JAPAN | Gov’t must stop forcing sacrifices on citizens and establish sensible policy

Posted on June 21, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 21 June 2011

Special adviser Takeshi Umehara, left, delivers a speech at the first meeting on April 14 of the government's panel of experts on the restoration of quake- and tsunami-ravaged areas. (Mainichi)

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant warns that Japan’s complexity of organizations may slow its response at times of emergency.

We can’t brush aside such a warning as mere meddling. Indeed, the country’s decision-making mechanism, shouldering of responsibility, and actions are all operating separately without linking to each other. As such, it is only natural to suggest that this situation is the result of a structural flaw — and not an unfortunate coincidence.

It is unlikely that malicious intent had anything to do with the delays in the government’s reaction to the nuclear crisis. Rather, the delays represent a rigid structural climate that includes elusion, vertical sectionalism and exclusion, and scattered responsibility.

Evasion of responsibility is often seen at times of war.

Many of you probably have seen the film “Judgment at Nuremberg,” based on the Judges’ Trial of the Nuremburg war crime tribunal accusing several judges of cooperating with the Nazis. Directed by Stanley Kramer in 1961, the American film portrays the pitfalls of irresponsibility, self-righteousness and the ability to adapt that people can fall into, even if they are rational members of the justice system.

“If the defendants were all depraved perverts — if the leaders of the Third Reich were sadistic monsters and maniacs — these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake or other natural catastrophes,” the judge in the movie says. “But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men — even able and extraordinary men — can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination. No one who has sat through this trial can ever forget.”

The film shows that with heightening tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, there are unexpected political interventions, and fears of a military conflict. Because the U.S. military does not want to antagonize Germans, it applies pressure on the court in a roundabout way to be lenient toward the defendants.

The circumstances in the film have the same feel as the current situation in Japan, where the government has called for the restart of nuclear reactors currently suspended out of fears that otherwise Japan’s summertime electricity demand will not be met, even though there is no end in sight to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant. The line of thinking is that certain “small” things have to be sacrificed to secure “bigger” guarantees.

In order to break free from our dependence on nuclear power, society must undertake broad and tireless discussions to change the course of energy and cultivate a sensible philosophy. You could call it a shift in values. It might be out of habit that the soldiers in the film put military prowess over the pursuit of justice. It is rather dubious for the Japanese government to suggest that “small” things have to be sacrificed for “bigger” purposes without making thorough efforts to establish safety measures or verify what happened.

In the film, the judge presiding over the case does not hold back, and metes out a heavy sentence.

As an aside, the great thing about this film is that it does not provide us with a simple explanation on what is right or wrong, with a clean ending denouncing all evil. We are even made to become skeptical of the U.S. as the embodiment of justice in World War II.

Maximilian Schell won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the defense attorney, who brought up what the U.S. did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (By Kenji Tamaki, Expert Senior Writer)

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