Although he had understood that the Chinese were "droll in shape and appearance," George Washington was in 1785 taken aback to learn that they were not white. For their part, the Chinese viewed Americans as a new and insignificant breed of Europeans and, like the Europeans, barbarian, intrusive, hairy and malodorous.

Two hundred years ago East Asia and the new American nation were separated not only by the world's biggest ocean but also by the wilderness of most of the North American continent. And so, while Columbus had come upon America by sailing westward, the first American ship to make its way to East Asia, in 1784, did so by sailing in the opposite direction, through two oceans-the Atlantic and the Indian-and past three continents-Europe, South America, and Africa.

Thus, East Asia was for Americans the most remote part of the earth, and its various civilizations the most exotic. Even some 80 years later, after the purchase of Alaska, when across the 36 miles of Bering Strait, Asia became the nearest continent to the United States, it was still true that no cultures were more alien to Americans than those of China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.

And yet, it was to East Asia that the greatest outpouring of American altruism flowed. It was also the area in which Americans fought four major wars-more than anywhere else overseas. The Spanish-American, Pacific, Korean and Indochinese wars were conducted in eight East Asian countries: the Philippines, China, Burma, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The United States also intervened militarily in Korea, in China, and in the Russian Far East during the Russian Revolution.

So while the people of East Asia were acquainted with manifestations of ardent American idealism, they also on occasion had brought home to them expressions of American displeasure.

In no other part of the world did the United States more persistently and actively oppose imperialism and what it regarded as attempts by others to create hegemonies. But it was in East Asia (and the Caribbean) that the United States forcibly acquired colonies. In recklessly seizing the Philippines from Spain, the United States got a colony about the size of Italy and made itself an imperial power.

Events beyond the shores of the United States, however, either had little effect on Americans or, if perceived as threatening, usually stimulated a sense of national unity. The strongest exceptions to this occurred in East Asia. One was the so-called "loss of China" which at mid-twentieth century was so exploited by politicians and publicists as to foment morbid distrust and disunity in domestic American political life. The other was the disastrous American involvement in Indochina, which created widespread rancor and cynicism deeply disrupting national cohesion.

Nearly two centuries of relations with East Asia have been a costly experience for the United States both physically and psychologically.


Of all of the countries of East Asia it was China that Americans found most alluring. It was the biggest and richest and it seemed to hold promise of fat profit for traders. For those who felt called to save souls, it contained an abundance of them in challengingly heathen condition.

The Chinese made no attempt to encourage Americans in these assumptions. They were above being flattered by the interest shown in them, for they deemed themselves to be the only civilized people under heaven and all others to be barbarian. The Confucian literati who administered the Chinese Empire viewed their own merchants as a contemptible lower class, and foreign trade in the tradition of the exchange of tribute from vassal states and gifts benevolently bestowed on obsequious tribute-bearers by the Son of Heaven. In this make-believe context they condescended to permit Americans-as they had allowed Europeans-to trade, but only at Canton and under restrictions resembling house arrest.

Chinese officialdom's attitude toward American and European missionaries was, in the 1830s, when the first American evangelists arrived, even less benevolent. Because the authorities at that time considered Christianity to be subversive of public morality and decorum, its propagation was punishable by strangulation. The earliest American preachers therefore prudently masqueraded as merchants and bided their time, foregoing the heavenly rewards of martyrdom.

Being newcomers to the Far East, relatively few in number, and without the ready protection of their navy, the Americans at Canton in the early nineteenth century were cautious in their relations with the Chinese authorities, who described them as becomingly "submissive." The Yankee traders left it to the British to take the initiative in pressing for more liberal treatment of foreigners. While the Americans developed their own particular trade in New England ginseng (a root fancied by the Chinese as a virility-booster), furs and Hawaiian sandalwood in exchange for tea, porcelains and silk, Yankee shrewdness and avarice drew many of them into less innocent traffic.

The British had built up a lucrative business in the export to China of Indian opium. Enterprising American traders followed in the British wake and even introduced opium brought from as far as the eastern Mediterranean. Some of the considerable profit from pushing the drug was applied to creating infrastructure for westward expansion in the United States. One of the railroads that got off to a good start on opium was the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.

Chinese objection to the debauching influence of opium was not the sole cause of the Opium War. The flourishing drug traffic had also upset the trading balance, and this led to a drain on China's silver. The reaction of the Imperial Commissioner at Canton was to seize and, without compensation, burn the stocks of opium awaiting sale. The British retaliated with naval action initiating the First Anglo-Chinese War, better known as the Opium War.

As neutrals, American traders fared nicely during the hostilities, taking over much of the British commerce, including opium. Subsequently, they benefited from the trading concessions exacted by the British from the Chinese in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. Two years later Caleb Cushing, the first American envoy to China, concluded with the Imperial Commissioner the Treaty of Wanghsia, which duplicated the concessions already yielded, and granted extraterritorial rights to Americans, exempting them from Chinese civil and criminal jurisdiction. Then, through most-favored-nation privileges, American missionaries benefited from a French-Chinese treaty providing for toleration of Christianity.

So, in the case of Yankee businessmen, trade followed the flag-the Union Jack. And with American missionaries, the cross followed the flag-the Tricolor. It was all relatively effortless-beneficiary imperialism. And thus it continued through the nineteenth century as the Europeans "opened" China by force and the threat of force.

The importunate West (including the Americans) took for granted that its intrusions were righteous. For did they not convey the material benefits of trade and the intangible blessings of enlightenment and salvation? At the same time, out of practical considerations, the Westerners were careful to confirm by treaties the legitimacy of their intrusions.

To the obdurate Chinese, the intrusions of the West were outrageous. Trade with the West, when not corrupting or depleting, was regarded by the Court and the mandarinate as essentially frivolous: what of significance could barbarians add to the refined abundance of the Middle Kingdom? Most offensive, of course, was the persistent, insatiable encroachment, not only in commerce but also in religious proselytization. As for the treaties, they were not freely negotiated: they were imposed upon the Chinese and so came to be designated by them as "unequal treaties"-a rallying slogan for anti-foreignism well into the twentieth century.


Japan was something else for the Americans. Europeans in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had not been able to establish a foothold in Japan as they had at Canton. So Americans approached that country independently, on their own.

They were not welcome. No less xenophobic than the Chinese, the Japanese rebuffed American efforts to gain acceptance. It was not until 1849 that Commodore James Glynn, with a show of naval strength, induced the Japanese to treat with an American, himself, and release shipwrecked American seamen detained by them. Four years later Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his four "black ships" arrived in Edo Bay intent on opening a nation that wanted only to be left alone.

As in the case of China, American motives toward Japan were a jumble of high-mindedness and scruples of lesser elevation. It was not unusual for Americans to speak of obligations resting upon the United States to bestow civilization, progress and Christianity upon Japan. More prosaically, the islands were thought to offer rich commercial opportunities, although not on the scale of China's. Also, American whaling and shipping interests wanted relations with Japan that would protect vessels and crews in distress on the uncharted shores of the archipelago and provide supply, particularly coaling, facilities for ships plying the western Pacific.

For a people who exulted in opening and conquering the breadth of a continent, the impulse was strong to expand American influence to the forbidding, tantalizing islands across the North Pacific. To bring Japan into the family of nations would gratify the national ego. For the naval officers who were to play a leading and prominent role in the enterprise, the opportunities for promotion and renown were stimulating.

Perry and Townsend Harris, the first American civilian representative, forced themselves upon Japan at a time of turbulent change in that country. The origins of the unrest were both foreign and domestic. The foreign causes were recurrent alien pressures for the opening of Japan. On top of these came Britain's defeat of China in the Opium War, a frightening omen of what could readily befall Japan. Then the brusque American intrusion revealed Japan's weakness, alarmed its inhabitants and confronted them with the urgent need to devise means for coping with the external threat.

The Japanese were not bound by a comprehensive world view and did not preen themselves on being the only civilized people, as did the Chinese-and the West. They had much less of the smug ethnocentrism that immobilized the Chinese in complacency. The anti-foreignism of the Japanese spurred them to learn from the source that threatened them. Soon after the Perry visitation, the authorities established an Institute for the Investigation of Barbarian Books. The Japanese interest lay, as it had from early contacts with the West, in learning what made the intruders strong, in weapons, science and technology. But Western political philosophy and religion were considered to be disruptive of public order and morality, and so were ignored.

What to do about the foreign menace was entangled with the domestic crisis, the nature of which was not fathomed by most American officials at that time. The existing feudal system, in which an overlord, the Tokugawa Shogun, exercised a qualified hegemony over a variety of local military lords, was in the final stages of decay. It had replaced in the seventeenth century a centralized imperial system derived from the example of China, but it had not extinguished the monarchy. Successive emperors and their Courts endured. They did so in reduced circumstances and were paid little attention. But they were not repudiated.

The social decomposition of the mid-nineteenth century was marked by famines and economic dislocation, impoverished peasants and villagers disrupting the cities, a decline in the Shogunate's power, and the rise of outlying clans which had not been brought thoroughly under the sway of the Tokugawa House. The sinews of power in the feudal system were the samurai, a hereditary aristocratic warrior class, by tradition fiercely loyal to their lords, whose domains they administered. Those pledged to the Tokugawa Shogun and his supporters had over the course of two settled centuries lost much of their tempered martial edge and become sedentary bureaucrats and scholars, but intellectually less fettered than the Chinese literati. In contrast, the samurai of the recalcitrant clans retained much of the rigorous militancy of old.

