“The average Westerner… was wont to regard Japan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of peace: he calls her civilized since she began to commit wholesale slaughter on the Manchurian battlefields.”1
OKAKURA KAKUZO, 1906
FOUNDER OF THE TOKYO SCHOOL OF FINE ARTS, JAPAN INSTITUTE OF FINE ARTS, AND THE FIRST HEAD OF THE ASIAN DIVISION AT BOSTON’S MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
As the Manchuria steamed from Hawaii to Japan, the numerous reporters on board busily wrote articles for their hometown newspapers describing friendly breakfast conversations, a mock trial, fancy dance parties, and what Alice called “a sheet and pillow-case party.”2 But the story that seemed to delight readers most was when Alice spontaneously jumped into a pool with her clothes on. The reality was quite different: the plunge was a planned event, with an expectant crowd watching as workers laboriously poured water into an improvised canvas pool. Alice remembered: “Of course, I left shoes, watch, and such things that the water would hurt, in the care of onlookers.”3 But these antics as retold by grateful newsmen were exactly what the American public expected—and a useful distraction from the cruise’s secret mission.
TAFT WAS CARRYING SECRET oral instructions that would alter America’s course in Asia. Roosevelt had told his wife and a few trusted friends about his plan, but he kept it secret from his own State Department and Congress. The U.S. Constitution required Roosevelt to put agreements with foreign countries in writing and submit them to the Senate for review. Teddy considered such protocols a waste of time when Big Bill could button things up in Tokyo on the q.t. Only now can history understand it was these events in the summer of 1905 that would doom more than one hundred thousand American boys to die in the Pacific theater decades later. Operating as a two-man diplomatic tag team, Roosevelt and Taft would green-light what later generations would call World War II in the Pacific.
Before Taft’s visit in the summer of 1905, relations between Japan and the United States could not have been warmer. After the deal, things changed. Knowing a lot about race theory but less about international diplomacy and almost nothing about Asia, Roosevelt in 1905 careened U.S.-Japanese relations onto the dark side road leading to 1941.
WHEN THE MANCHURIA DOCKED in Yokohama on Tuesday, July 25, 1905, it ignited the most boisterous welcome Japan had ever extended to foreigners. Tens of thousands of Japanese waving both countries’ flags crowded the wharves, shouting, “banzai”—the traditional Japanese exclamation of good wishes meaning ten thousand years of good luck.
“American guests… banzai!”
“Alice and Taft… banzai!”
“Japan and America… banzai!”
At the Yokohama train station, rows of policemen held the cheering crowd back as the Americans boarded the emperor’s personal train. The exact timing of their one-hour journey to Tokyo had been publicized and at each stop enormous smiling crowds banzaied the Americans. Entering Tokyo’s Shimbashi train station, the dazzled Americans were buffeted by the banzai roar. The Japan Weekly Mail reported, “It is not within our experience that Tokyo ever previously offered such an ardent reception to any foreign visitors.”4 The New York Times wrote that Japan’s welcome of the Taft party was “absolutely unprecedented in warmth and friendliness.”5 The American minister, Lloyd Griscom, helped Alice into his open carriage to take her to her quarters at the American legation. The horses were skittish as they pulled Alice through narrow streets lined with people waving Japanese and American flags and shouting, “Banzai!” Alice clutched Griscom’s arm and shouted in his ear: “Lloyd, I love it! I love it!”6
JAPAN HAD JUST FOUGHT Russia over the past nineteen months in the Russo-Japanese War. They had whipped the Russian army in the largest land battle in history, then whipped the Russian navy in history’s largest sea battle. The average Japanese was near delirious with pride over Japan’s victories. Just fifty-two years earlier, Japan had been a closed, preindustrialized society. Now Japan had amazed the world by becoming the first non-White, non-Christian country to defeat a White Christian power.
In welcoming the Taft party, the Japanese were cheering their own accomplishments and hedging their bets. Although Roosevelt had declared the United States neutral in the conflict, the Japanese were well aware of America’s tilt. Surely this visit by an American Princess and the head of America’s war machine was one more indication that Japan’s stunning performance in the Russo-Japanese War meant great things. Japan had been shamed in the past by White Christian powers, but now after administering such one-sided beatings to the Russians, the Japanese expected that Alice’s father would ensure a square deal for their country.
Only a few Japanese leaders, including Emperor Meiji, knew that the president had a secret plan for their country, a plan whereby Roosevelt would grant them a protectorate in Korea in exchange for Japan’s assisting with the American penetration of Asia.
ONE TOKYO NEWSPAPER REPORTER observed, “This is truly the highpoint in the long history of Japanese-American relations.”7 In fact, for the first seventy years of America’s existence—from 1783 to 1853—the United States had no relations with the nation known as Nippon. But as the United States took possession of its own Pacific territory, it began to seriously eye China. America’s preeminent navy leader in the 1850s was Commodore Matthew Perry, who in the war with Mexico had commanded the largest U.S. invasion operation in history with a fleet that would not be equaled until Operation Torch—the U.S. invasion of North Africa in 1942. Commodore Perry followed the sun, proclaiming in a speech, “It requires no sage to predict events so strongly foreshadowed to us all: still ‘Westward will the course of empire take its way.’… The people of America will, in some form or other, extend their dominion and their power, until they shall have brought within their mighty embrace the islands of the great Pacific, and placed the Saxon race upon the eastern shores of Asia.”8
With Pacific ports now under Washington’s control, Perry foresaw an American Aryan march to Asia. The Russian army had advanced into northern China overland and the British navy had bombarded its way into southern China. Now Perry dreamed of establishing a chain of stepping-stones for the U.S. Navy’s approach to China.
