Thursday, March 28, 2013

Saving Whales: Japan 3 (Greenpeace Days)


Head of a sperm whale
(Click to read part 1 and part 2)
While Bruce, Kevin, and I were on the water, Rusty had the difficult job of going into the shore station itself and handing out our leaflets there. We wanted to explain to these workers, too, why we were trying to end whaling, and Rusty walked into the stench and the gore to deliver our message. She later had to throw away the shoes she'd worn; they were saturated with the muck and blood of dead whales.

We had anticipated that Rusty and I
would be arrested for trespassing onto private property and we expected to be in jail for several months. Our plan was that she would teach me to tap-dance during that time. Given my two left feet and general lack of rhythm, it seemed like a good project to keep us occupied while we awaited trial and our opportunity to address the Japanese public.

Three hours after I'd boarded the whaler, it pulled into port and I was removed by police officers, and taken to the police station. They asked me to return the next day with my friends, for questioning, but refused to arrest me. Because they also wanted to question the captain of the whaler, the boat was further delayed from putting back out to sea--and the whaling season ended a few days later. 

Bruce, Rusty, and I returned to the police station as requested. The two of them were questioned for 8 hours; I was questioned for 11 hours. It was an experience that has given me empathy for anyone who confesses under interrogation to a crime he did not commit. After all, we'd anticipated being arrested, were fully cooperative (except in revealing names of helpful Japanese), and eagerly admitted our roles in trespassing and disrupting whaling operations--and still the interrogation process was grueling and exhausting and surprisingly emotionally draining

And for all that, they still refused to arrest us. I chalk this up to their experience with my dear friend Dexter Cate. The previous year Dexter had been arrested and held in jail for three months while awaiting trial. He had freed hundreds of dolphins intended for slaughter (like in the documentary "The Cove"), and the Japanese authorities had learned that the longer he was held in jail, the more international public opinion grew against them. They wisely decided not to charge Rusty or me.

Instead of having our day in court, Rusty and I rode our wave of publicity, traveling around Japan to talk to students, organizations, and any group who would have us, about our arguments for ending whaling--until my visa was up and I was unceremoniously booted out of Japan.

At the time we were dismayed by our lack of a trial and the publicity it would have brought to the cause. But Rusty and I spoke the other day and agreed that we were fortunate to avoid jail time ... still, I never did learn to tap dance.

The following year (1982), the International Whaling Commission voted to stop all commercial whaling, to go into effect four years later. Japan, by taking "exception" to this ruling, continued to whale commercially until 1988. Its current "scientific research" whaling is a sham and a thinly-disguised continuation of commercial whaling--but the number of whales they kill has been greatly reduced.   


15 comments:

  1. So, with the benefit of hindsight, do you feel that this was an effective way to advocate for your cause? I think there are some who feel that Greenpeace's extreme methods can do more harm than good. I'd love to hear your take on that.

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    1. Oh man, Rebecca, that's such a big question! I'd love to sit down for coffee with you and hash it all out! There are all kinds of nuances and variables.

      First off, tho, let me differentiate between Greenpeace and some other groups that GP is sometimes confused with. The actions that GP engages in are ALWAYS non-violent (this is such an imperative tenet it's right there in the organization's name); Greenpeace members might put their own lives on the line, but NEVER in any way endanger those we oppose. (There are other groups that don't agree with this nicety, and it's understandable that the public may not recognize the difference.)

      There are many methods to try to achieve the same ends--but one of the most important things is to bring attention to your cause. It can be hard to get the word out. But get some footage of some wacko protester willing to drive a tiny boat between the whale and the harpoon gun? In addition to saving some individual whales, that image can go global and further your cause faster than a thousand level-headed petitions and rallies.

      Ah, but Japan--Japan! The culture is so different there than in the US--so much more cohesive and non-individualistic. How did that action of chaining myself to the harpoon affect the cause within that nation? We found it far more difficult than we'd anticipated to get the media to include our reasoning against what the whaling companies repeated and repeated and repeated. The companies successfully drummed in a message that we were racists--that Americans ate pigs and cows, which was the exact same thing as eating whales, so clearly we were racists. Wow, did that argument go over well in Japan! Our counterargument, that whales were ENDANGERED wild animals that belonged to the world, was utterly ignored by the media. We certainly won over some people, and received some letters and other indications of appreciation--one boy who Rusty and I met refused to eat the whale meat served in his school--but wining over the hearts and minds of the Japanese on this issue? Well, we failed.

      (Still, I think there is something to be said for the doing. Someone should stand up against wrong and say it is wrong. It ought to be done. Even when failure is the most likely outcome.)

      Okay, I'll stop myself now, except for this last comment: as we saw it, the people employing "extreme methods" were those still killing sperm whales recognized as endangered by the international scientific community. The extremists were exploding nuclear bombs in the Pacific and irradiating islanders. Or dumping toxic waste into waterways. Or "incidentally" killing thousands of dolphins to land some tuna fish. Or spooling out miles and miles and miles of drift net that kill anything they encounter. Or, or or...

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    2. Thank you so much for your reply, and I hope you weren't offended by my question! It's interesting to hear how the cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan affected what you could accomplish.

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    3. Oh, not offended at all. It's a serious and an important question. And something that I continue to turn over in my mind...

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  2. I won a blue ribbon at the county fair for my gingerbread. I think your life has been considerably more exciting than mine. And you have achieved some significantly worthwhile goals. You rock, Patty!

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    1. Hey, I have eaten that gingerbread, and you are not giving it proper due here!!!!

      And I have often thought that it was easier to do the work with Greenpeace than not to do it.

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  3. I think sinking ships is being extreme, Greenpeace simply brings the tried and true street protest to the high seas.

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    1. Yeah, the one good thing I can say about the sinking of ships is that it makes GP look reasonable by comparison!

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  4. I think you are so worldly and brave. It is not easy to do the things you and your friends did for a cause that is good.
    Applause here! I wonder if Pat thinks about taking up another cause locally or even rejoining Greenpeace for one more rally!

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    1. Pat does think about that.... this whole proposed coal transport through the PNW thing? Looks like I might have to get my protest on...

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  6. Patricia Lichen there's simply no substitute for authenticity of being there and writing it well and you were there and you are there. Not that you need to know that from me, you know it already and you're graceful enough not to show it out on your sleeve, your a glowworm example of writing well, and really if I don't say it, well, who will?, and besides it's all I really know to say besides the, "Oh my, the places you have been." There's no substitute for authenticity and you let your life speak.

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    1. Well, goodness, SweetWilliam! Thanks for your kind words. I see where you get your name!!!

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