Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kevin Maher: "US government was privately terrified over the unfolding crisis" over Fukushima I Nuke Plant accident

Kevin Maher was the director of the State Department's Office of Japan Affairs in Japan when he was abruptly dismissed over his alleged remarks about "lazy Okinawans" one day before the March 11, 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster. He continued to work at the US embassy after the disaster, and wrote a book titled "The Japan That Can't Decide".

In his interview with AFP, he says:

The "US government was privately terrified over the unfolding crisis" at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.

After the operation to drop water on the reactors from a SDF helicopter, "the US government called in the Japanese ambassador and said, look, you have to take this stuff seriously. We don't know what's going to happen".

From AFP (1/26/2012; emphasis is mine):

US ex-diplomat pulls no punches on Japan

By Shaun Tandon (AFP)

WASHINGTON — US diplomats typically are unfailingly polite and reverential towards their countries of expertise and, upon retirement, go away quietly into research or business. Not so with Kevin Maher.

Since he was unceremoniously removed from his position last year, the veteran US diplomat on Japan has gone on the offensive with biting criticism on issues from Tokyo's political paralysis to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

To his own surprise, he has found an eager audience. A book he wrote in Japanese, "The Japan That Can't Decide," has sold more than 100,000 copies and for weeks topped the country's best-seller list for non-fiction paperbacks.

Maher's main thesis is that Japan -- which has had six new prime ministers since 2006 -- has been crippled by a failure of its politicians to accept responsibility and, hence, to make hard decisions.

Maher pointed to the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was devastated by the March 11 tsunami, and dismissed the government's declaration last month that it had stabilized the leaking reactors.

"It's not stable," Maher said recently at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "Tokyo is safe, but Fukushima Daiichi is in really bad shape."

The State Department sacked Maher as its Japan desk chief just a day before the historic 9.0-magnitude earthquake but he stayed on for another month to coordinate the US disaster response.

Maher said that the US government was privately terrified over the unfolding crisis. He accused Japan's then prime minister, Naoto Kan, of evading responsibility and trying to pass the problem over to the plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co.

"I remember sitting on a task force many a time thinking, 'Who the hell is in control in Japan?' The government's not doing anything. Kan made one trip and flew up and got in the way and came back," Maher said.

Maher said that he watched in horror as he saw television footage of a sole helicopter dropping water on the stricken plant.

"Is that the best Japan can do?" Maher said. "Frankly what happened is the US government called in the Japanese ambassador and said, look, you have to take this stuff seriously. We don't know what's going to happen."

Maher said that the United States was even looking at whether it would have to evacuate some 100,000 Americans, although it soon became clear that Tokyo was not in harm's way.

Maher's earlier strident critiques led to his downfall. While in office, he spoke to students about Okinawa -- home to half of the 47,000 US troops in Japan -- and accused local leaders of playing on mainland Japanese guilt to "extort" concessions. Japanese media accounts of his remarks stirred outrage.

Maher, 57, who has worked on Japan for three decades and has a Japanese wife, called the controversy "water under the bridge" and said he was making a good living as a consultant.

Nonetheless, he criticized the two officials he said were behind his dismissal -- then deputy secretary of state Jim Steinberg and Ambassador to Japan John Roos.

"They just wanted to get this out of the press and decided that the best thing was not to address whether these press reports were actually true or not but just to remove me from my position," Maher said.

Despite his criticism, Maher -- like current US officials -- sees bright spots in Japan's latest prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who is pushing forward controversial plans to raise taxes and join talks on a US-backed trade pact.

Maher said he has received little backlash over his book. He believed he won over potentially hostile readers with a message that Japan worked well in the past and needed to return to its traditions.

"We used to have an image back in the '80s, if a Japanese corporation had a problem, you were worried that the chairman would go to commit seppuku," he said, referring to ritual suicide.

"He would take responsibility even if it was not a mistake that he made. But now it's reversed in Japan," he said.

Maher said he was surprised when he visited Okinawa to promote his book.

"There were four demonstrators. When I was consul general in Okinawa, I could always get 40."

Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.

Maher's alleged criticism of Okinawans is actually shared by many in Japan, probably even by Okinawans themselves. But in the "tatemae" (facade) society you are obliged to just look at the superficial meaning of things, live and die by it.