Commodore Matthew Perry. After helping to conquer Mexico, Perry turned his attention to America’s expansion to Asia. (Library of Congress)
The U.S. Navy used coal as fuel, and its ships required island coaling stations to complete long journeys. The Pacific—at eight times the size of the Atlantic—required big thinking. The distance from California to Hawaii is 2,100 miles, and American steamships could re-coal there. The real challenge was the distance from Hawaii to China—4,700 miles. If America could establish coaling stations in Japan to bridge the gap, the American Aryan could at long last project its naval power in the region and compete with the British and Slavs for the riches of China.
Perry’s strategy seems obvious today, but in his time, this was expensive, futuristic thinking and its implications were financially staggering. And there was one big challenge: Americans knew almost nothing about Japan.
White Christian missionaries had first arrived in Japan in 1543. The Japanese were open-minded about other religions and welcomed the Christians. The Japanese animist belief system—Shintoism—coexisted peacefully with Buddhism, which had been imported from India via China. These were inclusionary belief systems—one could recite a Buddhist sutra at a Shinto shrine with no conflict. But the Christianity that came from the West was jealous and exclusionary, and the missionaries demanded that a choice be made. Japan’s ruler, Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, became suspicious of a religion whose first commandment required loyalty to one non-Japanese God. And when he studied world conditions, Tokugawa realized that Christianity was a conquest religion in the service of state militaries. The Japanese scholar Seishisai Aizawa wrote in the 1820s, “The European powers endeavor to attack all nations in the world. The wicked doctrine of Jesus is an aid in this endeavor. Under the pretext of trade or whatever, they approach and become friendly with people in all areas, secretly probing to see which countries are strong and which are weak. If a nation’s defenses are weak, they seize it by force. But if there are no weaknesses to pounce on, they take it over by leading the people’s minds astray with the wicked doctrine of [Christianity].”9
Commodore Perry’s Strategy
Commodore Perry’s strategy to tap the China trade. In the 1850s the wide Pacific Ocean was a barrier to commerce between the United States and Asia. Commodore Perry envisioned Japanese coaling stations as U.S. stepping stones to the riches of China.
In 1614, to prevent a Christian takeover of Japan, Tokugawa ordered a policy of sakoku, or “closed country”—the complete sealing off of the island chain. He banished all Western missionaries. Japanese converts had the choice of renouncing their new faith or being crucified. Laws forbade travel abroad by Japanese and foreigners’ vessels from entering Japan. Only ships with squared-off sterns could be built, thus making them unseaworthy for long voyages. Death sentences awaited those who received foreign documents or gave foreigners information about Japan. Shogun Tokugawa even shut down profitable commerce with the West, trading only with the Dutch—and then very little—because the Hollanders agreed to trample upon crucifixes that had been laid before them by Japanese government interrogators. These Dutch merchants conducted their business from a small, prisonlike artificial island in Nagasaki Bay, an isolated spot where the Japanese could keep an eye on them.
The result was the Taihei, or “Great Peace”—more than two centuries of peaceful Tokugawa family rule and no wars. The country had no army or navy preying beyond its shores. Samurai rarely used their swords and instead became bureaucrats and teachers. And all of this occurred during the same period that White Christians in Europe and the Americas were constantly warring. These centuries of peace were a boon to the development of Japanese culture. With no expensive military, the Japanese government invested in its people. The arts by which we know Japan today—haiku poetry, the tea ceremony, wood-block prints, Kabuki theater—either originated or found their footing during this period. Japan became the most literate country in the world, with nearly every adult male in Japan’s major cities able to read or write.
While sakoku protected Japan, it also created a power vacuum, and Britain, Russia, Spain, and the United States were free to contest for control of the Pacific.
THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT KNEW Japan asked only to be left alone to live in peace, but the U.S. Navy repeatedly demanded that the Japanese “open” their closed country. “Between 1790 and 1853, the Japanese turned away at least twenty-seven visiting U.S. vessels.”10 As Japanese officials wrote to one U.S. Navy captain:
Foreigners have come to us from various quarters, but have always been received in the same way. In all cases we have positively refused to trade and this has been the habit of our nation from time immemorial. In taking this course with regard to you, we only pursue our accustomed policy. We can make no distinction between different foreign nations—we treat them all alike; and you, as Americans, must receive the same answer with the rest. It will be of no use to renew the attempt, as all applications of the kind, however numerous they may be, will be steadily rejected. We are aware that our customs are in this respect different from those of some other countries, but every nation has a right to manage its affairs in its own way.11
The Japanese phrasing “every nation has a right to manage its affairs in its own way” seemed naive to those who followed the sun. In an 1846 speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Senator Thomas Hart Benton noted that Asians were inferior to the American Aryan and, “like all the rest, must receive an impression from the superior race whenever they come in contact.”12
As the American Aryan’s desire to expand across the Pacific grew, Christian ministers observed that heathen Japan needed salvation and that Japan’s seclusion policy was not God’s way. The missionary Samuel Wells Williams wrote, “I have a full conviction that the seclusion policy of the nations of Eastern Asia is not according to God’s plan of mercy to these peoples, and their government must change them through fear or force, that his people may be free.”13 In 1852, the secretary of the Navy, John Kennedy, wrote that Japan must recognize “its Christian obligation to join the family of Christendom.”14 Echoing similar arguments made earlier about Native American gold mines, the secretary of state, Daniel Webster, argued that Japan had “no right” to refuse the U.S. Navy’s “reasonable” request to commandeer Japanese sovereign soil for its coaling stations because the coal at issue was “but a gift of Providence, deposited, by the Creator of all things, in the depths of the Japanese islands for the benefit of the human family.”15 The American Declaration of Independence established the right of an independent country to control its own destiny, and the State Department—in an 1851 memo to the Navy during the planning of the coming confrontation with Japan—maintained that every nation has “undoubtedly the right to determine for itself the extent to which it will hold intercourse with other nations.”16 So how could the U.S. government justify forcing itself on a sovereign nation? Writes Michael Rollin in his thesis The Divine Invasion:
The easiest way out of this dilemma was to treat the Japanese in the same manner that the American Indians were treated: “as living outside of the law of nations, peoples undeserving of civilized treatment.” Americans, by the 1840s and 1850s, simply did not conceive of a place for non-White or even non-Anglo peoples in the grand scheme of human and social evolution…. Having spread across North America with relative ease, there was little reason for American Anglo-Saxons to believe that this seemingly immutable historical and teleological trend would differ in the lands across the Pacific.17
The Western Spread of American Empire
Manifest Destiny followed the sun west.
On the American continent in the 1850s, many Indian chiefs were learning the lesson that their demise began the day an American Aryan arrived to negotiate a friendly treaty. Now President Millard Fillmore gave Commodore Perry a treaty of friendship for the heathens of Japan.
The cover story was that Perry was on a peaceful mission, but the plan was to use U.S. military power to shock the Japanese into capitulation. Perry sailed to Japan with the largest fleet of American warships to ever travel so far. Perry expected that his display of industrialized military might would strike terror in the pre-industrialized Japanese. He wrote that his arms “would do more to command their fears, and secure their friendship, than all that the diplomatic missions have accomplished in the last one hundred years.”18
On July 8, 1853, Perry sailed unannounced into Tokyo Bay with a fleet of U.S. Navy warships bristling with civilizing cannons. As Perry had planned, the noisy, belching vessels shocked the Japanese, who had never seen such industrial machines, much less militarized ones. Temple bells pealed the alarm. The word spread quickly: Fleet-footed messengers ran through villages with incomprehensible news that the “Black Ships of the Evil Men” threatened and that one hundred thousand devils with white faces were about to overrun the country. Families fled their homes with their possessions on their backs. Out-of-practice samurai tried to scrape rust off their swords, but against civilizing American military power, Japan was defenseless.
Though they had no desire to get into negotiations, the Japanese were forced to allow Perry ashore when the commodore threatened violence. A Japanese observer wrote, “Perry said that he would enter into negotiations, but if his proposals were rejected, he was prepared to make war at once; that in the event of war he would have 50 ships in nearby waters and 50 more in California, and that if he sent word he could summon a command of one hundred warships within twenty days.”19 (Perry made his demands known with the aid of interpreters who used the Dutch language to bridge the gap between English and Japanese.) Perry further “warned them of what had happened to Mexico when it insulted and defied the United States.”20 To emphasize this point, Perry gave his Japanese counterparts two books—War in Mexico and History of the War in Mexico—that highlighted Perry’s role as the commander of the huge American amphibious assault of Mexico.
Soon America’s first consul to Japan—Townsend Harris—arrived to negotiate the treaty of friendship. When Japanese leaders hemmed and hawed, Harris threatened that he would call on nearby British ships to bombard Japan. Convinced that the threat was real and immediate, the Japanese reluctantly signed the United States–Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce on July 29, 1858.
Shame upon shame followed. On March 13, 1861, Russia invaded the island of Tsushima in the Sea of Japan between Japan and Korea. Several Japanese died in the fighting before the Russians withdrew, but Japan’s rebuff of the intruders was seen by some as evidence of its increasing vulnerability. And in 1863 and 1864, the navies of both the United States and the United Kingdom shelled Japanese civilians in the port city Shimonoseki to discipline the Japanese for firing on their ships.
Furthermore, the shocked Japanese now encountered White Christians—banned for centuries—strutting their streets like little kings, immune from punishment thanks to unequal treaties that protected foreigners even when they committed violent crimes for which they would be punished back in their home countries.
In response to such conditions, Japanese patriots arose from the southern island of Kyushu and fought their way into the royal capital of Kyoto. Early on the morning of January 3, 1868, these brave samurai stormed the royal compound and took control of the young emperor, then only fifteen years old. They renamed the boy “Meiji” (“enlightened rule”) and called their revolution the “Meiji Restoration,” though they didn’t “restore” the emperor; instead they used his Oz-like image to exercise power.
