MANY of us who before the passage of the Hawes-Cutting Bill were vigorously opposed to granting the Philippines that "complete, immediate and absolute independence" for which Filipino politicians had so long campaigned, are today in favor of Philippine independence and believe not only that it should be complete and absolute but that it should be granted at the earliest possible moment. The Filipino politicians, on the contrary, are the ones who today are opposing independence.

Why the change? Because through the passage of the McDuffie-Tydings Act the American Government has surrendered virtually all authority over the Philippine Islands. The new bill, under the terms of which the Filipinos have established a constitution of their own, effective after the autumn of 1935, gives the Filipino politicians full control of the islands but leaves full responsibility for them in the hands of the American Government for a period of at least nine years. The United States is pledged to defend them against external aggression, although it cannot prevent Filipino politicians from taking steps which may be highly distasteful to one or another of the great Asiatic powers. This pledge to defend the islands is binding until the "transition" period ends on December 31, 1944.

The relationship of "responsibility without authority" is one against which all Americans familiar with Philippine problems have constantly given warning. In view of unsettled world conditions, and in view of the tense situation which has existed in the Far East ever since September 1931, the "transition" period, during which the United States Government retains full responsibility for the Philippine Islands without commensurate authority, clearly will be a dangerous one.

Unfortunately Filipino politicians are now trying to induce Congress to prolong this "transition" period indefinitely. From their point of view the new relationship is ideal. They have full powers in the islands and America has no right to interfere. They need not worry about their defense because this remains an obligation of the American Government. So long as the "transition" period continues their public debt will remain underwritten by the United States. Thus they have the advantages of a partnership with a great and powerful country. The United States, on the other hand, has the disadvantages of having to protect an alien people in a distant corner of the world.

Should they fail to obtain an indefinite prolongation of the new relationship the Filipino politicians may be counted upon to try to involve the United States in a treaty guaranteeing the independence or neutrality -- it amounts to the same thing -- of the Philippine Islands after the final separation. Such an arrangement would, if lived up to, relieve them of the necessity of maintaining an elaborate system of defense and would remove the fear of foreign aggression. Incidentally this arrangement would doubtless commend itself to Great Britain and the Netherlands inasmuch as these two nations are concerned about the ultimate consequences of Philippine independence and the possibility of Japanese expansion towards the Dutch East Indies, Singapore and Australasia.

A number of influential American naval officers believe that it is desirable to retain a naval base in the Philippines after the transition period is over. American advocates of "complete, immediate and absolute independence," on the other hand, contend that such a base would simply involve the United States in the Far East and would nullify whatever advantages there might be in evacuating the islands completely. In other words, the retention of such a base would be played up by the Japanese as an act "unfriendly" to Japan. Inasmuch as there is little likelihood that such a base could be of real value in the event of a war, it seems hardly worth while to incur Japanese ill-will with no adequate compensating advantage to the United States. The McDuffie-Tydings Act defers the final settlement of this question to future negotiations between the Philippine and the American Governments.

Ten years ago -- even three -- there still was a chance for the United States to follow the proper course in the Philippines. But Congress, pressed by selfish business groups, and supported by many persons who were well-meaning but not well-informed, played into the hands of the Filipino politicians. When critics insisted that these politicians did not want independence they were denounced for impugning the integrity of the Filipino people. The truth is now at last being understood. What the Filipino leaders wanted and still want is complete autonomy under American naval protection, underwritten financially, if possible, by the Government of the United States. Now that independence is at last definitely provided for, the Filipino leaders are doing all in their power to prevent the United States from withdrawing.

It may be asked why we cannot prolong the period of transition established under the McDuffie-Tydings Act, increasing meanwhile our authority in order to lessen the risks involved in having responsibility without adequate control. The answer is that human considerations and political experience teach that political powers once surrendered to an alien people cannot be taken back without arousing so much bitterness that the new relation is intolerable for both parties. As we cannot reëstablish our authority, the only logical course is to get rid of our responsibility.

