Chapter 8


“Japan is the only nation in Asia that understands the principles and methods of Western civilization. She has proved that she can assimilate Western civilization, yet not break up her own heritage. All the Asiatic nations are now faced with the urgent necessity of adjusting themselves to the present age. Japan should be their natural leader in that process, and their protector during the transition stage, much as the United States assumed the leadership of the American continent many years ago, and by means of the Monroe Doctrine, preserved the Latin American nations from European interference, while they were maturing their independence.”1


The founding fathers of Japan had long monitored the Western media and had successfully crafted a positive image of Japan as different from other Asian countries. Now in 1904 the Japanese Foreign Ministry converted their embassies into public-relations bureaus, blitzing Western capitals with stories of how dashing Japanese warriors were, how the Japanese Red Cross respected Russian prisoners, and how Japan was battling for world civilization and the maintenance of the Anglo-American Open Door.

Japan had already cemented a treaty with one Anglo-Saxon country—Britain—and now Tokyo sought the other. The founding fathers searched their ranks for a Japanese man who had been educated in the United States, who spoke American English, and who knew the American political, social, and financial scenes. Above all, Tokyo’s wise men sought someone who could roll the Rough Rider in the White House.

Baron Kentaro Kaneko was the man chosen to woo America. Kaneko was a disciple of the leading founding father, Hirobumi Ito. After the Meiji Restoration, Kaneko was one of the first Japanese students sent abroad. He studied law under the famous lawyer Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. at Harvard, during the same time Roosevelt was an undergraduate there, and was awarded a law degree in 1878.

Baron Kaneko was exactly the type of guy to appeal to the patrician president: he was well born, a titled aristocrat, a Harvard lawyer, a mannered gentleman in tie and tails, a paramount representative of an aggressively militarized society, and a suave speaker who had mastered the language of civilization. The New York Times reported from Tokyo that Kaneko had been appointed by the founding fathers as a special envoy “to explain Japan’s position to America.”2

Teddy was quickly enamored with the new emissary. Some of his affection resulted not from an honest assessment of Kaneko—the Tokyo-based American minister, Lloyd Griscom, had warned Teddy that Kaneko was a lightweight.3 But Kaneko had been born into a samurai family, the caste atop Japanese society, the exalted warriors of yore who had nurtured Japan’s barbarian virtues. During the Tokugawa “Great Peace,” the samurai had become the leaders of Japan in government, business, and academia. Thus, to Teddy, Kaneko was much like himself: a highborn inheritor of barbarian virtues, a Harvard man, literate and articulate, civilized and ready to charge the hill.

KANEKO TOOK THE COUNTRY by storm. In San Francisco his appearance garnered column after column of newspaper ink. In Chicago, he lectured at the Harvard Club and Northwestern University. In New York, he explained to fifteen Manhattan newsmen that Japan was fighting Russia in the cause of Anglo-Saxon civilization. On April 2, the Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. threw a glittering dinner party at his Washington home for his former protégé. At George Washington University, Kaneko spoke of the similarities between the constitutions of the United States and Japan, a lecture reprinted in the Century Magazine. Back in Manhattan, he gave a speech to Wall Street’s barons at the University Club and at a private dinner at the home of Roosevelt’s friend Oscar Straus.4 At Harvard, President Charles William Eliot introduced the baron as a renaissance man astride Occidental and Oriental cultures: “Kentaro Kaneko, Harvard bachelor of laws, formerly chief secretary of the Imperial House of Peers in Japan, Minister of agriculture and commerce, life member of the House of Peers, the type of those scholars of two hemispheres through whom West would welcome East to share in the inheritance of Hebrew religion, Greek art, Roman law, and nineteenth century science.”5

Baron Kaneko told a new generation of Harvard sun-followers that the Japanese “are yellow in skin, but in heart and mind we are as white as Europeans and Americans…. Our hearts beat just as much as Christian hearts—the civilized heart is the same the world over.” In closing, he warned that if Japan doesn’t defeat Russia, “the open-door policy is lost and the Anglo-American civilization will never take root.”6 The Boston Herald printed Kaneko’s speech and it was then reprinted into six thousand small booklets.7

Baron Kaneko’s most important assignment was to influence Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy most likely would have been bewildered by most Japanese, who ate rice with chopsticks, sat on the floor, and soaked nude in hot tubs. But Baron Kaneko was the very picture of an Americanized Honorary Aryan, and he would soon sweep Roosevelt off his feet.

