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Politicians, get straightened up! [2011年06月15日(Wed)]

A Patriotic Open Letter

An article published in “Seiron” (Sound and fair opinion) column
The Sankei Shimbun, Morning Paper, Tokyo, June 9, 2011

Put your people and country before your personal agenda!

Your shameless political ineptitude and confusion are driving us to the heights of anger and indignation. Have you not chosen political office with a lofty idea of wishing to serve your country and people? Not only have you lost your original ambitions but it appears you have allowed yourselves to fall so low as to seek only to preserve your status, not even the interests of your party’s political agenda.

I must admit that the political climate of our land has contributed to the lack of political leadership, not least the single-seat electoral system riddled with flaws and the failure of us citizens and the media to foster responsible statesmen. Having acknowledged this, I must point out that you have put the cart before the horse. You appear to care more about enjoying power that comes with your office, putting aside your original aspiration to serve your country and your people. Your priority appears now to save your own skin and your comfortable future.

In the aftermath of the deadly earthquake, our country is in the midst of the worst national crisis since WWII. In spite of their untold loss and sufferings our people have maintained their resilience and fortitude as the world has observed. I was once asked by President Peres how do the Japanese act with such discipline in the face of devastation. He was referring to the volcanic eruption on Miyakejima that caused all 3,800 villagers to leave their island homes to seek refuge. Our people have proved again and again the capacity to maintain dignity even under duress.

Politicians, you are taking advantage of your voters

If you go to the disaster stricken areas you will find young people, often criticized by us adults as selfish and inward-looking, volunteering to take leadership in cleaning up and taking good care of helpless victims. The whole nation has risen to the occasion and is generously giving donations and contributions. Where are the politicians who should be at the forefront in planning and doing what needs to be done to rebuild the lives of the people and the country? How long do you expect the victims to put up with your incompetence? Not for long. And this applies to your voters as well.

“Are you already leaving us!” An angry voice called on Prime Minister Naoto Kan as he left. This was symbolic and applies to all politicians. A few hundred politicians, some of them making more than one visits, have all called on the victims to prevail. Three months have passed since the disaster and there is not even a blueprint for restoration.

Disaster victims are grateful to members of the police, fire-fighters and self-defense forces for working selflessly day and night. They are equally grateful to volunteers and NPOs for helping them rebuild their lives. In contrast, indignation against politicians is heard throughout the land, not just in stricken areas. If this is the voice of despair for your lack of sympathy and leadership you do not deserve to represent us.

Leading American papers have rightly pointed out the lack of political leadership is the cause of confusion in Japan following the disaster. French and Chinese papers observed cynically: “People are heroically persevering under worthless government.” “The lack of policy is the cause of disastrous confusion”. Gerald Curtis, professor of Columbia University observed in his lecture given in Tokyo: “Japan can afford miserable politicians because of the solidness of its society,” and that “Politicians are taking citizens for granted.”

Politicians, are you not ashamed with all these said about you? The shameful wrangling over power, with the former PM accusing the incumbent as a fraud for taking time to step down, is infra dig on his part. It is no time for us to chaff at the scene of musical-chair played by politicians and blame them for putting their interests above those of the people they were elected to represent. Mayors of towns and cities have earned more confidence than the prime minister and members of his cabinet who lack leadership. You had better seriously listen to their voices.

Prepare to give your life

Takao Saito M.P., whose name is well known in our parliamentary history with those of Yukio Ozaki and Tsuyoshi Inukai, took the floor to speak against the Sino-Japanese War, and attacked the government for three time change of cabinet in two years: “How can the government responsibly manage national crisis in such state of affairs?” “You lack the passion to serve your country with your life…” He was promptly dismissed as a member of the House of Representatives.

Times are different, but there are similarities. Politicians are held accountable for allowing parliamentary democracy to flounder.

If the Diet continues to stall and delay national reconstruction, the economy will suffer and financing the recovery will become more challenging. Financial difficulties may have adverse effects on foreign relations and national security. It is natural for political parties to have different agenda. Reconstruction from the disaster, however, is a national agenda as important as that of diplomacy and security. It is a must for political parties to work together above their factional strife.

Since the disaster, we have received generous support from peoples around the world accompanied by their strong confidence in our recovery. We have the track record of having overcome every national crisis, the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, the devastating defeat in WWII and the great Hanshin Kobe earthquake in recent years. We have the resilience and what it takes to comeback.

It will require political rebirth. It is said that politicians are no better or worse than the people who elect them. But if the present situation lingers, we will be remembered as a country of first class citizens and third class politicians. Ours is a culture of knowing shame. Politicians, if you are not ready to give your life for your country and your fellow citizens, take off your parliamentary badge and resign. This act of integrity will give you the commitment that is needed. I crave for politicians with such mettle for the sake of our country and the people. Yohei Sasakawa
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:32 | URL | comment(0)
The Great East Japan Earthquake Relief Activities [2011年06月15日(Wed)]

Volunteers putting stickers on the free radios

The Great East Japan Earthquake Relief Activities :
Establishment of Temporary Disaster Broadcasting Stations and Assessment

Our assistance for the launch of 18 temporary disaster broadcasting stations, with the purpose of supplementing lack of information felt by those affected by the disaster, was reported in my past posts. Recently, I appeared on a radio program of a temporary disaster broadcasting stations in Ishimaki with ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan.

On that occasion, we were thanked for the assistance we provided. However, we cannot allow ourselves to be complacent with our activities. Just when I was thinking that objective assessment was what mattered, I came across an article titled, “The Disaster Underscores the Power of ‘Community Media,’” the second in a series of reports from the disaster-stricken areas, on Diamond magazine’s website.

Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun’s handwritten, wall-pasted newspaper was acquired by a museum in Washington DC as part of their permanent collection and won praises from abroad. As this section on Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun overlaps, I have excerpted the section on the disaster broadcasting from the above article, as below.


Special Report from the Disaster-Stricken Area, No.2
Diversity to the Media: The Disaster Underscores the Power of “Community Media”

“Information” is crucial at a time of emergency, particularly at a time of a major disaster. Many of our readers must have felt that Twitter, Facebook, and other Internet tools played an important role when trying to obtain or disseminate valuable information after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Among many of the evacuees and particularly those affected by the tsunami in the Sanriku region, however, the feeling they had was that “the Internet was totally useless.”

According to the results published on April 28, 2011, of a questionnaire survey conducted by Survey Research Center in the disaster-stricken coastal areas in Miyagi Prefecture, the source of information that respondents felt was most useful after the earthquake was the radio (50.8%), followed by the newspaper (12.6%). Twitter and other social networking services accounted for only 0.4% and the personal computer 0%. It would be safe to say that the evacuees felt that the Internet was totally useless.

Two months after the disaster, Internet access had not fully recovered in the disaster-hit areas. The author visited some evacuation centers in Higashi Matsushima during the Golden Week holidays in early May and asked what the evacuees most wanted to have. Many answered that they wanted access to the Internet. At that time, many evacuation centers went without such access.

Moreover, many evacuees in the Tohoku region are the elderly who neither have nor know how to use a computer or a smartphone. Under these circumstances, it is the “old media,” the radio and newspapers in particular, that prove useful. Electricity is not necessary to read a newspaper. Only batteries are needed to listen to the radio. These characteristics are practical at a time of a disaster. But it is also the “resolve” of those working in the disaster-stricken areas that put these characteristics to use.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
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