The Apocalyptic horrors still unfolding in Japan are causing many of us to search within. I am not a philosopher, or ethicist or expert on death and dying. Like most of us, I'm in awe when I read about the 50 heroic workers who have been fighting the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushia Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. I wondered what motivated them to give up their lives. Are they fully aware of their sacrifice? Are they doing it willingly?
As the frightening days unfold in Japan, each one bringing new complications, new fears and more unknowns, it seems pretty clear that there will be a need for others to fly helicopters, put out fires and enter the area where the reactors are threatening an entire country, and beyond.
And then I take it a step further: What might I do if I were called on to give up my life (not possibly, or even probably, as many do in war, but almost certainly) to save my country, and the lives of millions of people?
This is theoretical, of course, but I have come up with some possible answers for myself. They are honest and soul-searching, and reveal things I rarely think about:
I would consider dying to save my country if:
- I had a terminal illness and less than a year to live
- I could be assured that I could avoid the suffering of radiation poisoning, by taking my life when I wish
- I had support to make me as comfortable as possible
- I were given funds for my children's and/or grandchildren's education and/or charities of my choice
- I were memorialized as a hero
Perhaps I would sacrifice without the last two items, but I doubt I would do it without the first three. I realize I am not unusually brave, want to be remembered, fear suffering more than anything and am less altruistic than I wish. And I have the privilege of a theoretical situation.
There have been suicide missions throughout history, from kamikaze pilots during World War II to suicide bombers in the Middle East during this decade. But the sacrifice going on right now in Japan is about saving a country, a society, maybe even a world. It is heroism.
Perhaps you will also ponder this disturbing question as I did, and come out with a deeper understanding of yourself, and an even deeper appreciation of the Japanese heroes and life itself.
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