Growing up in a small Italian-catholic area, I didn’t know any other Japanese people.
Many of you who know me, and the rest that probably deduced why I have a funny name, know that I’m half Japanese. I hated my name because nobody could ever pronounce it right and the cleverest derogatory nickname bullies could come up with was ‘cock-i’. I mean seriously? That’s it? I was more bothered by the fact that they couldn’t come up with anything better than I was at the ridicule itself. In college that all changed and I embraced my heritage with collegiate vigor. I was suddenly proud of my formerly unknown identity as I met other Japanese people and started cooking Japanese dishes since I was far from home. But since my last visit to Japan and moving out here to NYC, I’ve settled back down into the normalcy of being an American guy with a funny name.
On March 11th when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, I was in Boston and about to attend the first day of PAX. I remember waking up, seeing the flood of tweets, and casually joking that this was the biggest thing to hit Japan since 2004, when I had last visited. Stupid, I know. I spent a good part of the first panel we attended texting my mother and trying to get in touch with friends on Facebook. Everybody I know is safe, but it seems irrelevant compared to the rising death toll of the region.
I’ve been following the situation at the Fukushima Power Plant more carefully than everything else. Part of it is the false mental conclusion that the quake and tsunami are done and over with (far from it) but the danger at Fukushima is still there. When I’d read about the various successes and setbacks in containing the disaster, I would choke up over the team of technicians and scientists who are struggling to contain the runaway reactors. Dubbed the Fukushima 50 (There are now over 580 workers there, but the name stuck) for the essential personnel that did not evacuate, they are the only thing stopping a disaster of Chernobyl proportions. Reaching out to them, Prime Minister Naota Kan said, “You are the only ones who can resolve the crisis. Retreat is unthinkable.”
But the Fukushima 50 already knew that. Even if they succeed, the radiation could very well kill them, or cause long term health problems. It’s already being reported as a suicide mission, yet they charge forward to do what needs to be done. Because it is the right thing to do.
Let me take a moment aside to discuss the elephant in the room here: Nuclear Power. I know, big bad scary right? For all the newly dredged fears and misinformed scare mongering, nuclear power is still the safest energy source we have. Per terrawatt-hour it has had less deaths associated with it than any other form of energy. Mind boggling, I know. But you have to look at the big picture. Think of the dangers of working in coal mines or from air pollution produced. Coal power is by-far the worst energy source out there as far as related deaths go.
You would need 25 meltdowns a year to match it. That’s statistics, baby.
Anyway, seeing the news reports about the hard work and sacrifice being put into the relief effort, about how much the Japanese people are banding together in stoic bravery to face the rebuilding ahead, has started the fire up all over again. My heart goes out to the Japanese people. I wish I had half their gumption (See what I did there?).
I remember my experience living with a host family and working in rural Nagano prefecture. I remember how literal the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” was in a society where the greater good was held over the needs and feelings of the individual, and everybody worked together to help each other. Now I see that attitude all over again as store owners lower prices, hand out free food from vending machines, and looting is nearly unheard of. When all this is said and done, the bodies are counted, and the survivors go back to their lives, it will be because of the hard work of those people who reached out a helping hand. People.
So today’s image is for the Fukushima 50, and by extension the rest of the Japanese people who are putting their lives on the line for the greater good. With those brave few in mind, I slapped together the image above. I admit, the style and execution are nothing original, but I think the eye-catching precedent is appropriate.
Which is what I did. I appropriated it.
What kind of a God is compatible with a world where this type of disaster occurs? Depending on your affiliation you likely already have thought about this at length and have a pretty good rationale. That is unless you’re mentally lazy, er, I mean a religious moderate!
The way I see it, if you believe in scripture you also have to believe that in these disasters God is at work. Intellectual honesty demands that you play by the rules you say you’re playing by. You can’t have your cracker and eat it too, and then cherry pick it. Case in point:
“Whenever a disaster like this occurs, I go back to the Bible, to the First Book of Kings. Elijah, in despair over the situation in Israel, runs to the desert, back to Mt. Sinai to find the God of the Revelation to Moses.
“And lo, the Lord God passed by. There was a mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. There was an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake.”
To me, that is the key: the Lord was not in the earthquake.
Natural disasters are acts of nature, not acts of God. God cares about the well-being of good people; Nature is blind, an equal-opportunity destroyer.
Where is God in Japan today? In the courage of people to carry on their lives after the tragedy. In the resilience of those whose lives have been destroyed, families swept away, homes lost, but they resolve to rebuild their lives. In the goodness and generosity of people all over the world to reach out and help strangers who live far from them, to contribute aid, to pray for them.”
-Rabbi Harold Kushner
I could tell you why I think that statement is just sad, but a quote from Sam Harris will do that with gusto, and then some:
“Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.
The only sense to make of tragedies like this is that terrible things can happen to perfectly innocent people. This understanding inspires compassion.
Religious faith, on the other hand, erodes compassion. Thoughts like, this might be all part of God’s plan, or there are no accidents in life, or everyone on some level gets what he or she deserves, these ideas are not only stupid, they are extraordinarily callous. They are nothing more than a childish refusal to connect with the suffering of other human beings. It is time to grow up and let our hearts break at moments like this.”
I’ve said this before and Sam mentions it here, and it bears repeating: GROW UP!
(and before anyone points it out, I realize my cracker quip would have been more effective if the quote was from a Priest instead of a Rabbi but, screw you, maybe I just like saltines, you don’t know me!)
Today’s post has been brought to you by Tin (Sn). Its atomic number is 50
For up to date news on all of this, go to the special BBC News Page.
Extra stuff: Columnist Johann Hari speaks about the Myth of the Panicking Disaster Victim, and how in times of trouble, people are more prone to altruism than to looting. Despite what the religious would have you think, when disaster strikes or god is removed from the equation, people don’t all fly off the handle and lose all their morals in a selfish and destructive frenzy.
Speaking of the religious, stop praying for Japan. Cut that shit out. It’s nice that you’re thinking of them, but it’s nicer and more helpful to Pay For Japan. Even 7-11 had donation boxes set up for the relief fund a day after the quake. [EDIT: Apparently 7-11 is a Japanese company. Which is weird to me. Shichi-Juu-Ichi just doesn't have the same ring. Wait...it DOES.]