It’s the end of March 2011, and like millions of others around the world, I have been watching the Japanese struggling under the burden of an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster. I am very happy that the disasters happened to Japan, and not someone else. And you should be too. Fair warning, this blog posting is likely to be quite racist, disturbingly discriminatory and decidedly biased.
In a good way.
A fair number of disasters and tragedies have beset the planet in the last few years. And in every case, there has been the attendent media circus, the associated finger-pointing and panic. Our global superpower will serve for comparitive purposes. America is the foremost nation on the planet. (Just ask an American.) They have the biggest and best everything, the newest and shiniest everything else. And yet, when Hurrican Katrina dumped meters of rain on New Orleans, they collapsed. Disaster relief was negligent and almost criminally slow. It transpired that the National Guard wasn’t in the correct country at the time. Looting was rife, police retaliation was brutal and the loss of life and property paled in comparison with the game of Pass-The-Blame that erupted shortly after the first levee failed. Absolutely everyone that held even the slightest authority of levees, rain, river management and disaster response was held up to public scrutiny and inevitably crucified in public opinion. Six years later, disaster relief operations are still at work, and the damage Katrina left in her wake stands testament to a nation that has failed utterly to protect its own.
Let’s take a look at the Japanese, shall we?
It starts with an earthquake. One of the top five largest earthquakes in recorded history. It scores a 7 out of 7 on the Japanese earthquake scale, and a whopping 9.0 on the Magnitude Scale. It shakes Tokyo and its surrounds for an utterly obscene SIX minutes. Six minutes! Jump up and down on your bed for a full six minutes. It’s a LONG time. It triggers tsunamis of up to ten meters in height. Coastal areas are basically washed away, and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it. Nuclear reactors that have peacefully run for forty years are stricken, bereft of cooling, back-up power and containment, they suffer explosions and threaten meltdown.
It’s a cataclysm. A disaster styled on Old Testament purges.
And look at the reaction of the Japanese. Over ten thousand dead, almost twenty thousand missing. Two hundred thousand evacuated from already devastated areas to avoid nuclear risk. There was no blame. There was no finger-pointing. The Japanese shook themselves free of building dust, kicked the water from their boots, and got down to work. There are individual stories of heroism, but I would like to focus on just two stories that I believe sum up the Japanese spirit.
The nuclear situation at the Fukushima plants remains lethal. Thanks to the massive damage of the quake, and then the actions of the tsunami, carefully prepared back-up and emergency protocols were rendered null. The reactors went critical, cooling rods became exposed and fissionable material tasted freedom. One hundred and sixty technicians stood their ground. They kept to their posts and did their jobs. It is without doubt that they received doses of radiation. At the Fukushima 1 plant, fifty low-level and mid-level managers, anonymous and faceless, stood their posts. They prevented a full-scale nuclear event. It is without doubt that they did so while in the full knowledge that they were sustaining potentially lethal doses of radiation. Two workers had to be emergency air-lifted from the plant. Why? They stood in ankle-deep radioactive water in the basement of the number 3 reactor. They were trying to lay cables that would allow for the restoration of power to the cooling mechanism to the reactor. Their personal instrumentation registered dosages of 180 millisieverts. (Enough to give them radiation burns on their legs. The Japanese safety guides allow for only a dosage of 50 millisieverts over the course of a year.) They had not been issued with the correct safety wear. And yet there they stood. Preventing a total meltdown.
The situation remains dire, and it is likely that there will be longer-reaching impacts of the radiation leaks. Japan was saved more damage by a fortunate wind that shifted vented Cesium 137 into the ocean, and not over the land.
The second story is more light-hearted. In the wake of the tsunami (pardon the pun), government relief was stretched and in some areas regarded as being slow. The response? The Japanese crime syndicate… The Yakuza. (They’re the Japanese equivalent of the mafia.) Stating in the press that they could not stand by while their people were suffering, the Yakuza sent seventy trucks into some of the worst-hit areas, filled with a half million US dollars worth of food and water. They stated when asked that their code of honour would not allow them to ignore the situation, not when they were capable of aiding. They did it because they could, and because it was needed.
In what other country are we likely to see this? In what other country are we going to see the same selfless brand of heroism? In what other country are we going to see anonymous sacrifice, and anonymous humanity?In my opinion (and it’s my blog, so that’s presumably what you are here to see) there is no country to rival the Japanese. They responded to the multiple disasters, the massive loss of life, the crippling loss of infrastructure and networks with the same aplomb and single-mindedness that has defined their society. This is the country that birthed the concept of the “quest for zero defect” and I am proud of them that their work ethos extends to their society as well. There has been no looting. Instead, neighbourhoods have made anonymous donations of food and water to those in need. They have pointed no fingers, they have indulged in no political grand-standing. Under intense international scrutiny they have gotten on with the job at hand. Not a day after the nuclear incidents, world media was already debating the wisdom of nuclear power, was already deciding that the Japanese were somehow “tempting fate” by building reactors so close to the coast, was somehow negligent in their usage of nuclear power. This is the same media run on nuclear powered server farms, enjoying electronic communication on a global scale, much of which is nuclear-supplied. This while two men stood ankle-deep in radioactive water, their skin burning while they saved lives at the expense of their own.
Through it all, the rescue operations continue, the clean ups are underway, and the Japanese are walking the road to recovery.
I am thankful that it was Japan that was hit, and not some lesser country.
I am saddened by the sacrifice and the loss.
And I am humbled by their spirit.