" as he dealt with Japan, and he decried the "stereotypical ugliness" that lingers from Pearl Harbor and spills over into current economic affairs.

"We're friends now, and anything that smacks of prejudice as you express your differences on international trade on either side is totally unacceptable," Mr. Bush said.

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