The Japanese founding fathers were a remarkable group of men who would create the new Japan and guide her fortunes into the twentieth century, negotiating Japan’s future with American presidents from Millard Fillmore to Theodore Roosevelt. Not surprisingly, Japan experienced the outside world primarily as a military threat. America had forced the country open at gunpoint. And a glance across the Japan Sea made it obvious there was much else to worry about. Once-proud China was being dismembered and sucked dry by Western merchants who used gunboats to foist opium upon the populace. Farther south, the Dutch had conquered Indonesia; the French ruled Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; while the acquisitive British held vast colonies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Burma, and India. To its north, Japan saw the marauding Russian Slav subjugate all within its path as it hacked its way to the Pacific coast.
No non-White country had ever maintained its independence once a White military force had landed on its soil. China, India, and Egypt all had rich histories but were under the heel of White boots.
* * *
THE JAPANESE UNDERSTOOD THAT White Christians felt justified in subjugating Asians because they thought the Yellow man was racially inferior. So the Japanese set out to identify themselves as separate from other Asians, and more like White westerners. The Japanese military strategist Yukichi Fukuzawa wrote, “We cannot wait for neighboring countries to become enlightened and unite to make Asia strong. We must rather break out of formation and join the civilized countries of the West on the path of progress.” Fukuzawa advocated a “Leave Asia” policy: the Japanese would present themselves as a separate race, disconnected from Asia just as their island chain was unattached to the Asian mainland. And the Japanese would emulate the West’s military prowess. To the Japanese who had faced Commodore Perry’s cannon, the most salient fact of White Christian power was that their imperialism was built upon industrialized militaries. Japan adopted a new national slogan: Fukoku kyohei, or “Rich country, strong military.” To build a strong military and become a rich country, Japan did what no other non-White, non-Christian country had done: it threw open its doors to Western ways, modernized and militarized. Fukuzawa observed, “A hundred volumes of international law are no match for a few cannon. A handful of friendly treaties cannot compete with a little gunpowder. Cannons and gunpowder are machines that can make principles where there were none.”21
Japan also took an important theological step toward the West: Japan had many Shinto and Buddhist gods, but none of them were conquest-minded. As the Pulitzer Prize winner John Dower writes in Japan in War and Peace, “Japan’s new leaders soon concluded that they needed a counterpart to God and Christianity in the West.”22 With this in mind, the founding fathers reinvented their boy emperor in the Christian tradition: Meiji was made to be a god and “State Shinto” was born.
Another step was sartorial. Instead of shunning foreign ways as China and other Asian countries had, the Japanese doffed their Chinese-style robes and donned trousers and ties. And this was just the beginning. They strung telegraph wire, practiced with knives and forks, and opened Japan to Western teachers, missionaries, and governmental advisers. The founding fathers also dispatched the crème of Japan’s youth to study abroad. When the first two Japanese students to attend Rutgers University were asked what they’d be studying, they answered “that it was to learn how to build ‘big ships’ and make ‘big guns’ to prevent the [Western] powers from taking possession of their country.”23
“The Progress of Civilization.” Civilized and uncivilized Japanese. Japan’s “Leave Asia” strategy convinced Americans that Japan would spread Western values in Asia. (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University)
Cannons, rifles, and warships now became part of the state budget. Japanese military men strutted in Western-style uniforms complete with handlebar mustaches, just like their English, American, and Russian counterparts. Emperor Meiji was depicted in paintings wearing a splendid Western-style military uniform, his chest bearing shiny medals.
While life in Japan’s rice paddies continued its timeless routine, the English-speaking Japanese who interacted with U.S. diplomats, businessmen, educators, and media projected a Western-friendly front. One American marveled, “This is one of the most remarkable events in history. In a word, it has, as it were, unmoored Japan from the coast of Asia, and towed it across the Pacific, to place it alongside of the New World, to have the same course of life and progress.”24
The Japanese strategy to emulate White Christian ways was so successful that they became “Honorary Aryans” in the American mind, often referred to as the “Yankees of the Far East.” At the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair, American Indians were presented as headed toward extinction, Blacks were thickheaded laborers, and the Chinese were a dying race. A Philadelphia newspaper wrote of the Chinese, “Cut off from the rest of the world by its great wall, and isolated behind her old feeling of distrust and apathy towards the peoples of Europe, the old empire of China has received but little benefit from western civilization and advancement.”25 The Yankee assessment of the Honorary Aryans was all sunshine: “Japan renders her verdict in favor of American machinery. The Japanese have already adopted the American costume in dress, and the progressive spirit pervading the Old World is inclining her people to adopt American ideas and American machinery.”26
A DOMESTICALLY FOCUSED AMERICAN citizenry quickly lost interest in Perry’s plan for expansion into Asia. But now the United States had a militarized, obedient ally on Asia’s coast—and perhaps Japanese expansion could serve the American Aryan.
