the faceless 50

photo by YoungStudio via Flickr

Keith Bradsher and Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in The New York Times an article about the workers who remained at the Fukuskima plant when the others were evacuated, answering for me some of the questions I’ve thought of often in the past few days as I watch with a growing sense of dread the events unfolding.

Who are these men, the ones Bradsher and Tabuchi so eloquently call “the faceless 50?”

Post 9/11 I worked for a weekly magazine which was somehow published without a glitch despite all the bomb scares and evacuations, the anthrax fears and transportation jitters. I sat in many meetings regarding emergency plans, spent many hours crafting scenarios and triage plans, who to call and when and where to go and how to get there. All of the plans involved, naturally, leaving family and loved ones and relocating to another location (miles away, or course, since we were assuming in most of the scenarios that our offices, and even our city, would be inaccessible). I put on a brave face and issued instructions, yet all the while I knew, although I never confessed it to anyone, that I would never leave my family, my husband, my small children, to serve the greater good which was, after all, just a magazine. Despite appearances, never once did I waver in knowing that my priorities would always favor my family. I assume that had the doomsday event occurred (which, thank God, it did not) many if not most others would do the same.

Perhaps it’s different. I was choosing between people, people I loved, and a thing, whereas these faceless 50 are sacrificing themselves to save the lives of thousands. All the more reason I am in humble awe of their strength, their ability to risky their own lives to remain there, knowing that they are being exposed to levels of radiation that if not in the near future, down the road will very probably cause their deaths.

What leads one to such sacrifice? Surely we see it in soldiers, as well as in physicians and nurses and rescue workers, in that silent and often facelessly anonymous chain of those who risk their own lives to save others. Is it a trait we are born with, or does it, as some suggest when speaking of the Japanese and their sense of the greater good, spring from a culture and our identity within it?

Do they remain anonymous, these fifty men,* because it is easier for us to have them remain so? Do they only become known heroes afterward, when they are safe, so that we can bear more easily the fact that they are laying their bodies down on the tracks for us? And their families, are they not also heroic in their acceptance of the fact that they are secondary, that the selflessness of their spouses, their fathers, their lovers, precludes any love they have for them? Perhaps those willing to sacrifice all for others have always existed, but in our society of self, where the individual and his or her needs reigns supreme, this act becomes even more admirable, and more humbling to the rest of us who huddle in the safety they grant us with their sacrifice.


*Perhaps I am sexist to assume they are men, but to date their gender, as well as any other details of them, remain undisclosed.


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