Rex marvels at Japan's great code of community, self-discipline and dignity that even this brutal disaster cannot shake.

 

Read the transcript of this episode

Dignity and Determination

March 17, 2011

I look at the pictures and I'm tempted to say "the poor Japanese."  Not in any condescending way, or out of the detachment allowed by distance, but in a kind of sad wonder and admiration.

What an unutterable battering the poor Japanese, and their country, have taken in the last week or so.

Not enough to have a titanic earthquake - a magnitude 9; not enough half an hour later to have a ferocious 3-storey high tsunami roar with immense violence into the northern part of the island; not enough also, almost for cruel ornament, to have a volcano erupt; not enough to have the weather turn on them just then with snow and freezing temperatures in the area when some 500,000 are displaced; all of this blended in with the unfolding, high tension suspense over the crisis at its nuclear reactors.

Japan is being brutally hammered on so many different fronts, it is difficult to find any realistic comparison for what its citizens are enduring, s the world's attention whiplashes from the acknowledged deaths and disaster, to the unfolding and ominous story of the reactors.  Any one of these disasters would – temporarily - smash most countries, and summon the sympathy of all the world besides. But multiple, concurrent and overwhelming crises, against the backdrop of the economic one which, for the moment only, can be passed by, robs the mind of the power truly to comprehend the scope of what is going on.

And still amid all of this, amid their own shock, grief, alarm and pain, there are so many stories coming out of Japan of their quiet, deep resilience, their stoicism and their willingness, where possible, to opt for order and calm.  We hear of people lining up for relief supplies, or read of others volunteering to distribute supplies in devastated areas, absent aid or government workers.  When a cash register in a store stopped working – electrical failure – customers, in this context, returned items to their shelves. 

Japanese culture is a great garment worked over the ages, sheltering them now from at least some of the awful cold.

Maybe it's a sad paradox, but I sense because Japan and its people are setting such a standard, because they are, within the boundaries of what is possible there now, doing all that they can do with minimal posturing or display, the international community is not as alert to, not as vigorous and swift and passionate in its response, as it could be. 

The earthquake, the tsunami, the volcano, the reactors, the weather, the economy – they have ripped the island of Japan and shattered the country in ways it will take years to repair and rebuild.  But not even these horrific and combined forces have broken the great code of community; of self-discipline and dignity.  The citizens of Japan are setting wonderfully high standards in their determination and fortitude, even as they must be reeling from personal tragedies of the deepest pathos and sorrow over the partial ruin of their very country and the loss of so many loved ones. 

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.