Top>Opinion>Another Catastrophe: History Repeats Itself


Hidehiro Nakao

Hidehiro Nakao [profile]

Another Catastrophe:

History Repeats Itself

Hidehiro Nakao
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of specialization: Pan-pacific literatures and cultures

Read in Japanese

Unprecedented Catastrophe

March 11, 2011, exactly two years ago today, is a day that no Japanese person will be able to forget. In the same vein, I imagine that no American will be able to forget September 11, 2001. Since both of these dates are when an "Unprecedented Catastrophe" occurred, it is natural that these dates will be embedded in our respective national memories. There is nothing wrong with this.

But there might be something wrong in the fact that both of these events are viewed in absolute terms as being the Catastrophic Events. Even as we etch them deeply in our collective memories, we must not abandon the will to perceive them objectively. We must aim, rather, to look beyond them, to gain a grasp of the larger perspective in which these events occurred.

Another September 11

On the website of the Pixel PressNewWindow, there is a collection of a varied selection of photographs from 9.11 under the title "September 11, 2001 in remembrance," and among these there is one which stands out from the rest. It is a pair of two black-and-white photographs which were distributed by the Associated Press, with the date of each photo shown above them and a caption indicating where they were taken shown below.

Both pictures are ordinary rectangular snapshots, displayed next to each other, but both of them show smoke billowing out from the front fa巽ade of a building, and since both pictures were taken from across the road, looking down at the scene from an angle above and to the right with a telephoto lens, without the information on the date and location where they were taken, they would be difficult to tell apart from each other. The photo on the left was taken on September 11, 1973, in Santiago, Chile. The photo on the right was taken on September 11, 2001, in Washington DC, the United States of America.

In other words, these photographs were both taken in capital cities on September 11, albeit 28 years apart. The respective captions explain that in Chile, the Socialist leader, Salvador Allende was deposed in a military coup, while in the United States, the Pentagon and the World Trade Center Towers were attacked, and closes by noting that due to these events, in both countries, September 11 has become a "national day of mourning."

The Pixel Press put up this set of the two photographs in 2003, some 30 years after the September 11 military coup in Chile, and 2 years after the September 11 attacks in the United States, but today there is almost nowhere else in the media that reports information on both September 11s together. In Latin America countries, where if you mention September 11 you are referring to the 1973 military coup in Chile, not to the 2001 attacks in the United States, it is common knowledge that behind the scenes, the coup d'Etat was orchestrated by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) reporting directly to the US President, but the history of this sort of conspiracy is no longer being reported by the major media in any of the western advanced nations any more. This pair of the two photographs hints to a parallel between the events of September 11 in the United States and the conspiracy launched by the "control tower" of democracy, the White House, on a democratically chosen socialist government in Chile.

Another "Level 7"

"Level 7" was the level of seriousness evaluation on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster involving TEPCO on March 11, 2011. It goes without saying that this is the worst possible level: there is no "Level 8." The Three Mile Island incident of March 28, 1979 was a "Level 5," the Chernobyl disaster of April 26, 1986, was a "Level 7," while the 1999 Tokaimura nuclear accident was a "Level 4." The Fukushima Daini nuclear accident, by the way, was rated as "Level 3."

Looking back over the events of 3.11, at the time, people observed the unfolding events with the optimistic view that, even if a series of serious events - an earthquake, tsunami and even a nuclear incident - was occurring, they would not reach the level of the Chernobyl Disaster, or "Level 7." The worst possible level, "Level 7" was something that had been brought about by the slapdash management regime of the former Soviet Union, we felt safe in our self-conceit that the same thing could not happen 25 years later in the major technological nation of Japan. We also felt a sense of trust that the sort of information control and cover-ups etc., which had occurred under the former Soviet regime were impossible in Japan.

When everything has been completely betrayed in one fell swoop with the evasive answer of "unforeseen circumstances," we have to realize that our optimistic view in observing events, our self-conceit, and our sense of trust were all baseless. The "Level 7" that we were dealt by the Fukushima disaster may have been an evaluation of or even a judgment passed on our shallow thinking.

In December of last year, representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the nuclear affected areas in Fukushima, and in the Japanese media it was reported that an agreement was made with Fukushima Prefecture and the Japanese government regarding emergency response, monitoring, management of waste and decontamination, etc., but there was no mention of the fact that the IAEA in the first place is an institution which "seeks to promote and expand the peaceful use of nuclear energy" throughout the world, or that it had announced in the damage survey report of the Chernobyl Disaster that "there were no health impairments to residents as a result of exposure to nuclear radiation." The major media in Japan did not admonish us of the repeated chain of negative events with the combination of "Level 7" and IAEA. They did not reveal the Japanese authorities' political intent in welcoming the IAEA. (

History Repeats Itself

Perhaps neither 9.11 nor 3.11 were "Unprecedented Catastrophes." Neither was it "unprecedented" that the major media in Japan suck up to the authorities in making their shallow thinking broadcasts and reports. If we fail to realize that the fact that catastrophes are being repeated is itself a genuine catastrophe, our shallow thinking will become hopelessly boundless.

The only glimmer of fortune amid all this misfortune is that if we are able to realize and become aware of our own shallow thinking, we will be able to get some hints for how to escape from this boundless shallow thinking. Since information that is not subject to the controls of the major media - that is, the intimidating facts that the regime would like to remain under seal - is available for us to receive and transmit, we must aim to gain a grasp of the larger perspective.

Hidehiro Nakao
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of specialization: Pan-pacific literatures and cultures
Professor Nakao was born in Kamakura in 1956.
He withdrew from the Doctoral Course, Graduate School of Humanities, University of Tokyo, in 1985 to assume the position of Full-Time Lecturer, Tokyo University of Mercantile Marine.
He became an Associate Professor in 1993 and a Professor (his current position) in 1997, Chuo University, after assuming the positions of Full-Time Lecturer and Associate Professor, Meiji University.
His current areas of research are the literatures and cultures of English-speaking countries in the Pan-Pacific region.
In 2009, he studied the visual representation of Indigenous Peoples at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
He was responsible for the serial article titled "A Flower Way of Pops [Poppusu no Hanamichi]" in Chuo Hyoron magazine, which ended after 30 issues with the July, 2011 edition, and since launched another serialization titled "Antipodean Portrait Gallery [Sakasama Po-tore-to Gyarari], the next issue of which will be its 7th issue."