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But there was looting in Japan

If I hear one more snide comment about the utter lack of looting in Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, I’m going to scream.

First, what happened in Japan? Entire towns were washed away. In the hardest hit areas, there was little left to loot and few left to loot it.

Second, the scope of the disaster is so great — the death toll still unknown but leaping upward every day, with nuclear reactors flirting with meltdown and huge numbers of homeless, it isn’t as if the media is going to stop and figure out whether any electronics stores have been ransacked. The proper response to anyone crowing about a lack of looting in Japan should be, “How do you know?”

Third, the entire idea of there being no looting plays into our preconceptions about Japan, a nation where — I’m sorry to be the one to tell you — there is indeed crime, indeed poverty, where the people are not all orderly worker bees collecting honey for the hive. Japanese are human beings — stop the presses! — for good and ill.

Fourth, tsk-tsking over the supposed lack of looting in Japan is a not-so-sly way for Americans to voice the kind of ugly racial prejudice that some of us just itch to articulate, to wag a finger at black residents of New Orleans (after five years, geez, let it rest) for stripping grocery stores after Hurricane Katrina. (Last week, the Justice Department came out with a scathing report indicting the New Orleans police for a range of brutal behaviors. But we can’t worry about that report, no, because we’re too upset over the searing memory of liquor stores being ransacked five years ago. Why is that?)

And fifth — I saved the best point for last — there of course was looting in Japan, as reported in the Japanese media.

From a website of Kyodo News, Japan’s version of CNN, headlined, in Japanese:

“In Miyagi, police report 40 robberies by those taking advantage of the earthquake.”

The text, translated, reads:

“According to police on the night of the 13th the morning of the 14, approximately 1 million yen in cash was taken from the Miyagi City Home Center. There were robberies at a convenience store and a food store, and robberies at approximately 40 other stores by those taking advantage of the earthquake amounting to 1.65 million yen.”

A City Home Center is a store like a Target. And, at 80 yen to the dollar, the loss isn’t great — $12,500 in cash; $20,000 in theft. In this one report. But here was some looting, and there is no reason to think there wasn’t a lot more.

Certain stories such as this scratch such a nasty itch that few repeating them seem to care whether they’re true or not. Condescending racial grievance just doesn’t get the chance to strut its stuff in polite society the way it used to. That’s why some marvel over a claim that an ounce of reflection would have cast doubt upon and a minute’s investigation would reveal as false. (The suggestion that there was perhaps LESS looting in Japan than we’d find here, well that would make sense, given how important social cohesion is there — again, for good and ill. But that’s a different claim entirely.)

I’m not expecting these facts to change anybody’s mind. Because bigotry isn’t about fitting your worldview around reality, it’s about finding examples of reality that fit your worldview, and if the looting-in-Japan claims stop doing the trick, it’s on to something else.

Missiles over Libya

We seem to be at war, again. This would make three. And while the president assures us that this is a limited, toss-missiles-at-Libya-and-run kind of war, it’s impossible to look at the two current wars we already have going in that neck of the woods, in Afghanistan and Iraq, which just entered its ninth year, and not wonder if we know what we’re getting into.

The thing to always remember when embarking upon a new war is that the idea of it being quick and easy is a side effect of the narcotic that allows you to embark upon war in the first place. When Europe went to war in August 1914, it was supposed to be over by Christmas, and young men on both sides rushed into uniform, worried they would miss the fun.

They didn’t. Sixteen million people died in World War I and another 60 million in World War II, which was a direct result of the first. I’m not saying that President Obama was necessarily wrong to come to the aid of the rebels against our longtime foe in Libya. And maybe it’ll work out exactly the way we hope it will. But we’d be fools — again — to tell ourselves that it will be limited, quick and easy, when the truth is, we have no idea except the train has left the station and we’re on it.



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