Apocalypse Now!

I’ve been wanting to translate this article for quite some time. It was posted on March 28 by Prof. Reinhard Zöllner, professor for Japanology at the Bonn university. I’m not a professional translator (especially not for German-English), so there may be some errors in it, but I think I caught the gist of it. My personal notes are in italic and are mainly explanations. I apologize in advance for any typos.

Apocalypse Now! We Germans should be ashamed.

Prof. Reinhard Zöllner, Japanology, University Bonn

Nowhere else is the nuclear catastrophe in Japan talked in such a careless and wrong way. Infuriating.

We have seriously disappointed the friendship of the Japanese people right in their biggest crisis ever since the Second World War. It is true: in many countries the media and the people reacted shocked, distressed and with disbelief upon the events in Japan.

But hysteria, unprofessionalism and especially cold heartedness and tactlessness straight down to cynicism: those were the special trademarks of the German reaction. And not only in the media. The German approach to earth quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis were a long row of embarrassing disasters.

Apocalypse – a “fitting” term?

It was as if the world was ending. Not really because people worried about fellow countrymen (those worries existed as foreign minister Guido Westerwelle tactfully noted in his first statement), but rather because Jürgen Manemann, professor for theology, asked as early as the 12th of March: “are we going to remain blind towards the apocalypse?” No, the Germans didn’t want to be blamed for that.

A comparison on Google Trends proves: after 3/11 in no other western nation was the “Apocalypse” as present and talked about as in Germany. In chancellor Angela Merkel’s opinion the catastrophe was “of apocalyptic proportions” – “a fitting term”, which was agreed upon by EU energy commissar Günther Oettinger.

David McAllister, “governor” of Lower Saxony (note: it’s literally “minister president”, but it’s essentially like a governor in the US, in Austria he would be a “Landeshauptmann”), didn’t want to return to normal daily work, because of the apocalypse. Same as the Green Party in Bavaria and Hesse, who demanded an “Apocalypse now!”

“Apocalypse” doesn’t exist in Japanese

The protestant Church quickly published a fitting prayer with the title “Apocalypse Japan.” Evangelical Christians saw the events in a country, in which 99% of the population don’t believe in the Christian god, as “an apocalyptic sign of biblical proportions.”

VELKD (note: Vereinigte Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche Deutschlands, the United Protestant-Lutheran Church of Germany) bishop Gerhard Ulrich said in a sermon on March 20 that “for days the apocalypse has been unleashed upon Japan.” That led the SPIEGEL editors to spend hours trying to figure out what “Apocalypse” means in Japanese, with support from Japanese native speakers.

I couldn’t explain it to them either. Because this word doesn’t exist in the Japanese vocabulary. Much to the surprise of the German public, even after two weeks, the Japanese weren’t ready to admit that the sun had, literally, gone down for them.

 No mass-migration of Japanese into Germany

And that, despite thousands of Germans offering heartfelt yet cruelly tactless evacuations: “we have a house at the Lake Garda, we could house a family of four there” – and similar.

So far there is no sign of a mass-migration of Japanese into cold Germany. Thus an agitated SPIEGEL editor (a woman) questioned philosopher Mishima Kenichi why the Japanese are so stubborn and want to stay in Japan?

Were there cultural or philosophical reasons? Mishima decided not to answer. He later accused the “Frankfurter Rundschau”, in light of similar absurd questions, to try and lure him, the left wing intellectual, into some kind of “defensive nationalism”.

The Japan mission of the technical assistance brigade

Since the Japanese refused to come to Germany, wouldn’t it be good to go there and help them with the “end of the world”? The “Technische Hilfswerk” (note: THW, lit. technical assistance brigade, they are similar structured to fire brigades, but focus on engineering assistance and similar instead of fire fighting, they ride blue trucks), for example, was quickly dispatched to Japan – “despite danger from radioactivity”, which was written in big, boasting letters, and yes, so the THW chief Broemme said “There is some fear attached to it.”

That the Germans were coming was noted thankfully in the Japanese media. A young, blond volunteer from Germany declared proudly on TV that the THW members were professionally prepared for this mission! In the end the THW performed three missions in Japan: the first one was canceled due to a tsunami warning –inevitably.

The second was canceled because it got dark – a quick look at the watch would have prevented that. And the third was stopped because of incoming radioactivity. That was apparently paranoia.

THW speaks of “chaotic mission”

The Japanese were polite enough to keep the Germans around for a short time, in the rear echelon, to coordinate the missions of other foreign teams. Afterwards the specialists escorted several “German-Japanese couples” from the area around Sendai to Tokyo. After seven days the THW left Japan: there was nothing to rescue anymore, so they claimed. By the way, they left their equipment in Japan.

One day later the Turkish team arrived in Japan. The Korean team, roughly three times as large as the German, which had arrived at the same time, left Japan on March 23.

Meanwhile the THW in Germany had already two messages prepared. The team barely escaped the radioactive death cloud (that was the most interesting part for the German public) and it had been a “chaotic mission”, -which, of course, was not the fault of the Germans, but the fault of the Japanese, of who the Bavarian minister of the interior claimed “the functionality of their emergency management is apparently not ideal.”

Lufthansa ceases flights

At the same time the Japanese civil protection had to supply roughly 400,000 people under the toughest conditions imaginable. A second German rescue team decided to turn around at the airport.

On January 24, the 150th anniversary of the beginning of diplomatic relations between Prussia and Japan, the German Lufthansa baptized an A380 with the name “Tokyo” in Tokyo-Narita, of course with sake.

