By Mark Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly
Japanese whaling and dolphin hunting has attracted international media attention. The Shepherd Society, headed by founder Paul Watson, has been one of the leaders in the campaign against Japanese whaling. Last month, the Japanese whaling fleet ended their whaling season early, and the Sea Shepard Society claimed victory.
The Sea Shepherd Society is based here in Friday Harbor. In the 1970s, Paul Watson was heavily involved with Greenpeace, though they eventually parted ways in 1977. Greenpeace accused Watson of placing himself front and center, promoting divisiveness within the organization.
Watson subsequently formed the Sea Shepherd Society. This organization has been in the headlines for sabotaging and damaging a number of whaling vessels. Late last year and early this year, Japan requested of the U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission that the Sea Shepard’s tax exempt status be revoked. Japan argued that Sea Shepard’s actions threatened safety at sea.
Watson has a flamboyant style, which he uses to get publicity. In his book, “Earthforce! An Earth Warrior’s Guide to Strategy,” he states, “The nature of the mass media today is such that the truth is irrelevant. What is true and what is right to the general public is what is defined as true and right by the mass media. … A headline comment on Monday’s newspaper far outweighs the revelation of inaccuracy revealed in a small box inside the paper on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
He also states, “If you do not know an answer, a fact, or a statistic, then simply follow the example of an American President and do as Ronald Reagan did — make it up on the spot and deliver the information confidently and without hesitation.”
These comments suggest that Watson will do whatever it takes to gain publicity for himself and his organization, including lying. I suspect that Watson takes advantage of the racist attitudes of some critics of Japan’s whaling and dolphin hunting activities in order to get attention for himself.
Many comments on blogs and websites about Japanese whaling contain racist remarks about Japanese and Asians.
Watson dismisses accusations of racism, and he claims that Sea Shepard does not support racism in its anti-whaling efforts. “Of course, anytime the word racist is tossed into an argument, the politically correct crowd can be counted on to react with righteous horror, indignation, and condemnation,” he said.
Watson’s reference to being overly “politically correct” is revealing. This is the standard cliché that is used when there is an objection to racism. Watson evaded the issue, and refused to acknowledge that racism is behind a significant number of anti-whaling attitudes when non-white people are involved.
Another example of this is the Makah whaling controversy in Washington state. In the 1990s, a controversy erupted when the Makah tribe initiated gray whale hunting based on treaty rights. The hunt triggered an anti-Indian backlash from a lot of people who, under most circumstances, would probably not get involved in environmental causes. Watson formed an alliance with Washington state Rep. Jack Metcalfe, who had a background in opposing Native American treaty rights. Metcalfe did not have a strong environmental voting record and was probably motivated more by anti-Indian bias. Watson didn’t care whether his campaign contributed to Indian bashing, as long as he got his publicity. The whales are not the only important issue in the world. Ethically, Watson should have considered the repercussions of his campaign. He reportedly yelled to the Makah, “Just because you were born stupid doesn’t give you any right to be stupid.”
Watson also attempted to influence the Sierra Club to support reducing immigration to the United States.
Watson claims that he has neutral reasons for his immigration position. He purportedly stated, “I am for lowering immigration from nations that have high birth rates to nations that have lower birth rates and from nations of high birth rates to nations of high consumption levels. Nations with lower birth rates should not be penalized by having growth forced upon them from nations needing to dump their excess populations.
Nations of high consumption levels increase the levels of consumption with the introduction of every additional person.”
During this same time period, in 2003, a number of anti-immigration activists ran for the board of directors of the Sierra Club, some of whom had Watson’s support. As in the Makah tribe situation, Watson once again was aligned with groups or individuals with racist sentiments.
There are various arguments in the whaling controversy. One of them is over whether whales are more advanced and have more rights than less intelligent animals. In one interview, Watson was asked why killing a whale was worse than killing a pig. His response was, “I get this question from the Japanese a lot, and I find it offensive. How can anybody compare the killing of a pig to the killing of a whale? First of all, our ships are vegan. Forty percent of the fish caught from the oceans is fed to livestock – pigs and chickens are becoming major aquatic predators. … The eating of meat is an ecological disaster.”
Watson scapegoated the Japanese, then dodged the issue by talking around the subject.
While Japan is generally perceived as the leader in whale hunting, Norway still takes a significant number of whales. In 2010, Norway sought a higher quota than Japan from the International Whaling Commission. However, it is Japan that gets the vast majority of media attacks.
“The Cove,” a documentary about dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan, featured a number of white activists going to Japan. They made the Japanese look like villains. It won an Academy Award in 2010. There will never be an Academy Award winning movie that bashes white Norwegians for hunting whales. Asians are a convenient scapegoat for the white American media.
Of course, there are valid arguments in the anti-whaling movement. There are many non-racist individuals concerned about these issues. However, it cannot be denied that there are a significant number of people motivated by racism. It is hypocritical to advocate for the whales and dolphins while supporting or ignoring racist attitudes. ♦
Mark Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.