The subsequent Roosevelt-Kaneko talks—kept secret and lasting for nineteen months—would prove disastrous for the United States. Roosevelt was far out of his league, with almost no understanding of Asia. In the Japanese founding fathers, Roosevelt was dealing with the world’s most successful non-White, non-Christian revolutionaries. And—at the height of his Big Stick period—he sought no advice nor risked disagreement by explaining himself to his State Department or Congress.8

Kaneko knew that Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft believed that Aryans had journeyed west out of Central Asia. Kaneko crafted a complimentary myth about those ancients who went east at the same time, who would now join hands with the Aryans of the West. In Kaneko’s telling, the Himalaya mountains were

the fountain head of the two great waves of human energy [which created] all our enlightened modern civilization. From the western slopes there began… that Aryan march which established its dominion over the whole of Europe and flowered into Occidental civilization. From the mountain’s eastern sides there flowed that slower but no less profound tide which we know as orientalism…. After the visit of Commodore Perry, in 1853, we turned to the West for culture and science, and thus the laws, the philosophy, the religion and art of Occidental civilization were engrafted upon our institutions. The Japanese mind is earnestly engaged in moulding into one the two forms of culture, the Oriental and the Occidental, its ambition being to harmonize them, even as Rome harmonized the militarism of the northern tribes with the culture of the southern races of Europe.9

Kaneko explained that just as England, off the coast of Europe, had become the highest receptacle of Anglo-Saxonism, Japan, off Asia’s coast, was the highest repository of orientalism. “Japan’s geographical situation,” he added, “has placed it between… both eastern and western civilizations, and [Japan] is rapidly absorbing and completely assimilating them.”10

Kaneko portrayed Japan as battling the Slav in “an inevitable conflict… between Anglo-American civilization, as it has been inspired in the Japanese by England and America, on the one hand, and Muscovite despotism on the other.”11 He further explained that the Russo-Japanese War was one of Russian “continental militarism” against Anglo-Saxon “maritime commercialism.” Russia, he said, would take China for itself, “whereas, England, the United States and Japan are… always striving for the open door policy.”12 And he warned that Japan’s defeat of Russia was the last chance to civilize Asia: “If Japan be defeated now… the spirit and the principles of Anglo-American civilization will be obliterated from a vast portion of the eastern world. And it may be that centuries will pass before ever again humanity, and the universal brotherhood of Christianity, will dawn over the horizon of the continent of Asia.”13

The Roosevelt-Kaneko talks began on March 26, 1904, when Ambassador Takahira brought Kaneko to the State Department to pay respects to Secretary Hay. Kaneko spoke so enthusiastically about America’s obvious tilt toward Japan that Hay later fretted in his diary, “I had to remind him that we were neutral.”14

Takahira and Kaneko then went to the White House. More than thirty visitors were waiting to see the president, but when Roosevelt saw Kaneko’s calling card, he bypassed the others to pump Kaneko’s hand. As Raymond Esthus writes in Theodore Roosevelt and Japan, Roosevelt “took the Baron into his confidence completely.”15 Roosevelt spoke in decidedly unneutral terms about Japan’s mission of civilization in Asia. Roosevelt asked Kaneko for reading material on Japan. The baron whipped out articles he had authored and recommended the book Bushido by Inazo Nitobe, which likened samurai values to Europe’s chivalric code. The founding fathers must have been elated when they read Ambassador Takahira’s summary of the first Roosevelt-Kaneko talk, in which Takahira reported that the president expressed confidence that Japan would win the war and establish herself as Asia’s great civilizing force.16

EMPEROR GOJONG—HIS COUNTRY now held hostage by the Japanese—met with Minister Allen and requested America’s protection. Allen cabled Washington about the meeting: “He falls back in his extremity upon his old friendship with America…. The Emperor confidently expects that America will do something for him at the close of this war, or when opportunity offers, to retain for him as much of his independence as is possible…. I am obliged to assure His Majesty that the condition of Korea is borne in mind by the United States Government, who will use their good offices when occasion occurs.”17 The American minister’s statement of obligation was false, as Gojong would soon learn.

Then most of Gojong’s palace was burned down, probably by the Japanese. The emperor retreated to a detached palace library, which was next to America’s legation building. Gojong requested political asylum from the United States. Allen told him that if the emperor scaled the legation walls, he would put him out.

Despite the setback, Gojong was not without hope. True, his neutral country had been occupied by a foreign power, but he had reason to believe that once the war ended, Japan would withdraw and Korean independence would resume. After all, he had signed that important treaty that promised Korea a square deal. But as Gojong scrambled, Roosevelt informed Secretary Taft, “I heartily agree with the Japanese terms of peace, insofar as they include Japan having the control of Korea.”18

THE BATTLE OF YALU River, ending on May 1, 1904, was the first major land clash of the Russo-Japanese War, with Japanese troops crossing the river and routing the Russians. With the victory, the Japanese army was now prepared to invade Manchuria from the north as well as from Port Arthur in the south. Far away in his palace, a White Christian czar imagined it impossible for “little Jap monkeys” to best his army, but in fact Japan now had the Russians in a headlock.

