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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

People who Live on Little Islands

It's a peculiar thing to look back now and realize that out of all the interesting foreign countries in the world, including even one or two in Africa, I should have chosen to devote by far the lion's share of my attention to just one, Japan, a very difficult place to understand that couldn't be more distant, especially in the matter of ancestral ties.   On the face of it this looks like a huge omission that I should be trying hard to rectify, but somehow that is turning out to be a matter of the lowest urgency.

Yet what is a foreign country?    I have driven over a great deal of the geography of Canada, but only that, and otherwise I have spent little to no time in any of its communities, large or small.  But because of political and social considerations Canada has never struck me as being a foreign country anyway.    On the other hand, though I was born, raised, educated, and all the other stuff here and have been quite happy to seldom venture outside its borders, and though I have spent widely varying amounts of time in all but six of its 50 states, large parts of the U.S. itself are still essentially a foreign country to me.

But to get back to the Japanese, they have always struck me as being some eminently sensible people.   All that I know and have seen of them, including three short stays there, have convinced me of that.   Yet, it's been so strange to see how capable they are, now and then, of going completely off their rockers -- and staying there come hell or high water.  I can cite three glaring examples.

The first and most obvious was the series of December 1941 attacks on places where the U.S. had a lot of troops and ships and what-not, especially at Pearl Harbor.   Even a lot of the Japanese at that time knew that that move was bound to work out badly, to put it mildly, and in not that long a time either.  The Japanese, on their four little main islands, didn't have nearly the resources to compete with the U.S. in any way, except in the willingness to throw away the lives of their young men, who had, with the samurai heritage, been more thoroughly brainwashed than the usual run of young men who are traditionally used and used up in warfare.

Another such folly is the Japanese willingness to empty the world's oceans of fish and everything else edible or otherwise useful in the seas.   In every campaign you see that shows how, one after another, the stocks of fish are growing short and need to be protected, the Japanese are usually in the forefront of resisting these efforts, though you would think they would see keeping the sea stocks in good health as being to their own best interests.

A third instance is being highlighted now, by the difficulties of the nuclear power plant reactors at Fukushima, which were badly damaged by the recent big earthquake and even more by the ensuring tsunami.   That situation is still cooking badly and not yet resolved.

When, years ago, I heard of how the Japanese were building a large number of nuclear power plants, I wondered whether they had it all figured out.   During the crisis at Three Mile Island, in 1979 in Pennsylvania, we were told that a meltdown at a nuclear power plant could result in an area the size of Pennsylvania being rendered basically uninhabitable for a great many years.   The U.S. is a big place, but even there such a loss would be a devastating blow.   How much worse it would be in a small place like Japan.   Yet, no matter how much people trying to make a lot of money would claim otherwise, certain laws of happenstance can't ever be avoided.   And sure enough, just a few years after Three Mile, something even worse happened at Chernobyl, and now it's unfolding at Fukushima, where the reactors were even placed right on the sea coast where the tsunamis could get at them most easily.

I guess the Japanese felt that they had no choice, and it was just a gamble that they had to take, if they were going to have energy enabling them to carry on their world class economy, just as they probably think it's all right to chop the fish and whales right down to near extinction, because the stocks can always be brought back even though it takes time, and just as they might have bought into the myth of the invincibility of their army, which had fought off such mighty forces as the would-be Mongol invaders and later the Russian empire.

But I think the Clint Eastwood character, at the end of the film Magnum Force, put his finger on something important when he said, "A man should always know his limitations."   It looks as if similarly people who live on little islands should know theirs.   Even the British eventually learned that, though at this late date they still like to act as if they never have.


Blogger LeftLeaningLady said...

I hope it does not turn out as bad as it appears that it will. Did you know that Japan actually encompasses something like 5000 tiny islands? I thought it was 3!

The world is crazy though.

4:47 PM  

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