Unfortunately, even for the United States to be relieved of responsibility for the Philippine Islands does not relieve it -- or the world -- of the consequences of a grant of independence. Our withdrawal will upset the balance of power in the Far East and create a new world condition containing elements of utmost gravity.

The proposition may be stated simply: that just as American Far Eastern policy prior to 1934 was based on the retention of the Philippine Islands, so it must henceforth be based on their independence. The possession of these islands together with Alaska, Panama and Hawaii made the United States one of the three dominant Powers in the Pacific. The naval base in the Philippines greatly strengthened America's traditional stand with respect to China, best epitomized in the so-called Open Door policy, which sought to preserve the territorial and administrative integrity of China and equality of commercial opportunity there for all nations. The American Government insisted on the Open Door vigorously only for a short time, but it still remains one of the principal traditions of American foreign relations.

Secretary Henry L. Stimson re-affirmed this policy when Japan occupied Manchuria in the autumn of 1931. Due to the fact that the American Government had in the meantime lost sight of the relation between policy and armament, and had neglected the navy during the decade following the Washington Conference for the Limitation of Naval Armaments, whereas Japan during this same decade had been pushing the construction of her navy to reach treaty strength, the United States found itself in 1931 in a perilous position. War was indeed much nearer than anyone -- including some gentlemen in the State Department -- realized. The reason was that America was making a vigorous diplomatic protest against the action of a Power which was determined to proceed with its policy of expansion regardless of consequences. The American Government had either to be ready to back up its protest with force, or, if this protest were ignored, and the cooperation of other Powers were lacking, to admit its impotence in carrying out its policies single-handed.

In choosing the latter course our Government probably had no alternative. But the fact that it did so choose has stiffened the Japanese military and naval leaders in their determination to dominate all of Eastern Asia. Prior to Secretary Stimson's protest about Manchuria they were afraid that the American Government might offer effective opposition to their ambitions. They soon ascertained, however, that they could go as far as they wanted not only in expanding on the Asiatic mainland but also in denouncing the naval treaty. They counted -- and still count -- on the clumsiness of our political machinery to delay the execution of any naval construction programs voted by the Congress.

It is proper at this point to raise the question as to whether or not the Philippines would be "safe" if Japan signed a treaty pledging herself to uphold their independence. Those Americans who favor an international guarantee of neutrality believe that the interest of the British and the Dutch in keeping the Japanese out of the Philippines is so great that in the event of a threat to the Philippines these two Powers could be relied upon to give immediate and effective assistance to the American Government in carrying out the terms of the agreement. The opponents of such an arrangement contend, however, that no treaty of neutrality has proved really effective. Furthermore, they express the fear that because of the past close relationship between the Americans and the Filipinos the other signatories to such a treaty would take the position that it was up to the United States to shoulder the chief burden of defending the islands. In other words, if the other signatories thought that the United States could and would by itself protect the Philippines they would sit back and do little or nothing to help. The net result of such an attitude would be that the United States would find itself involved in questions concerning the Philippines after it no longer had even the tenuous relationship existing during the "transition" period which ends December 31, 1944. In brief, the opponents of a neutralization treaty base their arguments on the fact that as a signatory to this treaty the United States would still have a preponderant share of responsibility for the islands. This they believe to be contrary to the best interests of the United States, which, in their opinion, call for a complete severance of all ties.

As far as Japan is concerned, the record, unfortunately, does not warrant one in placing much reliance in a treaty neutralizing the Philippine Islands. Many Americans insisted even after the Mukden incident in September 1931 that Japan had no intention of occupying Manchuria permanently. They pointed to the Nine Power Treaty of which Japan was a signatory and asserted that Japan neither could nor would fail to live up to the treaty provisions. One of the clauses stated specifically that the signatories pledged themselves "to respect the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial and administrative integrity of China." Japan nevertheless went ahead with her Manchurian plans and although Manchuria today is nominally an independent state, no realist denies that its government is the tool of Japan. Some of us cannot be blamed, therefore, for doubting that a treaty proclaiming the neutrality of a coveted and comparatively under-populated insular region in the Far East would be any more respected than was this pledge in behalf of China.

