The Washington Post

The Japanese emperor’s speech

Akihito tells his people to share the burden.

It’s mighty grave when the emperor addresses his people. Japan’s Emperor Akihito did that today, and his words are moving even to those of us on the other side of the world: Take care of one another, he said. Be compassionate. Share the burden.

I’m seeing different translations. This is from the BBC:

“I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times.”

He also said, according to The Post: “I think it is important for all of us, in various ways and however small, to share the burden of the difficult period that the victims now face.”

In a crisis, public figures say many things like this, but I’m struck by how the Japanese are really pulling together in this nightmare, not panicking, not looking for scapegoats. I know we were like that here in the U.S. right after Sept. 11 — remember the people lining up to donate blood, and the general sense of common purpose. But we’re a more fractious society in general. President Bush told us to go shopping — and the moment of unity seemed to evaporate soon thereafter. After Katrina, the blame game started instantly. Same with the financial crisis. Same with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Am I crazy to discern a distinct cultural difference between the U.S. and Japan in the reaction to a terrible event? We have to hold the guilty responsible, and punish them if necessary, but in the short term, when the crisis is most acute, we should focus on helping those who are hurting. All for one and one for all.

[I’d write more but this new blogging software is terrifying.]

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."


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