Monday, December 07, 2009

towards 1941 December 7: weep on the shoulders

"Let us begin with a short and elementary lesson in practical economics.

"The Japanese, cooped up on their little island, and as prolific as Italians, need more land. All the pretty words in the world and all the treaties in the world and all the well-meant speeches of all the well-meaning old ladies and gentlemen in the world won't change this fact....

"They live in a country that is smaller than California (155,652 square miles for California and 148,756 square miles for Japan) and of these only 16,000,000 acres can be used for agriculture, which is less than 2% of all the arable land of America. If you want the comparison to come a little nearer home, it is a trifle less than the improved farmlands of New York State alone. Even with the help of one of the best staffs of scientific agricultural experts to be found anywhere in the world, you will see at a glance what sort of problem it is that faces these poor island folk. Living so near the sea-shore they would of course fish; but although they have now reached the point where they are raising certain sorts of fish in the muddy water of their rice fields, the difficulty remains unsolved and unsolvable in view the fact that the population increases by more than 650,000 people a year.

"It was inevitable therefore that Japan should look for more territory; and it was only natural that first of all she should think of the badly administered and sadly neglected lands that lay just across the China Sea.... The road to Manchuria was indicated by the land bridge of the Korean peninsula from which the mainland of Japan was separated by the narrow Strait of Korea. This strait is only 102 miles wide and is conveniently divided into halves by the Tsushima islands, those islands near which the Japanese fleet destroyed the Russian squadron in the year 1905, and killed Russia as a possible rival in eastern Asia....

"The immediate causes for a war are rarely interesting. It is the real underlying motives that count. In this case, as in the case of the expedition of 1592, they were to be found directly and absolutely in the necessity of the Japanese government to provide its rapidly increasing population with food.

"As soon as Japan had defeated Russia and had driven the Muscovite troops back from the Yalu River, the river that separates Korea from Manchuria, Korea became a Japanese protectorate. In 1910 it became a part of the Japanese Empire quite as much as Formosa, which the Japanese had taken from the Chinese in 1895, or the southern half of the island of Sakhalin, which they had taken from the Russians in the year 1905 in lieu of a war indemnity. Today already half a million Japanese have moved in among the twenty million Koreans. The rest will follow in due course of time.

"As for Manchuria, it had long been a bone of contention between the two nations that fought for supremacy in the northern half of the Pacific. After the Peace of Portsmouth, which made an end to the Russo-Japanese war, the fate of the country was sealed....

"Many people seem to experience a profound indignation at what they are inclined to denounce as a brutal expression of 'Japanese ambition'. I would rather call them 'Japanese necessities'. In matters of international policy, a certain healthy egoism is rather a desirable quality. Japan has got to find an outlet for the extra people at home. It is finding such an outlet in northern Asia, in a part of the world that is very lightly populated, and that has been accustomed to such outrageous forms of government that the inhabitants cannot possibly be worse off now than they were ever before.

"If this northern Asiatic safety-valve did not exist, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Australia, New Zealand and the western coast of America would be forever exposed to a Japanese invasion and we would be obliged to station a battle-ship in front of every Polynesian island lest it be towed away over night by a Japanese cruiser.

"On the whole, the present arrangement seems much more practical. Those who feel inclined to shed tears at these callous and selfish utterances, are politely requested to weep on the shoulders of our own Indians."

--Hendrik van Loon, Van Loon's Geography: The Story of the World We Live In, 1932

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