There were many impediments: The Japanese had lived in peace for centuries, and while there existed a samurai/warrior ethic, it had not been practiced on the battlefield for many years. The Japanese legal code was concerned with domestic order and there was no tradition of using international law to take over Others. For a generation after Perry, Japan seemed unable or disinclined to project its military force. Then an international incident occurred that the United States saw as Japan’s opportunity.
In October of 1871, a ship from the island of Okinawa with sixty-nine people aboard had set sail for China. Okinawa was a tiny Pacific island kingdom located between Japan and China. To maintain its independence, Confucian Okinawa had traditionally paid homage to both China and Japan. And in Confucian style, neither China nor Japan threatened Okinawa or its people. On this trip, a fierce storm blew the Okinawans off course and smashed their boat on the southeastern coast of Taiwan. Sixty-six made it ashore safely, but natives from a local village massacred fifty-four of them. Twelve escaped and made it back to Okinawa safely.
Charles De Long, the U.S. minister to Japan, had often encouraged the Japanese government to follow the sun west. De Long suggested that Japan dispatch a military expedition to discipline the Taiwanese and lay the groundwork for the takeover of the island nation. Minister De Long assured the Japanese that the United States “was partial to its friends who desired to occupy such territory for the purposes of expansion.”27
Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, China
After Commodore Perry arrived in 1853, Japan looked westward.
Such military moves under “international law” were old hat for American Aryans, but this was a new ball game for the Japanese and they hesitated. China had a substantial cultural influence over Taiwan and the Japanese feared their Big Brother’s reaction. De Long assured the Japanese foreign minister that according to Western international law, Taiwan “would in the final analysis be subject to possession by the country successfully holding it.”28 Still, the Japanese did nothing.
Then, in the fall of 1872, an American arrived to teach the Japanese how to invade other countries. His name was Charles LeGendre, but everyone called him the “General,” and he looked the part. In the Civil War he had twice walked through a hail of enemy bullets, which had torn away a section of his nose, a portion of his jaw, and one of his eyes. The New York Times described LeGendre as “an adventurer who fought for the fun of it, and who, though riddled with bullets as the result of this Civil War career, still longed for the clash of arms.”29
General LeGendre had been on his way home from China, where he had served since 1866 as a minor U.S. diplomat. In Tokyo, Minister De Long told the general how he was encouraging the Japanese to invade Taiwan. LeGendre’s ears perked up. During his service in China, he had lectured Chinese officials that they should invade and civilize the Taiwanese. LeGendre had gone as far as to submit legal briefs to the Chinese Foreign Office showing how they could justify the use of military force against Taiwan. He had even visited Taiwan and mapped its territory.
Over and over LeGendre had harangued the Chinese about how the U.S. government had acquired vast territory by civilizing uncivilized Indians and that China either had to follow international rules and civilize the Taiwanese or some other power would do it. The Chinese mandarins had shrugged and told the one-eyed “Foreign Devil” not to worry, that China was indeed sovereign over Taiwan, without using military force to prove it.
Now LeGendre sat before De Long in Tokyo with legal rationales for the invasion of Taiwan and military plans of how to do it. De Long arranged a meeting between LeGendre and the Japanese foreign minister. The one-eyed general made a big impression. De Long reported to Washington that the Japanese were “surprised and delighted… to be brought in contact with one so well-informed on a subject so very interesting to them.”30
The Japanese Foreign Ministry promptly offered LeGendre a job to help them civilize Taiwan, and the former U.S. Army general became “the first foreigner employed in a Japanese government post.”31 LeGendre resigned from his post as United States consul on December 12, 1872. LeGendre wrote a friend in the United States that he took the job after “it was proved to me that, in doing so, I was but aiding in the carrying out of certain views which our government looked upon with extreme favor.”32 In fact, assuming that he would be appointed governor of Taiwan if Japan acquired the island, he told his son that the opportunity was a way to “lay by quite a little fortune.”33
General LeGendre had the ear of the founding fathers and consulted with Emperor Meiji a number of times. In terms of Japan’s strategic big picture, he preached from America’s founding document of international relations, the Monroe Doctrine. In 1823, President James Monroe had announced that from now on, only the United States could meddle in the Americas; the United States would view further European actions in the western hemisphere as aggression requiring U.S. military intervention. Now LeGendre suggested a Japanese Monroe Doctrine for Asia: “One must act courageously for the purpose of pushing forward the flag of the rising Sun in Asia and for the sake of the expansion of our empire. These actions are necessary in order to become the protector of the various nations in Asia against European expansion into our sphere. This policy resembles the one taken by the United States in the wake of the European filtration and encroachment into the American sphere of interest.”34
Although Japan would later use similar words in the 1930s and 1940s in its wars against China and the United States, this was radical thinking at the time. No non-White, non-Christian country in the 1870s had a Monroe Doctrine–like sphere of influence. LeGendre suggested how Japan could sell the West on the idea: “Japan must keep her plan in the deepest secret, but must make adequate publicity to the people in the world that she is under-taking to bring the whole of Asia from its barbarous and primitive stage to the civilized stage.”35
But how was Japan supposed to move Asia from barbarism to civilization? LeGendre recommended Anglo-Saxon methods: “Pacify and civilize them if possible, and if not… exterminate them or otherwise deal with them as the United States and England have dealt with the barbarians.”36
LeGendre told his employers that by disciplining the Taiwanese over the murder of the Okinawans, Japan would be seen as the guardian of the Okinawan people and could thus claim both Okinawa and Taiwan: “Inasmuch as [the Taiwanese aborigines] have murdered Japanese subjects [Okinawans], and there is no known way of dealing with them as a community, Japan is perfectly justified in taking the matter into her own hands and occupying their territory.”37
To deal with Taiwan and Okinawa, LeGendre first had to confront his old nemesis, China, which viewed those islands as part of its cultural realm. LeGendre had the Meiji government issue an imperial edict abolishing the kingdom of Okinawa. Okinawa became a Japanese fief, its king a Japanese peer, and its foreign relations a matter for the Japanese Foreign Office. Retroactively, the Japanese government claimed the Okinawa shipwreck victims as Japanese subjects so it would have a legal foundation on which to launch a punitive expedition against Taiwan.
