Around the world, people are making paper cranes — folding their hopes for peace, safety and relief for Japan in bright squares of paper. The tradition holds that if you fold a thousand of these origami birds, you will get a wish.

Ihope a lot of folks are folding, because our friends in that distant land need so many wishes granted right now. Just as it was with Hurricane Katrina here, the natural disaster there has been compounded by an inability of the Japanese government to do much about it. That’s understandable. The quake and the tsunami were blows that no country could absorb effortlessly. What seems less comprehensible, however, is the apparent unwillingness by that same government to shoot straight with its people — suggesting they either don’t know or won’t say what is actually happening.

Even some normally staid Japanese broadcasters were openly questioning how the information from the power company and the government could be so fragmented, sporadic, and, at times, contradictory. The issue, after all, was nuclear radiation and this is Japan, the only nation in the world haunted by memories of having been pounded by nuclear bombs.

It takes a lot to provoke criticism from U.S. officials when you are talking about an important ally and trading partner, and yet American policy leaders were clearly unhappy with the unreliable stream of information from Japanese agencies, both private and public.

By midweek, there was a stark example of how far the two governments were separating in their public assessments: Japanese officials were telling people to stay 12 miles away from the troubled nuclear plant or to take shelter indoors within an 18-mile radius. On Wednesday, U.S. officials broke with the Japanese and said 50 miles was a more realistic and safe evacuation radius.

Should we should fear similar complications if a big quake hit one of our nuke plants? Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told CNN, “We think we have a very robust program here in the United States to deal with seismic events and tsunamis and other types of natural hazards.”

Let’s hope he’s right and that our leaders will prove trustworthy the next time calamity comes our way. In the meantime, I suspect a lot of folks will keep listening to the Japanese officials, shaking their heads and folding cranes.

–CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/ and “The Situation Room.”

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