Skip to main content

The Problem of the Far East

ISSUE:  Winter 1943

Behind the Face of Japan. By Upton Close. D. Appleton-Century Company. $4.00. Year of the Wild Boar. By Helen Mears. J. B. Ljppincott Company. $2.75. India Without Fable. By Kate L. Mitchell. Alfred A. Knopf. $2.50. What Does Gandhi Want? By T. A. Raman. Oxford University Press. $1.25. India Today: The Background of Indian Nationalism. By W. E. Duffett, A. R. Hicks, and G. R. Parkin. The John Day Company. $1.75. The Cripps Mission. By R. Coupland. Oxford University Press. $.75. Ramparts of the Pa-tific. By Hallett Abend. Doubleday, Doran & Company. $3.50. With Japan’s Leaders. By Frederick Moore. Charles Scribner’s Sons. $2.75. The Bases of Peace in the Far Bast. By Nathaniel Peffer. Harper and Brothers. $2.50.

Today it requires at least a five-foot shelf of books to give an adequate picture of the new “Far Eastern problem.” The old Far East was a relatively circumscribed area with the geographical center at Shanghai and a periphery which barely reached to Singapore and to the island of Yap. The new Far East, not alone in the estimation of the Japanese, includes all the islands of the Pacific and reaches to the Persian Gulf, as well as from Kiska to Tasmania. It requires, therefore, no stretching of actual relationships to put into one review a group of books which jump from the peaks of our ignorance of the inside of Japan to the similar peaks of India, and also fly over the Pacific and come to Manila by way of Auckland and Melbourne.

Two writers, with quite opposite approaches, have undertaken to explain what makes Japan tick. Upton Close, a prolific writer on the Far East, in “Behind the Face of Japan,” first published in 1934 and now republished with some additions and a commentary, essays an over-all picture, yet always with special reference to the motivation and the inner springs of action of the Japanese people. Beginning with an interesting comparison between the historical development of Great Britain, an island kingdom off the coast of a continent, and of Japan, similarly placed, he goes on to a series of biographical sketches of a large number of Japanese leaders, past and present, and then seeks to explain the meaning of this vast array of information, some of which is a little defective in details. Helen Mears adopts a different approach in “Year of the Wild Boar.” As it were, she takes a microscope to Japan, sets her table in the street, examines closely the little passing show, isolates certain phenomena, and then studies each one as though it were the little flower in the crannied wall. The result is both readable and satisfying; some of the observations are even profound. Miss Mears describes a people who have done a very great deal with very small resources. Their accomplishments, she believes, are to be explained by the social cohesion of the people in a family system which stretches upward to include even the Throne. While Close plays up the spectacularly rich, Miss Mears stays close to the spectacularly poor, meaning almost every one in Japan. Among these poor and exploited there is no waste of materials, of time or of labor, for all live at or below subsistence level. There is not even the waste of competition; the profit motive almost disappears in the struggle for mere survival. The strong motivating force is the sense of loyalty and the sense of high destiny which follows from the assurance that each family is attached to a heaven-descended dynasty. It is this quality, a spiritual quality, which raised Japan to the rank of a prime Power, unless you prefer to believe, as Miss Mears suggests, that Japan, after all, was merely promoted to such a position because it suited the needs of a balance-of-power politics. The Japanese people really believe, as both Close and Mears show, that they are the children of deity. What could the American people not do if only they had such a faith ? Kate L. Mitchell, a competent scholar and lucid writer, has followed for India a technique in some respects similar to that of Miss Mears. She has taken her writing table to India, piled up about her the official documents bearing on the political tumult of the last quarter century, and has dug for her facts both by observing the people and by comparing the documents. Her book “India Without Fable: A 1942 Survey,” while devastating to the fables, is clearly a “must” book for any who wish to follow the fortunes of the British Empire in India for the next five years. With Miss Mitchell no party comes off very well; certainly not Gandhi, Jinnah, nor the British Government. Having read Miss Mitchell’s book one can see clearly why the Cripps mission was bound to fail: there was actually a lack of good faith, for to the Cripps proposal of post-war dominion status was attached a condition impossible of fulfillment. The peoples of India are exploited, most of all by the Indian princes with whom England maintains treaties, which either are or are not treaties as suits political exigency, but which now are brought forward to preserve in the native states medieval conditions of special privilege which must shock decent people everywhere. Hardly less shocking is the exploitation by Moslem landlords who support Jinnah and by Hindu and Parsee capitalists who support Gandhi. Mr. Churchill, subsequent to the signing of the Atlantic Charter, and although the text contains no such reservation, officially stated that it does not apply to India. As to Gandhi, Miss Mitchell’s thesis is supported by Raman’s “What Does Gandhi Want?”, and as to the general situation by three Canadian writers, Duffett, Hicks, and Parkin. The latter in “India Today” quite objectively and coolly examine the same set of facts which Miss Mitchell uses. They draw conclusions more cautiously and leave some to inference, but the reader, having gone through their compact little book, will return to Miss Mitchell with the feeling that she has not overstated her case. “The Cripps Mission,” by Professor Coupland, in the light of these other books on India, becomes an interesting study of the way in which the British Government sometimes falls into self-deception. Neither Sir Stafford Cripps nor Lord Halifax in his Town Hall speech of April 7,1942, thought there was any lack of good faith in the proposal of Sir Stafford. The Churchill government is very important for winning the war against the Axis, but it will take a quite different government to win the peace in India. Meanwhile there is created between Britain and the United States a regrettable tension, illustrated by the repeated assertion of American leaders, including the President, that the Atlantic Charter does apply to India. This tension, if not relieved, might have a very unhappy influence upon the post-war negotiations to set up in the Far East an adequate security system. There are in India today some disquieting parallels between British policy and the one which brought on the American revolution.

