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AKE WE GIVING JAPAN A SQUARE DEAL?
BY E. ALEXANDER POWELL
The most important country in the world to Americans to-day is Japan. Before you question this assertion, think it over for a moment. Japan is the only nation whose commercial and territorial ambitions, whose naval and emigration policies are in direct conflict with our own. Japan is our only serious competitor for the trade of China. She is the key that can lock the Open Door. Japan is the only country whose interests in the Pacific clash with ours. She is the only power, save England, which is in a position to challenge our naval supremacy — and the British navy, as we are perfectly aware,.can never conceivably be directed against ourselves. With the temporary eclipse of Germany as a world-power, Japan is the only potential enemy on our horizon; she is the only nation that we have reason to fear. The problem that demands the most serious consideration of the American people and the highest quality of American statesmanship is the Japanese Question. On its correct and early solution hangs the peace of the world.
It is to the great mass of reasoning and fair-minded people in both countries, who, I believe, wish to know the unvarnished truth, no matter how unflattering it may be to their national pride, how controversive of their preconceptions, how disillusionizing, that I address myself. In writing this article I have discarded euphemisms. At the risk of being accused of sensationalism,
I propose to rip away the diplomatic subterfuge and political camouflage which have so long concealed or distorted the facts of the situation. But, before I proceed, let me make it amply clear that I am not anti-Japanese. Neither do I hold a brief for Japan. I am an American and, because I wish to see my country morally in the right, I deplore the tactless and blundering manner in which we are handling the Japanese question. I am a friend of Japan and, because I wish her well, I view with grave misgivings the aggressive imperialism which appears to be dominating her foreign policy. I am absolutely convinced that, unless the two peoples can be jolted into a realization of whither they are drifting as a result of their mutual suspicions and the policies of their respective governments, the present irritation, constantly inflamed in both countries by pernicious propaganda, will shortly break into an open sore. Notwithstanding the soft pedal put upon frank discussion of the question by the diplomatists in Tokyo and Washington, despite the shocked and vehement denials of the gentlemen of the Japan Society, nothing is more certain than that the two nations are daily drawing nearer to war.
The cause of the existing bitterness between the two countries is doublebarreled. We have halted Japanese immigration into the Far West, and would like to halt Japanese expansion in the Far East. The Japanese, for their part, consider themselves affronted and humiliated by the discriminatory legislation which has been directed against their nationals in certain of our Western states, and they resent as meddlesome our objections to the policies which they are pursuing in those Far Eastern regions which they have come to regard as being within their own sphere of influence. We have erected a 'No Trespass' sign on the American continent by our adhesion to the doctrine of James Monroe. To that the Japanese make no objection; they admit that it is our own concern. Over the Eastern part of the Asiatic continent the Japanese have themselves erected a 'Keep Off' sign, basing their policy on a doctrine not dissimilar to our own. We insist on a recognition of our claim of 'America for the Americans,' while at the same time denying Japan's claim of 'Asia for the Asiatics.' There you have the two basic causes — immigration and imperialism — of the friction between Japan and the United States. Everything else — Shantung, Siberia, Korea, Yap — is subsidiary.
The near-hostility that characterizes the relations of the two great nations that face each other across the Pacific is due, I am convinced, not to any inherent ill-will on the part of either people for the other, but to a mutual lack of knowledge and sympathetic understanding. In other words, both Americans and Japanese have shown themselves unable, or unwilling, to think the other's mind. It is not enough for groups of representative Americans and Japanese to gather about banquet tables and indulge in sonorous protestations of mutual friendship and international good-will, or to cable each other greetings couched in terms of fulsome praise. What is needed at the present juncture is an earnest endeavor on the part of each people to gain a better understanding of the tempera
ment, traditions, ambitions, problems, and limitations of the other, and to make corresponding allowances for them — in short, to cultivate a charitable attitude of mind. The possibilities of cordial relationship and of harmonious cooperation between the two nations are so tremendous, the interests at stake arc so vast and far-reaching, the consequences of an armed conflict would be so catastrophic and overwhelming, that it is unthinkable that the two peoples should be permitted to drift into war through a lack of knowledge and appreciation of each other.
The Japanese Question is an extremely complicated one. Its ramifications extend into politics, industry, commerce, and finance. It stretches across one hundred and fifty degrees of longitude. It affects the lives and destinies of six hundred millions of people. Its roots are to be found as far apart as a Japanese military outpost in Siberia and the headquarters of a labor-union in Sacramento; as the office of a banking firm in Wall Street and the palace of the President of China in the Forbidden City.