ON JUNE 6, 1904, Roosevelt again welcomed Baron Kaneko and Ambassador Takahira to the White House, this time for a private luncheon. Roosevelt knew he was speaking through these two interlocutors to the founding fathers in Tokyo, yet he kept these discussions secret, informing neither the State Department nor Congress.

Roosevelt’s guests immediately addressed the critical subject always at the forefront of the president’s thinking: race. They pointed out that it had been the thirteenth-century Mongolians who had terrorized Europe and that this Yellow Peril had also threatened Japan. The diplomats reiterated that Japan was different from the rest of Asia, with its own two-thousand-year civilization, and they “did not see why they should be classed as barbarians.”19

Roosevelt agreed and complimented the two by saying he thought the Japanese people were more racially similar to Americans than were the Russians. By way of analogy, the president explained that riffraff races such as the Turks and Russians—“European peoples who speak an Aryan tongue”—were not very civilized; instead they were “impossible members of our international society… [while] Japan would simply take her place from now on among the great civilized nations.”20

Then Roosevelt gave his little Jap guests a lesson in race history, saying that in the AD tenth century, his Teutonic ancestors had been considered the White Terror, “and that as we had outgrown the position of being a race threat, I thought that in a similar fashion such a civilization as [the Japanese] had developed entitled them to laugh at the accusation of being part of the Yellow Terror.”21 He informed Kaneko and Takahira that Japan should have “a paramount interest in what surrounds the Yellow Sea, just as the United States has a paramount interest in what surrounds the Caribbean.”22 Though Roosevelt had just made a momentous pronouncement, his Japanese guests missed its implications. Big Stick Teddy was suggesting that because the Japanese had assimilated Anglo-Saxon values and would support the Open Door policy, they should have a Monroe Doctrine–like protectorate on the Asian continent. Teddy did not make the analogy clear at this meeting—as he later would—and neither Takahira nor Kaneko referred to it in their cables back to Tokyo.

Roosevelt now brought up the possibility that Japan might covet the Philippines, stating bluntly that if Japan attacked America’s Pacific colony, “we would be quite competent to defend ourselves.”23 The two guests earnestly assured Roosevelt that “tall talk of Japan’s even thinking of the Philippines was nonsense.”24 Roosevelt later recalled that he was confident that the Japanese would not expand beyond what he had bequeathed, because when he mentioned to Takahira and Kaneko the challenge of civilizing China, “they grinned and said that they were quite aware of the difficulty they were going to have even in Korea and were satisfied with that job.”25

Over the next year and a half, Roosevelt would repeat his Japanese Monroe Doctrine concept with the intent that Takahira and Kaneko would communicate his desire to the founding fathers and Emperor Meiji. Because Teddy relayed these ideas only orally, with no U.S. officials overhearing the exchanges that were said to Asian people who spoke and wrote a difficult language that few in the West could decipher, the president had excellent plausible deniability.

After their lunch in the White House, Ambassador Takahira quickly telegraphed Roosevelt’s views to Tokyo, where they were warmly received. Roosevelt had committed nothing in writing, so he had placed the interpretation of the conversation completely in the hands of an employee of the Japanese government, who portrayed the president as a Japan cheerleader, telling Tokyo that Roosevelt would shape American public opinion and take the diplomatic actions necessary to suit the desires of the Japanese government.26

Perhaps a junior-level State Department diplomat or a young staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would have known better, but Rough Rider Teddy had no fear. The Japs, he was certain, would be Honorary Aryans, content with the territory Roosevelt granted them, committed to the Open Door. Teddy never imagined that Russian power would soon collapse in revolution and that the powerful Japs and weakened Slavs would become friends after this war and unite—against American interests in North Asia.