In the turmoil and bloodshed of the 1860s the issues were mixed. In simplified definition they were: whether to persist in the policy of seclusion and so risk foreign attack or to accept open relations with foreign countries; and whether to sustain the Tokugawa Shogunate, or to seek collaboration between the Shogunate and the Imperial House, or to unify the country under the Emperor as the atavistic embodiment of Japanese nationalism.

Forces advocating nationalistic unification of the country under the Emperor and acceptance of foreign relations won. They were led by bold and intellectually venturesome young samurai of the restive southwestern clans. These purposeful young men, embracing a loyalty above that to their feudal lords, rose against the Shogun, in confused feudal conflict forced his abdication, and in 1868 installed the Emperor as supreme authority over all Japan.

This was the Meiji Restoration, so designated because Meiji was the name given to the reign of the Emperor Mutsuhito. During the 44 years of the Meiji era Japan underwent a transformation from handicrafts to heavy industries; from exegesis of Japanese mythology and Confucian classics to exploration and selective adoption of Western knowledge; from reclusive feudalism to expansive imperialism as a world power with a sense of ordained mission. Perry's purpose of "bringing a mighty Empire into the family of nations" was amply realized, but not his pious dream that this be "within the influence of our benign religion."

The extraordinary phenomenon of the Meiji Restoration set Japan apart from other East Asian countries. And it revealed traits that were again apparent in the Pacific War and the remaking of Japan after defeat in 1945. Among these characteristics were a virile, affirmative hardihood and, paradoxically, rapid adaptability to changed circumstances. Furthermore, the Japanese showed no liking for one-man dictatorship, preferring collective decision-making and leadership. Although fierce internal disputes flared, the dominant characteristic was an unsurpassed national unity.


Notwithstanding the profit, pride and moral satisfaction that Americans derived from East Asian ventures, that part of the world was, for the first century of contact, essentially of peripheral interest to the great majority of them. The center of American attention, the real national interest, was in the expanding and industrializing homeland. American trade with China hovered around one percent and with Japan two percent of total American foreign commerce.

Enthusiasm for American involvement in and across the Pacific flourished during the first 80 years of relations not so much in Washington officialdom as among American representatives in East Asia. Perry was disappointed that Washington did not share his eagerness for a more active policy toward Japan and for the extraction of concessions from China. Dr. Peter Parker, a medical missionary turned United States Commissioner to China, in serving God, Hippocrates and Mammon, pressed Washington to occupy Formosa and generally get tough with the Chinese in the furtherance of American business.

Korea, claimed as a vassal state by China, was in the 1880s the scene of outstanding individual initiatives by American representatives whom Washington had let out on a long, loose tether. The ambitious Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt pridefully opened the Hermit Kingdom in 1882, negotiating a commercial treaty that implied Korean independence of China. A year later another naval officer, Ensign George C. Foulk, became involved in Korean affairs and was quickly advanced to the position of chargé d'affaires of the American legation at Seoul, where he indulged in intrigues with the Japanese and Russians against devious Chinese efforts to maintain some semblance of sovereignty over Korea. Foulk was followed by Dr. Horace N. Allen, a missionary physician who for some ten years had also busied himself in scheming with the Japanese and Russians in what he conceived to be the advancement of Korean independence. Allen's continuing endeavors, as American minister to Korea, were interrupted in 1894 by the Sino-Japanese War.

Perry, Parker, Shufeldt, Foulk and Allen were among the more aggressive American representatives in East Asia, implicating the United States in their striving for national (and personal) advantage and renown. They were not the last of their type, nor necessarily the most damaging to the long-term interest of the United States.

It was in Korea that the first political jostling occurred among the four countries that were to loom so large in the second half of the twentieth century-the United States, Japan, China and Russia. American intervention in Korea, official and private, was in an area of no real importance to the United States. But that peninsula was for the three countries closest to it of vital strategic concern-a corridor for attack by Japan against China or Russia, or by either of the latter two against Japan. None of the three was more keenly aware of this than Meiji Japan.

As imperialism is an expression, in part, of anxiety, it is not surprising that Japan moved to expel China from Korea and deny it to Russia, which was looking greedily down into the peninsula from its newly established position in Vladivostok. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894 lasted less than a year, ending in a sweeping Japanese victory that astonished the West. From it the Japanese garnered Chinese recognition of Korean independence, cession of Formosa and the Pescadores to Japan, and a substantial indemnity. Japan was now launched as a modern imperialist power.

The Japanese had been apt pupils. They had learned well the lessons of the West. They had concentrated on the creation of a strong army and navy, which they put to decisive, disciplined use. So well had the Japanese absorbed the ways of the West that they spoke of the attack on China in terms of bestowing civilization on their former paradigm and of the hostilities as a holy war. Although satisfied that they had made it, that they were now members of the imperialist club, the Japanese did not for a moment assume that their mission was now completed.

Defeat at the hands of the despised Japanese was a nasty shock for the Chinese. A scramble for concessions by the European powers following the Japanese success further jolted the Chinese. Reformist elements in China clamored for a quickening of the torpid pace of modernization. The young Kuang-hsu Emperor responded by essaying the role of Mutsuhito and Peter the Great, issuing in 1898 a series of far-reaching reform edicts. His daring move was soon undone by sluggish and reactionary officials and by the Empress Dowager, Tsu Hsi, who imprisoned him and embarked on a retrograde reign.


Americans reacted to Japan's victory over China with surprised admiration of the victors, flavored with self-congratulation. Having pried the Japanese onto the world scene, Americans felt pride in the accomplishment of their protégés. Some Americans also thought that the Chinese had been taught a salutary lesson which might stir them from their stagnant state.

Other and less transitory opinions, some of them contradictory, shaped American attitudes toward East Asia in the last decade of the century. The slack American economy after the 1893 depression caused many businessmen to look hungrily to the fancied market of hundreds of millions of Chinese. They were anxious lest China be taken over piecemeal by European and Japanese imperialists, and American business be excluded. So they wanted Washington to pursue a vigorous policy in Asia. Those dedicated to the Christianization of the Orient likewise sought greater American involvement in East Asia. The support for proselytization, generated in virtually all American churches, was more pervasive than the economic pressure to intervene in the Far East.

A smaller body of opinion, but with disproportionately great influence in the government, was preoccupied with the dynamics of international power relationships. Its members held in varying degrees to a belief that those of Anglo-Saxon and northern European stock were superior to others, but that the United States was threatened by the swarming lesser breeds of Asia. The stridency of these warnings, incidentally, was echoed a half century later in the alarms sounded about the menace of international communism.

The aroused ideologues of the 1890s saw the encroachments upon China not only as threatening to exclude American business but also as a power struggle which might flame into a world war. Being at once anxious and purposeful, these proponents of Manifest Destiny-men such as Alfred T. Mahan, Brooks Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge-advocated positive action in East Asia to protect American interests and maintain a balance of power. They were of an imperialist bent, affected by the zest for conquest-along with greed, vain-glory and anxiety-that animated European and Japanese imperialists.

A provocative American policy toward Spain in the Caribbean exploded into war with that European nation, a most reluctant adversary. These hostilities provided a far-fetched excuse for seizure of the Philippine Islands. Roosevelt and Lodge were prime instigators of this heedless adventure. In high spirits most of the country went along with the escapade and the President, William McKinley, found justification for annexing the archipelago in pledging to save the souls of the Filipinos-a mission in which the Spaniards had been engaged for 300 years.

For their part, the Filipinos displayed a more lively concern for their temporal than for their spiritual condition. They had initially labored under a misapprehension regarding American intentions. They had assumed that liberation from Spain meant independence. When the Filipinos realized that their liberators intended to take the place of the Spaniards as their rulers, they began guerrilla resistance to the Americans that lasted from 1898 to 1902.

The United States thus became a full-fledged colonial power in East Asia-but without the obstinate resolve to make sure its imperialist pretensions. The Philippines were in no sense of vital interest to the American people. Whatever the shifting sentiments for economic, religious and political involvement in East Asia, they were not, however compelling at times, constant enough to sustain indefinitely an exposed strategic commitment on the other side of the Pacific. Particularly was this so because the vulnerable salient of Manifest Destiny lay athwart the axis of Japanese southward expansion. Even Theodore Roosevelt, with maturity, came to confess that the Philippines were our Achilles heel.

Annexation of the Philippines and Guam was a major American blunder. Its effects persisted for decades, contributing to the mutual antagonism growing between the United States and its best customer in East Asia-Japan.

One of the motives for taking the Philippines was to use the islands as a base from which to do business with China. The mirage of China as a vast and lucrative market and field for investment had enticed Americans for more than a century, and would continue to do so. But the Philippine connection was artificial and ineffective. The main effort to maintain and develop the American foothold in China took the form of diplomatic notewriting to the contending imperialist powers.

