When Japan was hit by the earthquake, and then the tsunami, and then the nuclear reactor problems, a lot of things went through our minds, but as the days ticked by, it was mostly John Hershey’s Hiroshima.
We’d listened to it at work one week last summer. It was 5 CD’s. It was so painful, we had to stop frequently. But at the same time, we felt compelled to finish the book. Looking away from a tragedy, simply averting your eyes, is not going to help future generations.
If you’ve never read Hiroshima, you need to. Much of it will sound all too familiar, both in the fortitude and dignity of the Japanese people, and the spotty response of a totally overwhelmed Japanese government, medical community, etc.
At heart, this is a story of devastating human tragedy, punctuated by incredible heroic act by ordinary people. But it’s also a cautionary tale, of how fragile life is and how often we take for granted the world we live in, and the way we live in it. Food won’t always be there. Nor will medication. Or fire departments.
After the Phuket Tsunami, many nations put in place tsunami warning systems. But having a warning system is only part of a plan. People need to know where the nearest higher ground is if they heard the sirens. And that’s where Japan (and many other nations, even the USA if it were hit today) failed.
People needed to be shown topographical maps and realize the most direct route to a safe haven, be that a 9-story building, a residential street that happens to rise up 200 ft, or even an air-tight, water-tight underground nuclear fall out shelter.
Having a Mae West life jacket and 50 ft of 1,000 K strength rope would have saved a lot of people. Having easy rooftop access. Being told not to get in your car. Having preparedness drills. There was so much that could have been done in advance to minimize the devastation even further. And hopefully, all nations will learn from this.
But, even if nations do as they usually do, nothing much, remember: no matter what happens in life, everyone has the potential to be a hero to someone.