JAPAN TODAY NEWS WEBSITE COLUMNS 16-18
By Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle
Published October 2001 to February 2002
ANTHRAX SCARES--WHAT TO DO
By Arudou Debito
Column Sixteen for Japan Today
"You tricked a Japanese bitch (abazure) into marrying you and spawning your
children--that's the only reason why you're here, naturalized into a country full
of Japanese you despise. Get out."
Another day, another piece of hate mail. Such are the dues of taking public stands,
and over the past few years I have developed a resistance.
But this time, with all the anthrax scares in America, this handwritten letter in
Japanese, postmarked Obihiro, Hokkaido, with no signature or return address, was
ominous. I peered inside to see if there was any white powder.
Thus international terrorism affects, or rather infects, our daily lives. This is,
of course, its design. The scare tactics of people, who take advantage of societies
with open systems of mail and interpersonal association, have created an atmosphere
where anyone could feel, and fear being, a target of indiscriminate letter-, bug-
When an individual's terror plugs into popular paranoia, it becomes clear how inadequate
the safeguarding and antidote systems are in even the most developed societies.
Think how easy it is for anyone, including copycats and hoaxers, to send a packet
of powder (as has recently happened at the Osaka US Consulate) or leave a pillar
of salt in a public place (like yesterday at Narita Airport and on two shinkansens).
What countermeasures are there for such kitchen-sink terrorism?
Up to now, preventive medicine. America is gearing up for inoculations programs and
antibiotic treatments. Talk of more contagious biological threats, such as smallpox,
will instigate a stockpiling of 300 million vaccination doses--more than enough for
everyone in America. Other countries, targeted for abetting the Yanks, will undoubtedly
follow suit when a visible need arises.
Unfortunately, here I lack confidence in Japan's administrative abilities. Our Ministry
of Health has a continuing history of botched and prevaricating public safety operations,
such as sarin gas production at the foot of Mt Fuji, HIV-tainted blood, O-157 food
poisoning, and now mad cows.
Already the symptoms are showing. According to internet sources, Japan currently
has no store of smallpox vaccine. So the government will have Japanese companies
(not overseas makers, you see, since Japanese allegedly have different physiology)
produce 3 million jabs (or 2.4% of the population) within a year or two. Hopefully
we will have no outbreak before then.
What can be done about it? I am still undecided, because I can easily visualize overly-preventive
public policy curtailing civil liberties, all in order to find hotheads under the
Still, one can take individual measures to make up for shortfalls in the system:
(The following information is courtesy of the US Centers for Disease Control, forwarded
by the US State Department. Anyone, regardless of country of origin, should take
If you receive a suspicious piece of mail, don't open it, of course. "Suspicious"
meaning: excessive postage, handwritten or poorly typed addresses, oily stains, discoloration
or odor, no return address, excessive weight, protruding wires or aluminum foil,
excessive security material such as masking tape, string, etc., a postmark different
from the return address, and, of course, a ticking sound.
Seal the package in a plastic baggie or other airtight container (or at least cover
it with a lid), get out of the room, try to shut off any ventilation systems, take
a shower, and contact the authorities. Make a list of people proximate for possible
If you do open the package and see suspicious contents such as powders and whatnot,
do not panic. Anthrax, the current biota of choice, is a spore-laden disease. It
is difficult to contract unless swallowed, inhaled as an aerosol, or rubbed onto
abraded skin. It is not contagious from person to person like smallpox, and as such
has very isolated effects. It is also treatable if caught in time. Follow the same
steps above to reduce chances of contagion.
You can even, according to Reuters, kill anthrax spores by swaddling a suspicious
letter with moist fabric and ironing it with a steam iron. This is what Dr Ken Alibek,
a former Soviet germ warfare scientist, told a US Congressional hearing on October
16. Kitchen-sink remedies for kitchen-sink terrorism.
Back to my envelope of hate mail. I found nothing inside but two pages of poisonous
thoughts, easily self-contained.
Nonetheless a chill remains that I haven't felt since the Cold War.
During my undergraduate studies in 1984, I attended a lecture by Dr Hans Bethe, a
Manhattan Project physicist, who was being consulted by the Reagan Administration
for advice on the proposed "Star Wars" missile defense systems.
"I told them it won't work," he said, "because any defense is just
too easy to get around."
Deja-vu, except this time we are taking measures against missiles we cannot see or
account for: anthrax and smallpox. And what is the next flavor of the month? Plague,
a gas, or even explosives laced with radioactive isotopes? It is enough to change
a dove into a hawk.
Such are the ruminations of one columnist, shocked into caring about the issue on
a personal level, double-guesssing during unprecedented times. We shall have to wait
and see what systemic antibodies our societies develop to emboldened extremists and
hobby terrorists. Meanwhile, vigilance.