Among those in 1898 favoring a strong policy in support of Chinese resistance to European and Japanese encroachments was William W. Rockhill, who had served in China and was then the principal official in the Department of State dealing with Chinese affairs. The Secretary of State, John Hay, and President McKinley were more cautious. An Englishman, Alfred Hippisley, whom Rockhill had known in China as an official of the Chinese Maritime Customs, passed through Washington on vacation and presented to his American friend a formula for equal economic treatment of all foreign business in China. This they developed into a proposal that Hay and McKinley thought well of and which finally blossomed into what was called the doctrine of the Open Door.

The Open Door proposal was initially put forward in notes addressed by Hay in September 1899 to the governments claiming spheres of influence in China, asking, in effect, assurances of non-discriminatory economic treatment of other foreign business in areas under their influence. Although addressed to foreign governments, the notes were meant by Hay also to placate those Americans clamoring for a more aggressive policy in China. The governmental responses to Hay's solicitations were at best wary. This did not deter Hay from proclaiming unanimous consent to his proposal. He won, thereupon, intemperate acclaim in the United States for his statesmanship.

Hay had not consulted with the Chinese about the Open Door notes. Nor was any notice taken of the Chinese opinion that the territorial concessions to foreigners, extracted under duress, were unjust. The Chinese therefore had no reason to be particularly grateful for what Washington had done.

In 1900 Hay expanded the Open Door doctrine with an imprudent pronouncement that it was American policy to "preserve Chinese territorial and administrative entity." This histrionic commitment, impossible of attainment, was typical of the hyperbole that too often afflicts presidential and secretarial pronouncements. Nevertheless, for half a century this inflated version of the Open Door was accepted by American officials as revealed scripture to be invoked against those who would wrong China.

In sum, the United States entered the twentieth century with an imperial obligation that the American people were not determined to fulfill, with illusions that China was an area of pregnant importance to the United States, with pledges to preserve that distant land's moot entity, and with reliance on expostulation as a force in international relations.


Japan had taken Formosa from the Chinese; the United States had taken the Philippines from the Spaniards-and the Filipinos. Now it was Japan's turn: to take Manchuria from the Russians-and the Chinese.

The Russians had lumbered punitively into occupation of key parts of Manchuria following the anti-foreign Boxer uprising in China. There was little doubt in any quarter that St. Petersburg was intent on rounding out its Far Eastern position by acquiring at least Manchuria.

Washington, whose interest in Manchuria was visionary-expectations of extensive economic benefits-brooded over the Russian consolidation in Manchuria. On dealing with St. Petersburg, Hay commented to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903: "Dealing with a government with whom mendacity is a science is an extremely difficult and delicate matter." Hay also reported that the American minister to China "has the pessimism about Russia which is almost universal out there. 'What's the use? Russia is too big, too crafty, too cruel for us to fight. She will conquer in the end. Why not give up and be friendly?' "

Mahan warned of Russia's advancing into China in a gigantic pincers move, through Manchuria and Central Asia, threatening China's survival and the future of Western civilization. Only the resistance of the sea powers, including Japan, Mahan asserted, could avert this catastrophe.

Whether Japan worried about the future of Western civilization is questionable. There is no doubt that it was anxious about its own future, with a Russia on the prowl moving into Manchuria. Would Korea be next?

Inevitably, Japan struck. The Russo-Japanese War lasted a year and a half, ending in 1905 with Japan, the victor, on the verge of exhaustion, Russia distracted by its 1905 revolution, and Roosevelt acting as peacemaker.

In so doing the American President won the appreciation of neither side. The Russians resented his pro-Japanese attitude at the outset, for he did not really dissemble his initial relief that Japan was "playing our game" in grappling with Russian expansion. And in the end the Japanese became disgruntled because they felt that at the Treaty of Portsmouth Roosevelt had shortchanged them on their due as the winners.

As Korea had in 1894 been the field of contention among those four nations which were to become dominant in East Asia during the 1970s, so Manchuria was in the Russo-Japanese War the arena of four-way interaction among Russia and Japan as the combatants, China as the involuntary, ignored and victimized host of the event, and the United States as the honest broker.

Japan's acquisition of Russia's rights in South Manchuria and acknowledgment of Tokyo's paramount interest in Korea engaged Japan's attention on the Asian continent. Tokyo's compulsion to further continental expansion was bound to be directed at China, as being more vulnerable than Russia. As for Russia, the 1905 defeat was a temporary reverse. Another revolution and the passage of 40 years, then Russia would have its revenge.

Roosevelt foresaw a Russian "wish to play a return game of bowls." In-job training as President had advanced TR's understanding of power realities from the days when, as a callow Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he had dispatched Commodore Dewey on a cruise culminating in the Battle of Manila Bay. Now that he was President, Roosevelt's major concern in East Asia was to avoid the need for defending the Philippines.

To that end, Japan should be deflected from southward, oceanic expansion. Roosevelt therefore welcomed Japan's plunge into Manchuria but worried lest it be too easy and Tokyo's interest then turn southward. His preference was that Japan and Russia long be at inconclusive loggerheads. Above all, the United States should not cross Japan in Manchuria or otherwise give it cause for hostility.

With a realism seldom encountered in his successors, TR struck deals with Japan over spheres of influence. He sent his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, to treat in 1905 with the Japanese Prime Minister for Japanese recognition of American preeminence in the Philippines in exchange for American acceptance of Japanese predominance in Korea. More formally, in 1908, his Secretary of State, Elihu Root, and Japanese Ambassador Takahira exchanged notes in which the two governments undertook to respect one another's possessions in the Pacific, maintain the Pacific status quo and, of course, stand by China's independence and the Open Door.

Understandably, TR felt that he had done as well as could be expected in preventing a Japanese-American clash over territorial issues. But he recognized that what remained to be done was subtler and less tractable. This was the issue of racial and cultural prejudice in the United States. And it related to the Chinese as well as the Japanese.

American attitudes toward the Chinese and Japanese fluctuated and were often ambivalent. Orientals were by legend quaint, ceremonious, sage and at times fiendish. By the accounts of early sailors, traders and missionaries, Asians were honest, industrious, steeped in sin as much as vice, and prone to outbursts of bloody violence. It was generally thought in nineteenth-century America that Asians were so different from Americans-meaning the descendants of European colonists-as to be unassimilable in American society.

The first students and officials from China and Japan to visit the United States, coming to partake of the superior wisdom of the West, were appropriately greeted with friendly, patronizing curiosity. But with the immigration of laborers in growing numbers, Americans reacted with mounting hostility, particularly in the western states. The thousands of Chinese who were brought in during the second half of the nineteenth century for unskilled work in opening the West were viewed by American labor as an economic threat-excessively hard working and impossibly frugal. The Chinese were treated abominably and from time to time were murdered, singly and collectively, both gratuitously and with impunity. Without gunboats on the Sacramento and Potomac, China discovered that protests over American barbarities were ineffectual.

By the turn of the century Americans began to look apprehensively over their western shoulder, across the Pacific, at the Asian hordes which Mahan and less respectable theoreticians proclaimed could outbreed, overproduce, undersell and perhaps even subjugate the United States. After Japan's defeat of Russia, anti-Japanese sentiment and behavior on the West Coast intensified. Tokyo, which had been beguiled by the widespread American support for Japan in the war, was shocked by the California racism, and so in 1906 protested to Washington.

Tokyo's protest went to the issue-racism-that Roosevelt believed to be more ominous for American-Japanese relations than that of territorial expansion. While the President, too, had expressed concern about a yellow peril, he had no patience with manifestations of racism that compromised his policy of appeasing Japan. He felt that the Japanese were too dangerous to offend. Secretary Root warned that they were proud, sensitive, ready for war and could take the Philippines, Hawaii and "probably the Pacific Coast."

The Pacific Coast whites were not much moved by Washington's entreaties for tolerance. However, in 1907 Roosevelt improvised a Gentlemen's Agreement with Tokyo for limiting Japanese immigration. But this could not for the Japanese (and other Asians) remove the insult of racial discrimination-for the United States at the same time continued to welcome a flood of European immigrants.

The year 1907 was a strenuous one for Roosevelt. He sent the American battle fleet around the world to reassure the Californians, arouse national enthusiasm for a bigger navy, show off in front of the Japanese (who handled the visit with tact and hospitality), and flaunt the flag in improbable places. At the same time, the United States underwent a war scare, with rumors of numerous Japanese spies at large and Japanese preparations to attack. The talkative TR added his bit to the atmosphere of unease by wondering out loud to the German ambassador whether the Japanese might land on the Pacific Coast and inflict a devastating initial defeat on the defenders. The Americans would, he reassured the envoy, of course rally to triumph in the end.

Roosevelt set the Navy to work on a war plan for hostilities against Japan. Although the admirals reckoned that any crisis with Japan was well in the future, they dutifully produced a strategic Orange Plan, against Japan.

The virulent anti-Japanese manifestations in the United States caused the Japanese government and its army and navy high commands to reexamine their assumption that relations with the United States were amicable and likely to continue to be so. This assumption had proceeded primarily from a belief that possible friction over territorial expansion had been rationally disposed of by mutual agreement on spheres of influence. The understanding appeared to have been effective: Washington was not contesting Japan in Korea and Manchuria, and Tokyo had, from early in the American conquest of the Philippines when it turned down Emilio Aguinaldo's plea for help in his resistance to American rule, refrained from trespassing on that American preserve.

