U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos ’77 J.D. ’80 spoke Friday afternoon to a near-capacity crowd at Cubberly Auditorium about his experience coordinating the American relief effort to last March’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, which he called “the world’s first megadisaster.”
An hour after the earthquake, Roos declared an emergency and implemented Operation Tomodachi–which means ‘friends’ in Japanese–one of the largest relief operations in international history. Nearly 200 U.S. military ships and aircraft transported food, clothing and supplies to those left homeless.
As part of the relief effort, Stanford students sold t-shirts to raise funds for disaster aid. Roos noted how many people continue to stop him on the streets of Tokyo to thank him for American assistance.
“What makes a country strong is its people,” he said. “It is the university students at Akita University and at Stanford, those who donated their time, money and expertise for those in need that comprise the strength of a nation.”
He also described the nuclear crisis that ensued when a 50-foot wave hit the Fukushima Power Plant. The disaster was intensified by the limited information available during its initial hours.
“We were in a situation where the information was scarce, chaotic or sensationalized in the media and where the need to communicate was crucial,” he said.
Roos himself used Twitter to assure that the 155,000 Americans living in Japan received timely information about the disaster.
Roos stressed the Japanese peoples’ gratitude for their friendship, showing a film from the people of Japan thanking Americans for their aid. He shared the inscription on his favorite drawing from a Japanese child: “Thank you America. Mr. America, please take care not to catch a cold.”
He also read a letter from an orphaned high school student whom he visited.
“On March 11, my life changed totally,” she wrote. “At first I didn’t know how to deal with the situation. You kindly invited us to Tokyo and my life has changed again with a new meaning. I will learn English and go to school. Now I have a dream.”
Audience members responded positively to this mixture of facts and anecdotes.
“I thought it was interesting how Roos brought in personal accounts to his presentation, creating a powerful effect to show what the communities are collectively doing to rebuild, bit by bit,” said Vince Sparacio ’15.
The talk was organized by Kappa Sigma and its Community Service Chair Danny Organ ’13, in collaboration with the Stanford University Nikkei (SUN), Stanford Asian American Activities Center (A3C) and Residential Riddell Funds.
Roos also touched on a more current debate: whether Japan should focus on innovative resources or rebuild as before. He stated that the next generation has the responsibility of reconstructing the country, noting “how great it would be to have Stanford students be a part of that effort.”
He then commented on the recent Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which he called “game-changing.”
Several audience members commended Roos’s speech.
“It was inspiring to hear about the gratitude of the Japanese,” said Jake Klonoski, a law student who was with the U.S. Pacific Fleet and helped with disaster recovery. “For the Navy, oftentimes relationships between State and Defense Department are difficult, but watching the Ambassador’s leadership was impressive. In person it’s easy to see how he did a good job, because he transmits the intentions of the American people.”
“As an American who grew up in Japan, Roos’ emphasis on the importance of the US-Japan relationship really struck a chord with me,” said Gavin Bird ’14.