Commentary: Japan’s Earthquake Hits Home


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Tragedy, it seems, likes company, especially when it comes to earthquakes, which are often accompanied by additional damage from secondary causes. The magnitude-9 earthquake that struck northern Japan on March 11, shook the ground violently and generated a devastating tsunami. It also moved the coastline of that nation and changed the balance of the planet.

The numerous islands that form Japan sit on a crisscross of fault lines, and technologically advanced as they are, the country is well equipped to deal with the consequences of the earthquakes. But scientists are awakening to the fact that past history, in this case, is no guide for the future, because for the last 300 years, no earthquake with that magnitude has shaken Japan. Therefore, something mysterious is happening to our beleaguered planet, which is plagued with ecological disasters and the use of more and more powerful weapons. The present earthquake, in addition to shifting the axis of the planet, has moved Japan’s coastline 13 feet closer to the United States. What makes the situation more frightening is that the shock waves were felt on California and Peru coastlines, which renders the concept of global village a reality rather than a figure of speech. Besides the devastating tsunami the earthquake has damaged also the Fukushima nuclear power plant causing three explosions thus far and threatening a meltdown.

When the tsunami hit northern Japan’s coastline, it carried away homes, vehicles and trees in its path with an overwhelming, elemental fury. It was so unreal that it looked like computer animation.

The official death toll is approaching the low thousands thus far, but in two different towns there are 10,000 and 18,000 people unaccounted for, which means the statistics will change for the worse.

Since the California coastline was impacted, thousands of miles away from the epicenter, no one is, it seems, immune to this tragedy.

As Japan counts its dead and the world community — including the US Navy — provides rescue assistance, we cannot overlook nor forget the parallel with Armenia. Again, the earthquake there was accompanied by other tragedies, this time man-made: the Soviet Union collapsed and most of the help promised by the Moscow government did not arrive in Gumri, which still has 6,000 homeless families after 22 years.

There were also all the elements of a nuclear accident, since an aging atomic power plant was sitting next to the epicenter of the earthquake. Fortunately the power plant shut down automatically at the shock of the quake.

Another man-made tragedy that accompanied Armenia’s earthquake was the war Azerbaijan launched against Armenia. Many of the Baku and Sumgait pogrom survivors perished during the earthquake.

The cost brought on by the earthquake in Japan is still being calculated and an initial figure of $170 billion is being given. Even before any financial assistance from the world community, Japan’s national bank has already injected $183 billion into the economy.

Armenia is planning to decommission its Chernobyl-style nuclear power plant by 2016 and build a new one by then. But God forbid, should the earthquake hit again, Armenia does not have a vast territory to evacuate its people, nor the economic power to inject billions in its economy.

Armenia depends heavily on nuclear power for its own needs and for export purposes. Therefore it is in a dilemma, because of scarcity of other energy sources like its neighbors Azerbaijan and Iran. The world is also in a dilemma, as fossil fuel sources dwindle or become inaccessible, because of wars and political instabilities. Nuclear power is clean, efficient and does not recognize any limits. Yet it is vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters; the US had its share of a nuclear fiasco at Three Mile Island, despite all the technological precautions.

Armenia has learned from its misfortunes and has trained rescue experts. At this time, a team of 26 volunteer experts have said they are on stand-by to head to Japan to join international rescue efforts there. More than any other country, Armenia empathizes with the earthquake victims, because they have experienced the tragedy first hand.

However, both Japan and Armenia have to weigh the pros and cons of new nuclear power plants, which may save well the economy for the short term but may become a time bomb in the long run.

On a broader scale, it looks like mankind has released the genie out of the bottle and it can not put it back in the bottle. When the earthquake’s axis shifts causing the day to shorten with a fraction of a second, we have to pose and ponder how much of the disaster is caused by nature’s blind forces and how much mankind has contributed to the shift of the planet through its reckless experiments with weapons and ecological damage.

Come to think we are no longer living in a global village, but perhaps in a global cocoon, where everything impacts everything else.

We cannot tame nature’s forces, but we can certainly reform our responsibilities towards nature.

The next shift in the planet’s axis may land us in the wasteland of the universe.