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America in the Far East

ISSUE:  Winter 1937

The Par Bast cm Crisis: Recollections and Observations. By Henry L. Stimson. New York: Published for the Council on Foreign, Relations by Harper and Brothers. $3.75.

Strange but apparently true it is that the people of the United States are far more alert to the dangers of the European situation than to the omens of war in the Far East. Strange, because toward Europe the American tradition in foreign policy is negative, while toward China it is well-nigh as positive as the Monroe Doctrine. To read, in “The Far Eastern Crisis,” Henry L. Stimson’s clear and frank explanation of why and how, as Secretary of State, he used every available resource of diplomacy to checkmate Japan’s moves in the invasion of China, is to feel afresh the shock of a controversy not yet ended, and to ask how long the sanctions that may have been envisaged in 1932 are to be deferred.

Mr. Stimson disclaims any attempt to reveal new facts. He is concerned rather to show the sequence of cause and effect, and to state the purposes of his government in dealing with Japan’s challenge to the open door and integrity of China policies, both of them well-established by unilateral declarations and by bipartite and multipartite treaties. To these ends he narrates the prominent incidents in Manchuria, and at Shanghai and Geneva, with which American diplomacy had to contend or which presented opportunities for co-operation with other powers. He includes the best brief account known to the reviewer of the military operations at Shanghai. The book is an interesting and convenient summary of the controversy as well as an original document of contemporary statesmanship. It is illustrated, indexed, provided with maps and documentary appendices, and most attractively printed—a publication of distinction.

In his introductory chapter on “Backgrounds,” Mr. Stimson reveals the idea that underlay his subsequent efforts: the necessity of balancing the potentialities of weak China against the present importance of powerful Japan. To the American government “Japan was a friendly, powerful, and sensitive neighbor. . . .” On the other hand, American policy had engendered in China a confidence “in American fair play and good faith . . . which could not lightly be jeopardized.” The ultimate fruits of that policy might be far in the future. But the evolution of a nation of so magnificent a past and such present vigor was to be confidently observed and assisted by the United States out of regard for a neighbor people and for our own interests.

It is not remarkable that the American government should have acted, at the outset of the controversy, upon the theory that Premier Wakatsuki and Baron Shidehara would be aided in controlling the enthusiasts for a military occupation of Manchuria by a conciliatory attitude at Washington. Parliamentarism had grown apace in Japan during the previous decade. Ratification of the London naval treaty seemed to presage the end of dual diplomacy. It was the fear of weakening Japan’s conciliationists that led Mr. Stimson to advise against the immediate dispatch of a League of Nations commission to Manchuria unless Japan were agreeable. Writing now, he commends his own judgment as having paved the way for the Lytton Commission later. But it may be asked, with all due respect, whether, if Baron Shidehara was strong enough to propose a commission of inquiry in December, there is no reason to believe that he could have accepted a similar proposal in September had there been a common front in Geneva and Washington. Actually it seems probable that the later proposal for a commission was not controlled by Shidehara but was motivated by various considerations favorable to the military program.

The American Secretary of State was in a hard position. Himself a believer in close co-operation with the League, he was restrained by his sense of responsibility to the national policy of independent action. Another limitation was the depression, a third the fear of representing this country as the initiator of League moves, as “having wormed herself into League councils in order to stir up hostility against Japan.” And there were others. Consequently there was little that could be done. If the first article of the Pact of Paris were invoked Japan would be free to blockade Chinese ports, seize neutral goods as contraband, and annex Chinese territory. There was available, however, the second article of the Pact. Mr. Stimson believed that Great Britain would welcome an opportunity to second this country in a strong protest under that provision. Wherefore the “Stimson doctrine” of January 7, 1932, a broadened form of the Bryan declaration of 1915.

Failing to obtain the hoped-for British endorsement of this declaration, Mr. Stimson, a few weeks later, under the stimulus of the general indignation in this country at the Japanese bombing of Chapei, informally urged the British Foreign Secretary to join him in invoking the Nine-Power Treaty, under which Japan was bound to respect the sovereignty and integrity of China. This move also failed, whereupon he used the device of an open letter to Senator Borah to express our final word of disapproval. He also was able to influence in some measure the action of the League assembly in its resolution of non-recognition, by which the “Stimson doctrine” was internationalized.

Mr. Stimson apparently was anxious to assure the Chinese people of the deep concern which his government felt for the preservation of their territory and independence. It seems clear, however, that his efforts to bring the British government into joint statements which might entail the application of sanctions were hardly consonant with his own respect for the League’s position and procedure or with the situation of Great Britain as a leading member of the League. On the other hand, when, immediately following our declaration of January 7, Sir John Simon went out of his way to assure Japan that her asseveration of respect for the open door was accepted as bona fide by his government, he turned the barb in the wound which his aloofness had caused. As Mr. Stimson puts it: “The contents of this communique were such as to be taken by most readers, including—what was most important—the Japanese government, as a rebuff to the United States.” Unquestionably Sir John’s attitude was an encouragement to the Japanese militarists.

In his final chapter, “Some Conclusions,” Mr. Stimson briefly touches upon a topic which might well have occupied a larger place in his argument. He recognizes there that in a world like ours, where “there are great inequalities among the nations in respect to population, land and resources . . . the reign of law, however desirable, cannot be used as a strait-jacket to prevent growth and change. . . .” But he does so only to dismiss any attempt to apply the point to the Manchurian controversy. He does not touch the issue of European and American interests in China as they compete with those of Japan. Nor does he refer to the possible bearing of the limitations upon Japanese emigration and commercial development outside the Far East upon her policy of a Pax Japonica. It is believed that so sincere and high-minded a statesman as Mr. Stimson need only apply his theory of readjustment versus the status quo to the Far East to perceive that an essentially legalistic treatment of the “Crisis,” however accurate and just, must prove as inadequate there as in other parts of the world.


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