Cultural Critique / Pop Culture / Random Thoughts from an Uppity Negro

What Do We Owe The Japanese? The Aftermath of the Tsunami

One of my friends on Facebook posted as his status on March 15, only a few days after the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan Does Japan really need our help? I think they are fully capable of helping themselves. America’s priorities are so messed up! Aside from my response, which I’ll get to later, one of the first responses was:

To be honest I believe this to. I feel like they may have needed the immediate help as far getting people to safety and evacuation procedures, but Japan is the second wealthiest country in the world (I think lol) so I do believe they are already financially stable enough to get themselves back on track over the next few years. Its not like Haiti since they are one of the poorer (sp) countries who definitely needed and still does need outside help physically and financially. [sic].

An opposing view wrote:

It’s a sad reality when more than one hundred thousand will have died in Japan, yet both of you think that they shouldn’t receive our aid. Japan was one of the most generous givers of aid after Katrina from both public and private donors. It’s more than just us kissing their ass, or that they are the a wealthy country, or us having messed up priorities. It’s what a good human does when people are in trouble.

The rest of the total 13 comments used New Orleans and Haiti as examples of where our money needed to be given and that our US money wasn’t needed as much overseas in Japan.  A final comment read:

smh, whatever happened to being a global citizen?? why limit help to long term or short term and equate lives to currency…smh

All of the comments were made on the same date and the terror of dealing with radiation and a possible nuclear fallout were just beginning to come to bear.  Nor had the United States engaged in an operation against rebel forces and the regime of Moamar Khadaffi, both of which I’m thinking would have colored those comments differently.

Still, it was interesting to me how we, as Americans, view Japan.

Famous comedian Gilbert Gottfried was fired from being the voice of the Aflac duck after some jokes he made following the tsunami concerning Japan.  Mind you, Aflac is the top insurance company in Japan, and receives 75% of it’s revenue in that market.  And after running across a highly insensitive Youtube video (that was 1.5 seconds from becoming internationally viral) that this young white girl was saying that the tsunami and earthquake was God’s punishment for atheism in Japan and that said natural disasters was God’s way of bringing people back to God, I realized that how we view Japan is interesting to say the least.

I get the impression that most of us view the Japanese in one of two lights: either as ruthless businessmen who are threatening the American production economy or as the Imperial Nation of Japan circa 1941.  There’s not much inbetween ground that we’ve allowed for when it comes to viewing the Japanese.  But it shouldn’t come to much of a shock if you think about it.  When we watch the news or any type of television, the dominant image that’s portrayed to us is usually within either of those two categories.  It definitely shouldn’t come as a surprise when we have recent images of the movie Pearl Harbor emblazoned on our memories; the portrayal of the Japanese was a typical indurate and callous understanding of a culture we haven’t taken much time to learn and understand.

If I can do a slight excursus, the issue stems back to our elementary and high school history courses where Japan was always talked about in antiquity.  We learned of the Japanese empire from millennia ago and 99% of us didn’t store any details about it.  Fast foward to 1941 and we read and talked about the attack on Pearl Harbor, maybe debated the moral and ethical ramifications as to atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for the most part, since then, we really didn’t discuss who and what Japan is.  It’s this type of American insolence and ignorance that would prompt such a question to be asked.

It’s not a bad question that my friend posed on his Facebook wall, but I think it’s a question birthed out of American exceptionalism, therefore, it’s not a good question to ask.  Given since I personally know the guy who asked the question, I’m sure it was a genuine question and something he truly wanted to know about, but I’d go out on a limb and say this is a question almost uniquely a question an American would ask.  Personally, I align myself with the last comment as to how, in the time of great need, do we even think about taking a back seat?  Since we are the United States, I’m sure we can afford to help out in anyway that they need to be helped out and the citizenry wouldn’t even know.  Honestly, if we can bomb Baghdad in the middle of the night, or begin an operation in Somalia, and most recently Libya and the American public not know until after it’s happened, I’m sure we can offer and provide aid to a country, and our ally at that, that’s in desperate need.

I think it’s a sad moment in the evolution of humanity that we would predicate our aid based on what the country can give back to us.  We shouldn’t want to give aid to the Japanese simply because they are our ally or because we have such a heavy business relationship with them all the way from energy down to small manufacturing items, but rather because they are our fellow humans who require our assistance.

We owe them our humanity.

As I walk and drive around the neighborhoods of New Orleans seeing empty lots and abandoned houses where people used to live, the images of the aftermath of the tsunami after the waters had retreated solemnly back to the ocean, it reminded of the pictures of New Orleans after the water had been pumped back out into Lake Pontchartrain.  So for me to hear someone even remotely suggest holding back aid in whatever form needed kind of just rubbed me the wrong way.  I know it sounds altruistic and not pragmatic, but I think we should appeal to our better sides and do what’s right, not for the sake of maintaing business connections, but simply because it’s right.

