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“They had it coming”: Why Your Facebook Friends Have Been Total Assholes About Japan

After the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, I was expecting a handful of ignorant Facebook statuses about “blah blah they deserved it because of blah blah.” (RedLightPolitics and I were even making a “media response bingo” card of all the stupid things people say after tragedies.)

I’ve been running STFU for a couple of years now, so I wasn’t totally surprised when the very next morning there were a slew of submissions in my inbox about how “it was their fault for Pearl Harbor,” “Remember Pearl Harbor, haha they deserved it,” “Japan should have turned to Christ; God is mighty!” etc. I usually brush off the stuff that comes across my inbox as outliers — most of us are good people, right? A few bad apples shouldn’t spoil it for everyone.

I looked up “Pearl Harbor” on YourOpenBook.org that afternoon, and there were tens (if not hundreds) of statuses with the exact same sentiment. I couldn’t scroll through all of them. I had to take the afternoon off from the Internet. That does not happen often. I did some work and then took a nap and tried to think about other things. Even I — the battle-hardened political blogger — could not believe that people were saying the Japanese people deserved to “pay” for something that happened 60 years ago.

So I’ve given it a little thought, and I’ve come up with a possible explanation (one that helps me sleep at night, anyways). I think people are dealing with this and having trouble processing that something this awful could happen to Japan. The Japanese: They’re Just Like Us, right? Maybe a little cleaner and they have cooler video games and kinkier porn. But for the most part the same. What happened to Japan could just as easily have happened to us. Haiti had an earthquake, but they’re an impoverished country without any sort of disaster preparedness. A stiff breeze could have taken out some of their buildings. But Japan had earthquake safety drills, and reinforced buildings, and seismologists and geologists and other scientists on hand. And it happened anyway.

By blaming the disaster on karmic retribution, it seems like people are going through the first three stages of grief: denial, anger, and bargaining. Denying it could happen to us, angry that it happened to a country so similar to ours, and maybe, in their minds, assuaging their fears by deciding it was a cosmic “bargain” — for Pearl Harbor, for their relationship with Israel, for their “lack of morality”, for “not helping America more.”

After the earthquake hit Haiti, I didn’t see much blame, though there was a lot of “Why should we help them? When have they helped us?” And naturally, Pat Robertson chimed in that Haiti had it coming because they practiced witchcraft. Or something.

Hurricane Katrina was in America, but it had as much to do with government negligence as the bad weather. Also, it mostly affected poor people, not “Real Amurricans.” 9/11 was in America, but it was perpetrated by humans, not a random act of nature.

Japan was proof that terrible disasters can strike even the most industrialized first-world nation, taking lives and destroying entire cities over the course of just a few hours. It could happen here. Saying it happened because of Pearl Harbor is a way of saying, “This couldn’t happen to us.”

Which, of course, begs the question: if Japan had it coming, what’s in store for America? Between the atomic bomb, two world wars, Vietnam, and the ongoing struggles in the Middle East … if Japan deserved an earthquake, you need to get your disaster kit set for when we get swallowed whole by a freak volcano filled with wolves.

By STFUConservatives

Jess, the mastermind behind STFU Conservatives, is a bike-riding hippie liberal who lives in West Hollywood. Her favorite political issues are abortion, marijuana, health care, and class issues. Her favorite apolitical topics of conversation include small dogs, Diet Coke, and extensive TV viewing.

18 replies on ““They had it coming”: Why Your Facebook Friends Have Been Total Assholes About Japan”

See, I think some people are just racist assholes. In fact, a lot of people are.

The logic in the article is essentially the explanation given for why people victim-blame rape survivors. Essentially, because it could happen to you.

I don’t think that is really it, though. Just like I don’t think people victim-blame rape survivors simply becuase they are afraid of it happening to them, I don’t think that people are blaming Japan because they are afraid of something equally catastrophic happening to them.

Sometimes, people just don’t give a shit about others. They use their racism, sexism, and all sorts of other isms to let us know how much they value other people.

