Book : 1995 Sarin Attack and Social Psychology


I haven't update write anything on books lately. Previous read : Murakami's latest story for The New Yorker 3 weeks ago, titled Kino and Thomas Harris's first book in the Hannibal Series : Red Dragon - both I read digitally on iBooks.

Current read :
  • Underground by H.Murakami *I spent my MPH coupon on this book and didn't regret it.
  • The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris *second e-book from the Hannibal series
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie *I borrowed from Ivy

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Underground is a non-fiction, a compilation of interviews done by Murakami to Subway Sarin Attack's victims in Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995. Five members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult released sarin contained in a plastic bags in the Tokyo's subway train. 13 people died, hundreds of people severely affected and thousands more somewhat affected by the poisonous gas.

Sarin was originally invented during the WW2 by the German scientist. It is stated that Sarin is 20 times more powerful than cyanide. In the attack, the plastic bag contained with Sarin vaporized into the air in a gas form, everyone inhaled or touched it directly or indirectly were all affected.

Murukami tracked down hundreds of victims and interviewed some of the willing victims. Many victims turned down the offer to be interviewed because they rather forget the incident and some were still afraid of the Aum cult.

This happened around 20 years ago.

What hit me when I read the book : Those interviews make it real, all stories were told by the victims , it is connected like a huge invisible link that relates to so many big incidents in the world : the 9/11, the Holocaust, the Boston Marathon Bombing, the World War, etc. My purpose is to learn and understand, not to point fingers to who's responsible.


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Things I found interesting about some Japanese people in the 90's based on the interview :
  • Normal salary-man (*that work 9am-5pm) took the subway to work. They took roughly around 1-2 hours to arrive to their office. They come in 1 - 2 hours earlier before they start working. We don't really do that here, we are always late. Office hour at 9am means we come in at 9.30am. *but hey I always come in around 8.50am.
  • Most people were aware of the existence of the cult. There were Aum school, Aum hospital, Aum research center. I found it odd, knowing how established they were. 
  • When the train conductor announced that there were a poisonous gas in the train and asked all passengers to leave the train, nobody panicked, nobody ran. Everyone walked out patiently like nothing happened *this is based on the interview. I found it hard to relate. How can they managed to be so calm in emergency situation? Were they really trained to be that calm or they thought the situation weren't as serious as it was?
  • There were many cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in those interviews. Mostly relatable, it's great to learn how people cope with traumatizing experience. 
  • I relate this incident with any other religious terrorism that happened in this world. 
  • Later in 2000, Aum removed Asahara as the leader and changed its name to 'Aleph', they also vowed to respect the government's law. 

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At the same time as I was reading the book, I also took a course in Social Psychology by Wesleyan University. I managed to connect certain findings from all the lectures to the Sarin Attack incident :


  • Obedience to Authority : How the Aum followers chose to follow the order that had been assigned to them, even if they know how bad the effect would be. Why did they chose to do such an awful thing that cost other people's lives? How do some people choose to renounce their life and live a life decided by someone else? Is this a sign of weakness or total obsession? 
  • Countering Terrorism : It happened in Japan, it happened everywhere around the world. As a person, how would we react to this? What can we do to avoid future incidents? 
  • Bystander Effect : When a lot of victims passed out after they inhaled Sarin in the train, there were a lot of bystanders chose not to help. They stared, they ignored, they looked at each other. Only some people helped. In this situation, there were pro and cons. Pro : It would be dangerous for people that were not affected to touch or be near the victims because they might inhale the poisonous gas as well. Cons : Some people died because they were not helped or treated fast enough. Hundreds people were badly affected until now. So in this kind of situation, what should we do if we were the bystanders? 


PS : The lectures were given by Scott Plous, a professor of psychology at Wesleyan University. He managed to share a very interesting 7-weeks online course on social psychology with me. I highly recommend his class. The case studies, experiments and lesson were very useful and educative. The most important part is the lectures were not boring.

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More read :
Interesting read on the Sarin attack, criminal psychology, influence of authority and study on religion/cult fanatics : Hist357

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