So imperial rivalry was not the main cause of the trans-Pacific tension. The cause was, primarily, American racism, as regards both discriminatory immigration and agitation regarding a yellow peril. This racism acutely offended and baffled the Japanese. The imperial army and navy revised their list of potential enemies. Russia remained as definitely the most likely foe. But, although they felt that the threat was not near, the United States was ranked number two.

At the time that Perry opened Japan, the Japanese desperately wanted to keep the Americans out of their country and feared attack by the white peril. Fifty-four years later Americans desperately wanted to keep Japanese out of their country and feared attack by a yellow peril.

In the tragic absurdity of the American experience in East Asia, the United States and Japan had in the first decade of the twentieth century swung onto collision course.


President William Howard Taft and his Secretary of State, Philander C. Knox, sharply altered American East Asia policy. No longer was an expanding Japan the focus of attention. Nor were the central concerns to divert Japan's aggressions westward, to maintain agreement regarding American and Japanese spheres of influence, and studiously to avoid, as far as possible, giving offense to the Japanese.

From 1909 a palsied China was Washington's main interest in East Asia. The Taft Administration's principal concerns were to broaden American economic activities in China, to strengthen China, and to preserve "our historic policy," meaning the Open Door. Taft and Knox believed that American economic expansion should be directed so as to contribute to the reform, development and independence of China. This was part of what they infelicitously called Dollar Diplomacy. Profit and altruism would thus go hand in hand.

The President and Secretary extended this touching concept to, among other worthy projects, a proposal for neutralizing Manchuria's railways under international control, wherein American influence would press for international collaboration to the benefit of all concerned. Taft and Knox appear to have actually supposed that this vision of sharing and "fair play" (frequently invoked by Knox) would appeal to the contending powers in Manchuria. The end result was that the British, from whom Knox had hoped for support, backed away in embarrassment and the Japanese and Russians overcame their mutual antipathy enough to agree in rebuffing the American meddling, and then entrenched themselves more firmly in, respectively, south and north Manchuria.

Nor did Dollar Diplomacy captivate Wall Street, where the dollars for the diplomacy were to come from. It was necessary for the Administration to press American capitalism to invest in China. E. H. Harriman, who toyed with the idea of a round-the-world railway, and several reluctant New York financiers joined in an ill-starred railway loan. But in general, Wall Street was distinctly loath to become involved in China.

After four years of Dollar Diplomacy, American investments in China were slightly more than one percent of total American investments overseas, up 0.2 percent over what they had been more than a decade earlier. American exports to China declined from the Roosevelt days and during Taft's tenure of office fluctuated fractionally around one percent of all American exports.

East Asian policy under Taft was essentially a moral endeavor. Knox spoke of the American dollar aiding suffering humanity. He declared that "it would be much better for us to stand consistently by our principles even though we fail in getting them generally adopted." Whether Americans would go to war for his policy was "academic," Knox asserted; what was important was that the United States stick to its principles without compromise. And "our historic policy," the Open Door, must be preserved, thus making a policy a dogma.

Taft and Knox were abetted, if not inspired, by two zealous young diplomats, Willard Straight, chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs, and Francis M. Huntington Wilson, whom Knox appointed as first assistant secretary of state. Both abominated the Japanese, their culture and their encroachments on the mainland. With compensating ardor, they championed an idealized China and argued that broad support of China was in the American national interest. Straight, a restless political romantic, envisioned in 1907 Americans "empire shaping" China. These two virtuosos were among the more effective, alas, of the bright young men with a mission who occasionally enlivened the pin-striped ranks of American diplomacy.

Appalled by Taft's policy, Roosevelt in 1910 gave his successor the benefit of his thoughts, here summarized. It was in the vital interest of the United States "to keep the Japanese out of our country" and at the same time to retain their good will. Manchuria and Korea were of vital interest to Japan. Therefore the United States should not do anything in Manchuria that might lead Japan to feel menaced by the United States.

Alignment with China, Roosevelt continued, would be for the United States a liability because of China's military helplessness. The Open Door had been and would be an excellent thing insofar as it was maintained by general diplomatic agreement. But the history of Manchuria showed that the Open Door disappeared when a powerful nation was determined to disregard it and was willing to risk war in so doing. The United States could prevent Japan from acting as it pleased in Manchuria only if Washington was ready to go to war. And to succeed in such a war would take "a fleet as good as that of England plus an army as good as that of Germany."

But Taft did not think that Tokyo would go to war over Dollar Diplomacy in Manchuria. In this he was right, for the awkward reason that his Manchuria policy was a fiasco and it was hardly necessary for Japan to move a muscle.

Japan had adjusted to the shock of racial discrimination in the United States and drawn therefrom certain strategic conclusions. Now Taft, whom the Japanese had considered to be friendly, who had negotiated for Roosevelt a sphere of influence agreement with the Japanese government, was trying to undermine Japan's position in Manchuria and was generally displaying anti-Japanese and pro-Chinese attitudes. Why this change when American trade with Japan, in contrast to that with China, was growing? Why this irrational American partiality for China? The Japanese concluded that with the evident increase of American ill-will toward them they must redouble their efforts to gain strength from the continent.


Woodrow Wilson's intervention in Siberia was the first American military interference in a Communist revolution swollen into a civil war. It was not an auspicious beginning to such undertakings.

The origins of this misbegotten enterprise stemmed from Russia's withdrawal from World War I and the consequent redeployment of large bodies of German troops to the western front. The British and French pled with Wilson to renew hostilities in the East, but he believed that this would be a misapplication of American resources. Persistent Allied entreaties overcame Wilson's better judgment and the advice of his chief of staff. In July 1918 he invited Japan to join in dispatching not more than 7,000 troops each to Siberia.

Wilson's ostensible reason for sending an American expeditionary force to a civil war zone in the depths of Asia, thousands of miles from the nearest conceivable front against the Germans, was to facilitate the consolidation of two groups of Czechs, released prisoners of war, at large somewhere in Siberia. The President wanted the Czechs to "get into successful cooperation with their Slavic kinsmen and to steady any efforts at self-government or self-defense in which the Russians themselves may be willing to accept assistance." Which of the several warring factions of Slavic kinsmen Wilson had in mind is not clear. In addition to troops, he proposed sending a commission composed of merchants, agronomists, labor advisers, Red Cross representatives and YMCA "agents." They would extend an American helping hand to the troubled Russians.

This scatterbrained performance by Wilson obviously could not satisfy the Allies. But those powerful Japanese who wished to set up a puppet regime in eastern Siberia to protect extensive Japanese economic interests there welcomed the invitation to intervene.

The unfortunate commander of the American contingent, Major General William S. Graves, was given as his directive a copy of an American aide-mémoire circulated to Allied governments in which it was emphasized that the American government could not take part in nor sanction in principle military intervention in Russia. Thus enlightened, the steadfast General Graves left for Vladivostok to intervene without intervening. One day before he arrived, the two groups of wandering Czechs met and promptly joined those of their Slavic kinsmen who were fighting their Bolshevik Slavic kinsmen. This disposed of the main reason for the general's expedition. Before long it became apparent that the Japanese had injected into Siberia a force not of 7,000 but 72,000.

For a year and a half, until the Americans were withdrawn, Graves struggled to keep his forces from becoming embroiled with the Bolsheviks, the various shades of Whites, and his allies, the Japanese. That he succeeded was in nowise due to support from the French, the British or the Department of State. To the contrary, they urged that he intervene actively against the Bolsheviks and when he demurred on the grounds of his directive, they tried to have him replaced.

Wilson's Russian intervention not only did not accomplish the farcical objective that he set for it, it did not prevent the Japanese from intervening in large numbers and remaining long after the Americans had gone. It did not and could not have affected the ultimate outcome of the Russian civil war. But it did entail real risks of serious American involvement in that war, which could not have benefited the United States in any way.

The Bolsheviks represented the American-Japanese intervention as, of course, a typical imperialist attempt to crush the just uprising of Russian workers and peasants. This was a convenient propaganda theme, not only in attracting domestic sympathy but also in supporting Communist claims for accuracy of historical interpretation.

From the strategic point of view, Lenin was much interested in the bad blood between the Americans and Japanese in Siberia. Regarding the hostility between the United States and Japan he said, "The practical task of Communist policy is to take advantage of this hostility and to incite one against the other. . . . We have already set Japan and America at loggerheads, to put it crudely, and have thereby gained an advantage."

This would have had a familiar ring to Theodore Roosevelt.


In the triangular relationship of the United States, Japan and China from World War I to Pearl Harbor, Japan was, with few exceptions, the actor, China the acted upon. And the United States was the self-appointed referee who judged by subjective rules and called fouls without penalties, until just before the end of the contest. This provoked the actor into a suicidal attempt to kill the referee.

Japan's aggressiveness in this 1914-1941 period began with the seizure of the German concession, and more, in Shantung, then intervention in the Russian Revolution-in acrimonious collaboration with the United States-occupation of parts of Siberia and the Maritime Province, the conquest of Manchuria, the invasion of China, the occupation of Indochina through coercion of Vichy, and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Americans had-and still have-difficulty in understanding the intensity and breadth of the fatal Japanese compulsion to empire and, ultimately, Co-Prosperity Sphere. By the late 1930s the Japanese were in a frame of mind that was at once exalted and desperate. The reasons for this were diverse and cumulative.

