With the one year anniversary of 3/11 fast approaching, the reviews and reassessments of the crazed first few hours, days and weeks after the triple disaster have been coming in over the transom at a predictable yet indigestible rate. So much material is being released, so many seminars and commemorative events are being held that the mind can absorb only a fraction of the information bombarding it.
Nevertheless, from amidst the cacophony, one muffled truth of the catastrophe is at last being heard clearly: Prime Minister Kan Naoto performed his job up to what were the limits of what was humanly possible and kept focused on the important, whilst almost everyone around him lost his or her heads.
As of last week, the domestic news media was still failing to appreciate how it was taken in by its sources in the power industry and the national bureaucracy in campaigning against Kan's leadership during the crisis. As if reading from the same script, the papers and the broadcast media all claimed on Monday last week that a 400 page report (an English précis by the group's leader Funabashi Yoichi can be found here) by the Rebuild Japan Initiative (Nihon saiken inishiateibu) would offer incontrovertible proof that Kan's micromanagement and intrusion into so many aspects of the crisis, particularly the attempts to control the mushrooming disaster at the Fukushima Dai'ichi plant, contributed to confusion and bad decision making.
However, in the release of the report and in the press conference by the co-authors, the exact opposite was shown to be true. Kan's intense involvement and refusal, after the power company representatives and the bureaucracy failed him, to take anything being told to him at face value, turned out to be at worst unimportant and at best crucial for mitigating the catastrophe. What complaints there were about Kan's intensity came from bureaucrats who were dumbfounded that this damned politician was doing their jobs and appointing civilian advisers to aid him. That he had to do their jobs or appoint others to do them because they themselves were not doing them did not, according to the media's quotes from the report, ever cross the bureaucrats' minds.
The rehabilitation of Kan's reputation is being led, as was the investigation in the Olympus scandal, by outsiders, both domestic and foreign. The mainstream is still caught up in its own master narrative, that the Kan Cabinet's disaster response was a failure and Kan a self-deluded meddler. Some organizations are beginning to grasp how thoroughly they were led astray by their sources (J). Others are doubling down (J), committed to their narrative and their prejudices.
Since I myself have a reputation to protect -- of being one prone to extreme statements -- put me down as nominating Kan Naoto as Japan's greatest prime minister since Yoshida Shigeru. With little public support for his cabinet, the upper echelons of the national bureaucracy inert to the point of malfeasance, an opposition that only three weeks after the disaster was accusing him in Diet committee of having caused the explosions at Fukushima Dai'ichi and a pair of quislings in his party who came within centimeters of leading their followers into joining hands with the opposition in a no-confidence motion against his cabinet, he oversaw the largest ever mobilization of the Self Defense Forces, the most massive disaster rescue and relief operation in the country's history, the greatest evacuation, housing and resettlement operation of the postwar era and the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl -- and when he had no political allies or capital left, leveraged his resignation into a means of extorting from his many enemies the passage of three last vital pieces of legislation. (E)
Nakasone Yasuhiro and Koizumi Jun'ichiro retired from the scene with golden halos. Kan had to spin straw into gold -- and having done it, received not a thimbleful of credit for it.