A crisis of leadership, too
The many-headed catastrophe points to deeper-seated problems in governing Japan
SINCE the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Japanese were turned upside down by earthquake, tsunami, fire and looming nuclear threat, people around the globe have watched, amazed, at the survivors’ composure—“stoicism” is the word they most often reach for. There have been few complaints, just civic-minded initiative. All along the coast, the urgent talk is not just about survival in the face of shortages of food, water and fuel. Stricken communities are desperate to start rebuilding their towns.
Stoicism is an admirable response to what fate deals you. It also serves as a coping mechanism in the face of incomprehension. And the Japanese no longer just find it hard to understand how nature could deal such a blow; increasingly, they want to know why the government of a rich and orderly land should be taking so long to tame an overheating nuclear plant and get help to communities ravaged by the tsunami. A lack of water, food and warmth are a fresh and acute source of suffering. Despite the scale of the humanitarian disaster, some of the suffering is avoidable. The system is letting citizens down.
This criticism may seem harsh. For a start, Naoto Kan, the prime minister, has maintained relative calm despite the menacing situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi, the crippled nuclear plant. His government has also been far more transparent than its predecessors. The Bank of Japan acted promptly, providing liquidity to prevent a natural disaster from becoming a financial one.