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During a crisis who stays, who leaves?

By now you would have heard of the Fukushima 50. They are the last line of defence for the failed nuclear reactors in Japan. These 50 men working continuously for days have exposed themselves to very high doses of radiation and are risking their lives to prevent a nuclear disaster in Japan. TEPCO the Japan company that owns those reactors asked for more nuclear plant workers to volunteer to this dangerous mission and 130 Japanese were willing to take up what may be a near suicide mission.

On Twitter, one woman expressed her pride -- and anguish -- at the news that her father had offered to take part in the risky operation at the plant.
"I fought back tears when I heard father, who is to retire in half a year, volunteered to go," the message read.

Remember a few weeks ago, MM Lee said, "You must want to die for each other."
Many of us find it amusing that he thinks we should make the ultimate sacrifice for each other when he can't get his own ministers to accept less pay. If a situation like Fukushima surfaces in Singapore and volunteers are asked to be part of a mission to save others by risking their lives, how many will volunteer? The situation is different from a war and you're asked to be part of an army....this one is a suicide mission where your health and very likely your life has to be sacrificed away with a high level of certainty.

Why are these people willing to do it? Let’s put this question aside first to look at something else.

There are numerous reports of foreign nationals leaving Japan out of fear of radiation.
The US & UK actually asked their citizens to leave Japan sparking a mini-panic...who wants to be left behind when people start leaving?

Actually you can't blame foreign nationals for wanting to leave. They are there to earn money and when they perceive that there is some risk, they will pack their bags and go. I saw this Japanese woman interviewed on TV about the radiation - she was asked if she was afraid. She said, "A little bit", Then the reporter asked her if she was staying or trying to leave. She said, "This is my home. Where am I going to go?" She was willing to accept some risk and not going to flee at the first sign of trouble.

In Japan the % of foreigners is actually quite small and most are in Tokyo but the impact of seeing so many people trying to flee the country at the first sign of trouble during crisis is highly demoralising for the people who want to stay and rebuild the country. Of course nobody wants to be the last guy out should the situation worsen and pose a danger for the living in Tokyo. We won't know if the radiation will rise to harmful levels in Tokyo but the window we are talking about is a few days before we know. However, it is best for such a large scale evacuation to be done in a coordinated manner. Given the distance from the troubled plants, the radiation level in the worse case scenario will harm a person in Tokyo only after prolonged exposure of weeks and months versus the certain serious damage within hours to the health brave workers at Fukushima.

Panic is the worst response and that in itself will endanger others even if radiation doesn't to rise to harmful levels - people hoarding food and water, for example, can cause others to starve. So it is in the common interest of people to stay calm, take care of each other and think of others.

0700 GMT: Japan's government has urged people against panic-buying of food and supplies, as the country grapples with a massive natural disaster and resulting nuclear crisis. Daily necessities are in desperately short supply in the north-eastern region worst-hit by Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

We can see the different response of various people in Japan - the foreigners will flee when there is risk, the average Japanese citizen who is frightened but willing to stay put and brave ones who are willing to die for others in the society. You cannot expect foreigners not to flee.

A few years ago I sent a few Singaporean engineers to a foreign country but the political situation there became a bit tense - the risk was very low but my boss told me to pull back everyone immediately. I would do the same if I am working in another country and my family is back in Singapore. So these foreigners are not doing anything wrong - it is not their home, the people they love are somewhere else. Yesterday on Sky News a young British man living in Sendai (much nearer to Fukushima than Tokyo) skyped with reporters. He was asked why he wasn't leaving and he told them his girlfriend is Japanese so he did not want to leave without her and she refused to go with him because her family is staying.

Japan only has 1.5% foreigners and Tokyo has the highest concentration 2.3%. When faced with the greatest crisis any one group of people can face, you need the people to stay cohesive not fall apart with each person only willing to take care of his own interests. It is never possible to integrate foreigners fully - many of the foreigners fleeing Tokyo have been there 5 or 10 years....and this "dis-integration" will show up during crisis. Imagine if Tokyo has 40% foreigners, what will happen? ...and if these foreigners are involved in essential services e.g. hospitals, what will happen? The crippling effects of 40% of the people getting out will deepen your crisis to a point that you may never be able to recover.

The Japanese are a resilient people. They survived the humiliating defeat and atomic bombs of WWII. They are also one of the most cohesive people in a world and have preserved a common identity for hundreds of years. They will survive this crisis no matter how bad it gets because they will stay together and not fall apart. If a country destroys its identity and loses its cohesiveness, it will fall apart during crisis.

When you need 50 men willing to die to prevent (or reduce) the worst calamity will you be able to find them in a place where people are conditioned to act selfishly for their own interests? ...Is it possible in a country where the leadership shows an inability to sacrifice (hey, its just money)? Is it possible to have this cohesiveness if the primary goal of running the country is to achieve GDP growth and not people?

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