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Far Eastern Omnibus

ISSUE:  Summer 1941

Japan Since 1931. By Hugh Borton. Institute of Pacific Relations. $1.25, The Struggle for North China. By George E. Taylor. Institute of Pacific Relations. $2.00. Canada and the Par Bast. By A. R. M. Lower. Institute of Pacific Relations. $1.25. Italy’s Interests and Policies in- the Par Bast. By Frank Tamagna. Institute of Pacific Relations. $1.00. Problem of the Pacific, 1939. By Kate Mitchell and W. I* Holland. Institute of Pacific Relations. $3.50. The United States and Japan’s New Order. By William & Johnstone. Oxford University Press. $3.00. Behind the Rising Sun. By James R. Young. Double-day, Doran and Company. $3.00. Honorable Bnemy. By Ernest O. Hauser. Duell, Sloan and Pearce. $2.50. The Battle for Asia. By Edgar Snow. Random House. $3.75. The Pight for the Pacific. By Mark J. Gayn. William Morrow and Company. $3.00. Orphans of the Pacific. By Florence Horn. Rey-nal and Hitchcock. $3.50. Dawn Watch in China. By Joy Homer. Houghton Mifflin Company. $3.00. Into China, By Eileen Bigland. The Macmillan Company. $3.00. The Soong Sisters. By Emily Hahn. Doubleday, Doran and Company, $3.00. The Armed Porces of the Pacific. By Captain W. D. Puleston. Yale University Press. $2.50.

American interventionist tendencies in the Far East have been likened to volcanic action—now eruptive, now quiescent. Political science, despite the high promise inherent in its nomenclature, has so far failed to develop a methodology sufficiently precise to give satisfactory reasons for such phenomena. What, after all, were the true ideological motivations behind our annexation of the Philippines, the proclamation of the Open Door in China, and the participation of American troops in the suppression of the Boxer Uprising? Why did we at that period renounce isolation for intervention in the Far East and resume a course of action momentarily—and explosively— adopted half a century earlier, when Perry blasted the Japanese into world politics? An orthodox recital of historical events as a means of relating cause to effect leaves much to be desired. Broadly speaking, two main schools of thought today dispute the sources of national policy. Charles A, Beard’s well known and eloquent preachment of economic self-interest as a predominant urge vies with Alfred Thayer Mahan’s thesis that moral sentiment—not necessarily compatible with material considerations—has profoundly influenced the behavior of nations.

The problem of material self-interest, despite its many complexities arising from irreconcilable conflicts of opinion, offers far firmer ground for policy-formulation than does the deceptive, crazy-quilt wonderland of moral ideology. What terms, for example, should we give to the component notions making up the sum of what we—and most other nations— call Manifest Destiny? American national action in the Far East has always been accompanied by a host of ideas which for the most part have tended to support the government in whatever enterprise it undertook. These ideas of rightful dominion—in one guise or another—have taken many different forms of expression. Our expansion into the Far East has been urged and justified on the grounds of natural growth, the extension of the democratic principle, the so-called White Man’s Burden, strategic necessity, spiritual leadership of the world, and on that seemingly simple but most complex of all doctrines, self-defense.

There has been no recent work on the Far East, to my knowledge, which has delved deeply into the question of the relation of ideas to national action. Such works usually are written in retrospect, after wars, not on the verge of a new one. What, then, should we expect in these history-laden days from a book concerned, directly or indirectly, with the present conflict in China? It is unreasonable, of course, to suppose that the thought-patterns of college professors, a naval officer, and journalists of both sexes, could—or should —be worked into a composite frome of unmistakable shape or significance. Among the fifteen works brought to the attention of the reviewer, six are scholarly volumes published or encouraged by an institute with international affiliations, four are by American newspapermen recently stationed in the Far East, four are by women of differing outlooks and pursuits, and one is by an American naval officer turned historian. It is worthy of remark, however, that of all these authors who deal in any way with the relationship of the United States to the Far East, not one sees any chance of, or reason for, appreciable abridgment of our position there. Several see imperative reasons for considerable expansion of that position. Manifest Destiny, whatever it may mean to this cross section of writers, does not imply a retreat from Asia.

Of the six books written under the auspices of the Institute of Pacific Relations, four are monographic in form and content, one is the record of the proceedings of the Institute at its 1989 meeting in Virginia, and one is a general volume on recent American-Japanese Far Eastern relations, begun independently but completed as part of the Institute’s research program. The four monographs, while differing widely in subject-matter, are all characterized by the careful, sober, and relatively dispassionate tenor of their respective inquiries. The aim of the Institute, “to focus available information on the present crisis in forms which will be useful to those who lack either the time or the expert knowledge to study the vast amount of material now appearing or already published in a number of languages,” seems reasonably well fulfilled in these four studies. Hugh Borton’s “Japan Since 1981” confirms the generally accepted belief in this country that the Japanese militarists are so firmly entrenched that only a major, and most unlikely, national upheaval could uproot them. In “The Struggle for North China,” George E. Taylor is chiefly concerned with the power technique of the Japanese penetration of North China, while A. R. M. Lower’s “Canada and the Far East” and Frank Tamagna’s “Italy’s Interests and Policies in the Far East” are volumes of relatively minor general interest. Mr. Lower has been at some pains to differentiate between Canadian and American interests in the Orient, and is by no means certain that a Japanese victory over China would be of important concern to Canada. His interpretation of Canadian Far Eastern policy rather naturally invites comparison with our own aims in China before the Open Door notes were written at the turn of the present century: these aims were primarily commercial and did not consciously seek political opportunities equal to those enjoyed by most other governments there. Mr. Tamagna’s appraisal of Italy’s position in the Orient is a carefully tabulated record of the country’s economic and political ties with China and Japan. He maintains that Italy, although more interested economically in the former than in the latter, may nevertheless reasonably expect to prosper generally in the Far East if she supports Japan politically against China. This conclusion is not likely to be surprising to American readers,

