At the end of this month President Obama will become the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima. The momentous visit is planned around Obama’s trip to nearby Ise-Shima for the G7 Summit. In light of the United States’ consistent pressure on Tokyo and Seoul to bury their own historical debate over the so-called ‘comfort women’, as well as Obama’s initiative to abolish the use of nuclear weapons, this visit is long overdue.

The initial steps towards this visit began back in September 2008, when Nancy Pelosi went to Hiroshima in her role as Speaker of the House of Representatives. In August 2010, then US Ambassador to Japan John Roos made the first official visit by a US government representative. And, in April 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry became the highest ranking US government representative to visit when he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on the sidelines of the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting.

Though public support for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is declining, the fact that there is still sensitivity surrounding a US president’s visit to Hiroshima reveals that the so-called history wars are not solely confined to intra-Asian relations. Rather than being a neutral arbiter, or an ‘off-shore balancer’, the United States is deeply involved in the intricacies of how to remember and overcome the traumatic violence of the last century.

Despite the US–Japan relationship being stronger and more integrated than ever, Hiroshima and Nagasaki still represent major obstacles in the way of a complete ‘normalisation’ of bilateral relations. The exhibits at the Yushukan Museum adjacent to the Yasukuni Shrine, for instance, continue to blame US security politics for provoking Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour. Official Japanese apologies and acts of contrition for the attack also remain limited.

Read the full “Can Obama kickstart Asia-Pacific reconciliation?” article in East Asia Forum by Dr. Christian Wirth. Dr. Christian Wirth is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute and a Visiting Associate Professor at the Tohoku University School of Law.