Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Katrina=looting; Japan=stocking up on supplies

‎I've been holding my tongue at comments from RT friends and Internet blogs alike about how wonderful and self disciplined the Japanese are and how terrible the Katrina victims were. There's just no way to compare the two events, not just because of the difference in proportion, but because the two countries' cultures are so different. Another false perspective employed by those who wish to demonize my hometown is the unmentioned fact that you can't single out New Orleans as an entity distinct from the USA in general (although sometimes I'd like to, especially since Plessy v. Ferguson).

For one thing, US media has a completely different philosophy and business model than Japan does; and than its own international desks. Part of this difference is based in culture: in Japan, you don't sensationalize tragedies, or crime. In the US, that's all we'll read when we pick up a paper. Both New Orleans and Japan have organized crime, New Orleans' revolving mostly around drug gangs. Japan has a huge crime syndicate called the Yakusa, that has its hand in pretty much the same things Drugs, prostitutes, theft, murder. Never heard of em? American news sensationalizes crime, Japanese news plays it down. Crime gangs are so accepted in Japan that they put up signs to advertise the location of their headquarters.

You cannot compare the news reports on the two disasters, because they are based on two different ideas of what constitutes news/journalism. As is now commonly known, the reports of crime during the post-Katrina flooding were greatly exaggerated. Even the mayor and police chief were reporting rapes, murders, looting and shootings that never took place. But if you watch Fox or read most accounts today (from people who weren't there), you would never know this. You probably believe that babies were being raped and helicopters shot down while TV sets were marched out on the shoulders of thousands of black teens in brand new sneakers, for months on end. You've seen the same handful of photos I have. So many times that in your mind it was an endless crime event loop. Stuff was taken, but mostly food, clothes, diapers and supplies.

People in Japan are taking stuff out of damaged stores, too. We're just not calling it crime because they're Japanese. They're calling it "scavenging for supplies." There are no doubt as many instances per capita of misbehavior and desperation in damaged areas of Japan as New Orleans. But in Japan they don't broadcast it, or exaggerate it through rumor and bad journalism.

This disaster is so much worse than Katrina. 10K people have died, entire towns wiped away. But it also involves an entire country, with its army and relief efforts on hand from day one. It also has been getting international aid and rescue from the first day. Do you even remember how long it took FEMA and the national guard to get into New Orleans. Hint: by this point, (five days later) NOBODY but the Coast guard helicopters were on site.

We don't know for certain what's going on in every damaged town in Japan. We have no idea what's going to be happening in the months after this ongoing tragedy, or what people have been, or will be driven to. It's only been 5 days. Katrina involved a total breakdown of government protection and disaster relief, including water, crim prevention, shelter and food, for a small trapped population of the poorest citizens of New Orleans who had fewer resources to survive on over a long period of time, than the average Japanese person caught in the earthquake and tsunami. Their standard of living, and level of government-based care was and is higher by far than that of New Orleans.

There's nothing wrong with identifying behavior you think admirable and contrasting it with behavior you think regrettable or destructive. What's insane is labeling the poorest and most desperate of your fellow Americans as somehow evil, lazy and selfish because they didn't act, in different circumstances, the same way you are being told a different group of people are acting in another country, another culture and other circumstances.


  1. Turned off cable news last year Iso, and I have not missed it one bit. My lingering memory of Katrina has practically nothing to do with the actions of the people of NOLA. Looting? No, my memory is of the Superdome. The bridge filled with people holding signs. The feeling of utter helplessness I saw on the faces of the people waiting to be helped. My government completely dropping the ball. "Heckuva job Brownie" and all that stuff. The flyover. by AF1.

    Likewise in the case of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami. There will always be Yakuza types collecting fingers or whatever, but my lasting memory of this will not be that of chaos and crime in the streets but rather one of how the Japanese authorities handled the crisis (however that turns out to be.)

  2. This is one of my new favorite blogs. Linked is a post along similar lines. But in either case, yeah.

    Your description of the Japanese mafia reminds me of the mob as portrayed in the opening of Snow Crash.

    [I (mostly) quit the Fray when it no longer made me happy, a couple years ago. I may not have an audience blogging, but at least it doesn't make me more miserable.]

  3. I also think that the coverage here in the United States (and in Britain) has something of a focus on the Japanese authorities as being incompetent. If you've heard one of Dr. Michio Kaku's rants on Good Morning America, you'll know what I mean.

    The Telegraph coverage also has a hint of this - they characterize the Japanese as scavenging because their government is unable to help them - while the post-Katrina scavenging was largely portrayed as unnecessary. Despite the fact that the story eventually shifted to the federal government's bungling, the dots were never connected in the same way.

    But you make an excellent point - Americans are quick to see each other as "evil, lazy and selfish." This isn't limited to times of disaster - our entire political dynamic seems to be centered around this. (Public-sector unions, anyone?) The fact of the matter is, we aren't a unified nation.

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  5. Michael-- it's always better to have a "block" function in your brain. Learned that from the Fray.

    Kiefus, I'm starting to enjoy not having the fray chaos in my head. Thanks for the link. It's now bookmarked.

    Aaron, just saw the last two, I love him! He's my girlfriend's brother in law, but we haven't met yet. I'd probably embarrass myself.

    PC, much as I love Barbara Bush, she is Satan's dam.

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  7. You bring up some valid points, and saying katrina is an example of extreme poor behavior, and Japans earthquake is an example of perfect behavior would be exaggerating. But where you are wrong is the fact that because they are different cultures is the perfect reason to compare them. You say it like it's apples to oranges, but it's comparing how two different places and people reacting to crisis. It only makes sense for the US's more egocentric society, to be less equipped both in aid, and reaction of citizens who are in the disaster, than the community centric Asians. Naturally the US teaches kids and adults, competition, get ahead, everyone for themselves, there is gonna be more looting.


    Its only 'looting' if you are black. If you are white its finding (the same analogy applied to the 07 london floods) Your article gives further credence to racial biases in reporting.

    1. I think you need to reread the article, without presuppositions. It might help you to know that I am a creole native New Orleanian.

  9. Anonymous 1, look at it this way. The Japanese who are helping each other are analogous to YOU, as an American helping Katrina victims, as Americans. Did you?


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