Disaster, radiation and friendship

Disaster, radiation and friendship

March 29th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

The Japanese surely are more acutely aware of the dangers of radiation than are most other people.

After all, the only nuclear bombs ever exploded in anger caused massive destruction and huge loss of human life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945.

But those bombs brought the United States and our Allies victory in World War II. And they almost miraculously changed Japanese aggressors into American friends.

Since then, the atom fortunately has been "tamed" for valuable peaceful uses. While the huge nuclear weapons arsenal of the United States has helped prevent new major wars, nuclear-generated electricity at hundreds of plants throughout the world has been harnessed to provide light and heat, plus energy for other purposes.

But there are dangers even in peaceful uses of nuclear power. We became shockingly aware of that when a tsunami caused by an earthquake seriously damaged a nuclear plant in Japan. While the quake and tsunami directly killed thousands, emergency workers are still struggling to prevent deaths by radiation.

Meanwhile, as in countless other world tragedies, about 20,000 American troops have been mobilized in what Japan calls "Operation Tomodachi" - Japanese for "Friend" - for humanitarian service.

U.S. soldiers are providing many tons of supplies as well as emergency manpower. The Americans are helping literally hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, some of whom have had to evacuate certain areas for fear of radiation and others who are simply trying to cope with the destruction of the natural disasters.

U.S. troops have long been stationed in Japan. But as one Japanese told The Associated Press: "To be honest, I didn't think much about U.S. troops until now. But when I see them working at the airport every day, I'm really thankful. They are working really hard. I never imagined they could help us so much."

The danger of radioactivity will last for some uncertain period of time to come, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. So will cleanup efforts from the earthquake and tsunami.

The Japanese surely will need all the help that may be offered.

It is typical of the United States, and the American people, that many helping hands will be extended for a long time to many people who are in great need.

We cannot really imagine the deprivation, hardship - and anxiety - that thousands of the Japanese people are suffering. But we commend those who are helping to alleviate that suffering.