March 17, 2009
“The Japanese example” is not suicideThe furor over bonuses given by AIG to employees after taking more than $170 billion in bailout money from the U.S. government is made all the more furious because of the sheer breathtaking scale of the cash flow. AIG paid 73 staffers more than $1 million, with one getting $6.4 and seven more getting $4. Those amounts seem so out of kilter with the state of the economy, and the fact that just months ago, the giant company was about to crash without a hand up from the government -- from us -- that it's not surprising that citizens as well as lawmakers are screaming bloody murder. But one lawmaker is screaming bloody suicide. The Washington Post (among other media) reported that Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wanted AIG execs to commit hara kiri, or seppuku -- the traditional Japanese ritual suicide often depicted as an honorable course of action from samurai times.
Sen. Charles Grassley suggested in an Iowa City radio interview on Monday that AIG executives should take a Japanese approach toward accepting responsibility by resigning or killing themselves. "Obviously, maybe they ought to be removed," the Iowa Republican said. "But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide." Grassley spokesman Casey Mills said the senator wasn't calling for AIG executives to kill themselves, but said those who accept tax dollars and spend them on travel and bonuses do so irresponsibly.When I first heard about this, my jaw clenched but I let it pass. Seppuku was a historical reality for centuries, after all, and it's depicted in lots of Japanese pop culture, including movies and books. It's been documented as a reflection of one of Japan's driving cultural values, shame.