On March 12, 1873, LeGendre boarded a Japanese warship in Yokohama harbor. LeGendre intended to take a Japanese diplomatic delegation to China, where the general would once again harangue his old adversaries about how somebody had better civilize Taiwan like the United States had civilized its Indians. As Perry had arrived following the sun, now an American general would lead the Japanese westward.
THE CHINESE HAD LONG viewed Japan as a young upstart—it was only two thousand years old, compared to China’s five-thousand-year history—seeing the Japanese as “Eastern dwarfs” who had imperfectly modeled superior Chinese ways. But times were changing. For centuries the Japanese had come peacefully to Beijing wearing Confucian garb. Now the Japanese came dressed in trousers and top hats, with a former U.S. Army general in tow. The Chinese took one look at the Western-dressed Japanese diplomats and sniffed that they had sold out to the White Christians. A Chinese viceroy saw the one-eyed Foreign Devil and snorted to the Japanese foreign minister, “We have made treaties before this one, and we did not find the need for foreigners to advise us; what reason is there for it now?”38
The Chinese objected to the Japanese’s Western-oriented legalisms, saying that international law was a recent Western creation and that the affair should be settled on the basis of truth. But over the course of the months-long negotiations, LeGendre maintained that for a nation to claim Taiwan, that government must civilize the savages. He legalistically insisted that the Okinawans—“Japanese natives”—had been harmed and that Japan had the right to punish the aboriginal Taiwanese. The Chinese responded that they had heard of Okinawans being injured, but no Japanese. In one negotiating session, the Chinese admitted that their political rule extended only to the “mature natives” of Taiwan and not the “wild natives.” The Japanese would use this statement to justify their later attack on Taiwan.
Satisfied that they had outmaneuvered their Chinese hosts with Western diplomacy, the Japanese and one pleased American general sailed back to an ecstatic welcome in Tokyo. Twenty-one-year-old Emperor Meiji honored LeGendre with an imperial audience on March 9. The Japanese government created a “Bureau of Savage Affairs” and incorporated new Western words like koronii (colony) into the Japanese language. Japanese newspapers Otherized the Taiwanese aborigines, calling them cruel and inhuman, and spoke of Japan’s responsibility to civilize the savages.
In early May of 1873, Japan invaded Taiwan with U.S. military advisers supporting the operation. Within two months, the Taiwanese submitted to Japanese military force.
AT THIS SAME TIME, Japan was also concerned about its neighbor to the west, Korea. Korea was a small kingdom enmeshed in a web of Confucian relationships with its neighbors. It had a father-son relationship with China summarized by the term sadae, “serving the great,” and Korea dispatched regular missions to Beijing, where her representatives subserviently kowtowed to the Son of Heaven, the emperor. The Chinese government in turn bestowed honorary titles on the Korean king, extended a military umbrella, and allowed Korean merchants to conduct a limited but extremely profitable trade.
Korea’s relationship with Japan was more along the lines of brother-brother, known as kyorin, “befriending the neighboring country.” A comparably closed country, Korea had for centuries allowed Japanese traders access to just one port, just as Japan had done with the Dutch at Nagasaki.
After centuries of peace with its neighbor, Japan now gazed at Korea through American-style expansionist lenses. Because Korea had not danced to the White Western tune and had not modernized, industrialized, and militarized, the Japanese judged the Koreans as uncivilized.
But Korea was prey not only for Japan, but also for Russia to its north. The Russians had expanded to their Pacific coast in the 1600s and were edging into Manchuria in North China, next door to Korea.
Because Korea was so near to Japan, jutting threateningly into the narrow Yellow Sea, Japanese alarmists styled Korea as “the dagger pointed at the heart of Japan.” If Korea fell to a White Christian country like Russia, they argued, the Korean peninsula would become the springboard for the invasion of Japan.
The military theorist Fukuzawa provided a common-sense rationale for Japan’s course with Korea: “A man who lives in a stone house is not safe from fire if his neighbor lives in a wooden one. The person with the more secure abode should try to persuade his neighbor to rebuild, of course, but if a crisis should be at hand, he is justified in arbitrarily invading his neighbor’s land—not because he covets his neighbor’s land or hates his neighbor, but simply to protect his own house from fire.”39 Thus the Japanese concluded that Korea must be made into a buffer between Russia and Japan.
