Sartre famously declared that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. It is human judgment, in his view, that determines what is disastrous, and human suffering that is its measure. On this scale, the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 and the nuclear crisis that followed constituted a historic disaster—one that, five months later, the country is still struggling to understand.
The initial impact was broadcast live: the first responses on Twitter arrived before the tremors had subsided. News helicopters hovered above while the churning waters of the tsunami rushed inland over sea walls, carrying fishing boats through city streets, crushing some houses and sweeping others away. Amateur videos of destruction spread across the Internet and appeared on news networks around the world. For those watching far from the epicenter, these spectacular images of nature’s violence had an eerie immediacy.
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