With the Meiji Restoration the Japanese concluded that their scant, shaggy, green mystic islands could no longer accommodate their growing numbers, accomplishments and ambitions. They sought living space through peaceful emigration to the United States, as Europeans were doing. But they were repulsed, with insults, because of their race. These wounds of pride, repeatedly inflicted, rankled deeply and long.

The Japanese assumed that they had as much need and right to extend their domain as Britain, France and the Netherlands had, and surely more than the sprawling United States and Russia, each so bountifully endowed. The Americans had welcomed the first Japanese ventures in imperialism. Then the Americans had inexplicably taken the side of the Chinese. Next, the Americans and the Soviet Russians declared that imperialism was evil and that Japan must not encroach on China. The Japanese took this moralizing to be hostile-and hypocritical, considering the record of the two proctors.

Russia, the Eurasian giant, had begun as the Duchy of Muscovy and then by Slavic subjugation of Tatars, Torguts, Buryats, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Yakuts and many other non-Russian peoples made itself an empire extending from Europe across the width of Asia. Yet this was not enough for the Russians. So they contested with Japan for China-until they Bolshevized themselves. Whereupon they denounced Japan for being imperialist, while plotting to subvert the Japanese.

As for the Americans, the land they occupied had been inhabited by red-skinned people until small bands of Europeans invaded it, were reinforced by multitudes of their kind, and then by subjugation of Mohicans, Iroquois, Cherokees, Sioux, Paiutes and many other non-Europeans-and importation of black slaves from Africa-made for themselves a white empire extending across the width of North America. Yet this was not enough for the white Americans. So they took, among other places, the Philippines.

And now in the 1930s, Russia and the United States, these two glutted powers, were telling Japan that it could not overrun a backward and bandit-ridden Manchuria and open it up with railroads and industry as Russia had done in its subjugated areas of Central Asia and Siberia, and the United States in its great Southwest, an area taken not only from Indian tribes but also from Mexico. Furthermore, why was it acceptable for the Americans to maneuver the detachment of a part of Colombia to create the state of Panama and immoral for Japan to detach Manchuria from China to create Manchukuo?

If Americans had deemed it laudable to pursue their Manifest Destiny, could the Japanese rightly be denied the same? If Britain nobly bore the white man's burden in India, was Japan not entitled to carry high the yellow man's burden in China-to perform, as the French were pleased to put it, their civilizing mission, if necessary doing so by force? If the Americans were justified in imposing a Monroe Doctrine in the Western Hemisphere and in assuming the role of patron of a Pan-American system, might not Japan do the same in East Asia and for Pan-Asianism-the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere?

To such questions the sated powers answered: "Ah, but the time for empire-building has passed. We have put that behind us, and you must, too. We are now all pledged to self-determination."

The Japanese concluded in the 1930s that the Americans were consummate hypocrites and that out of sheer malice and illogical partiality to China they were determined to deny Japan its rightful fulfillment. They reacted to the moralistic and legalistic admonitions of the two Secretaries of State of that decade, Henry Stimson and Cordell Hull, with angry contempt. They had discovered that Washington would not follow strong language with corresponding action, even when the imperial army sank an American warship, the U.S.S. Panay. Americans were bluffers, Tokyo assumed, and not to be taken seriously.

Haunted by the insufficiencies of their home islands, bitterly resentful over racial discrimination by Americans, apprehensive over the ultimate intentions of the Soviet Union and the United States, infuriated by American efforts to frustrate their expansion into China, and exhilarated by fervent national pride, native dynamism, a sense of crisis and a conviction of divine destiny, the Japanese in the late 1930s were psychologically ready for the fateful plunge southward-and into war with the United States.

The war in Europe provided the final impetus for the southward advance. The German conquest of France and the Netherlands left Indochina and the Netherland East Indies temptingly exposed. Germany's assault on the Soviet Union then removed the threat to Japan's western flank, a major restraint on a southward thrust.

Washington placed gradual restrictions on the sale to Japan of petroleum and iron products, culminating in the freezing of Japanese assets. The Dutch closed down on the sale of Sumatran oil. These actions imposed a time limit on Tokyo. Deprived of its traditional sources of oil and with its reserves steadily declining, Tokyo calculated that it had until November to negotiate acceptable terms for the resumption of American and Indies oil supply. If these peaceful overtures did not succeed by late November, then Japan must irrupt southward to the oil and other strategic raw materials of Southeast Asia.

American-Japanese negotiations, muddied by misunderstandings, failed. Tokyo would not accept Washington's position that the undefeated Japanese army in China should, in effect, withdraw and return to its pre-1931 barracks. The Japanese government took this as an insulting and wholly unacceptable ultimatum. So the war plan for Southeast Asia-in part shrewd, in part wishful thinking-was put into effect. This was done not with high hopes, but with desperate, fatalistic determination. The indomitable warrior spirit of the Japanese fighting men must overcome the material odds against Japan.

The war plan called for action to neutralize the eastern flank of the southward offensive with an attack on Pearl Harbor, which was duly executed.


For China, with its 400 million, its inveterate miseries, and its repetitious history of conquering and being conquered, the period of 1914-1941 was one of unique tribulation.

The Manchu Dynasty had been overthrown in 1912 by a republican revolution and the so-called republic that followed was soon fragmented by contending warlords. Fighting, disorder, banditry and multiple extortions plagued the people. In 1926 a Nationalist-Communist coalition began a war to exterminate the warlords but got only part way when in 1927 the Nationalists attempted to exterminate the Communists. They fought one another, and occasional warlords, intermittently for the rest of this period. Meanwhile, the Japanese began the subjugation of Manchuria in 1931, and six years later started a major war against China that by 1941 had wreaked havoc over large areas of that country.

The dominant development in this tortured period was the rise of Chinese nationalism, a broad new cultural and political consciousness. It grew out of the intellectual ferment created by the new generation of Chinese scholars, by radical ideas coming out of post-World War I Europe, Wilsonianism, the Russian Revolution and Japanese aggression.

The erratic Sun Yat-sen and his Kuomintang, although denied tangible power by the warlords, nevertheless regarded themselves as the custodians of the political phase of Chinese nationalism. But by 1921, with the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, they had the beginning of competition. This was converted to opportunistic KMT-CCP collaboration when Sun, having been refused aid by the United States and other Western nations, negotiated in 1923 an aid deal with a newly arrived Soviet envoy.

Because the Kremlin's objective was to further a bourgeois national revolution directed against imperialism, the infant CCP was advised by the Comintern that the KMT was to take the lead in the anti-imperialist movement. Meanwhile the KMT set out to reorganize itself along the lines of the Soviet Communist Party. And Moscow sent political and military advisers and arms to Sun's Nationalist regime at Canton.

Following Sun's death in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek seized power in the Nationalist camp and, against the counsel of his Soviet advisers to proceed more cautiously, launched a northward offensive to eliminate warlords and imperialists and unify the country. The Nationalist-Communist coalition reached Wuhan on the Yangtze in a few months and Shanghai in the spring of 1927. There Chiang turned on the Communists and liquidated several hundred of them, all he could lay hands on. He then established a Nationalist government at Nanking.

The American and other western governments had up to this time viewed Chiang and his Nationalists as dangerous Reds. Certainly, some of Chiang's 1926 rhetoric was worthy of a Comintern agitator. And some of his troops wantonly killed Americans in Nanking. But his Shanghai behavior-purge of Communists, overtures to the economic establishment and renewal of old connections with the institutionalized underworld-was reassuring. Chiang became respectable and before long was on the way to the status accorded to him after 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt-one of the four superstar statesmen.

Weakened by Chiang's attacks, Communist membership declined from a claimed 58,000 in the spring of 1927 to less than 20,000 by winter. Nevertheless, small military detachments led by Mao Tse-tung, Chu Teh and others created a base area and local government in a mountainous district of Kiangsi in Central China. There, and at several smaller bases, the Communists built up their military forces to a total of about 300,000.

Chiang did not react militarily to the Japanese takeover of Manchuria. Rather, he concentrated on his internal enemy, the Communists. The Kiangsi Communists withstood repeated Nationalist offensives until 1934, when a Nationalist force of nearly a million compelled them to retreat, about 100,000 in all, on the epic Long March of some 6,000 miles. Only about 8,000, headed by Mao, arrived a year later in the barren loess hills of Shensi, in Northwest China, where they established a new base area with Yenan, a dreary little town, as their capital. Communist stragglers from other areas joined the Long March survivors, bringing in late 1936 the total Red Army strength to no more than 30,000.

During the Long March, at Tsunyi in January 1935, Mao gained control of the Politburo from the "Twenty-eight Bolsheviks," whose leaders had dominated the Party. Members of the "Twenty-eight Bolsheviks" faction had been Moscow-trained and were responsive to Comintern direction. From Tsunyi onward Mao's supremacy in the Party was not challenged.

Tsunyi was a defeat for Stalin of historic proportions. It exceeded Chiang's double-crossing him-which had been embarrassing; Trotsky had ridiculed him for being taken in by Chiang. But he could and subsequently did work with the Generalissimo, as a counter-revolutionary, on a practical basis. Mao's ousting of Moscow's proconsuls was, however, flagrant insubordination within Party ranks. And Mao, who had previously been reprimanded by the Comintern for going his own way, would continue on an impermissibly independent course, thus challenging the infallibility of the Kremlin, its pretensions to being the only source of Communist truth and authority. For Stalin in the late 1930s, Chiang was an opponent, but Mao was an arrogator, a potential competitor.

The Generalissimo was in Sian in December 1936 spurring his forces to greater efforts against the Communists when generals, who demanded that he fight the Japanese rather than other Chinese, kidnapped him. Communist representatives intervened and in the ensuing negotiations agreement for the release of Chiang was reached under conditions that led to a Nationalist-Communist United Front against Japanese aggression.

This was enthusiastically greeted by the Chinese people, who had been critical of Chiang's passivity since the invasion of Manchuria. The Kremlin also had cause for satisfaction, for the rapprochement in China was in line with its 1935 call for united fronts against Nazi Germany and Japan. Americans applauded the appearance of unity and praised Chiang as a pious Christian leader of his people. But Chiang, Mao and their respective collaborators knew that the United Front was no more than a front behind which the struggle begun in 1927 would continue.

The upsurge of nationalism and anti-Japanese feeling engendered in China by the United Front coincided with a trend in Tokyo toward a less aggressive, even conciliatory, policy toward China. The imperial army general staff was alarmed in 1936 by the growth in size and pugnacity of Soviet forces along the Manchurian frontiers. It therefore wanted to reduce rather than augment Japanese military commitments in China.

But a minor incident between small Chinese and Japanese units near Peking on July 7, 1937, after initial settlement, flashed out of control and into a major war that was to last more than eight years, cause countless deaths and end in the prostration of both countries.

China's policy in this conflict was simple: to trade space for time, while awaiting a war between Japan and the United States, which Chiang and his entourage assumed to be inevitable. When that war occurred, China would be relieved of Japanese pressure and both partners of the United Front could then occupy themselves with preparations for a fight to the death for possession of the Chinese people.


Throughout this 1914-1941 period of wars, revolutions and a worldwide economic depression, the American Secretaries of State were lawyers, and of high principles. Their professional world, whether in the practice of law, on the bench, or in national politics, had been ordered by laws and contracts reliably upheld by an elaborate structure of courts, bailiffs, sheriffs, marshals, police and, if necessary the national guard and even the army. This background was poor preparation for the anarchy of international relations. It was small wonder that the secretaries of this period, like Hay and Knox before them, inclined to legalistic interpretations and solutions and the enunciation of universal principles.

Charles E. Hughes was on solid ground, however, in negotiating the Washington Conference treaties on naval limitation and insular possessions in the Pacific, because the texts rested on substantial agreement among the signatories. These 1922 treaties marked a genuine American-Japanese détente lasting until Congress passed in 1924 Japanese exclusion legislation. The Nine Power Treaty was another matter. It was meant by Hughes to enshrine in international law the American obsession with verbal defense of China. It was not built on solid underlying agreement and so, for the Americans, was an exercise in self-deception.

The unilateral pronouncement of non-recognition was another legalistic device of dubious worth. When in 1915 Japan presented its Twenty-one Demands to China, William Jennings Bryan declared that the United States would not recognize any agreement infringing American treaty rights, Chinese sovereignty or the Open Door. Stimson made the same hollow response to Japan's conquest of Manchuria, buttressing his case with invocation of the Nine Power Treaty and his predecessor's Kellogg Pact outlawing war, an emanation of legal ectoplasm. Cordell Hull, a Wilsonian moralist, conducted American foreign policy on the proclaimed basis of a catalogue of Utopian platitudes.

The legalistic-moralistic cast of mind was but one factor influencing the formulation of policy. Isolationism, the Great Depression, and pacifism were others. So was the influence of Pearl Buck (Chinese are like lovable characters out of the Old Testament), Time and Life, missionaries and pro-Chinese propagandists.

All of this added up to a national attitude of increasing sympathy for China and dislike of Japan as the villain, but a determination not to become involved in their conflict. At the same time, because of Washington's stern verbal support of China, Americans thought of themselves as champions of China, even as American companies supplied Japan with oil and scrap metal for its war against China. As Americans became aware of this and called for embargoes, they compensated for a subconscious sense of guilt by inflating the supposed virtues of the Chinese to heroic proportions. The preposterous overrating of the Chinese was bound to, and did, in the mid-1940s end in disillusion-also unbalanced.


Franklin D. Roosevelt and Cordell Hull did not view war as a continuation of politics by other methods. War aims were one thing: absolute, non-negotiable, and charged with righteous wrath-"total victory," "unconditional surrender," extirpation of militarism, destruction of "philosophies . . . based on conquest," and no "compromise between good and evil." Postwar aims were in a separate category: conditional, negotiable, but also charged with perfectionism-"building human freedom and Christian morality," great power solidarity, collective security, creation of a united nations organization so that "the rule of law cannot be successfully challenged."

Japan's attack on British and Dutch possessions in East Asia and Hitler's foolish declaration of war on the United States linked the wars in Asia and Europe. As Japan's attack on the United States was secondary to its main objective, Southeast Asia, so Washington's reaction in the Pacific was second in priority to the prosecution of war against Germany. The strategically sound decision to concentrate first on Europe was not widely welcomed in the United States because the public wanted the quickest revenge for Pearl Harbor.

The Casablanca demand for unconditional surrender, inspired and enunciated by Roosevelt, eliminated the possibility of negotiated capitulations of Japan and Germany, thus ensuring the prolongation of the war and the creation of power vacuums in East Asia and Central Europe. A fortnight before the announcement, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been advised of the President's intention to demand unconditional surrender, but did not even study the implications of this crucial act.

Later in 1943, at Cairo, Roosevelt and Churchill, with FDR in the lead, as usual in matters affecting China, proclaimed that Japan would be stripped of its outlying possessions. Manchuria and Formosa would be "restored" to China. This was done largely to mollify a disgruntled Chiang. There appears to have been no thought that it might have been prudent to delay until a peace conference the disposition of at least Formosa.

As the American sea and air offensives drove the Japanese back close to their home islands, some American officials began to have second thoughts about the wisdom of unconditional surrender. Should not the Japanese people be reassured that after surrender they might have an orderly life and keep their revered institution of the Emperor? After all, only the Emperor could order the armed forces to surrender.

The President, by then Harry S Truman, refused in the spring and summer of 1945 to offer any inducement to surrender involving concessions regarding the imperial institution. Meanwhile Tokyo was sending out peace feelers to Moscow, asking for its mediation with Washington, and offering Manchukuo and Sakhalin in exchange for Soviet neutrality.

Through intercepts and from Stalin, Truman was aware of Tokyo's desire for negotiations but neither he nor Stalin responded to the overtures.

In the Potsdam Proclamation, Truman and Churchill held out some hope of a government which would be "established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people." But nothing was said about the Emperor. The proclamation closed with the warning that if all the Japanese armed forces did not surrender unconditionally, "the alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction." This was on July 26, 1945. The Japanese did not surrender unconditionally.

On August 6 the United States visited prompt and utter destruction on Hiroshima. And then on Nagasaki. Tokyo broadcast on August 10 its readiness to accept the Potsdam ultimatum provided that the Emperor's prerogatives as sovereign were not prejudiced. Washington declared the next day that the Emperor's authority would be subject to the allied supreme commander. As it turned out, MacArthur and Hirohito were an effective governing combination-the Shogun and the Mikado.


China, in the view of the American people, was transformed by Pearl Harbor into a gallant ally, battered but still eager to fight and lacking only American arms and guidance to smite mightily the common foe. Roosevelt, who had a willow pattern tea house impression of China derived from family lore about ancestors in the old China trade, initially shared the popular fancy about a Chinese passion to fight Japanese. Later, disillusioned, he nevertheless believed it essential to "keep China in the war." China's greater importance in Roosevelt's grand strategy was in the postwar world where China would take the place of Japan as the leading oriental power, but a friendly one collaborating with the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union to create a better world.

Pearl Harbor transformed Sino-American relations for Chiang. He had waited a long time for war between the United States (also the Soviet Union) and Japan. Now the Americans would take over the burden of fighting Japanese and he would concentrate on preparing for the inevitable postwar fight to the death against the Communists. He would, of course, stay in the war against Japan to obtain American matériel, and for the same reason even bear with disruptive American military advice and meddling-but only up to a certain point. His exaltation by FDR to the bizarre brotherhood of The Big Four gave Chiang face, as did being consulted by the busy Americans about postwar dispositions.

Postwar dispositions in China were being worked out then in the countryside behind the Japanese lines. In the most developed part of the nation Chiang had lost the cities and lines of communications to the invaders, and the rural areas to the Communists. The Communists were growing in numerical and organizational strength, preparing for the showdown with Chiang and his Nationalists.

The likelihood of civil war following the defeat of Japan, the dynamic Communist expansion, the uncertainty of a Nationalist victory in a civil war, the incalculable costs of American intervention, and the probability that a civil war would reverse the Communist trend toward nationalism to one of dependence on the Soviet Union-all these considerations, and more, were presented by American officials in China to the State Department and the White House beginning in 1943. In August 1944, Mao indicated to an American official a desire to establish a Communist working relationship with the United States during and after the war. Washington did not react. By late 1944 the question arose among American officials whether the Communists were already predictably the victors in the oncoming civil war, and if so whether the American government should, while continuing recognition of Chiang, begin to deal directly with the Communists as the de facto authority in the areas controlled by them and as the probable future rulers of all China.

Ambassador Patrick J. Hurley hotly opposed direct relations with the Communists. He had committed himself in a highly personal fashion to the creation of a coalition in which the Communists would submit to the supremacy of Chiang. This was where the Communists had come in, in 1927, and they did not take to the suggestion. After meeting with an emaciated Roosevelt, only a few weeks from death, Hurley declared that American policy was to support only Chiang and the Nationalists.

Although most of the career officials dealing with China favored a more flexible policy, Hurley overrode all dissent and forbade reporting to Washington anything critical of the Nationalists. He received Truman's backing for what the Ambassador represented as Roosevelt's directive. And as accepted policy, like a rut in a country road, is easier to bump along in than break out of, the American government continued to sustain Chiang on into the post-surrender period.

This meant American intervention on behalf of Chiang in the conflict between the Nationalists and Communists. American aircraft and ships lifted half a million Nationalist troops to Japanese-occupied China and Manchuria where they fanned out to fight the Communists, while American marines in North China, allied with surrendered Japanese, obligingly held cities and railways for the Nationalists.

When Hurley resigned in high dudgeon, alleging that certain foreign service officers had undone his efforts to unify China peacefully, Truman dispatched General George C. Marshall to China to mediate between Chiang and Mao. This was a doomed mission: the two sides were bound to fight it out. The American involvement in China, already reduced by November 1946 when the marines were withdrawn, was cut to nominal aid after Marshall left in January 1947 to become Secretary of State.

The Nationalists had a roughly three-to-one advantage over the Communists in troop strength. And only they had an air force, navy and arsenals. Yet by the end of 1949 the Communists had utterly routed the Nationalists. Simply stated, the explanation was, on the Nationalists' part, incompetent and corrupt leadership, degeneration of overextended fighting forces and alienation of popular support. On the part of the Communists it was able politico-military leadership, outstanding esprit de corps and élan, and active popular support.

Roosevelt, Hull and then Truman did not recognize that China was in a profound identity crisis. China did not know who it was, and until it resolved that question through the agony of violence, it could not be a coherent factor in international life. Thus Chiang was not China, as romantically imagined by Americans, but only one of China's multiple personalities. And by 1943 it appeared that he might well be a fading one.

In these circumstances the American leaders were, at best, mistaken and the American people bamboozled into thinking that China could be a significant force in the war against Japan, that it shared American objectives and dreams of the future and that, along with Stalin's Russia, it would maintain with Britain and the United States great power solidarity in preserving peace under law.

For at least a year before intervention it had been evident that a policy of sustaining Chiang in a civil war would fail and, worse, envenom relations with the victors as it drove them into reliance on the Soviet Union. This is what happened, even though Truman withdrew from intervention relatively early in the conflict. But the damage had been done. China had, through its conquest by the Communists, found its identity, in part through enmity to the United States.

The American reaction to the Communist takeover in China was shocked perplexity. A growing group of politicians, military men and publicists asserted that, obviously, China was "lost" to the United States because treacherous elements in the American government undermined Chiang and helped the Communists win. This counterfeit revelation received surprisingly wide credence, especially after the 1950 Chinese intervention in the Korean War. It became part of a vicious larger attack on the integrity of civil servants lasting until 1955, in which Senator Joseph McCarthy was the most prominent defamer. The damage done to the conduct of American foreign policy by these assaults was long-lasting.

It was in the nature of Soviet-Japanese relations that Stalin, once he had defeated the Germans and could methodically deploy sufficient forces in Siberia and eastward, would attack Japan. Roosevelt sought assurances from Stalin that he would indeed do this. These superfluous pleas were presumably because the American Army wanted the Soviet Army to take on the formidable Japanese forces in Manchuria. MacArthur expressed a hope that the Russians would commit no less than 60 divisions.

Without consulting China, Roosevelt volunteered at Yalta to reward Stalin for doing what that sly Georgian intended to do anyway: take back "the former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904"-territories and railways. For the Japanese it was to be a case of one Roosevelt giveth and the other taketh away. In extenuation of FDR's cavalier treatment of other people's real property, it may be said that the terms he negotiated with Stalin were more modest than those which Stalin could have easily imposed during hostilities against Japan. On the other hand, Roosevelt had by his signature, in a sense, legalized the forthcoming Soviet acquisitions.

The Soviet Union invaded Manchuria on August 8, two days before Japan offered to surrender. It shipped the Japanese prisoners of war and anything movable of value, including factories, to Siberia. Captured light arms were left for the Chinese Communists, infiltrating from North China, to pick up as a grub stake. But during its stay in Manchuria the Soviet Army treated correctly and contemptuously with Nationalist officials as the representatives of China.

The Soviet Union emerged from its momentary war against Japan as the owner of southern Sakhalin and the Kurile chain, a welcome breach in the island blockade of the Soviet Far East. Both acquisitions were countersigned by Roosevelt at Yalta. The Soviet Army occupied northern Korea and Manchuria, the former to become a satellite, the latter a sphere of influence through rights granted at Yalta and confirmed by Chiang. The Kremlin objective in China was to balance Chiang and the Communists against one another so as to prevent either from gaining supremacy over all China.


Surrender transformed Japan from a center of power into a power vacuum. By occupation, the United States immediately filled the vacuum on the Japanese home islands, denying a Soviet request for a zone on Hokkaido. With Japan eliminated, the United States and the Soviet Union were face to face in East Asia.

The American passion for reform found an ideal field for expression in Japan. Here were a people who had been led terribly astray. Prostrate in defeat and occupied by a conquering army, they were inescapably available.

The man who dedicated himself to this mission of conversion was SCAP, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. He undertook to bring about a "spiritual reformation" that would introduce democratic and Christian values into Japan. First came demilitarization, then the breakup of conglomerates, trusts and monopolies, land reform, creation of labor unions and institution of parliamentary democracy. In retrospect, the reformation was a success, in no small part because the Japanese were ready for the changes, which were often enough a logical development of trends that were incipient before the country went onto a war footing.

With the onset of the cold war and Communist gains in China, occupation policy shifted steadily from reform to rehabilitation of Japan, from that of a jailer to monitor, to instructor, to counselor, to patron, to ally. SCAP had induced the Japanese to include in their 1947 constitution renunciation of the right to resort to war and of land, sea, and air forces. Less than four years later, in negotiating the peace treaty signed in 1951, John Foster Dulles recommended a Japanese army of 350,000. Prime Minister Yoshida firmly declined the invitation.

Japan has since established land, sea and air self-defense forces, currently totaling something over 200,000 volunteers. But its security against large-scale external attack still depends on American treaty guarantees. Washington's assumption of major defense responsibilities and costs has, over the past quarter century, contributed greatly to Japan's extraordinary economic recovery and then expansion. Japan has exceeded MacArthur's fondest hopes-that it become the Switzerland of the Pacific.


As the Chinese Communists completed their takeover of mainland China, Truman and his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, attempted to distance the United States from the unprofitable entanglements of East Asia. The President announced in January 1950 that the United States wanted no part of the Chinese civil war and had no interest in Formosa. Daring the fury of the China Lobby, Acheson then publicly explained that the wise American policy toward China was to remain aloof and permit the natural force of Chinese nationalism to combat Soviet attempts to dominate China. He also paraphrased a published statement by MacArthur (and a decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) defining the American defensive perimeter in East Asia, which omitted the Republic of Korea and Formosa.

Thus American policy toward East Asia was perceptibly moving toward disengagement when in June 1950, Stalin's North Korean creature, Kim Il Sung, invaded South Korea. The disruptive effect was worldwide. But first, why would Stalin-for it is inconceivable that he did not have foreknowledge of the invasion-give his assent to, if he did not actually direct, the aggression?

The normally cautious Stalin presumably thought that this was a low-risk operation. The Americans had withdrawn their combat troops from Korea, leaving lightly armed Korean forces to whom they had denied tanks and anti-tank weapons. We know that political unrest existed in South Korea; how this was represented to Stalin by his intelligence sources we can only guess. The MacArthur and Acheson omissions of South Korea from definitions of the American defense line must have been noted. But would they have been given any more weight than the 1949-50 congressional cuts in appropriations for South Korea?

Furthermore, the campaign should be brief. The North Korean Army was far superior in experience and offensive arms to the South Korean force. It also possessed the element of surprise and should be able to overrun the South in short order in what would be represented as a civil war, liberating the southerners. It would be all over before the Americans could react.

The gain from this operation would be Soviet control of the Korean peninsula, thus denying the Americans, and an eventually revanchist Japan, lodgment on the strategic invasion corridor to the Soviet Far East and Manchuria. Additional gains might be distraction of American attention from Europe to Asia and a humiliation of the Americans. But Stalin, like other dictators, had not counted on the unpredictability of a democracy. He had blundered in Korea, but in the process had, intentionally or not, set the Americans and Chinese at loggerheads for two decades.

