A return from captivity: comparing the United States and Japan

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The recent return of Laura Ling and Euna Lee from 140 days of captivity in North Korea is cause for much celebration and happiness. They are safe and unharmed, and the rest of the world can now breathe easily knowing that they are back home. Ever since they were captured, vigils were held all across the country, people pitched in, and things have since returned to normalcy, if not a bit of curiosity as to what indeed happened. It appears the claim that they illegally crossed the border to North Korea were true, albeit fleetingly. Regardless, the reaction to their return has been altogether positive and endearing.

The burden of responsibility in their actions is likely not to become an issue in the United States. Laura and Euna are mere journalists, hoping to share the goings-on in the world to a large audience. The New York Times has a nice debate article about how travelers should weigh their risk in travelling to places where their own governments have issued warnings against.

This is in harsh contrast to the public opinion surrounding the release of several hostages who were kidnapped in Iraq in 2004, including Nahoko Takato and Noriaki Imai, shown below. An article written shortly after their return to Japan describes it as

To the angry Japanese, the first three hostages – Nahoko Takato, 34, who started a nonprofit organization to help Iraqi street children; Soichiro Koriyama, 32, a freelance photographer; and Noriaki Imai, 18, a freelance writer interested in the issue of depleted uranium munitions – had acted selfishly.

They did get some comfort in knowing that at least the United States was supportive of their release:

“Well, everybody should understand the risk they are taking by going into dangerous areas,” said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. “But if nobody was willing to take a risk, then we would never move forward. We would never move our world forward. And so I’m pleased that these Japanese citizens were willing to put themselves at risk for a greater good, for a better purpose. And the Japanese people should be very proud that they have citizens like this willing to do that.”

The Japanese government’s spokesman (and future PM) Yasuo Fukuda said:

“They may have gone on their own but they must consider how many people they caused trouble to because of their action.”

As a result, the freed captives were subjected to hate mail, death threats, stones thrown against their homes. The court of public opinion in Japan is much less forgiving of acts that are in defiance of the best interests of the group: Marie Thorsten, in an article of the Asia-Pacific Journal, summed it up nicely:

As for whether the Japanese hostage homecoming can be understood as an expression of Japanese cultural norms demanding obedience to the group, or geopolitical norms demanding Japanese subservience to America by keeping dissidence under control, the answer is both, and more.

A hero’s welcome may not be necessary, but by gosh, at least give the hostages a peace of mind knowing that their worst ordeals are over, and not about to hit them?

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~ by allthenittygritty on August 9, 2009.

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