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.