Keep it uppity and truthfully radical, JLL

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8 thoughts on “What Do We Owe The Japanese? The Aftermath of the Tsunami

  1. I’m a life long Californian. I grew up in LA and have lived nearly all of my adult life in the Bay Area. When the Hayward Fault rips us a new one, which it’s predicted to do in the next 30 years or so, all bets will be off. California supposedly has like the 6th to 8th biggest economy in the world. But that won’t mean beans when Hayward goes. It will not trigger a tsunami and there are no nuclear reactors nearby, but there will be devastation — all the more so because of California’s weakened public infrastructure funding and huge state deficit. In other words, we’ll need all the help we can get. I gave money to the Japanese aid effort because we all need to be there for each other. If we don’t, there will be no humanity.

  2. UN: I commend you on your sentiments. At first blush, I bristled at your characterizations of Americans in regards to the Japanese. But, sadly, many may feel that way. Hopefully, anyone with some basic understanding of current events does not see the nation of Japan in the same light as you describe. The shoguns are gone…the financial success has faded like the tide. The Japanese are a very proud culture. One of our clients actually refused a donation (I have AFLAC on my RSS feed, that is how I came to this article).

    We should not equivocate on human suffering.

    Haiti has suffered a terrible tragedy…and the suffering continues.

    Japan has suffered a terrible tragedy…and the suffering continues.

    We need to answer the call to service. In our new environment, we can very easily help dozens, without moving….but we equivocate. Bullshit. If you don’t like Japan (or their exquisite tentacle-rape porn)…then donate your money or service to another cause. Otherwise…don’t talk shit to someone that is down.

  3. If you came across a poor man in the gutter who needed help would you walk on by?
    What if it was a rich man.
    Help is help and we should welcome the pleasure in being able to assist anyone.

  4. I think part of our black and white interpretation and beliefs about Japan has to do with what we are taught in grade school, just like you mentioned.

    Anyway, good post. I agree with you 100%.

  5. I don’t like the idea that money equals love and compassion. Money is just money and it’s a very, very cold commodity. Now let’s ask ourselves one totally serious question. Will anything that the Japanese want to do in terms of tsunami relief be impeded in any way because of a lack of dollars from the USA? Of course not! They already have enough money to do anything that they want to do, period, end of story. So if your generosity gland feels stimulated, why don’t you give some money to New Orleans? Why would you rather give money to Japan instead of Louisiana? Do you really prefer Noh plays to jazz? Your own people must always come first.

  6. One thing I wanted to add to this thoughtful conversation is the fact that although Japan is a “rich country” the Japanese people are oppressed by their rulers, just like ppl in this rich country country are oppressed. And racism, as people have pointed out is something no one should be tolerant of, ho matter which ppls it is aimed against, and racism is a pillar of this American Shitstem. I want to add,that the nuclear disaster continuing to worsen there is not an act of nature but an act of capitalism. This disaster will, of course, not stay in Japan. And it is up to humanity to struggle to change the situation where profit & exploitation decide the fate of ppl, and the fate of the planet. Throwing a few dollars out there, though well-meant, isn’t going to change all this. I think we need a revolution.

    With this in mind I invite one and all to an evening to celebrate a revolutionary vision of the future. Check out what Cornel West says about it:

    Cornel West invites you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WfBKxv37Hc

    Ruby Dee, Maluca, William Parker & Matthew Shipp, David Murray and many more.

    On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics
    A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World
    Monday April 11, 7pm

    An evening of music, visual art, poetry and readings including musician Guillermo Brown; singer Maggie Brown; Richard Brown, former member Black Panther Party and co-founder of The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, founded by the SF8; Ruby Dee; poet and playwright reg e. gaines; Moist Paula Henderson, baritone sax player and composer; Justin Long-Moton, poet; Maluca; jazz musician David Murray; Outernational; Abiodun Oyewole from The LastPoets; Ted Rall, cartoonist and author; Rebel Diaz; excerpts from Tapsploitation; and jazz musicians Matthew Shipp and William Parker. Readings of letters from prisoners and others by Aladdin, Bridgit Antoinette Evans, Raul Castillo, Brian Dykstra andNitya Vidyasagar. Directed by Leah Bonvissuto.

    TICKETS: $35, $15 students & unemployed, $100 premium tickets. Purchase tickets at Revolution Books or Harlem Stage. Buy tickets online at revolutionbooksnyc.org.

  7. I have a friend in Japan whom I met on Second Life, she has one child and no help from her government , I don’t understand why they don’t help there poor, especially a young Mother and child. Makes me wonder what such a rich country does with all the money coming in. Maybe we should ask them if they want or need our help!

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