To understand algebra, you must have a knowledge of arithmetic. To understand the Japanese Question, you must have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the various factors that have combined to produce it. It has grown to its present menacing dimensions so silently, so stealthily, that the average well-informed American has only a vague and usually inaccurate idea of what it is all about. He has read in the newspapers of the anti-Japanese agitation in California, of the Gentlemen's Agreement, of' picture brides,' of mysterious Japanese troop-movements in Siberia, of Japanese oppression in Korea, of the Open Door, of the quarrel over Shantung, of the dispute over Yap; but to him these isolated episodes have about as much significance as so many fragments of a complicated jig-saw puzzle. So, at the risk of repeating facts with some of which you are doubtless already familiar, I shall endeavor to piece the puzzle together, so that you may see the picture in its entirety and judge of its merits and faults for yourself.
Some truths, more half-truths, many untruths have been said and written in each country about the other. The clear waters of our old-time friendship have been roiled by prejudice and propaganda. Much of our appalling ignorance of Japanese character, aims, and ideals is traceable to our national propensity for generalization — always an inexact and dangerous method of estimating another people, and doubly dangerous in the case of a people as complex as the Japanese. Let us not forget that we were accustomed to think of the French as a volatile, excitable, easy-going, pleasure-obsessed, decadent people until the Marne and Verdun taught us the truth. Such a misconception was deplorable in the case of a people from whom we had nothing to fear; it is inexcusable, and might well prove disastrous, in the case of the Japanese. I have heard Americans who pride themselves on being well-informed, men whose opinions are listened to with respect, betray an ignorance of Japan and the Japanese which would be ludicrous under other conditions.
And the ignorance of many intelligent Japanese in regard to ourselves is no less disheartening. Their way of thinking is not our way of thinking; many of their institutions and ideas and ideals are diametrically different from ours. Believe it or not, as you choose — the great majority of intelligent Japanese are utterly unable to understand our thinly veiled distrust
and dislike of them. That many of our people distrust and dislike the Japanese, there can be no gainsaying. Yet the average American usually finds some difficulty in giving a definite and cogent reason for his attitude toward the Japanese.
Underlying all the misunderstandings between the two nations is raceprejudice. Our racial antipathy for the Japanese is instinctive. It has it» source in the white race's attitude of arrogant superiority toward all non-white peoples. We inherited it, along with our Caucasian blood, from our Aryan ancestors. It is as old as the breed. The Japanese do not realize that they are meeting in this an old problem; that the American attitude is not an attempt to place a stigma of inferiority on them, but merely the application to them of the Caucasian's historic attitude toward all peoples with tinted skins. If the Japanese question this, let them observe the attitude of the English toward the brown-skinned peoples of Egypt and India. But this racial prejudice is by no means one-sided. The Japanese consider themselves as superior to us as we consider ourselves superior to them. Make no mistake about that. The Japanese are by no means free from that racial dislike for Occidentals which lies near to the hearts of all Orientals; but they have the good sense, good manners, and tact to repress it. That is where they differ from Americans.
Another reason for American dislike of the Japanese is the latter's assertion of equality. We don't call it that, of course. We call it conceit — cockiness. The reason that we get along with another yellow race, the Chinese, is because they, by their abject abasement and submissiveness, flatter our sense of racial superiority. Our pride thus catered to, we give them a condescending pat of approval, just as we would give a negro who always 'knows his place,' and holds his hat in his hand when he addresses a white person, and says 'sir' and 'ma'am,' and does not resent illtreatment or injustice. The Japanese, on the contrary, stands up for his rights; he is not at all humble or submissive or in the least awed by threats; and if an irate American attempts to 'put him in his place,' as he is accustomed to do with a Chinese or a Filipino or a negro, he is more likely than not to find himself on the way to jail in the grasp of a small but extremely efficient and unsympathetic policeman.
I asked an American whom I met in Yokohama if he had enjoyed his stay in Japan.
'Not particularly,' he answered. 'I don't care for the Japs; give me the Chinese every time.'
He pondered my question for a moment.
'I'll sum it up for you like this,' he replied. 'The Chinese treat you as a superior; the Japanese treat you as an equal.'
Until Commodore Perry opened Japan to Western civilization and commerce, we held all Mongolians in contempt, being pleased to consider them as inferior peoples. But in the case of the Japanese this contempt changed in a few years to a patronizing condescension, such as a grown person might have for a precocious and amusing child. We congratulated ourselves on having discovered in the Japanese a sort of infant prodigy; we took in them a proprietary interest. We watched their rapid rise in the world with an almost paternal gratification. And the Japanese flattered our self-esteem by their open admiration and imitation of our methods.