In the current phase of popular American enthusiasm for international collaboration along the lines of similar political ideologies, it is interesting to observe that in “Problems of the Pacific, 1939,” Kate Mitchell and W. L. Holland record that the consensus of delegates to the Virginia meeting of the Institute of Pacific Relations last year indicated vigorous advocacy of American-Soviet parallel policy in the Far East. Both nations, it was contended, are vitally concerned with maintaining a strong and independent China, and both want to discredit Japan’s militarist groups; in short, our national interests there were considered identical with Russia’s.

The recent Russo-Japanese non-aggression pact does not necessarily render this concept academic, for little or nothing is yet known of the specific terms of this agreement. This much at least may be said for the Institute’s recording of an apparently dissonant note in the popular American symphony: the United States is in a far better position to achieve some sort of advantageous working arrangement with Russia than Britain has been in for the past hundred years, if the record of diplomacy has any meaning at all. Yet, despite a century or more of Anglo-Russian struggle for power in the Near, Middle, and Far East, that rivalry was transmuted into an alliance during a crucial period for both nations. An ingrown dread of Russian eruption into the Mediterranean did not deter the British Government in 1915 from throwing overboard a secular frame of mind: London offered Russia the long-denied Dardanelles area in return for her more active participation in the war throughout the Near Eastern region. Diplomatic crow can be eaten on occasion, even by the British, as the record shows. Munich, in terms of a reversal of traditional British policy, was considerably less startling than the 1915 agreement.

Although neither Britain nor the United States has enjoyed brilliant relations with Russia since 1917, in the long view it seems safe to say that we have experienced fewer fundamental difficulties with that country than we have with any other Great Power since the beginning of our national existence, Compromise would therefore not bear too close a resemblance to concession on our part. The thesis of Russo-American joint action in the Far East is doubtless predicated on the assumption that ideologies, no matter how divergent, should never be considered an insuperable obstacle to alliances in the realm of power politics. The Institute’s discussion groups might have pointed out, although they apparently didn’t, some of the abundant historical proofs that furiously clashing “isms” have not prevented the establishment of mutually acceptable arrangements among nations.

With the exception of the Mitchell-Holland compilation, none of the works in question plumps unequivocally for an American understanding with Russia. In “The United States and Japan’s New Order,” William C. Johnstone suggests that we “watch” Russia with a view toward utilizing to our advantage her well known chronic opposition to Japanese expansion in the Far East. His tone, however, implies alack of conviction that Russian interests coincide sufficiently with our own to make her a reliable ally. Mr. Johnstone concludes his able survey with meticulous and forthright suggestions as to the proper immediate American objectives—continued diplomatic opposition to Japan, aid to Britain, retention of the Philippines beyond 1946, if this seems expedient, and a determined effort to “force-persuade” J apan out of China south of the Great Wall. It is much easier to define short-term actions than it is to paint a clear picture of rational long-term attitudes, and Mr. Johnstone gives us a less satisfying chart of basic American objectives in the Far East. Such apparently definitive expressions as “continue to work for the acceptance of the principle of the Open Door” and “obligations of the Nine Power Pact,” which characterize a large portion of Johnstone’s ideas on the long view that America should adopt, fairly bristle with hopelessly and even deliberately tangled differences of opinion as to meaning. The famous Lansing-Ishii agreement, one of the greatest masterpieces of ambiguity in the annals of modern diplomacy, admirably reflects the verbal quagmire into which American-Japanese relations in the Far East have fallen. The United States recognized that “territorial propinquity creates special relations between countries, and consequently, the Government of the United States recognizes that Japan has special interests in China, particularly in the part to which her possessions are contiguous”; while Japan outdid herself in a long-winded declaration of respect for the Open Door tenets concerning the independence and territorial integrity of China. Its expertly tooled double-talk was deliberately designed to mean one thing to the Japanese, another to the American public. Both nations have put the most extreme and mutually exclusive claims upon it: Japan has insisted that it meant American recognition of her permanent political as well as economic interest in great portions of China; the United States has maintained with equal zeal that it was a voluntarily accepted strait-jacket binding the Japanese to the strictest respect for the Open Door and the territorial integrity and independence of China. Ishii neatly capped the controversy with his contention that “paramount interest,” which Lansing would not accept as a proper term, and “special influence,” to which he agreed, were indistinguishable when rendered into Japanese ideograms!