Truman and Acheson briskly committed the United States to the defense of the Republic of Korea. They made constructive use of the United Nations to involve other nations in repulsing aggression. And on the peninsula, South Koreans, reinforced by Americans, stemmed the enemy advance.

Concerned lest the North Korean attack be a symptom of Moscow's or Peking's intention to act aggressively elsewhere, Washington interposed the Seventh Fleet in the strait between Formosa and the mainland. To Peking this indicated that the Americans were again intervening in the internal Chinese conflict. And like Washington, Peking wondered where the next hostile move would occur.

Following a successful counteroffensive restoring the pre-invasion boundary at the 38th parallel, MacArthur advanced into North Korea. He did so in disregard of Chinese warnings. As his forces approached the Manchurian border, Chinese "volunteers" crossed en masse into Korea, converged on the dispersed American columns and drove them back deep into South Korea.

Communist China was now the enemy. MacArthur and many of like mind clamored to take the war to Manchuria and the rest of China. But Truman, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Acheson held fast to keeping the war limited to Korea and a restoration of the pre-invasion situation. After MacArthur had appealed to the American people over the head of the President and Truman had relieved him of his command, the Korean War was brought under control and, in effect, to a conclusion. As a legacy, Americans and Chinese hated one another as they never had before. So perhaps Stalin did not do so badly after all.


In turning to Southeast Asia, the first thing to be said is that the American venture in an Asian empire lasted less than 50 years. Giving the Philippines back to the Filipinos in 1946 did not, however, get the United States out of Southeast Asia.

The American descent into the Southeast Asian maelstrom began in World War II. Roosevelt thought that Indochina should not be returned to France, but placed under trusteeship. He then agreed, on military grounds, to the inclusion of southern Indochina in Lord Mountbatten's theater of operations. When the Japanese surrendered, Mountbatten naturally brought in French troops to occupy Indochina.

At the same time, Ho Chi Minh formed a revolutionary nationalist regime in the North and, like Mao, sought to establish relations with the United States. Like Mao, he was snubbed. So Washington turned down another winner and went with another loser.

The French attempt to reimpose colonial rule dragged on to ignominious defeat in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu. Ho and company accepted an internationally arranged compromise: a Communist North Vietnam and a neo-mandarin South. And John Foster Dulles, then Secretary of State, managed to get the Eisenhower Administration just a little bit pregnant with Indochina. From then on, for 21 years, from 1954 to 1975, five successive Administrations thrashed about in the noxious, growing involvement. Communist victories finally facilitated a decision by Washington to terminate the grotesque intervention in Indochina.

What possessed Americans to become entangled in Indochina? One reason was the ready availability of redundant American military might anywhere in the western Pacific, and an accompanying belief in the persuasiveness of firepower as an instrument of foreign policy. Another reason was a Washington conviction, lasting some time after the Moscow-Peking split, that China and North Vietnam were integral parts of a monolithic international communism slavishly obedient to the Kremlin. Once Washington grasped the reality of the Sino-Soviet split, it feared China alone as ideologically militant and nationalistically expansive. Related to this was the domino theory, that if Hanoi, backed by Peking, were to take South Vietnam, there would be no end to it-Thailand would be next, then Singapore and so on to Tasmania and the Golden Gate. To prevent its infinite spread, communism had to be stopped wherever it appeared beyond its frontiers. A subjective reason for entanglement in Indochina was a lesson from the Truman experience with China-to "lose" a country to communism was, for the incumbent political party, to lose the American electorate.

The more important lesson from the China debacle was that, with all of its material might and know-how, the United States could not make good the organic deficiencies of leadership and collective will in a foreign country. This lesson was not applied to Indochina. A third lesson derived from China was that a Communist regime with a strongly nationalist character will resist attempts by another Communist state to encroach on its interests. What Moscow was to Peking, Peking potentially was to Hanoi. So if southward expansion by Peking was the major American concern, Hanoi was likely to be more effective in containing it than any of the regimes that bloomed in Saigon.


MacArthur's intrusion deep into North Korea not only brought China to war against the United States, it consequently pushed Peking into greater dependence on Moscow and stimulated the Soviet Union to expand its aid to China. The Kremlin continued after the war to help the Chinese build up an industrial base, but with growing misgivings. For Mao badgered the Russians to fulfill their revolutionary obligations, to intensify struggle against the Americans, even risking nuclear war.

Pointing to the sunny side of a nuclear holocaust, Mao in 1957 assured the Soviets that while half of mankind might die in such an encounter, happily imperialism would be eradicated and "the whole world would become socialist." The Russians did not accept this Chinese shortcut to a socialist world-and their being counted among the missing half of mankind, with you know who surviving. The Kremlin reckoned that the "correlation of forces" did not warrant a forward strategy and therefore held to peaceful coexistence.

Distrustful of the Chinese, Moscow increasingly held back economic and military support and Peking in return heightened its ideological abuse of the Soviet Union. By 1960 the split was open for all to see. Peking subsequently represented itself as the only center of Communist orthodoxy, invited the allegiance of the Soviet people and foreign Communist parties, and identified Soviet revisionism as an enemy ranking with American imperialism. It laid irredentist claim to half a million square miles of Soviet territory. And Chinese and Soviet troops engaged in spirited exchanges of border clashes.

Mao was multifaceted: pragmatic, shrewd, poetic and exorbitant. His attitude toward nuclear war was a manifestation of Mao's extravagance. So in domestic policy were two of his mass campaigns: the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Although ideologically articulated, both served Mao's purpose of attacking those domestically challenging his supremacy. He downed his challengers but gravely weakened his country.

Internal disruption and indifferent response from foreign Communists to the Chinese rallying cry added up to a frail self-reliance. This was late in the 1960s a perilous state of affairs even though the danger of an American attack out of Vietnam seemed to have subsided. There remained heavily armed and growing Soviet armies on the northern frontiers-and the object lesson of Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. China needed a counterbalance to the Soviet Union. Pragmatically, in 1971 Mao turned to the far enemy, the United States, to offset the near enemy, the Soviet Union.

Pragmatically, Washington accepted Peking's overture. The American government in 25 years had passed from thinking in terms of Roosevelt's version of a Wilsonian community of power, to polarization of power, to monolithic power, to polycentric power, and finally to balance of power. Although older than history, balance of power is not well known to nor does it have a good name with Americans. Furthermore, Americans have not appeared to have an aptitude for playing at the balance of power, however much its manipulation by others affects us.

Power patterns act in a variety of combinations, rather like a Calder mobile tilting and gyrating as it hangs in space. Two major elements today are America and the Soviet Union. China makes it a triangle. But Japan is there too. Interaction is four ways. With the West European complex added, the interplay becomes more complicated. Then there are special patterns of power within the larger composition: the United States-the Soviet Union-Japan-China; the Soviet Union-China-Vietnam-Cambodia, and so on. Finally, consider this chain reaction: Cambodia fears its neighbor Vietnam and so turns to China; Vietnam fears its neighbor China and so turns to the Soviet Union; China fears its neighbor the Soviet Union and so turns to the United States; the Soviet Union fears its neighbor the United States but now has nowhere to turn save to self-reliance. Whereas the United States, which fears its neighbor the Soviet Union, does have within this pattern somewhere to turn-in shared fear, to China.

Whatever Washington does about balance of power, it should forthwith establish full diplomatic relations with Peking. As for the botched business of Formosa, since the regime on the island does not claim to be secessionist, the question of Formosa's future must lie between Taipei and Peking. Taipei is in a strong enough position to negotiate persuasively for the status of a genuinely autonomous region within the People's Republic. Its mutual defense treaty with Washington is a legal anachronism and should be terminated. Washington should of course retain consular representation on Formosa.

Japan is too much taken for granted by Washington. It is by far the most important U.S. ally in East Asia, and although the unwisdom of drawing defense perimeters has been demonstrated, it is evident that Japan is definitely within that line. The United States needs high caliber, perceptive American representation in Tokyo and, asking so little for something so essential, an avoidance by any American government of gratuitous offense to the Japanese.

In the case of South Korea, so long as the United States has defense responsibilities for Japan it must regard the security of the Republic of Korea as closely related to that of Japan.


In the final 35 years of these two centuries, American relations with East Asia culminated in three wars of extreme violence. Each spewed years of awful hate between Americans and Asians-and within American society itself.

Looking back over the past 200 years, what benefits have come to Americans from their associations across the Pacific? Riches, yes. Then, with its national heritage in North America and from Asia Minor, Europe and Africa, has American culture drawn correspondingly upon the wealth of East Asian civilizations? No, and not for reasons of quality but feelings of relevance.

Perhaps the best that has come to the United States from East Asia is not in riches, ideas or arts. Perhaps it is that which we so long resisted-Japanese and Chinese genes, as witness the roster of American Nobel laureates.

We have had the benefit of learning, or having demonstrated to us, the limits of American power and the mutability of alliances and enmities. And we may hope to have learned in China and Vietnam that in striving for intimacy with other peoples we incur responsibilities which we cannot always fulfill and which then may become destructive to ourselves and those we favor.

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  • John Paton Davies was an American Foreign Service officer from 1931 until 1954. He served in China, the U.S.S.R., and Germany, and as a member of the Policy Planning Staff. He is the author of Foreign and Other Affairs and Dragon by the Tail: American, British, Japanese and Russian Encounters with China and with One Another.
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