Thursday, August 17, 2006

What`s the Difference? New Orleans vs Kobe?

"As authorities struggled to keep order, police shot eight people, killing
five or six, after gunmen opened fire on a group of contractors traveling
across a bridge on their way to make repairs, authorities said." --Today`s
Yahoo News on the rescue effort in New Orleans

Photo of Kaisei Town by Sandra Isaka

Who would shoot at people trying to rescue and help them in New Orleans?

Many Japanese are shaking their heads and wondering why there is so much
shooting and violence in New Orleans? Why do the rescuers and
police have to fear for their lives? Why was the scene in Kobe after
the huge earthquake there so much different? I get asked these questions
by a Japanese friend or student almost everyday now? What should I say?

In Kobe, Japanese and the foreign community there were models of how one
should act after a major disaster. People helped each other, they shared
their food. I`m sure there were a few rapes or murders but I think the key
word is few or very few.

The Thais too were fantasic apparently after the tsunami. There are many
reports of people being helped by Thais, of poor Thais sharing
their food with rich Westerners with no questions asked. That really
says a lot.

I`m sure there are many people helping each other in New Orleans too.
I`m sure there are many heroic stories, however there are obviously
a lot of problems and a lot of violence now. They say that New Orleans
is very dangerous after dark.

The mayor of New Orleans is livid. He is disgusted with the slowness
of the relief effort. It does make one wonder, that had America not
been so heavily committed in Iraq, would more lives have been saved
in New Orleans?

Yet the relief effort in Kobe was criticized for being slow too.
There was a feeling that the Japanese leadership wasn`t sure what to do.
Moreover there was a refusal for foreign help initially that probably wasn`t

My feelings are that there are many desperately poor people in large
American cities and when a disaster happens, it is their chance to
rectify the balance. "The rich are gone, so let`s rob their homes,"
seems to be the feeling of many poor black Americans.

I also think there is an undercurrent of frustration amongst many
African Americans; and when a disaster like Katrina happens, and the
relief effort by a caucasian American president is slow, that frustration
boils over, and with guns widely available, it leads to

In Japan the living standard is more equitable. We don`t see the
extremes of rich and poor that we see in America. The poor in Japan
while poor, are not as poor as their American counterparts. They aren`t as
desperately poor and they don`t have access to the weapons that
Americans do. The police in Japan have done an excellent job of
limiting access to guns, but more importantly to ordinance. If you have no
bullets, it is impossible to shoot. America would do well to study
the Japanese example.

My Japanese friends point to a difference in culture. They say
"We Japanese are farmers. Americans are hunters." Is that really true?
Anyone who fought in Okinawa against the Japanese I`m sure would
laugh at such a comment. My father while abhorring war (he fought in
Europe) admired the Japanese soldier. He said they were amazingly
tenacious soldiers. The farmers of Japan were able to through down
their hoes pretty quickly, just ask China.

I think American society recently (the last 60 years) has been more violent
than Japan--that is true. But I don`t think Japan has been an example of
peace either. I think Japan`s recent history has been one of little crime
and violence, but I feel that is due to economics more than anything, and
that fact that it is very difficult to shoot a gun here. We do in fact have
a rising crime rate in Japan, and I think
most Japanese would agree that it has to do with economics, though
some Japanese will blame the Chinese in Japan first, then economics
second for the rise in crime.

If you compare Canada and America, while there are over 7 million
guns in Canada according to Michael Moore, we don`t see the prevalence of
gun violence that you have in America. I think it is a difference
in culture. It is a difference in thinking. It is also a difference
in desperation. Some of the African Americans are desperately poor.
There is something to be said for the social economic programs we
have in Canada. While we may be taxed a lot at times, I think we
have a much better country to live in than America.

Kevin Burns

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