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Japanese’ quiet dignity

Leandro DD Coronel
By Leandro DD Coronel

MANILA

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the resulting tsunami and a possible nuclear meltdown in Japan have rendered that country’s people a massive blow, causing destruction, loss of human lives and property, and pain and suffering.

It will take years before the Japanese can pick themselves up from the rubble and rebuild. The rebuilding will in many ways be like starting from scratch.

The television images of the earthquake were frightening to the viewer. But the tsunami was more horrifying. And a possible nuclear Armageddon will have dire global consequences, including for the Philippines.

At first, the waves of the tsunami looked unreal on television. They looked like the computer-generated, end-of-the-world scenarios in many movies, meaning that the moviegoer knew that the scenes were made up and, therefore, looked exaggerated and contrived. We are all so used to such scenes of colossal proportions that cinema has so produced with amazing computer wizardry.

But of course this time they were real, even though it took us, the televiewers, a minute or two to realize that the onrushing waves were true and fast and furious.

The morning after was a more bone-chilling scene. Whole towns and villages had been wiped out, former homes now no more than scattered matchsticks. Japan had been hit by another atom bomb, this time unleashed by Mother Nature.

Nature can be cruel, this the Japanese have learned again. How long will the rebuilding take? Many years, it appears.

But, in the aftermath of nature’s fury, in the midst of the desolateness of the scenes of utter destruction, there is one thing that strikes the outside observer. There is something eerily beautiful and heartwarming out of this tableau of misfortune and misery. It is the calmness and quiet resignation of the Japanese people instead of a “there-is-no-God” impulse that might have churned inside other peoples’ minds and guts.

After the Japanese people’s realization that they had just been hit by an unspeakable disaster, they quietly and dignifiedly rolled up their sleeves and their pant legs and dug to find surviving loved ones and neighbors. They acted as a community to pick up the strewn debris and put things in order again, however haphazardly and improvisedly that may be at this time.

Remarkably, they lined up at grocery stores to buy whatever food was available, calmly and quietly, with no jumping of queues or elbowing one another to get to the head of the line. There was no great wailing of anguished voices or pained weeping over their great loss. And there was no looting as might have happened elsewhere, in other cities, in other countries of the world. There was no hysteria or rioting.

What a remarkable and admirable stoicism and sense of dignity. No one out of place, no action out of turn, no voice out of sync. What a people.

Like Germany, Japan is still regarded by many peoples around the world with leery eyes because of their respective roles in World War II, in which so many people died brutally or hurt traumatically for life. The ruthlessness of the Japanese toward Filipinos during that global and brutal war remains a sore point in our relations with the Japanese. Older Filipinos remember the heartless and merciless way Japanese soldiers treated Filipinos during the war. And we still have many of the Filipino women who were forced to be sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers and up to this day uncompensated materially or even psychologically with a formal apology.

But that was war. Which is not to justify the actions of invading and conquering armies because it can never be justified. And that was a long time ago, half-a-century and a score ago. We of today’s generations never suffered or tasted the atrocities inflicted upon our people by the Japanese. But our parents and grandparents suffered during that time and many of them paid with their lives defending our country. That generation is still bitter against the Japanese. And justifiably so.

Japan has expressed remorse over its role in World War II. And it, too, suffered greatly after America dropped atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, bringing Japan to its knees and to surrender. In the aftermath of the war, Japan renounced war as an instrument of foreign policy. The cruelty of war makes pacifists out of peoples and nations.

And, as we all know, Japan rose from the ashes of war to become one of the great economic powers of the 20th century and until today.

It is also today the largest provider of development aid to the Philippines and an important trade partner of our country. This is not to say that Japan’s war atrocities should now be forgotten or forgiven. It is only to say that nations and their relationships with other nations evolve over time.

The recent earthquake and tsunami will impose tremendous cost to Japan in terms of its people’s psyche and its national coffers. Rebuilding will cost a lot.

But Japan rose from the rubble of war before and it will again dust itself off and rise from this latest catastrophe.

Japan’s main asset are its people. Disciplined before by a punishing and brutal war and humbled immeasurably by its defeat at the hands of America and its allies, including the Philippines, Japan relied on its people to rebuild anew. With a rigid self-discipline and a sturdy work-ethic, the Japanese rebuilt their nation.

That discipline, humility and hard work elevated Japan to its achieved heights of economic prosperity and leadership. The same indomitable spirit will again spur them on in their latest test of character and fighting spirit. Their sense of calm and their code of national responsibility and solidarity will again be the Japanese people’s practical assets as they regroup and reconstruct.


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