Lufthansa chief Franz said back then “With this we affirm our engagement in Asia.” On March 15 the Lufthansa was the first airline to announce that “due to limited check-in abilities at Tokyo-Narita” they wouldn’t fly into the Japanese capitol anymore.

Air France continues to fly

Of course the German media knew that the true reason was the German fear (note: though maybe angst would be better) of radioactivity. Peter Gauweiler was the first VIP to protest against this: “This is devastating for the reputation of our country, whose name the Lufthansa has the honor to bear.”

Did Lufthansa care? Of course not. It took them until March 23 to announce the end of their boycott of Narita. The competitor Air France/KLM was flying the entire time. Same for the Lufthansa-daughter Swiss.

The rumor that Lufthansa was using the stop in Seoul to replace the German crew with a Japanese crew from Lufthansa partner ANA was something a Lufthansa spokeswoman “couldn’t confirm.”

 NDR uses term “throw-away workers”

If that was true, then we would have the first case of German “throw-away workers”. Or so would have been the choice of words of NDR reporter Robert Hetkämper.

Hetkämper announced on March 17 on MDR’s “Brisant” and the WDR “Aktuelle Stunde” (note: both are news shows, more or less, “Brisant” is known to go for a somewhat sensationalist course; the MDR and WDR are so called “third programs”, local public broadcasters focusing on a specific region of Germany, in this case middle and west; ARD is the “first”, ZDF the “second” and these locals are the “third”) -that was after he had been ordered to flee from Tokyo because of “dangerous radioactivity” (a blowing 0.05 uSv/h) by the NDR-HQ- that in Fukushima, just like many other places, homeless people, foreign workers and minors were used as “throw-away workers”. (note: this is likely a nudge towards the liquidators in Chernobyl)

There is no such term in Japanese, but Hetkämper can’t know that, because he doesn’t speak Japanese.

Reports of ‘nuke plant gypsies’ have been around for a while

He could have known that there had been reports of so called “nuke plant gypsies” (note: literal translation of the term we use in German, I have no idea what they’re called in English) for decades, people, who’re doing the dirty work in power stations, work that often borders into illegal waters.

It is likely that this is what Hetkämper heard from his source, a doctor in Osaka. Of course Hetkämper was never in Fukushima 1, which he, suggestively, compared with Hitler’s Führerbunker, and of course he hadn’t talked with the people who, under extreme conditions, do extremely dangerous work.

Some of them have given interviews to Japanese journalists, but clearly Hetkämper has no connections to those reporters.

Media picks up Hetkämper’s claims

Several days later Christoph Neidhart from the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” declared that there is no proof for any “throw-away workers” at Fukushima 1, which finally prompted Hetkämper to spread several relatively unclear disclaimers: In an interview with the “Tagesschau” he declared that there was “no confirmation” for his bold claims.

He also admitted several minor errors, for example his hasty claim of a meltdown, which had been picked up by the Tagesschau, but he was also quick to blame “a foreign newspaper” or Japanese news agencies for his errors.

Meanwhile the German media all across Germany had picked up Hetkämper’s claim as fact. And the average German citizen now knew, informed via SPIEGEL, Bild and Handelsblatt, who all used the same words over and over again: not heroes were dying in Fukushima 1, but rather “throw-away workers”, serfs, pitiful victims of a pre-modern, inhuman society.

Fear – a master from Germany

There it was again, the fear of the “working state Japan” (note: it’s hard to translate “Arbeitsstaat” into English, but you all know the stereotypical image of the Japanese as worker bees) with its submissive yellow ants, samurai and kamikaze pilots. Those who are utterly mad enough to try and fight devious sources of radioactivity with water cannons and concrete pumps. (Until they found out that the pump in question was actually “Made in Germany”.)

Disguised as cultural critique and sometimes as sociologic criticism the tale of the Yellow Peril rises from its grave and stalks Germany. Fear is a master of Germany today.

With friends like theses you don’t need a nuclear crisis.

About Edohiguma

A friend of death, a brother of luck & a son of a b*tch. A bear with guns (based on the right to arm bears), enforcer of the law and a riot cop of history. Studying that Japanese stuff. Shanghaiing your books since 1543.... AND NEVER GIVING THEM BACK!
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3 Responses to Apocalypse Now!

  1. Xpat says:

    Wow. That’s pretty damning.

    Linguistic notes: “Apocalypse” (“Revelation”) is mokujiroku 黙示録

    The Japanese title of the movie Apocalypse Now is 地獄の黙示録 (jigoku no mokujiroku, or Hell’s Apocalypse).

    I suspect that since the word/ideograms in Japanese so obviously carry the original meaning (revelation), in a way that we mostly have forgotten, the word in Japanese would not obviously convey “end of the world,” which it didn’t, even in English, until recently. Armageddon (probably known to the Japanese mainly from the Bruce Willis movie) works better in that sense.

    “Armageddon” was appropriated briefly by the Aum Shinrikyo cult (the subway gassers), as the end of the world or “harumagedon” figured prominently into their syncretistic theology (real warped Buddhism, some bits and pieces of Christianity).

    • Edohiguma says:

      Correct. But in the meaning of the end of the world the native speakers and even a capacity like Zöllner were, apparently, out of their league. Though, one has to consider that the German media, well… I’m pretty sure it wasn’t some civilized “oh, take your time” kind of conversation with the experts.

      The only thing I will say about Aum is that I’m waiting for these bastards to hang, that I will celebrate the day, that I think the long drop is too good for them, that I would rather see them hanged, drawn and quartered and that I would volunteer as executioner for that.

  2. Xpat says:

    OT, there are some really good before/after shots of disaster areas here, which you may have seen already:

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