Saturday, March 12, 2011


I feel obliged to say something about the earthquake that has hit Japan, but I really don't know what. Honestly, I've never known what to say in the wake of tragedies like this, and have preferred instead to say nothing at all. This hasn't been so much out of overwhelming emotion as it has about simply feeling like I have nothing worth saying. Do I wish for the continued well being of the survivors? Offer condolences to the families of the dead? If I do, so what? What could the obvious platitudes of a distant observer possibly matter?

But for me, this is different than the Indonesian tsunami, or hurricane Katrina, or earthquakes in Haiti or New Zealand, or 9/11. I lived in Tokyo for three months. I used to walk by the skyscrapers which can now be seen swaying "like palm trees in the wind" on videos all over the internet. One of the cities I most wanted to visit was Sendai-- my M.Sc. thesis work on molecular quantum tunneling is based on research that began at Sendai's Tohoku University. Now it looks like that city, like New Orleans and Port au Prince, has been more or less destroyed. I have friends and teachers from Japan-- thankfully, though, their families seem to be alright. I was connected to all of this, in my own very minor way.

I find myself contrasting my feelings right now with how I reacted to the 9/11 attacks. Back then, I didn't have friends from New York (hell, I still don't), and to this day the closest I've ever come to the city is spending a night in Albany. Maybe that's why, in the weeks following the attack, the strongest emotion I felt regarding 9/11 was. . . irritation. I was just sick of it. I was sick of the constant news reports. I was sick of the flag waving and the fear mongering and the beating of the drums of war (of which there was plenty in even in Canada). I was sick of hearing that The World Has Changed. I was sick of the "oh! those poor souls" and "oh! what a terrible tragedy" that I kept hearing from people who, like me, had probably never been to New York or Washington, who probably didn't know anyone from those places and were falling to pieces over nothing more than images on a screen.

In other words, I was a cynical prick. A little cynicism is, and was, good thing (there are too many examples of post-9/11 irrationality to list, but one that sticks out for me is the "Death of Irony" that was supposed to have happened. . .and of course, these were pretty appalling too). But when cynicism blinds you to the fact that, maybe, just maybe, there are people out there who really do care and really are trying to help in whatever way they can. . .

Well. . . maybe I'm finally feeling the way I was supposed to ten years ago. Maybe that's what needed to be said.


Naomi said...

This was a good post. I understand your feelings, though I find this decidedly more tragic than the 9/11 attacks just given the fact that is was an unexpected natural disaster. Because of this, and my only vague association with Japan, I have found these events quite disturbing. Americans had their tragedy coming in many respects. Japan only had the misfortune of its location, which also is a part of its very existence.

Jeremy K. said...

"Americans had their tragedy coming in many respects."

I wouldn't say that. As I understand it, the only reason Bin Laden declared jihad on America in the first place was because the American military was given permission to build military bases in Saudi Arabia. That ain't exactly Pearl Harbour. If anything, Iran has far more reason to be angry at the U.S. than Bin Laden, yet immediately after 9/11, many Iranians were organizing prayers and vigils for the victims of the attacks.

But even assuming that the U.S. "deserved" the 9/11 attack for their foreign policy. . . isn't that a bit like saying the Japanese "deserved" Hiroshima because of what the Imperial Army did in places like Nanking? Did the civilians of Hiroshima deserve to be wiped out or poisoned by radiation for the actions of their government? Did the workers in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or the passengers in the highjacked planes, deserve to be killed for the actions of their government?

Locations of visitors to this page