We now come to three books which, together, present a broader picture and invite us to look thoughtfully into the post-war future. Each deserves more comment than here is possible.

Only a few weeks before Pearl Harbor, Hallett Abend flew across the Pacific by way of New Zealand, Australia, Java, Singapore to Manila. Read it for a bird’s-eye view of other factors in the big and inseparable problem; read it also for a record of a state of mind on the part of the leaders out there just before the Japanese unleashed their last war dogs. Everywhere, over-confidence and the white man’s big-headedness. “The Ramparts of the Pacific” is by a careful reporter and is easy reading; the author was for many years our most trusted source of current information out of Shanghai where he wrote for the New York Times.

Frederick Moore, another reporter and also an old China-hand, for to him belongs the credit for the famous scoop on the Twenty-One Demands in 1915, became an adviser to the Japanese Embassy in Washington; eventually a very embarrassing position. “With Japan’s Leaders” lacks an apt title, for Moore came to discover that the men whom he was seeing constantly not only were not the leaders, but did not even know what the leaders were doing. The book becomes a valuable historical document, especially for the Nomura-Kurusu-Hull negotiations. It raises a profound question. The author names a score of important Japanese, probably he could name fifty, who seem to be men of good faith, with whom it ought to be possible to do business. They are the ones with whom post-war negotiations will have to be conducted. How far will it be possible to trust even them beyond the range of a good-sized gun? And how far, even if they can be trusted, can they carry their people? Take Nomura, for example. Moore was fond of him, trusted him, and yet even there he seems never to have been quite sure. Even Nomura belongs to the social system of which Helen Mears wrote: the gods and the children of the gods can do no wrong. By all means read Moore before the war is over.

“The Bases of Peace in the Far East” by Nathaniel Peffer, another old China-hand, undertakes to write the terms of peace with broad strokes. Mr. Peffer arbitrarily limits the problem by ignoring India, and the latter’s relation , to China. He also ignores New Zealand and gives very slight attention to any of the Dominions. The Japanese mandated islands he would divide between the United States and Australia, notwithstanding the first article of the Atlantic Charter. Within the range of the problem as the author defines it, but not as it is, he proposes a realistic solution: merciless defeat of Japan to be followed by liberal commercial arrangements; complete restoration to China of all conquered territory; re-establishment of Britain and The Netherlands in their colonies but under a colonial system to be reformed along lines which he does not describe. Mr. Peffer contemplates a general retirement from the East of the white races, politically organized, leaving China the sole primary Power. His tone is a little on the ex-cathedra side; the “musts” assay from two to five per page, but he does not state what, other than the categorical imperative, and China, is to be the enforcing agency. There is a vague allusion to some undescribed world-wide international authority. Indeed the author leaves out so much that his formula does not seem to satisfy the equation. However, only by such discussion as Mr. Peffer provokes are we likely to approach the heart of the Far Eastern security problem. There is in progress an even bigger war—and revolution—than we have yet grasped. The new Far Eastern problem bears only superficial resemblance to the old one. The old solutions are all too little and too late.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading