America’s China Policy Is Not Working
The Dangers of a Broad Decoupling
WHEN the Pacific Coast "looks abroad" it does so in the first instance from its own position on the final frontier of the white man's world, as the ultimate outpost of Occidental institutions. Its view is naturally from its own windows. These, like the one before which I write, face out through the Golden Gate onto the greatest of oceans, toward another world beyond.
But this is the case only in part. A survey of any regional outlook, whether Far Western or otherwise, must also recognize how relatively minor a rôle sectionalism plays in forming American opinion on all but local matters. Whatever our sectional differences, our major interests are -- more than those of perhaps any other people -- national.
Thus there may be a prevailing Rocky Mountain attitude on silver and a Southern one toward the Negro, just as there was a Pacific Coast attitude on Oriental immigration when that question was open. There is one approach to the protective tariff in Pittsburgh and another in Detroit. It is good politics in New York City to seek the favor of foreign-born groups and in Alabama to reckon with a tradition of prejudice against them. People in the Middle West, many of whom never saw the ocean, are more amenable to isolationist propaganda than people on either Coast. But even these generalizations have many exceptions, especially among the professionally intellectual groups. Everywhere we tend to divide more along economic or educational than along geographic lines.
A poll, for instance, of the faculties of history, economics and political and social sciences at Harvard and the University of Chicago and the University of California would reveal about the same agreements and divergencies, none of them sectional. Chambers of Commerce and labor unions might be affected by local industrial conditions, but the agreements of each with the corresponding organizations elsewhere would exceed any regional differences. A recent report of discussion groups on American foreign policy held in several widely distributed key cities showed conclusions affected more by the individual backgrounds of the various members than by the localities in which they met.
This uniformity throughout the United States is so familiar that few of us stop to realize that it is a phenomenon unique on earth. In speech, customs and schooling, in small externals and inner convictions and prejudices, Americans resemble each other as do no other people. If Vermont votes Republican as regularly as Georgia does Democratic, both do it in accord with the same fundamental philosophy of life and of government. And linguistically the "way daown East" Yankee and the Georgia cracker can understand each other more readily than the inhabitants of some adjoining counties in England or neighboring valleys in Switzerland.
This relative identity of common speech is, in fact, the most unifying force in the United States. By contrast, the spoken German of a Hanoverian peasant and a Swiss shepherd are as mutually unintelligible as French and Chinese; there is more divergence of colloquial English in a hundred miles in England than in three thousand in America; a Venetian gondolier and a Sicilian fisherman would have to struggle with what to both is an artificial school language to understand each other at all. In Switzerland, smaller than some Californian counties, I have in a single day's walk ordered breakfast in French, luncheon in German and dinner in Italian. The United States is a far more homogeneous language unit than France. The wide differences inside even the Russian-speaking fraction of the Soviet Union and the variations of the spoken dialects of China are of course familiar; while India is a linguistic conglomerate even more complex than polyglot Western Europe. Our countrymen, in fact, form the only considerable land mass on earth whose verbal localisms nowhere approach the rank of dialects.
Other uniformities are equally startling to the foreign observer. It is not merely that here alone you can go from ocean to ocean without identification papers or frontier formalities. One can transfer one's sixth-grade child from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, and place him in the sixth grade of the new school with little or no readjustment. Travelling across the country one finds newspapers everywhere with the same news from the same press associations, with the same "comic strips" and the same columnists, gossipy or pontifical, distributed by the same syndicates. Movies and radio broadcasts, the same everywhere, begin to iron out our remaining provincialisms of pronunciation as well as of ideas. We all wear the same clothes, styled from Hollywood or mass-manufactured in New York; eat the same advertised breakfast foods; live in houses that differ less from Tampa to Seattle than on the two sides of the same street in Calexico and Mexicali; drive the same few makes of automobiles, scarcely distinguishable and all good; play the same games, dance to this week's Tin Pan Alley jitterbug swing, and get excited together over the same sporting contests. If you overhear casual conversations in the flop house, the smoking car or the club, on the street, in the subway or at the meeting of the board of directors, everybody is talking about pretty much the same things. Any differences of opinion represent mostly opposite sides of the same subjects, and those subjects change almost simultaneously all over the country. Our opinions vary rather by nuances than in essential structure, and do so more widely between social groups than between geographic regions. It is against this nearly uniform national background that our local variations must be examined.
Nevertheless, there are traceable differences of approach, even to world affairs. Naturally, both Coasts "look abroad" more realistically than does the great interior. And the Pacific Coast would be presumed to look on the Orient more closely and on Europe more remotely than does the East. As will be pointed out, there are certain aspects in which this is the case. But it also is true that the Institute of Pacific Relations has long had its American headquarters on the Atlantic Coast, in New York, and only recently added another centre in San Francisco, with some local groups elsewhere. It found more persons and organizations in New York than on the West Coast whose interest in Oriental research, contacts and conference was sufficient to support it with money. And the New Yorkers reminded us that important visitors from the Orient stopped briefly in Seattle or San Francisco (rarely in both) and then made straight for New York. It probably would not happen now, but I have myself had the experience, within the past decade, of having cables from China and Manchuria printed more fully in the New York than in the San Francisco papers.
However, if propinquity and commerce have in the main turned our eyes more often Westward toward the East than Eastward toward the West (we at least, here on the edge of things, have to realize that the earth is round and that both directions point to the same places), the impact of our local racial problems on our international attitudes has been even more influential.
When Denis Kearney, sixty years ago, sounded the sand-lot slogan, "The Chinese must go!" he was not thinking or caring about China, of which he knew nothing. He merely rationalized a local labor conflict into a race issue. When Chinese exclusion removed the menace of mass migration and the resident Chinese had found their places, largely non-competitive, in our economic life, they first became tolerated and finally popular. Now, in spite of some remaining racial discriminations, the high esteem in which the Californian Chinese are held is a distinct element in Western partisanship for China in the present international crisis. San Francisco far outdid New York in last year's "rice bowl" contributions, and not all the difference was due to the liberality of our local Chinese, great as that was. Probably the largest and most enthusiastic audience ever assembled at a Commonwealth Club luncheon here in San Francisco (except when a President of the United States was the speaker), came to hear Dr. Hu Shih on his arrival from China some months before he became Ambassador to the United States. The movement for an embargo on the export of scrap iron to Japan is especially active on the Pacific Coast, and this despite the fact that many of the shipments go through our ports and are profitable to us. We should be as opposed as ever to opening the gates to the literally tens of millions of Chinese who might overflood us if they could, but we like the Chinese who are here, and they help us look with favor on the country of their ancestors.
The recent conduct of the Japanese Army in China has had some natural though illogical repercussions on the treatment of the Japanese residents here. But otherwise the Japanese exclusion law, which embittered feelings toward America in Japan, had gone part way locally in improving the position of the Japanese already here. They were less unpopular and were on their way toward becoming popular. When the danger of wholesale immigration was banished, we found we could absorb the Japanese we already had and we were learning to live more cordially with them.
However, we early learned that the Japanese were different. When they first came, they were merely cheap laborers, unwelcome as competitors by workers in the cities and welcomed at first by farm employers in the country. But they were less docile than the Chinese and more ambitious to rise from the class in which we preferred to keep them. They rented and then bought land, and so became competitors of the employing farmers, as they were earlier of the city workers. We contrasted their business standards with those of the Chinese which, like our own, are based on the inviolability of contracts. When the Chinese said "Can do," he did. When the Japanese found a contract no longer profitable, he thought us unkind to hold him to it. In the fields, if a sudden shower called for immediate "stacking" of the drying raisins, the price of Japanese labor rose instantly to holdup levels. When white workers do that now, we attribute it to "Communist agitators." When Japanese did it, we called it congenital racial dishonesty. So we had the alien land laws, and the demagogic "nuisance law" proposals, whose history would be aside from the purposes of this article. These local frictions doubtless had something to do with anti-Japanese international attitudes.
Not, however, in the beginning. We were all on the Japanese side in the Russo-Japanese war, and shouted "banzai" with the local Japanese who paraded to celebrate the fall of Mukden. But then the Japanese began to get "cocky" and to show that racial pride which we assume should be a monopoly of our race. The "Gentlemen's Agreement" did not sufficiently restrict male immigration and did not keep out the "picture-bride" women, potential mothers of a continuing population of Japanese race. California politicians rode the wave of anti-Japanese prejudice and had more than their share in the needlessly offensive manner in which the exclusion law was passed.
Bad as that law was internationally, it was the beginning of better things at home. It is years since any Californian legislator has sought notoriety by impossible "nuisance bills." It is now the international situation which affects the local one, instead of vice versa as formerly.
Perhaps now, when the European war is overshadowing all else, I will seem to have given a disproportionate amount of attention to the Pacific part of our outlook on the Coast. But, after all, it is on the Pacific Coast that we dwell, and from across the Pacific Ocean, if from anywhere, will come the international events that would strike us first and hardest. European news has driven almost everything else from the first page in the West as in the East. But even this does not drive from the consciousness of our more thoughtful citizens the continuing realization that the next great explosion can come in the Far East, and that our West would be just across the narrowing ocean from it.
On the European war, taken objectively, Far Western sentiment is as unanimously anti-Hitler as is sentiment everywhere else in the country. On the question of what the United States should do about it, as reflected in the recent "neutrality" controversy, there are the same differences here as elsewhere, but there is also a local background of political and journalistic influences, past and present.
In the Senate, both of the California Senators and the majority of their Western colleagues were against the President on the proposal to revise the neutrality law, but the division in the House of Representatives was more favorable to him than the national average. The personalities concerned had at least as much to do with this line-up as did any reflection of public sentiment. Senators Johnson of California and Borah of Idaho, much the most conspicuous Congressional personages from the West, both had their attitudes fixed long ago. Their position on new situations as they arise is automatic. What they really were voting on in October 1939 was the League of Nations and the original 1919 controversy, from which they are the surviving champions of isolation. Since either of them, in his personal capacity, can be reëlected indefinitely regardless of his position on national issues -- in his public career Johnson has received support from three parties -- they can afford to be, and are, completely independent.
In Senator Johnson's case at least, the rule works both ways. Not only does he plot his course independently of the views of his constituents, but he does not need to convert them to approval of that course in order to assure their votes for him personally. Like Roosevelt, he holds personal loyalties even through intellectual disagreements. He was never an organizer and has no political "machine" in his own state, though he has plenty of personal followers. He was brought out for Governor in the first instance by an organization already highly developed before he became active in it; but after his election to the Senate that organization dissipated into an unorganized personal following, and many of its most active original members have always differed from him over foreign affairs, on which he has since specialized. It would be difficult even to guess whether California is or is not much more isolationist as the result of a generation-long campaign of education carried on by its most popular candidate and most applauded orator.
Newspaper influence is equally baffling to appraise. California was the original seat of Hearst and Hearstism, and there are now strong Hearst papers on the coast in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. They have more than once conducted isolationist stampedes, on the Coast as elsewhere, and they used a certain amount of big type this time in keeping up the form of a fight against repeal of the arms embargo. But it was perfunctory, in evident anticipation of defeat.
The great interior valley of California, except the city of Stockton, is now within the field of the McClatchy chain of papers, also isolationist. In their best days under brilliant editorship, they were often as erratic as Hearst, but their vigor and sincerity gave them a greater influence within their field. Even now (an impersonal corporation, with James, "C. K." and Carlos McClatchy dead and the heirs of the fourth generation too young), they are probably as responsible as any other influence for the prevailingly isolationist sentiment in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, which are to California what the Mississippi Valley is to the United States. The Scripps-Howard papers, on the other hand, have on the whole been anti-isolationist, here as elsewhere. And virtually every locally owned newspaper of importance on the entire Pacific Coast, all of them Republican in tradition, supported President Roosevelt in his recent fight.
Other influences on the Coast were much what they were elsewhere. University leaders and the "highbrows" generally were almost unanimously with the President, regardless of party predilections. So were, predominantly, the higher business and financial circles, nearly all Republican. The American Legion is still intensely for " Never again!" Labor organizations and their members were apparently divided. They are mostly for Roosevelt personally, but they are also intensely against American participation in war, and many of them, like other people, may have confused keeping the embargo on with keeping the war off.
Pacific Coast shipping and exporting interests were of course unanimous -- and were finally successful -- in insisting that American vessels trading with Pacific ports which are theoretically "belligerent" but actually not in the zone of hostilities, should be exempted from the general prohibition contained in the Act.
Other commercial interests affect attitudes toward the Asiatic rather than the European war. Seattle, for instance, until recently had a much more influential pro-Japanese group than was found in Oregon or California. Now, however, as shown by the scrap-iron embargo movement, there is everywhere an increasing willingness to forego some temporary trade rather than face a Japan-dominated Orient from which American and European enterprises would be effectively barred.
The upshot, then, is that while there are local interests, influences and traditions which in part color the Pacific Coast picture, the major factors, real and imaginary, are still those which affect opinion elsewhere.
The Pacific Coast is, of course, as unanimous as the Atlantic for a strong navy, and perhaps less naïve about it. We know, to be sure, as little as anybody else about what that navy is to " defend," but at least we know that on our side of the continent the zone of defense extends far beyond our "coasts" and includes the Aleutian-Hawaii-Panama triangle. We also realize that as long as the British Navy is in being, to keep Europe's troubles on their own side of the Atlantic, the major function of our navy will be in the Pacific. Probably few would wish to see the United States permanently committed to defend the Philippines -- this partly for legitimate naval considerations, but chiefly because the laboring people would like to get rid of the resident Filipinos, and because the beet sugar producers and oil refiners want a tariff on Philippine sugar and coconut oil. Probably the prevalent view -- which personally I do not share -- is for complete and early Philippine independence, with no further responsibility on our part.
As for Latin America, people on the Coast share the general vague enthusiasm for grabbing British and German export markets there while the grabbing is good, together with a complete unwillingness to admit any competitive imports to finance those exports. But we are no nearer to that problem, except in Mexico, than are the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. After all, the West Coast of South America is further east than most of the East Coast of North America, and the shortest route from San Francisco to the most important South American ports is through the Panama Canal -- which, incidentally, runs westward from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Directions are paradoxical there, too.
In these days of instantaneous radio, of hourly newspapers with pictures as well as news by telegraph, of news reels, and of all the other devices that have shrunk the world to one room, even we of the last frontier cannot feel remote, or be isolated in intellect or imagination. I myself felt no further away from the European crisis during the second half of the summer in California than during the first half in France and Switzerland. The last mental frontier is gone -- or if it exists anywhere, we of the outer geographic rim do not think we live on it.
Nevertheless, in evaluating Western interest in the world crisis, one must add that the attention of California at least has been partly diverted by a series of home crises. We have had dumped on us an overwhelming new problem in the "dust bowl" migrants -- too many for us to employ or, without federal help, adequately to relieve. Our maritime and longshore labor disputes have attracted nation-wide attention. And we spent the first months of the European war in a hectic local campaign over the "ham and eggs" phantasmagoria, which threatened a calamity almost as disastrous as war, and much nearer. Now that it has for the second time been defeated, we are threatened with two more special elections on it, the first in an effort to recall the Governor for not supporting it, and the next a special election immediately following, to submit the "ham and eggs" measure a third time if a new Governor can be chosen who will call it. Though beaten by a million votes at the recent election, the promoters of this scheme evidently intend to force California to vote on it two or three times a year forever, unless it is passed. So, like other people, "We have troubles of our own" -- only ours, to us, seem worse. Don't expect of us a single-minded devotion to the welfare of mankind until we can restore some "normalcy" at home. We can be more useful and intelligent citizens of our country and the world when that has been done.
From where West is East and East is West, and where people are trying to make us rich by taxing us poor, we look out on a world that seems crazy and wonder whether we belong in it.