BookReview: Underground: The Tokyo gas attack and the Japanese psyche
by Haruki Murakami, First Vintage International, 2000, 0-375-72580-6

Non-fiction work by an excellent novelist in the style of Studs Terkel. He interviews gas attack victims and the members of Aum. The striking dearth of panic during the attack is amazing. People were choking to death, and one person still went to the store to buy milk. He said he was amazed that he did this after the fact. The crime was heinous, and the emergency response was slow and wholly inadequate. Japanese society's rigid structures got in the way of a dynamic response.

[p354] Saying I'd run away might be less than honest. If I really search my heart I can say that if Murai had told me to do it, most likely I would have run away. However, if Yoshihiro Inoue had said to me, "Hidetoshi, this is part of salvation," and passed me the bag with the sarin in it, I would have been very perplexed. If he'd told me to come with him, I might have done so. In other words, it comes down to a question of ties between individuals.

Murai was my boss, but he was cold and too far above me. If he'd told me to do it I would have asked him why, and if he'd insisted and said, "It's a dirty job but it's for the sake of Aum and I really want you to do it," I like to think that I would have hidden my true feelings, said okay, and then, at the last minute, found a way to get out of it. Like [Ken'ichi] Hirose, who wavered and got off the train, I think I would have struggled over what I should do, but in the end would have found a way out.

But something about Inoue captivated me. He felt a strong sense of religious duty. If I'd seen him agonizing over the situation, I think I would have done anything to help out. He was a great influence on me. So if he'd pushed me, saying this was a mission only we could carry out, I might very well have gone along. I would have been operating on a different plane. What I mean is, in the final analysis, logic doesn't playa strong role in people's motivations. I doubt if the ones who did it were even capable of thinking logically when they were given the order to release the sarin. They didn't have the presence of mind, got caught up in events, panicked, and did what they were told. No one who had the strength to think logically about it would have carried it out. In extreme cases of guru-ism individuals' value systems are completely wiped out. In situations like that people just don't have the mental stamina to connect their actions with the deaths of many people.

No matter how much you resist and try to put a stop to things, the fact is that in a group like Aum your sense of Self steadily deteriorates.

Via Rob 2006