Monday, March 4, 2024

#64 / The Tokyo Crash


Those reading this blog posting may remember the story of an airplane crash that occurred in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, January 2, 2024. If you don't remember that crash, or have forgotten the details, click the link for a brief recap. The plane was totally incinerated, but in an airliner containing 367 passengers and a 12-member crew, all survived. 

Peggy Noonan, former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, wrote about the crash in her Wall Street Journal column published in the Saturday/Sunday, January 6-7, 2024 edition of the paper. Here are some comments from her column that made me think: 

After the crash a friend visiting Kyoto wrote me to say he felt the primary reason no one lost their life is that the Japanese are “less individualist and more consensual.” They see themselves as a corporate entity; they are part of something, a nation with ingrained mores and ways of being. 

I asked Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, what it is about the Japanese that saved the day. “It’s a society that places high value on personal honor, responsibility to community, and respect for authority,” he said. “No one in Japan would mouth off or be violent with a flight attendant trying to protect you and the rest of the flying public, for example.” He followed up, in a text: “Also, here five year olds walk to school unaccompanied, crossing busy streets for blocks. Cars stop and kids at walkways cross. It’s sublime.”

A question that I suspect crossed a lot of American minds: What if that had been a Delta flight at JFK full of Americans revelers home from holiday? Would it have gone in such an orderly way and ended so successfully?

I don't really believe in "sociological" or "anthropological" determinism, but the comments that Noonan passes along to her readers, which emphasize the possibility that "Japanese" customs and behaviors are different from the customs and behaviors one might expect in the United States, do have a certain "ring of truth." That is why Noonan says that many Americans are probably asking themselves whether everyone would have been saved if the plane had been full of "Americans," instead of "Japanese." 

I don't really believe in "determinisms" of any kind. We can and do "choose" how to behave, and how we live. As frequent or regular readers of my blog postings will have heard before. I believe that we are, right now, all of us, individually and collectively, in the midst of a worldwide crisis, in which our civilization is, essentially, "on fire." Global warming won't move quite as quickly as the fires that consumed that JAL airliner, but we are, indubitably, living in a world that is "heating up," and heating up rapidly. 

Will we be incinerated?

Not if we realize that we are, in fact, "all in this together," just as those passengers were in it together in that JAL airliner. We can take the orderly steps that are necessary to get us out of that "burning plane" in which we metaphorically find ourselves. What those passengers in Tokyo accomplished we can accomplish, too, in our different, but related situation. 

But not if we all scramble for ourselves, and for ourselves alone. Not if we try to bring our carry-on baggage with us.

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