Pick of the Clicks looks at the most clicked story of the week on our website and how it is being treated elsewhere on the net. This week: Disaster in Japan.
Last week, it was while writing a POTC about the Apocalypse that one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded triggered a tsunami so powerful that even now it leaves us clueless as to the human cost.
In the time since – rightly or wrongly – the world’s focus has turned from the very real human tragedy of the natural disaster itself to the theoretical threat of nuclear meltdown created by the earthquake.
But the Apocalypse was last week. Now, despite the circumstances, is a time for an attempt at optimism.
The worst that Nature has thrown at us is bringing out the best in humankind. First, let’s talk about heroism.
Their job titles may sometimes be such mundane descriptions as ‘technicians’, ‘reactor operators’ or ‘security agents’. There are more colourful and less bureaucratic terms being bandied about out there like ‘Atomic Kamikazes’ or even ‘Nuclear Samurai’.
I prefer heroes because that is what they are.
They are the men and women who choose to wade into a nuclear disaster zone to clear up the mess. They know there is a good chance that what they are doing will kill them or, at the very least, permanently damage their health.
But they do it all the same. Not for glory, not for money but so that their families and friends will be saved.
In the aftermath of Chernobyl, they went in their hundreds of thousands although many of the Liquidators (as they were called at the time) would have known little about the dangers awaiting them. Their bosses had more of an idea but filtered the details.
Some died agonising deaths within days. Others survived, but not for as long as they otherwise would have. A few remain.
There were many heroes too in the aftermath of the Twin Towers strikes on 9/11. The surviving ‘responders’ have managed, after a long battle, to get a compensation package out of the authorities but even now there are cases where one feels heroism might have been taken for granted.
Let that not be the case for the Fukushima 50 . They, unlike their predecessors in Chernobyl, are under no illusion about the nature of the risk they are taking yet still they take it. That’s just how some folk roll.
It’s not only that handful of heroes who deserve enormous credit for their reaction to such appalling adversity. The absence of self-pity of the people of Japan also provides an example of what humans can feel proud of.
The thought of suffering a magnitude 9 earthquake followed by a massive tsunami only to have that misery compounded by the threat of atomic fallout is completely unimaginable to most people. It should perhaps have been imaginable to the people who chose where to built a nuclear plant, but that’s another matter.
Any one of those disastrous events could break a person’s resilience. All three in one day could break a nation’s. Not Japan.
Japan has known all three and each time it has been shaken to the core. And each time it has picked itself up, dusted itself down and ploughed on. In the years and decades after the dropping of the Atom bombs, Japan managed somehow to climb its way up to second on the world’s biggest economy list.
One South Korean resident of Tokyo interviewed for a Bloomberg article told how in the moments after the quake, “no one was crying or showing any negativity…In Korea, people would be bawling.”
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Lewis M. Simons, resident in Japan for 14 years, writes in this article that “…rebuild the people of Japan will. Stoically, quietly courageously, they will start over.”
An article in The Economist even tells us that in Tokyo “many queued patiently on March 15th to meet their tax deadlines.” There are people in other countries (and I am one of them) who do not meet their tax deadlines in disaster-free circumstances.
Japan rebuilt after the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 which took more than 100,000 lives. It rebuilt after the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan’s second most populated area after Tokyo. While a question mark may follow the future of nuclear energy in Japan after this latest disaster, there is nothing to suggest Japan will not rebuild again. And it will do so by itself, even if there is no lack of support from the international community. Japan will carry the cost of reconstruction, which by some estimates could even rise to something like five percent of GDP.
Initially though, rescue teams arrived from across the globe to help sift through the rubble in the hope of finding anyone still alive. The Japanese government had not done wonders in its international relations with Russia or China in the months before the quake but quarrels about territory have been put to one side and the response to the disaster from Moscow and Beijing has been warm.
Charities all over the world have been sent donations destined for Japan even without having to launch appeals. Canadians for example have given around 7.5 million euros worth of donations to the Red Cross without needing to be prompted.
Minutes of silence and other similar gestures have been offered. They may be just gestures but at least they are showing that people everywhere care about other humans in trouble.
And it’s not just humans who have this capacity to show strength in adversity. Animals too look after each other in the immediate wake of calamity, as this video quite nicely illustrates.
It has been one of those terrifying weeks in which we remember that when Nature strikes there’s little or nothing we can do about it. But if we are capable of looking straight into the face of what can seem like the Apocalypse and reacting with humanity, maybe we’re not damned after all.
By Mark Davis