Oct 24, 2001
Responding to a Biological or Chemical Threat
Information on Anthrax from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Anthrax as a Biological Weapon, from the Journal of the American Medical Association
The American Red Cross on Terrorism:
Personal Safety publications from the US Department of State
General travel and safety information from the US Federal Aviation Administration.
BUSH'S AMERICA: A FOREIGN COUNTRY
By Arudou Debito
Column Seventeen for Japan Today
I've been away from America too long, it seems.
Away from the DC Beltway media and lobbying machine, where overargumentativeness
generates more heat than light. Where inward mentalities further preclude a more
enlightened US foreign policy.
Away from US talk radio whose intellectual games divide the American public, merely
fortifying ideological camps with little concern for drawing conclusions, finding
common ground, or seeking consensus.
Away from the constant barrage of convictions over the American news networks that
the US is the fairest arbiter of the world's power, and where promotion of America's
self-interests are remarkably similar to those of its more sensible allies.
America is truly a foreign country to me now. When I left, back in 1991, President
Bush the Elder was laying the groundwork for what he called the "New World Order".
The Cold War was over, America was emerging as the world's sole superpower, and the
Peace Dividend was on the horizon.
Not for long, though. In the midst of a recession deep enough to force me to find
work overseas, Elder Bush had rallied the media to find a new villain, "The
Butcher of Baghdad", which ultimately justified the need for maintained military
strength for world peace.
That Bush even managed to enforce a media blackout--just in case the American public
got too pesky about the way the Gulf War was waged--that has now become Standard
Operating Practice in US-led military campaigns.
Sins of the fathers. Now we have a second generation of Bush administration, installed
by a long-outmoded electoral college system which ignored the popular vote, confirmed
by a Supreme Court d'etat. Only this Bush is going even farther afield.
Watching through an overseas media surprisingly more critical of American policy,
my disillusionment with the US has grown. It gets scary when one woolgathers and
considers how things have progressed:
I watch as Bush the younger reneges on international treaties, such as ABM and Kyoto,
in ways that seem so calculatedly pro-domestic business that they aggravate fellow
signatories and undo years of American credibility.
I watch as Bush's buddies take the money and run. While Enron destroys confidence
in the stock market for outsider traders, Vice President Cheney refuses to release
possibly incriminating information--in the best traditions of Nixonian "executive
With September 11, I watch as Bush brings forth the jingoism and policy overgeneralization
of "crusades" and the infamous "axis of evil". These involve
engagement without declarations of war, containment without borders, and commitment
without exit plans. It makes one wonder if people are listening to themselves and
considering how that makes America come off to the rest of the world.
I watch as Bush proposes the largest military budget increase in twenty years which,
fortified by cuts in both taxes and domestic social programs, will infuse more R&D
money into an economic sector already by far the world's largest international seller
I watch as civil liberties in America erode in the name of preventing terrorism:
Suspending habeas corpus for foreigners. Ignoring Geneva Conventions on prisoners
of war and endowing offshore military tribunals with the death penalty. Restricting
public access to scientific information. Establishing an air-security system which
knows far more than just where passengers are going or have been.
And I watch as domestic critics remain cowed. CNN had their editorial policies hijacked
by following a voluntary ban on broadcasting statements by Bin Laden. Late-night
comedians, who normally offer healthy criticism of any administration, are under
voluntary gags in the name of patriotism and respect for September 11 victims. Highly-critical
pundits, such as columnist Ted Rall, even claim to be having their phones tapped.
Nowadays, after months of surprisingly skillful negotiations convincing most of the
world to ally against terrorism, Bush is reverting to form by alienating them all
over again. Insinuating that Europeans are weak-kneed and indecisive in their approach
to terrorism, the Bush Administration is now putting countries in the cross-hairs
more unilaterally. Cheney: "America has friends and allies in this cause, but
only we can lead it", backed up by Deputy Secretary of State Armitage: "Only
the US has the capability to project power".
Chris Patten, the European Union's external affairs chief, offers a sensible reality
"The stunning and unexpectedly rapid success of the military campaign in Afghanistan
was a tribute to American capacity. But it has perhaps reinforced some dangerous
instincts; that the projection of military power is the only basis of true security;
that the US can rely on no one but itself; and that allies may be useful as an optional
extra." America, he concluded, should curb its "absolutist" and "unilateralist
Back to the epicenter. Bush is over here in Japan this week partying away, essentially
bolstering both Bush's foreign policy cred and Koizumi's clay-footed approach to
reform. This visit is running on fumes (this morning's talk shows filled the policy
vacuum by airing their dinner menus) and will accomplish nothing, except perhaps
to suck more of Japan's resources into the war effort regardless of Constitutional
Let's face it, people. Pyrrhic victory or not, the terrorists have won. They have
gotten what they wanted--a superpower-and-allies leadership so reactionary that it
is encouraging similar policy sins towards their own peoples.
