Kevin Maher at the Foreign Correspondent's Club, Japan on August 18th 2011

Kevin Maher at the Foreign Correspondent's Club, Japan on August 18th 2011 (Source: FCCJ)

Today, the Sankei reported on a passage in former U.S. diplomat Kevin Maher’s book, “The Japan That Can’t Decide”. You may remember that Maher was ousted as the State Department’s Japan Desk chief after he was reported by Kyodo News as saying that Okinawans were ‘masters of manipulation’, among other things. He resigned on March 10th but was almost immediately brought back in to help coordinate the relief work – although he has now left the State Department and is working as a consultant.

His book, released in Japanese, is critical of the Japanese response to the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima accident, and one part in particular caught the Sankei Shimbun‘s eyes.

Immediately after the Fukushima accident became known, the US supplied Japan with a list of equipment which it could provide to aid with the relief effort – but there was no reply from the Japanese side besides long, drawn-out questions. An unmanned helicopter had caught the Japanese government’s eyes, and they asked plenty of questions aboutt he minutiae of its operation before landing on a question that apparently shocked Maher: “In the event that the helicopter is contaminated by radiation, what will happen with regards to compensation?”

Maher called this question ‘unthinkable’ in such a state of emergency and states that this inquiry process consumed two weeks of back and forth communications: “Even though it was a state of emergency, there was nobody who could make decisions.” The Sankei of course pinned this on Prime Minister Kan – however, I would suggest that this has a lot more to do with the layers of bureaucracy between the two sides. Should Kan have circumvented this? Probably.

Was the question unreasonable? That is the final thought I want to leave you with. It seems to me that given the already spiraling costs of the recovery at that time, it was important that they grasp the details of compensation – there is no such thing as a free meal, after all. Let us know what you think in the comments.

For a little more background on Maher and his book, check out this Voice of America article from last week: Former US Diplomat Criticizes Japan’s Nuclear Response

Bonus Video

The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Real-Time blog interviewed Maher in April. Here’s what he had to say:

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch