Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan's Tragedy

As America expresses its deepest sympathies to the people of Japan for the painful tragedy that has befallen that great nation, it is still hard to grasp the enormity of the disaster. Thousands of its citizens have been killed in this historic natural calamity that has been exacerbated by a still raging man-made nuclear catastrophe.

The horrific images of towns and villages being swept away by a massive tsunami underscore the frailty of mankind's existence. The giant cracks in the earth's surface are a reminder that fate is most often arbitrary and random.

The search for the thousands of missing souls is frequently interrupted by tsunami warnings. Layers upon layers of destruction obstruct the efforts. How many days, hours, and minutes more can survivors live trapped beneath the rubble without nourishment and warmth? How many were washed into the ocean when the massive tidal wave surged back to the sea?

Now the Japanese are facing perhaps an even greater peril. The country is heavily reliant on nuclear power. No country has taken greater care with the design and building of these plants than the Japanese. And yet their best laid plans have failed. The Fukushima Daiichi reactors have overheated due to damage from the earthquake and tsunami. They have begun to leak radioactive material into the environment threatening nearby residents and, depending on the wind, perhaps millions more. Even more alarming is the fact that it may take weeks or months to end the threat.

The earthquake, measuring an astounding 9.0 on the Rickter Scale, tore through the northern portion of Japan and moved the entire country eight feet to the east. As a result, the earth's axis shifted about six inches and each day will be nearly two millionths of a second shorter.

Rescue and support teams are coming into Japan from all around the world to provide assistance. The damage is already estimated at $100 billion, but it is too early to know for sure. Because Japan is the world's third largest economy, the financial aftershocks are being felt from Tokyo to London to Wall Street.

Still in the grips of their catastrophe, the people of Japan are stoic, reserved and accepting of their suffering and misfortune. They quietly sit in freezing and poorly furnished shelters that have no power or heat. Hungry and thirsty, they stand in long lines waiting for a few scraps of food and water. They calmly accept their quota of gasoline after waiting for hours. Their courage in the face of overwhelming adversity is almost incomprehensible.

But the Japanese have overcome a destructive world war. They have recovered from the uncertain difficulties of a "lost decade" brought on when their economy collapsed in the early nineties. For sure, iconic images of cars, boats and houses washing across the open fields of northern Japan will last a lifetime. Perhaps the scars will never heal. But, as Japan struggles to right itself, it will certainly recover and rebuild because it is a strong nation with a resilient people.

There will be much for the world to learn from this unimagined tragedy.

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