I think that our national antipathy for the Japanese had its beginnings in their victory over the Russians. Up to that time we had looked on the Japanese as a brilliant and ambitious little
people, whom we kad brought to the notice of the world, and for whose amazing progress we were largely responsible. But when Japan administered a trouncing to the Russians, who are, after all, fellow Caucasians, American sentiment performed a volte-face almost overnight. We were as proRussian at Portsmouth as we had been pro-Japanese at Chemulpo. This sudden change in our attitude toward them has always mystified the Japanese. Yet there is really nothing mystifying about it. We were merely answering the call of the blood. As long as we believed Japan to be the under dog, we were for her; but when she became the upper dog, the old racial prejudice manifested itself. A yellow people had humbled and humiliated a Caucasian people, and we, as Caucasians, resented it. It was a blow to our pride of race. (A somewhat similar manifestation of racial prejudice was observable when the negro pugilist, Jack Johnson, defeated Jim Jeffries.) That a yellow race had proved its ability to defeat a white race shocked and alarmed us. We abruptly ceased to think of the Japanese as an obscure nation of polite and harmless little yellow men. They became the Yellow Peril.
Though the Japanese are of Asia, they cannot be treated as we are accustomed to treat other Asiatics. To attempt to belittle or patronize a nation that can put five million men in the field and send to sea a battle-fleet scarcely inferior to our own would be as ridiculous as it would be shortsighted. Japan is a striking example to other colored races of the value of the Big Stick. She has never been subjugated by the foreigner. In spite of, rather than with the assistance of, the white man, she has become one of the Great Powers, and at Versailles helped to shape the destinies of the world. Yet when she claims racial equality we deny and resent it. Our refusal to treat the Japanese as equals, while at the same time showing a wholesome respect for their power, reminds me of an American reserve lieutenant, a Southerner, on duty at a cantonment where there was a division of colored troops, who refused to salute a negro captain. He was called before the commanding officer, who gave him his choice between saluting the negro or being tried by court-martial.
'I suppose I'll have to salute the uniform,' he muttered rebelliously; 'but I'll be damned if I'll salute the nigger inside it.'
I have already said that racial prejudice is at the bottom of our misunderstandings with the Japanese. Immediately overlying it is our fear of Japanese industrial competition, a fear which is whetted by our disapproval of Japanese commercial methods. If you will look into it, you will find that there has hardly ever been a conflict between nations into which some economic question has not entered as the final and essential factor. This fear of Japanese competition is not confined to residents of the Pacific Coast. It animates every American manufacturer and merchant who does business in the Orient. This competition would be serious enough if the Japanese played the game as we play it; but, unfortunately, they all too frequently disregard the rules of the game. To put it bluntly, we do not approve of Japanese business ethics; we have found to our cost that their standards of business honor are all too often not the same as ours. As one American importer put it: —
'The Japanese business man has two great faults — conceit and deceit. He is overbearing and undeveloped. He seems incapable of ordinary commercial foresight. In order to make an im
mediate profit, he will lose a lifelong and profitable customer. He will accept an order for anything, whether he can deliver it or not. He would accept an order for the Brooklyn Bridge, f.o.b next Thursday, Kyoto — hoping that something might turn up in the meantime that would enable him to get it.'
Though it frequently happens that a Japanese merchant does not understand what the American buyer is talking about, his vanity will not permit him to admit his ignorance; instead, he will accept the order and then fill it unsatisfactorily. An American importer, who has made semi-annual visits to Japan for a quarter of a century, and who frankly likes the Japanese, told me regretfully that, of all the firms with whom he did business, those whom he could rely upon to send him goods of the same quality as their samples could be numbered on the fingers of a single hand. As another foreigner — an Englishman — doing business in Japan expressed it: 'The Japanese business man has his nerve only on a rising market. As soon as the market shows signs of falling, he hesitates at nothing to get from under. When the silk market rose, hundreds of Japanese firms defaulted on orders which they had already accepted from foreign importers, as they would have lost money at the old prices. When, on the other hand, there was a slump in the money market in the spring of 1920, the customs warehouses at Yokohama and Kobe were piled high with goods ordered from abroad which the consignees refused to accept.'
A trademark, copyright, or patent does not, as a rule, prevent the Japanese manufacturer from appropriating any idea of which he can make use; though I am glad to say that recent legislation has done much to protect the foreigner from such abuses. For example, Bentley's Code, which sells in the United States for thirty dollars,