It goes without saying that if Japan attempted to take the islands during the "transition" period the American Government would have to fight to defend them. It is unlikely that the Japanese military and naval leaders will be sufficiently unhinged to make the attempt. But Japan's long-range overseas policy seems for some time to have had the Dutch East Indies as its ultimate objective. The Philippines are in her path. The northernmost of the Philippine Islands is only 65 miles from the southernmost of Japan's present insular possessions in the Pacific. The Philippines, furthermore, would be useful on their own account. They are rich in undeveloped resources and could hold a population perhaps four or five times as great as they have at present. Can we suppose that Japan, suffering from a lack of raw materials and from excessive over-population will not be interested in the fate of these islands eventually?

The argument in favor of complete withdrawal gains weight when we recall the American inclination to sympathize with the under-dog. There can be little doubt that if after the "transition" period is over the Philippines should be in danger from some foreign power there would be a demand that America step in to help its former wards. Such an argument would be based on a "moral obligation" to the Filipinos. As a matter of fact, a strong case can be made to show that, if any moral obligation toward the Filipinos existed, this was violated when the McDuffie-Tydings Act granted the Filipinos premature independence. The American Government undertook in 1899 to do many things for the Filipino people. It promised to establish a stable government and to lay the economic foundations of a state that in time was to be self-supporting. It promised to prepare the Filipinos for self-government. It sought to break down the barriers of illiteracy. It undertook to eliminate the diseases which took their great toll yearly.

While important progress has been made toward carrying out these promises during the thirty-five years of the American occupation very much still remains to be done. The American people have followed the easy course of using the cloak of freedom to hide their weariness of the task of serving as colonial administrators. It is this withdrawal before the promises have been completely carried out which constitutes the real blot on the record of the United States.

It is one of the ironies of Oriental psychology that withdrawal from the Philippines, whether after a transition period of ten years or at once, will be interpreted in the Far East as final proof of the timidity of the United States and of its unwillingness to protect its own best interests. It goes without saying that to leave the Philippines means to abandon the Open Door policy in China and definitely to surrender American hopes of winning a dominant commercial position in the Far East. It is questionable if these hopes were ever soundly based. Certainly there is no likelihood that America's China trade within the next few decades can reach such proportions as to be worth fighting for. But whatever the correct estimate of China's commercial potentialities, the United States will have to adjust itself to the idea of complete Japanese domination of Chinese markets.

The foregoing means, in brief, adopting a "little America" policy. Strong arguments can be made in favor of it. As a matter of fact, the philosophy of economic nationalism which has won so much support leads logically to such a doctrine. It will be achieved only at the expense of loss of prestige and influence in the world. But should it result in a clearer appraisal by the American people of American shortcomings, and bring national humility in place of the extravagant "spread eagleism" of past decades, it may have spiritual advantages offsetting in part the humiliation of avowing to the world our failure as a colonial power. If, on the other hand, America congratulates itself that it has completed its Philippine task satisfactorily and that it can henceforth live without fear of war in Asia, it will risk inviting the ultimate challenge of more virile nations.

To accept half-way measures seems almost certain to invite disaster in the future. The original choice was plain: to retain the islands and govern them effectively, in accordance with the obligation as trustee for the Filipino peoples; or to get out, "lock, stock and barrel." The former course having been rendered impossible, wise policy would seem to dictate giving the Filipinos "complete, immediate and absolute independence" at the earliest possible moment.

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  • NICHOLAS ROOSEVELT, editorial writer for the New York Herald-Tribune; formerly Minister to Hungary; author of "The Philippines, a Treasure and a Problem," and other works
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