Japan needs our help

March 22, 2011

Since the triple disaster—a 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and "nuclear meltdown"— struck Japan, we have been inundated with news coverage and a blitz of popular opinion almost around the clock ("Powerful quake and tsunami kill hundreds in Japan" March 12).

Besides the deplorable rhetoric spewed by some radio figures and on the Internet, there is an undercurrent of opinion that Japan really does not need our help — indigent Haiti, yes; wealthy Japan, not so much. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

It is true that Japan is the third-wealthiest nation in the world in terms of gross national product. Yet it is also true that the country has yet to find a way out of the morass that has resulted in two decades of recession or near-zero economic growth. But the greatest truism is that this combination of disasters that some are referring to as Japan's "Black Swan" is without precedent in world history — and the end of the story has yet to be written. The human toll is vast — not just the number of dead, which will no doubt be in excess of 10,000, but the untold numbers of people who will be psychologically scarred by the events still unfolding.

In economic terms, we can only hazard a guess at the tremendous price tag for reconstruction, but the experts are talking about a figure in excess of $100 billion. The full extent of the danger from the radiation leaking from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is also unknown, but news of contaminated food and water supplies have stirred up great fears across Japan.

Fortunately, it appears that most of the world is not convinced that the Japanese can be left to their own devices in recovering from this triple disaster. Help has been offered by generous people, celebrities as well as the lesser known, in over seventy countries across the globe. Those writing big checks include people from Korea, Taiwan and China — countries that were scarred by occupation or war with prewar Imperial Japan.

We should do all we can to help this country because the Japanese people are trying so valiantly to help themselves. There is so much to be admired in the way they have pulled together, despite the unsteady leadership being offered by Tokyo politicians. The unselfish manner in which victims have shared scarce resources of food and water, the widespread cooperation with daily phased blackouts across the six prefectures surrounding Tokyo and the thousands of city blocks in the capital itself, the lack of a single reported case of looting — all provide lessons to us in how people can rise above adversity and selfish desires to find their common humanity. We cannot help but admire the extreme bravery, determination and selflessness of the specialists — one only six months away from retirement — at the Fukushima plant who volunteered for an assignment that may very well end in their early deaths from exposure to radiation.

The aftershocks, both literally and figuratively, continue without relent, day after day, across a broad swath of the country. The final chapter to this horrific story has yet to unfold. We should not question for a moment doing all that we can to help our friends in Japan in their time of need.

Constantine N. Vaporis, Arbutus

The writer is director of the Asian Studies Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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