Less interested in the tortuous task of relating power politics to moral ideology, the journalists—all first-rate reporters—are more concerned with revivifying, according to the dictates of their varying temperaments, the Far Eastern scene. James R. Young believes that Americans can learn a lot more about the Oriental by watching the vagaries of his daily life than through a study of his foreign policies. So, too, does Ernest O. Hauser; and his book, “Honorable Enemy,” like Young’s “Behind the Rising Sun,” is filled with sardonic, amusing, often macabre and sinister details of Japanese daily life. The sprightly and even slangy style of both gives the impression of keen alertness, and the general content convinces the reader that neither gentleman has an excessive affection for the Japanese or their mores.

Two other journalists have produced works of a somewhat different nature. Mark J. Gayn, China-born and former Far Eastern correspondent for The Washington Post, has written “The Fight for the Pacific,” a popularized (but by no means vulgarized) narrative of the political and diplomatic background of the present conflict in China. Gayn, unlike Young and Edgar Snow, whose books are something like personal histories, reveals his views by indirection, and his own adventures not at all. As for Snow, his work has a dual nature. In “The Battle for Asia,” frantic news-reporting goes hand-in-hand with dispassionate speculation. The book is notable not only for vivid and unforgettable pictures of wartime conditions and scenes in China—including an eye-witness account of the frightful battle of Shanghai—but for its provocative conclusions regarding the pattern of the future. His comments on what we call the old-time imperialism are reminiscent of the best teachings of men like Hans Kohn and William L. Langer, and his vision of the inexorable alternatives before American and world statesmen—the choice between “some variety of fascism . . , out of the omelet of America . . . or a democratic collectivism” approximating a planned world economy, is both convincing and disturbing.

Cosmic considerations such as the economic and political organization of the future are far less emphasized by the women authors who, with one exception, have contributed biographical or otherwise personalized works to fill in the vast composite of the Far Eastern scene. Alone among the feminine contingent, Florence Horn has essayed in “Orphans of the Pacific” a general, impersonal survey of the Philippine dilemma. The chief interest in Miss Horn’s book lies in the problem itself rather than in a personal record of adventure, such as we have in Joy Homer’s “Dawn Watch in China” and Eileen Bigland’s “Into China,” two able and hair-raising accounts of travel in the Orient, or in the charming and dynamic characteristics of three extraordinary women, as portrayed by Emily Hahn in her biography, “The Soong Sisters.” Miss Horn’s appraisal of the international aspects of the Philippine question is singularly detached and measured in tone, One is led to believe, despite her balanced judgments, that she is of the school of thought which has long looked on the Philippines as the American Achilles heel.

All of these women have written honest and interesting books, and it is a pity that occasional jacket blurbs are misleading, with consequent unfairness to the author. This seems particularly so in the case of Emily Hahn’s biography, which is an intimate story of three courageous women; but this account of their lives is assuredly not “the story of modern China.” The biographical approach to history is only partially satisfying at best, and the problem of China is far too gigantic to be personalized in this way.

It is certain that no one book on the Far Eastern problem could be honestly presented as completely satisfying to a reader in these days of seemingly relentless gravitation toward the whirlpool of world war. Yet, precisely because of this gravitation, it is hard to overemphasize the importance of “The Armed Forces of the Pacific,” by Captain W. D. Puleston of the United States Navy, Already a distinguished naval historian by virtue of his excellent biography of Admiral Mahan, Captain Puleston has long been an outstanding writer on problems of military and naval strategy. His years as Chief of our Naval Intelligence are an additional indication of his high authority in the field in which he has written his most recent volume.

Captain Puleston’s work reflects the rarely blended qualities of technical expert and speculative historian. His interest in and comprehension of the broader aspects of national policy and diplomacy distinguish him from a host of military and naval writers of narrower vision. Those chapters of his book devoted to the appraisal of the purely naval and military factors of the Japanese-American situation are of course competently and lucidly handled; for the student of larger political considerations, however, his chapters on the American High Command, the position of the United States in the Far East, and a penultimate chapter on strategy and tactics all involve analyses of human relationships far more challenging and subtle than their titles might indicate. Captain Puleston is among the few writers in our armed services who have made a deep study of the fascinating but baffling problem of the relationship between military and civilian influences in time of war. It is natural, but nevertheless interesting to note at this time, that he looks with approval on the American tradition of presidential initiative in this respect. His comments on the need for flexibility between the diplomatic and military elements in the pursuit of national aims are not only well founded but strikingly expressed. In a word, one gets from “The Armed Forces of the Pacific” the impression of clarity, force, and balance.

Prophecy, especially among the “experts”—whatever they may be—is a dwindling urge in this monstrous and fantastic age in which we live, and Captain Puleston is cautious. In the war which may come, the defeat of Japan is ultimately inevitable, he feels—if America rights before Britain falls. Other courses will be more dangerous to the American way of life.


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