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IN 1873, EMULATING COMMODORE PERRY’S mission, Japanese diplomats sailed west in an American-made warship across the Yellow Sea to open uncivilized Korea to Western ways. They brought along an American-style treaty of friendship.
The shocked Koreans could hardly believe their eyes and ears. For centuries Japanese diplomats had come to Korea dressed similarly to the Koreans, in Chinese-style robes; now they came ashore in tight Western suits, wearing shiny, stiff top hats.
The two countries had enjoyed peace between them for hundreds of years, so the sudden need for a treaty of friendship made little sense to the Koreans. And when Japan described the terms, the Koreans wondered if the Japanese had lost their minds. From time immemorial the two small countries had recognized the Son of Heaven in Beijing as an emperor and agreed that lesser kings ruled Japan and Korea. Now the outrageously dressed Japanese explained that Meiji was godlike and that he was also an emperor. The Koreans were dumbfounded. How could there be two suns in the sky?
Japan’s Perry-like attempt at opening Korea was an embarrassing flop. The Koreans shamed the Japanese, calling them traitors to the Confucian order. They refused to respond to a treaty based upon the “emperor versus king” nonsense, questioned the legitimacy of the new Meiji regime, and even ridiculed the Japanese for wearing Western woolen suits. When the Koreans accused them of going back upon Confucian tradition, it infuriated the Japanese, reminding them that by dealing with westerners they had betrayed their own history. As Hilary Conroy observes in The Japanese Seizure of Korea, “As with the man who curses his wife for reminding him of something of which he himself is ashamed, the wrath that consumed [Japan] over the Korean issue was fierce beyond all proportion to the question at hand.”40
AMERICA HAD EXPECTED JAPAN to make Taiwan a “koronii” and “lead the natives to civilization,” but cooler heads in the Japanese Foreign Ministry warned of war with China. Instead, Japan adroitly used the threat of colonization to extort an indemnity. The Chinese paid up and Japan withdrew from Taiwan at the end of 1874. In 1875, the Chinese government pacified the wild natives of Taiwan, and in later negotiations the Chinese recognized the “justice” of Japan’s invasion. That acknowledged, the Meiji government ordered Okinawan leaders to stop their tributary relationship with China.
That same year, LeGendre retired from the Japanese Foreign Ministry, his mission accomplished. He had inspired the Honorary Aryans with the idea of a Japanese Monroe Doctrine for Asia, a vision that was championed by Japanese expansionists less than three generations later as the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. He had shown them how—using international law and military force—Japan could gain by civilizing the uncivilized. Before he retired, the general with one eye wrote a final manifesto urging Japan to go west and expand into Korea.
KOREA HAD BEEN ABLE to shame Japan because big China was in its corner, so Japanese diplomats went to Beijing to argue that China should allow Korea to sign the proposed treaty of friendship. China saw little harm in the agreement—despite the conflict over Taiwan, the Chinese still saw the Japanese as a minor power—so Beijing allowed Korea to sign the treaty with Japan on February 26, 1876.
China viewed the treaty as a mere trade agreement, but Japan saw it as a fundamental reordering of the China-Korea relationship. This was because the Japanese had used a Western legal trick and created two versions of the agreement. All previous communications among China, Korea, and Japan had been written in the Chinese language, but this time Japan drew up an English as well as a Chinese version. As the Harvard professor Akira Iriye explains, “As an Eastern state, Japan was cognizant of the extreme ambiguity of the terms expressing traditional relations in the Far East. An example of this is cha-ju chi-bang (tzuchu chih-Pang in Chinese), which literally means ‘a self-governing area or state,’ and could also be used to mean ‘an independent state.’ ” The Honorary Aryans, trained in American ways, were able to realistically exploit the convenient weakness: their English translation consistently used Japanese-friendly definitions. As a result, Iriye notes, “neither the Koreans nor the Chinese perceived any serious break in traditional Sino-Korean relations. China in fact considered it an affirmation of the long-established practice.”41
Over the next several years it became increasingly clear that Japan’s behavior was more aggressive than the Chinese had expected. The Chinese government—still believing it called the shots in Korea—acted quickly to minimize Japan’s influence. China had a long tradition of “using barbarians against barbarians” in its international affairs and now encouraged Korea to sign treaties with other countries. In 1880, the Chinese submitted a written report to King Gojong of Korea entitled “A Policy for Korea.” The report proclaimed Korea’s biggest national security threats to be the Japanese from the west and the Russians from the east. China recommended that Little Brother Korea modernize internally and choose America as the first White Western country with whom to make a treaty because “the United States [was] a powerful industrial and anti-imperialist power, was a moral state, founded upon Christianity, which usually supports weaker nations against strong oppressors.”42 Korea beheld the United States as a country that stood for liberty, and unlike Russia, it was far distant and had shown no inclination to encroach upon Asia.
