What Failed in Norway?

PARIS – Japan in March 2011 and Norway in July 2011: any comparison between the madness of nature and the pure madness of man in Norway may sound artificial. Yet, confronted with their respective tragedies, Japan and Norway displayed a very similar combination of qualities and flaws.

In both countries, civil society reacted to the events in a remarkable manner, with a sense of unity, dignity, and reaffirmed national cohesiveness. But, while citizens in both countries have emerged more confident in themselves and in their core values, the security authorities’ performance clearly fell short. As a result, Japanese and Norwegians might emerge more critical – and justifiably so – of their respective official bureaucracies. Hail to the people, who had to supplement with their own ingenuity the organizational capacity of those who were in charge of their protection.

One should not, of course, try to take the comparison further. Fukushima will forever stand for the uniqueness of nuclear energy: as long as it works, it is cheaper and cleaner than most alternatives. But, unlike other energy sources, when something goes wrong, the consequences are catastrophic.

The lesson of Norway’s tragedy, by contrast, is that words can kill, and that far-right ideology (perhaps combined with an addiction to violent video games) can lead to terrible consequences. Let’s imagine, then, what could happen if a mad man imbued with an absolute ideology controlled a nuclear weapon.