Dropping a bucket of water at a time from a sole SDF helicopter was a brilliant idea concocted by the Kan administration to, of all things, impress the US. From Maher's account, it sure did impress the US, even if it was not the way Kan had hoped.

In the early days of the nuclear crisis, the Kan administration steadfastly declined (while superficially "considering") the offers for help in dealing with the nuclear accident from foreign governments, particularly from the US and Russia. Other than the "face" issue I still don't know the reason. That Japan is somehow different and superior, I guess. It is different, for sure. I remember the politicians talking about "sovereignty" as the reason for "sending the offer for help to the appropriate government committee to discuss whether it is feasible to accept the offer and if so how" - i.e. declining help.

His praise of Yoshihiko Noda is not surprising coming from a US official, as the prime minister is doing everything in his power to please what the US is allegedly demanding. Too bad there's this thing called the Internet and the Japanese are seeing him for what he is - a stooge. His administration most certainly welcomes Twitter's decision to censor tweets that are deemed "illegal" by any government.


Anonymous said...

@LAPRIMAVERA: Interesting story in Tokyo shimbun today on p.2 about the failure to account for iodine detected in Fukushima in November and December last year

gr81 said...

Far, far FAR from safe, especially considering this:

Anonymous said...

Little Canary said...

Hmmm...Quite dissapoiting his analysis, but he is an exdiplomat so not surprise at all.
Too shallow and stay at the same surface level as the undecised 6 Prime Ministers he mentioned.

Tokyo is not safe, any foreigner or japanese who runs a business or is based on Kanto area preach the same slogan about safety levels.
It seems that living too long in Japan made them weak to handle decission as well, they became irresponsible and it seems they cant handle simple numbers.

Water, Air and food is contaminated far away from 250km radius area of Fukushima.

Anonymous said...

"Maher's alleged criticism of Okinawans is actually shared by many in Japan, probably even by Okinawans themselves."

Does the fact that "many in Japan" share Maher's criticisms of the Okinawans somehow add credibility to Maher's alleged comments? Putting aside the fact that "many people" in Japan also seem to believe in decon, support the burning of radioactive debris and similar irrational notions, we should in any case do well to be wary of any argument that relies on "thousand drunks can't be wrong" type premises.

As to the substance of Maher's alleged comments, the real parasite in Okinawa is the US military industrial complex and the Pentagon, which through the bases there, successfully extorts trillions of Japanese taxpayer yen in subsidies, decade in and decade out, while successfully wrecking the natural and living environment of the Okinawan islands and the people there. All this is carried out in cahoots with the Japanese elite in Tokyo (see for example numerous articles by Gavan McCormack in the Asia Pacific Journal or the book “Client State: Japan in the American Embrace” by the same author).

I would be most surprised were a member of the US ruling establishment such as Maher to acknowledge such facts. On the contrary, Maher's alleged slanders against the people of Okinawa are quite in keeping with colonialist ideology which, throughout history, seeks to dehumanise the colonised peoples, representing them variously as feckless, untrustworthy, degenerate, lazy, etc, and thus deserving of subjugation or expropriation.

Anonymous said...

@anon at 2:07AM, give me a break and go away.

Anonymous said...

Still, saying xxx government was "privately terrified" is something, and quite unforgetable.
Thanks to Mr Mahler for saying this.

Anonymous said...

What do people in Japan think about US Ambassador Roos' response to the crisis?

Anonymous said...

An e:mail we received on 14 March: "I am sitting in a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in DC. He just told our group that the State Department's best information is that one of the three nuclear reactors in Japan is going to suffer a complete meltdown, leading to an explosion of the containment vessel and a radioactive plume combined with particles of steel, concrete and asbestos. He says, if this indeed happens, we will be in uncharted waters - much worse than Chernobyl.

The winds in this area are variable and erratic, blowing on one direction in the morning and another in the evening. This means the plume will disperse in many different directions, not just in a predictable one.

He believes the situation will go from confidence to total panic very quickly. Once that happens, the US will have 30,000 to 40,000 citizens who will have to be evacuated, along with tens of thousands more Japanese who will want out.

The melt down is not a certainty, but he does say it is likely in the next two to three days.

I wanted you to know in case you want to pull any people out in an abundance of caution until the situation becomes clear."

This scenario turned out to be close to the mark. Japan was saved only by the fact that the nuclear material leaked out slowly, so there was no large explosion.

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