Whenever a natural disaster strikes, a certain segment of humanity can always be counted on to respond in the worst way possible: by blaming the event on whichever quality they find most distasteful in the afflicted. Hence Hurricane Katrina was a curse on the gays, the Haitian earthquake was a response to all that voodoo stuff, and now the Japanese earthquake is, apparently, payback for hunting whales. Or Pearl Harbor – depending on your political orientation, either one is acceptable in this particular race to the bottom.
By pure coincidence, the ever-astute Ta-Nehisi Coates posted on the seemingly unrelated topic of bullying immediately after I encountered the anti-Japan response. He’s writing about a video of a kid in a streetfight, but his point is relevant at the geopolitical level as well, particularly this line: “This is a world filled with people who’ve been bullied–but no people who are, or ever were, actual bullies.”
We are all too quick to deny our own culpability in victimizing others; our own violence is always, in our own mind, justified. Anyone writing about an earthquake as payback for Pearl Harbor has completely foregone moral reflection about Hiroshima and Nagasaki; no matter how much devastation we might have wreaked upon the nation of Japan (the lowest estimate of the death toll of those two incidents stands at 150,000 civilians; the higher end is 244,000), and no matter how poorly we may have treated Japanese-Americans on our own shores, the deaths of 2,400 American servicemen remain, in the minds of some, unavenged. After all, we were only the bullied.