Believing the United States had only benevolent motives, in 1882 thirty-year-old King Gojong happily accepted the U.S.-Korea Treaty, in which the first article declared that there “shall be perpetual peace and friendship” between Korea and the United States. If a third power acted unjustly or oppressively with either country, the United States and Korea promised to exert their “good offices, on being informed of the case, to bring about an amicable arrangement, thus showing their friendly feelings.”43
Koreans knew as little about White Western legal concepts as the Americans knew about Confucian ideology. Korean leaders interpreted the “good offices” clause to mean that the United States would be Korea’s new “Elder Brother,” protecting Korea from Western predators. To them, the good offices clause was much more than a legal phrase; it meant that Elder Brother America had a moral commitment to their country. Thus, King Gojong thought his country’s independence was assured when the first U.S. minister to Korea—Lucius Foote—arrived in Seoul in 1883. In their first meeting, Foote told Gojong that the United States was interested in “the comfort and happiness” of the Korean people and that “in this progressive age” there was a moral power “more potent than standing armies.”44
IN 1883, HORACE ALLEN graduated from Miami Medical School in Cincinnati, Ohio. A good Presbyterian boy, Allen asked the Board of Foreign Missions to send him overseas to proselyte for Christ. In the summer of 1884, he went to Seoul as the chief physician to the United States legation to the Empire of Korea.
King (later Emperor) Gojong and his son Sunjong in 1890. King Gojong said, “We have the promise of America; she will be our friend whatever happens.” Theodore Roosevelt said, “I should like to see Japan have Korea.”
On September 20, 1884, a royal prince—Min Yong Ik—was stabbed in an assassination attempt. Allen used Western medical techniques unknown in Seoul to save Prince Min’s life. King Gojong was impressed and gratefully put Allen on the royal payroll. Allen became the embodiment of Elder Brother America: a benevolent White Christian come to help Younger Brother. Upon Allen’s advice, Gojong turned his back on Korea’s traditional policy of anti-Christianity and allowed Allen to bring American missionaries to build Korean hospitals, schools, and churches and Yankee businessmen to construct Korea’s first electric works, waterworks, and trolley and railway systems.
Gojong did not travel the world; he stayed in Seoul, surrounded by friendly American advisers, who assured him that Elder Brother America was on his side. As a result, he did not know what Americans said about him behind his back. U.S. magazines such as Outlook and North American Review contrasted the Japanese “with what they routinely described as the degenerate Koreans.”45 Koreans, the elite chattering classes declared, were one of the races on the decline, like their Mongolian cousin, the American Indian. And since so many tribes had fallen as the Aryan westered, what was one more?
To their chagrin, the Japanese had quickly lost their imagined monopoly over Korea, and the reassertion of Chinese influence in Korea raised tensions between China and Japan. In a series of political proxy wars, Japan encouraged progressive politicians in Seoul who wished to reform along Japanese lines while China supported conservative politicians who wanted to maintain the Confucian status quo. The Korean progressives and conservatives battled sporadically until finally Japan declared war on China on August 1, 1894.
America supported the Honorary Aryans. The New York Times wrote, “The war is often called a conflict between Eastern and Western civilization. It would be more accurate to call it a conflict between civilization and barbarism.”46 The New York Tribune declared, “The present war may decide many things, including whether or not Korea is henceforth to exist as an independent nation. But one of its most important results will be to decide this question, which was its own cause, whether Korea is to march forward or to be carried forward with Japan on the high road of civilization or whether she is to remain with China in the stagnant slough of semi-barbarism.”47 Caustic, critical newspaper articles about uncivilized China and wood-block prints depicting the Chinese as dim-witted Asians were suddenly the rage in Japan. Battlefield depictions featured tall, handsome, Western-looking Japanese soldiers in heroic poses, while the Chinese had jutting cheekbones and slanted eyes and wore pigtails.
The world expected China to make short work of the Eastern dwarfs, but Japan stung its larger rival with the power of its Westernized military, and China quickly sued for peace. The jubilant Japanese forwarded their terms to Beijing: a juicy cash indemnity and the cession of Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula, an enormously valuable and strategic piece of real estate that jutted into the China Seas and controlled access to both Beijing and Manchuria.
In the resulting Treaty of Shimonoseki, China was forced to cede both territories, pay a large indemnity, accept that Korea was truly independent, and accord the Japanese the same unequal diplomatic and commercial privileges enjoyed by White Christians in China. (The British had long been the dominant Western power in China, but after 1875 others had vied for spheres of influence and predatory trade privileges. The Western nations with special privileges in China included Great Britain, France, Russia, the United States, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Holland, Spain, Belgium, and Italy.)
To the jubilant Japanese men in the street, the resounding triumph over China swept away the humiliation of Perry’s Black Ships and proved Japanese greatness. The political commentator Tokutomi Soho¯ boasted that with the triumph over China, the West would now recognize that “civilization is not a monopoly of the white man.”48 An American newspaper observed:
Ever since the Chicago Exposition [of 1892–1893] foreigners have gradually acquired some knowledge of Japanese culture, but it was limited to the fact that Japan produces beautiful pottery, tea and silk. Since the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War last year, however, an attitude of respect for Japan may be felt everywhere, and there is talk of nothing but Japan this and Japan that…. Most amusing is the craze for Japanese women’s clothes. Many American women wear them to parties, although they are most unbecoming, and the praise they lavish on the Japanese victories sounds exactly as if they were boasting about their own country.49