I’m with you, @crazylady! I saw a lot of those posts, too, and I think people are just racist (saw lots of offensive comments about Japanese people woven into those posts), and also, American-centric jerks. Their government bombed us once and therefore the wrath of God shall forever rain down upon them, or whatever. Idiots, all of them, who probably haven’t stepped one foot out of their world and can’t actually identify with anyone who doesn’t look, act and speak like them. I have a lot of contempt for these people.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a little obesessed with race issues lately, but I see a significant racial component to these responses.* The author assumes that the US public sees that Japanese as like us. I just doubt whether that’s true. I’ve heard a lot of anti-asian sentiment lately. I think it’s easy to say “This only happens to those squinty-eyed people over there, not here to nice white people.”

*The FB responses, not the Persephoners’!

No, I agree. The Pearl Harbor comments are shocking to the vast majority of people who have at least a shred of humanity to them, so it’s understandable if the author feels that there *has* to be an alternative explanation. But – and no disrespect meant – I feel as if the analysis ignores the fact that there are a lot of people whose racist (and other -ists) beliefs and self absorption cloud their view of *everything*

I completely agree – it’s just straight-up racism. I hear about this type of anti-Asian rhetoric all the time through my job, although this is particularly disgusting to me and reminds me of the Japan-bashing of the 1980s. I don’t think the vast majority of the people making these comments see the Japanese as “just like us” at all. The “karma” responses aren’t just about Pearl Harbor; a large number have also been about whaling/dolphin-killing issue that’s been highlighted by the documentary “The Cove.” I think these responses hitch onto the old notion of the “yellow peril”, which paints the Japanese (and Asians as a whole) as savage, unfeeling monsters with no understanding of American morality or values. The “Asians in the Library” video that went viral this past week is another great example of this concept.

Thanks for highlighting this issue – it really shows the darker side of the world’s response to this disaster.

Following this line of “reasoning”, the US should prepare for a devastating natural disaster in 70 years for invading Iraq (long after the powers that be ordered the invasion are dead and gone)?

My guess is that many of those espousing such hateful crap have no idea what Pearl Harbor is – beyond being a Ben Affleck movie.

I hope that in most cases it’s about ‘Japan was proof that terrible disasters can strike even the most industrialized first-world nation, taking lives and destroying entire cities over the course of just a few hours. It could happen here.’ because else I might seriously lose major faith in humankind.

As much as I consciously think anyone who victim-blames is a terrible person, I also recognize some degree of “othering” as a defense mechanism that allows people to function without the fear of the randomness of life.

There’s a really broad-painted line (perhaps even a wall), though, between trying to rationalize it for yourself in your mind so you can feel secure enough to deal, and being a dick on the internet.

After reading all the comments I’ve read over the past few days, I’d welcome that volcano filled with wolves. I hope I go first.

Seriously, it has worn me down tremendously, reading this shit. Even people I normally would consider open minded, compassionate, intelligent people have said things to me like, ‘Well, it’s awful and I feel for them, but I’d better not hear about the U.S. offering any aid or money. That is needed here, and they will have to stand on their own two feet’. I simply cannot believe, days later, that people said that. Not only is Japan a major ally of ours but it is well documented that the Japanese helped by donating tons of aid and money after Hurricane Katrina…and still, so many of our citizens are actively campaigning against helping Japan right now.

I just do not get it. We are just a hateful, stingy, apathetic nation. We are incapable of compassion, understanding, empathy. We suck*.

*By ‘we’ I mean everyone but us, dear Persephoners.

I think I’d lose it if I heard someone say that to my face. “Feeling awful” isn’t going to help anybody stay safe or rebuild, and if that doesn’t bother you, you probably don’t feel as awful as you say you do.

(using the generic “you” because I’m totally with you, TF)

Exactly. I’ve never gotten those people who don’t support aiding other countries because, ‘We should support/aid/assist our own first’. It is those same people, usually, who are against programs like Medicare, Food Stamps, and tax-funded scholarship funds. So who exactly is this ‘we’ they want to help? Oh, themselves. Right.

I am in agreement that if a country doesn’t want/need our help, then we should stay the hell out and not act like Big Brother to the rest of the world. But in cases like these, when Japan needs all the help they can possibly get, I say do whatever we can. Send money, send aid, help these people until the work is finished. I felt the same way about New Zealand and Haiti. I gave money to all three.

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