Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack And The Japanese Psyche, Haruki Murakami, ISBN 1860467571.

A cheerful bright yellow cover for a book covering an unhappy subject, consisting of interviews with the survivors of the 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo underground, and (towards the end) some interviews with members of the sect that carried out the attack. I started this a while ago but got stalled and have only finished it recently.

One thing that many of the people quoted in the book mention is the unpreparedness of the authorities for any kind of serious attack. But else struck me: the station staff tried to clean up the sarin with newspaper and plastic bags - as far as I can tell they didn't have any idea how dangerous the material they were dealing with was (and indeed it killed some of them). They should have (at most) helped others escape and then fled themselves. It wasn't just the authorities who weren't prepared for it, it was everybody.

The interviews with the Aum members were interesting too. A lot of them joined and stayed because of the respite from the world you and I know it provided: they didn't have to make any hard decisions, if things went wrong people were happy to let it slide, etc. (And of course, some of them opted out of decision-making to the extent that they followed instructions that were blatantly illegal and immoral).

Could it happen to me? I don't think so; having to make my own decisions provides plenty of sources of stress, but I value my self control too much to hand it over to someone else. (I'd make a dreadful soldier.) Could it happen here, to people I know? That's harder to tell; it's evidently a fact about people that they can be persuaded into some very strange beliefs, and though I'd like to think that the people I know well aren't at risk from something like Aum, you never know.

Could the SGO become such a cult? I doubt it l-) Two things that would prevent this are a strong culture of looking at the larger world, not just gossiping about what one's friends are getting up to (though there's a lot of that too...) and lots of arsey people who wouldn't put up with being told what to do in an Aum-style way (nor with being obeyed like that, from the other side).


More reviews | RJK | Contents