Fact Check

Did the White House Press Secretary Say That WWII Vets Upset About Japan Visit Should 'Get Over It'?

Comments made by Josh Earnest about diplomatic relations with Japan around the 2016 anniversary of Pearl Harbor did not include a directive that veterans should "get over it."

Published Dec. 7, 2016

 (Wikimedia Commons)
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said World War II veterans who felt "embittered" by diplomatic relations with Japan on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2016 should "get over it."
What's True

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that it was natural for some World War II veterans to feel "embittered" about the Prime Minister of Japan's planned visit to Pearl Harbor, but that he believed a trait of the "Greatest Generation" included the ability to place patriotism over personal feelings.

What's False

Earnest neither said nor insinuated WWII veterans should "get over it" regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor.

After the Obama Administration's 5 December 2016 daily press briefing, reports insinuated that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that World War II veterans offended by Japan's Prime Minister visiting the memorial site ought to "get over it":

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during a press conference Monday it was natural for World War II veterans to be “embittered” about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor, but they should get over it for the sake of America.

The phrase "get over it" appeared in multiple articles about Earnest's 5 December 2016 remarks regarding Pearl Harbor:

WH press secretary says WWII veterans should get over their ‘bitterness’ about Pearl Harbor attack

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that it’s natural for World War II veterans to feel “personally embittered” by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s impending visit to Pearl Harbor, but they should get over it.

As is standard, a full transcript of the 5 December 2016 White House Press briefing was available online. During the event, reporters discussed a news story about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's planned visit to the memorial in Hawaii on 26 and 27 December 2016, making him the first leader of Japan to visit the site of the attack:

The joint trip comes after Obama went to Hiroshima with Abe in May, making him the first sitting American president to visit the city where the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs in 1945 to force Japan’s surrender.

Abe said Monday that he will visit Hawaii on Dec. 26 and 27 to “pay tribute” to military personnel from both sides of the Pacific who died during the war. About 2,000 Americans were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.

“This visit is to comfort the souls of the victims. We’d like to send messages about the importance of reconciliation” between the two countries, Abe told reporters in Tokyo.

During the briefing a reporter said that Japan had no plans to apologize for the attack, then asking:

Josh, when the Prime Minister from Japan comes to the Pearl Harbor Memorial -- one of the reasons this hasn’t happened for so long is the Japanese don’t feel that they have anything to apologize for generally. They feel that the attack grew out of the oil embargo and all this. So how are veterans’ groups going to react with Abe showing up and just sort of bowing but no apology? Is there not going to be an apology? And how do you think that’s going to play in the United States? Because from the United States’ point of view, of course, the Pearl Harbor attack was completely unjustified and a total surprise, and an act of total violence and war that was, from our perspective -- there is no justification for it whatsoever.

So, I mean, this was obviously a problem when the President went to Hiroshima -- there were people in Japan who believed the United States shouldn’t have dropped the atomic weapon; we don’t feel that way. So how is this going to play out?

Earnest responded:

Well, listen, I don’t want to prejudge at this point what Prime Minister Abe may choose to say when he visits Pearl Harbor. I think that most Americans would warmly receive the sentiment that he expressed in his statement earlier today. He indicated that he will visit Pearl Harbor, together with President Obama, to “mourn the souls of the victims.” He continued saying, “I would like to express my resolve toward the future that the tragedy of wars should never be repeated again. At the same time, I’m hoping to make it an opportunity to send out a message about the value of reconciliation between Japan and the United States.”

So again, I think the kind of sentiment that’s being expressed by the Prime Minister of Japan is one that would be warmly received by most Americans. But, obviously, the benefits of a visit like this is it displays the kind of opportunity that lies for America’s future, that lies ahead.

Not long ago, within the lifetime of many Americans, the United States and Japan were at war. And hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our citizens were killed in that war. And 70 years later, the United States and Japan actually have formed an alliance that has benefitted both our countries and our national security and our economy. And I think this visit further underscores the benefits of pursuing peace and reconciliation.

The reporter followed up with a second question:

But you don’t think people are going to sort of see the guy coming from a country that caused the deaths to occur saying simply, well, we’ll mourn the deaths but I’m not going to say that I even feel bad about causing the deaths?

It was Earnest's second response which generated the "get over it" claims:

Listen, I can’t speak for every single American and how they will respond to or react to this particular situation. If I were a World War II veteran who was drafted by the United States military to go and fight for our country overseas in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, I might feel quite embittered. And I think it would be a perfectly natural and understandable human reaction to not be particularly satisfied with the words of the Japanese Prime Minister.

But I think the thing that we know about the Greatest Generation of Americans is they’re anything -- well, let me say it this way. This Greatest Generation of Americans, I think we take a risk if we underestimate their patriotism and their capacity to set aside their own personal interests and prioritize the ambition and opportunity of the American people.

And so, yes, there may be some who feel personally embittered. But I’m confident that many will set aside their own personal bitterness, not because they’re personally satisfied by the words of the Prime Minister, but because they recognize how important this moment is for the United States. And that’s certainly why they qualify to be described as the greatest generation.

Josh Earnest did use the phrases "embittered" and "bitterness" in his response, but he did not say or suggest WWII veterans ought to "get over" Pearl Harbor (or anything else). Earnest did say that the "Greatest Generation" ought to never be underestimated in terms of their patriotism and love for the United States.  Multiple web sites used the "get over it" phrasing metaphorically, but rumors rapidly appeared claiming Earnest literally made those comments.


Fifield, Anna.   "Japanese Prime Minister Plans Landmark Visit To Pearl Harbor."     Washington Post.   5 December 2016.

The White House Office Of The Press Secretary.   "Press Briefing By Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 12/5/16."     publication date   5 December 2016.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.