What’s Next for Japan?

Japan is trying to get back to normal, but is it really possible?

Allow me to start by quoting a reader’s comments to an earlier article I wrote about Japan – An Earthquake and a Tsunami:

Having been through multiple earthquakes – Sylmar, Whittier Narrows, Palmdale, NORTHRIDGE, let me try to explain what an earthquake does to you.

As we go through life, we base all our thoughts on certain foundation concepts. These are our “anchors” to explain the world.

When Terra Firma is not firma, essentially every single thing you think about life, the world, even the Universe is tossed out the door. YOU HAVE NO ANCHOR. NOTHING MAKES SENSE.

I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, you will never feel smaller, more powerless and more vulnerable than experiencing an earthquake of any size, but a 6.9 (for example) makes you feel 1 inch tall. You do what you can to appear to be in “control” but that is posturing. In your barbarian brain you have been knocked off the pillar.

This is primitive and atavistic. You can’t control that feeling any more than the Japanese cities that got swallowed by that Tsunami could stop its progress.

Continued prayers for Japan. They have had aftershakes larger than the Northridge quake for God’s sake.

They need our prayers and our support. I am waiting to see what I can do, but it may take some time until the Japanese decide what they need. They are very proud (with good reason) and I hope the numbers of victims continues to be relatively low.*

On the first day of business following the 8.9 magnitude quake (now said to be 9.0), the Bank of Japan poured $183b in an attempt to stabilize the market. The Nikkei went down by slightly over 6%. The following day, however, the Dow remained completely stable. Nothing seems to disturb the comfortable level the Dow has reached – neither the Middle East turmoil nor a tsunami.

I wonder if a nuclear reactor failure will remind those investors that the world is too fragilely connected. That a radioactive cloud in Japan will affect the Sushi we eat, not to mention ripple effects caused by a complete stoppage of all trade between Japan and the rest of the world, including the United States of America.

Possibly only the loss of sushi will finally make people understand how much we are all interconnected.

Japan, however, is one of the most sophisticated countries in the world, and we must do two things: First, look and learn and second, extend a hand to help in whatever way possible.

Japan faces immense challenges. An earthquake, one of the strongest in recorded history, followed by a tsunami that gives true meaning to the word. An economy brought to a stand still, millions without electricity and empty grocery store shelves.

Indeed, Japan’s pockets are deep, but will she be able to sustain a prolonged uncertainty?

Money can buy almost everything. For instance, there can be an airlift of bottled water. If airports fail to operate (if more earthquakes hit in the coming days or weeks), the military can drop everything from the air, including eggs, without breakage.

Japan is an island nation that depends on desalination of ocean water. If the treatment plants fail, it takes time to construct new ones.

People have disappeared, their number unknown. Their family members and relatives will be grieving and a whole nation will stand still to remember them. But not now; not yet.

Nothing is stable yet. Not the earth, nor the end of tsunamis hitting Japan. The nuclear reactors are not yet under control, and radioactive discharge into the atmosphere is still a major risk.

Evacuation concentric circles will be widened.

And in the meantime, people are trying to make some sense of it all, to hold onto something stable, constant, solid. They need this to keep their sanity, for when the powers are so much greater than the person, we tend to lose our balance.

In the short term, there are solutions. Whatever is needed will be provided for, no questions asked. Money will be spent and vital needs will be met. Eventually, when things return to “normal,” all bills will have to be paid, expenditures accounted for and dwindled reserves reestablished and rebuilt.

The USA went through a similar spending process as a remedy to the financial meltdown. Unlike Japan, though, the USA spent money it did not have. It will take decades to undo the “limitless” spending, as the number “billion” turned into small change and everyone talked in “trillions.”

Japan simply has no other choice and it must face the current grim reality and try to handle the situation the best it can.

As we observe the Japanese handling of one of the worst disasters in modern history, we must learn. Many of us remember Katrina hitting New Orleans. Many others remember the Northridge Earthquake in California or the Chernobyl Reactor. But none of us experienced multiple catastrophes hitting simultaneously, except possibly in the movies.

Thus, it is incumbent upon us to do everything possible to help. I talk primarily about governments and organizations, not about individuals and donations.

Governments like the USA should put all its resources toward helping Japan. In fact, I am surprised it has not yet done so. The information and expertise the USA and Russia possess in the area of nuclear energy is foremost in the world.

While in a situation room in the White House many scenarios may be considered, America should assemble its top scientists and military experts and put them to work.

If Japan goes, the Far East goes, and no one will be spared. Then goes the world.

Japan is not China. China may be the main supplier of everything Americans consume, including hordes of cash to cover our wasteful spending, but Japan is the most advanced country in the Asia Pacific region. While I do not belittle for a second the power of China, if Japan falls, so does the world. Japan is a leader in technology. It must give the world pause if their reactors are found wanting.

Everyone must be concerned and China must put aside decades of hatred toward the Japanese (as they justly remember atrocities committed by and cruelty of the Japanese). They need to act as a leader and assume the role of a superpower just as America did after WWII.

India should engage and harvest its fields of scientists and engineers to help a neighboring nation.

Russia dealt with the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and must be part of the global effort to aid Japan.

France uses electricity generated by nuclear fusion more than any other nation on this earth and should also participate, at least as an advisor.

Finally, the USA completes this group of nations. The USA openly displays a need to be involved in shaping the Middle East, dumping former friends and close allies. This may be an opportunity to show the world it is still a trustworthy and dependable ally. Sometimes perceptions are more crucial to one’s wellbeing than physical state.

Japan does not know how to ask for help. It is contrary to their proud culture. Many of us are deeply concerned with what is happening in Japan and with the wellbeing and health of the Japanese people. If not for Japan’s sake, the group of super-nuclear-powers should help for their own sake.

The world, after all, has become a global village, and something that happens in one point affects locations around the planet. No incident stands alone any longer.

We depend on one another and it is time we behaved accordingly.

Let us not wait for Japan to ask for help. If and when they do, it will already be too late, and then we would have failed them and our own wellbeing.

The world needs to show leadership and foresight and take action now. Quick thinking may save many headaches and great expenditures and casualties in the future. A simple lesson to preach, but one hardly ever heeded.

Ari Bussel
In the series "Postcards from Israel," Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel's on the ground, Zager's counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related - the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts - and so is this "point - counter-point" presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.