In the House of the Rising Sun

This probably won’t be a popular opinion, but in my mind, the earthquake and its aftermath in Japan is much more disconcerting than the one that hit Haiti.

Only don’t tell that to the jingoistic idiots who feel compelled to re-fight World War II seventy years later.  You know, the wave of morons who are calling this “payback” for Pearl Harbor?  As if somehow losing the war and having two atomic bombs dropped on them didn’t even accounts.  Then again, a student in the class my wife was substitute teaching on Friday thought Pearl Harbor happened after World War II.  So I guess the next bad thing to happen to Germany will be for the Lusitania.  I just hope someone remembers the Maine.

But back to the present.  Now I don’t mean to dismiss the pain and heartbreak those in Haiti suffered through. That was an unbelievable tragedy. But it was also one that struck a poor, underdeveloped country that simply didn’t have the money or resources to even make an attempt at any kind of preparedness for such a disaster.  Those people didn’t deserve what happened to them, but it was hard to look at the devastation and be completely surprised by it.

Japan, on the other hand, had their act together. Their buildings were up to code. Their warning systems worked perfectly. And the earth just shrugged. Literally. It didn’t care. It smacked the Japanese around just as badly as it did the Haitians, and continues to do so, as if it’s angry the country dared to take precautions against its might.

Haiti made us think, “It’s terrible that happened to them.” Japan makes us think, “That’s terrible — and that could happen to us.” Because the Japanese probably have this routine down a little better than we do, and the death toll is still closing in on 3,000. An 8.9 in San Francisco or Los Angeles doesn’t feel like the plot of a bad SyFy movie anymore. It feels startlingly possible.  It makes us feel suddenly vulnerable.  Which is why the unfolding coverage has gripped us so.  We’re not only watching to see what happens, but to know if there’ll be any kind of happy ending when this finally happens to us.

And then there’s the nuclear problem.  This is the nightmare for proponents of nuclear power, the one thing you can take all the precautions in the world against and still have no idea if you’re ready.  All the arguments about safe, clean power are out the window when you have buildings exploding and experts talking meltdown.  And as if it wasn’t bad enough for the Japanese to contemplate their towns and cities being knocked over and flooded, they might not even be inhabitable if they ever manage to be rebuilt.

Of course, I’m sitting here saying all this in a building that’s still standing, that still has power and running water, that’s not surrounded by eight feet of water.  And I’m not wondering if the family member I haven’t heard from since Thursday is alive or dead.  And maybe I’m analyzing all this to keep from going mad from the sheer scale of what’s going on over there.

Well, that’ll show ’em for, I don’t know, building better TVs than us or something.


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