Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Heroes of Fukushima

It's one of those stories that can restore your faith in human nature.

180 pensioners aged between 54 and 78 - many of them skilled engineers and construction workers - have volunteered to work on the clear-up at the Fukushima nuclear plant though a website set up by 72-year-old retired engineer Yasuteru Yamada.

'Our generation, who has, consciously or unconsciously, approved the construction of the Fukushima nuclear power plants and enjoyed the benefits of the vast supply of energy ... should be the first to join the Skilled Veteran Corps.'

With impeccable logic, he explains that older people should have priority working in these dangerous conditions; 'Young people with a long future should not have to be placed in a position of having to undertake such a task. Radiation exposure of the generation that will reproduce the next generation should be avoided.'

Now ask yourself what the reaction to this situation would be in Britain. I have no doubt that there are many retired engineers out there who would be equally selfless - I know some who, I am certain, would volunteer immediately - but what of the system, and the country in general?

And after all, if your doctor has carte blanche to stop you smoking/drinking/eating yourself to death, how would the NHS react to a bunch of citizens willingly entering a life-threatening situation despite their retired status?

In the aftermath of the tsunami, Pavlov's Cat commented acerbically on foreign astonishment at the lack of looting in Japan, and gave his reason:

'Because it simply doesn’t occur to them to take stuff that does not belong to them. The sense of community and personal honour will not even contemplate such a thing.'

We have become so accustomed to petty crime that it has become the default setting; anything you don't lock up is fair game to predatory thieves. Ironically for a nominally Judao-Christian culture - Thou Shalt Not Steal - respect for property has become something exotic to be wondered at.

I suspect the honourable and selfless action of these men and women will, in some quarters at least, generate similar levels of astonishment and incomprehension - the Mail dubbing the volunteers 'the Saga suicide squad' isn't going to help - but I, and I hope most right-minded people, have nothing but admiration for them.


  1. Ta for the linkage.

    I got a little bit teary reading the story.

    As for the Saga etc. why does the MSM always have to have a little sneer at something they don't or won't understand.
    Whoever made that headline is c**t of the first order, c**ti di tutti c**ti in other owrds

  2. Thanks, Cat.

    I get the feeling the Mail's headline was added on by someone else after the article was written (in any case, they nicked it from the Times).

    You have more experience of Japan and would know better than I, but my bet is that, despite my title, these people don't see themselves as heroes at all, but as experts putting their knowledge to use in the best solution to a difficult problem.

  3. I don't think the Mail quite knew how to react. I can't see it happening here. We have a culture of standing back to allow the 'experts' or the 'authorities' to handle things.

  4. AKH, I agree - I get a definite sense the article is non-committal.

    I think the big difference is that the Japanese authorities have accepted the offer made by these people instead of trying to exercise full control of personnel.

  5. I think the Mail sub editor has either a real problem with the Japanese or doesn't understand the culture. Like when he described an apology bow as a grovel

    I also think in this time of 'live forever' 'Self, Self, Self' mentality the idea of self sacrifice does not compute to 'Them' the idea that one should sacrifice ones self for others is an anathema to them. It is the 'What's in it for me' generation

    These are the people that when they said 'Women and children first' would be looking for a dress to put on.

  6. "We have a culture of standing back to allow the 'experts' or the 'authorities' to handle things."

    We have it now. We never used to...

  7. Cat/JuliaM, I've been thinking along the same lines. My grandfathers were brought up on 'The Loss of the Birkenhead', as were many of their generation, in the clear expectation that they would do the same if necessary.

    The spirit of self-sacrifice still exists - every recent natural disaster has furnished examples - but it is at an individual level rather than a behavioural norm, where it has effectively been replaced with a 'someone else's problem' field.

    Perhaps Hollywood is to blame, with its fixation on the individual act of heroism - 'Go on without me, I'll hold off the indians/wolves/aliens' - or perhaps it was the sixties, when the cult of narcissism became rife and 'women and children first' became 'every man for himself'.

    That 'grovel' business had me spitting out cornflakes in fury but Blogger wasn't letting me comment at that point; consider yourself throroughly agreed with.

  8. Just FYI, the BBC have reported on this story and done it respectfully IMHO

    (apart for the bit about kamikaze's, but the interviewee treats it with the derision it deserves)

  9. Thanks for that, Cat; a shame the interviewer did take that kamikaze line but otherwise an interesting glimpse of an intelligent and principled man:

    'The question is whether you step forward, or you stay behind and watch.'