After over a decade over here being gradually weaned off "Americanism",
I have watched practically all of my doe-eyed presuppositions--of a fairer polity
and a more reasonable system of checks and balances in America than in Japan--truly
It would be nice to go back to having faith in the United States as the fairest arbiter
of the world's power. But I guess I've simply been here too long for that.
February 19, 2002
TRUTH IN THE JAPANESE PARLIAMENT
By Arudou Debito
(channelling Mark Twain, Peter Hadfield, and Dave Barry)
Column Eighteen for Japan Today
It had gone far enough. With any hope of reform in Japanese politics stymied in recent
months, Japan's Gods decided to answer the people's prayers. They created a truth
gas ("it'd coax the honne from a hippo", beamed Amaterasu) and released
it the Japanese Diet. Here is a replay of the Diet Hearings of February 20, 2002:
DIETMEMBER: So, Muneo, you stand accused of conduct unbecoming of a Dietmember.
You allegedly interfered with an international conference, stopping a Japanese non-governmental
organization from attending. Is this the case?
ZURUKI MUNEO: So what if I did? You can't prove it either way and I have plausible
deniability. My cronies in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have backed me up. It's
my word against Tanaka Makiko's, and she's such an uppity broad that no red-blooded
bloke likes her anyway. So what if she is the MOFA's boss? Was, I mean.
DIETMEMBER: Why would you do such a thing to a mere NGO? They are only trying
to inject more popular opinion into the political process.
MUNEO: Hey, tough beans. They didn't treat me with the proper respect. They
didn't say hello to me when I was in the room. How dare they? If it weren't for people
like me, they wouldn't have much to protest about.
DIETMEMBER: Er, yes, quite.
MUNEO: What are we paying these NGOs taxes for? Don't they know who I am?
I am known as the shadow foreign minister. I have connections up the wazoo, at least
in the MOFA and my Hokkaido hometown. I even put one of my Russian-speaking cronies
on the MOFA's payroll to better facilitate my business dealings with the commies.
DIETMEMBER: Yes, let's turn to that. You have a reputation for building eponymous
"Muneo Houses" with our tax money. You put one on the island of Kunashiri,
one of the northern territories the Soviet Union seized just after WWII.
MUNEO: Look, by rights those islands are part of my electoral district of
Nemuro. Since we can't be bothered to negotiate a peace treaty with the Ruskies even
after 57 years, I thought I might as well give my constitutents some better business
opportunities. So what if I rigged the MOFA procurement contract so that only construction
companies from my district could bid, and the only one who did bid was a pal of mine?
Can't you smell the pork, pal?
DIETMEMBER: You also put one in Tanzania. Are you saying that's in your constituency
MUNEO: That was funded with my own political donations, not tax money. What
can I say? I'm a nice guy. That money was laundered through the MOFA anyway, so procedure
was followed and corruption suitably spread around.
DIETMEMBER: Where are you getting all this money from?
MUNEO: I have a lot of grateful construction companies in my district. That's
why I am one of the biggest contributors to charities--such as the LDP, our beloved
ruling party. I alone paid dues of about two million US dollars last year. It shuts
up a lot of internal critics and cosies me up to the kingpins.
DIETMEMBER: You really are a scoundrel. Don't you feel that you are the shame
MUNEO: Think what you like. As long as my hometown likes me, I will remain
DIETMEMBER: Not all of your constituency likes you. Look at the Ainu, who
very vocally protested last year when you tried to deny their existence as a distinct
MUNEO: Ah, who cares what they think? They're a bunch of Abbos without money.
Look, last time they sent me a protest letter I didn't even bother to read it. I
sent it back unopened. Fat chance of them unseating me.
DIETMEMBER: The truth gas is starting to wear off, so let me get one last
question in. Under normal circumstances, why don't you think the things you said
today will ever see the light of day?
MUNEO: Hey, I'm not even under oath right now as it is. These ARE the normal
circumstances. Prime Minister Ko-itsuwari is not interested in getting TOO much truth
out. Just the veneer of it so he can continue to play balancing games and keep himself
and the LDP in power. I am, by my own admission, an "old style" politician,
and by that I mean the dark side of the party. By greasing palms of even "incorruptible"
bureaucrats, I nip any prospects of reform by making problems seem insurmountable,
or at least unsolvable by half-measures.
DIETMEMBER: Thank you for the enlightening chat.
MUNEO: Nyet nyet.
February 21, 2002
(click here to see previous columns)
Copyright 2001-2002, Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle, Sapporo, Japan