Japan’s foreign minister, Jutaro Komura, was so grateful for the American tilt toward Japan that he suggested that Emperor Meiji formally thank Roosevelt. However, Ambassador Takahira intervened to keep Teddy’s commitment secret,27 cautioning Tokyo to put nothing in writing. Takahira did orally pass on Tokyo’s appreciation to Secretary Hay and asked Hay to convey this sentiment to Roosevelt “if [Hay] found it proper.”28 Two weeks later, a confident Roosevelt wrote Hay, “The Japs have played our game because they have played the game of civilized mankind…. We may be of genuine service… in preventing interference to rob her of the fruits of her victory.”29

AMERICANS COULD JUDGE THE high level of Japanese civilization for themselves at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. While the United States displayed its Indian reservation and Philippines reservation, Britain brought African “Kaffirs” to do maintenance work and to live in an open village where they could be gawked at. In emulation of its Anglo-American allies, Japan brought along its colonized Others: eight good specimens of Ainu people, the aborigines the Japanese had long ago chased into the northern wastes of Hokkaido island. As an official World’s Fair publication stated: “Japanese civilization presents a striking contrast to the Ainu who are simple barbarians. Their stupidity… has never been… explained and they are ethnically listed with the races who are incapable of civilization and education.”30

Nearby was the Japanese merchant marine exhibit. Millions of American visitors saw its immense topographical map of North Asia, featuring Korea and Manchuria. The name of the map was “The Japanese Empire.”31

AMERICAN MEDIA COVERAGE OF the Russo-Japanese War was heavily pro-Japanese. The American infatuation with Japan increased as Jap soldiers gave chase to the Slavs. Popular magazine articles with titles such as “How Russia Brought On the War” and “Why We Favour Japan in the Present War” informed readers that the war was “a general revolt of all the civilized peoples of the earth against the perfidy and insincerity of Russia” and that “Russia stands for reaction and Japan for progress.”32 A British politician visiting Washington told Baron Kaneko, “Since coming to America I have traveled to every part of the country and met with people of every walk of life, and have been astonished by the great sympathy felt for your country. They support your country with an enthusiasm that one does not easily see even in my country, England, which is an ally of yours, and the antipathy they have for Russia was truly quite unexpected.”33 From the U.S. legation in Seoul, Minister Allen watched as Japanese troops took over Korea. He cabled Washington: “Japan is the rightful and natural overlord.”34

In the White House, Roosevelt lectured his cabinet on jujitsu holds and quoted the book Bushido. He wrote Secretary Hay, “What nonsense it is to speak of the Chinese and Japanese as of the same race!”35 Still, he had occasional doubts; after all, no matter their mimickry, these Honorary Aryans were not White. In December of 1904, Roosevelt called Takahira into the White House and warned him that despite its victories Japan should not get a big head regarding the White race. Privately the president occasionally worried whether Japan viewed Americans “simply as white devils inferior to themselves”36 and about “Japanese hostility to the white race in general and especially to Americans.”37 As he watched the Japanese army lay siege to Russian fortifications at Port Arthur, Roosevelt fretted that he wanted Japan to succeed, “but not too overwhelmingly.”38

JAPAN HAD HOPED TO capture Port Arthur quickly, but its troops encountered well-prepared Russian defenses and the bloody siege stretched on for months. In a preview of World War I, hundreds and thousands of young men perished in trenches as shrapnel rained down on them or died charging uselessly into the bullets of machine guns.

But the Japanese kept coming and the Russians eventually surrendered Port Arthur on New Year’s Day, 1905.

By that January, it appeared to Roosevelt that his predictions were coming true. Russia’s surrender of its seemingly impregnable Port Arthur fortress to the Japanese demonstrated that Slav civilization was sinking while Japan’s was rising. Then “Bloody Sunday” exploded in St. Petersburg as two hundred thousand protestors assailed the Winter Palace demanding victory over Japan or an end to the war. This was one of the first in a string of events later called the Russian Revolution, and Roosevelt saw it as further proof that the Slav was a declining race. With Roosevelt’s knowledge and approval, Japan began negotiating an updated treaty with England, in which seven months later England would trade India for Korea.

The arrangement was yet another round of imperial board gaming. Great Britain had supported Japan’s modernization efforts, and both were concerned with Russian expansion in Asia—British leaders worried that the Russians might move deeply into China. In 1902, Japan and Great Britain proclaimed an official Anglo-Japanese Alliance. This agreement might have been signed earlier if not for disagreements between the two parties regarding each other’s imperial ambitions. The alliance was built around two concepts: a declaration of neutrality if either signatory went to war; and a promise of support if either signatory went to war with more than one power. But the Japanese had no interest in supporting British claims to India, and Great Britain had no desire to be brought into defending Japanese interests in Korea. So a trade was arranged: both would stay out of each other’s way. Neither signatory would be obligated to come to the other’s defense in those seized territories.

The British saw the agreement as a velvety warning to Russia—no, the alliance did not mandate joining in the Russo-Japanese War, but the existing thicket of agreements between the powers meant that France could not easily come to Russia’s aid without resulting in a war with Great Britain. And it was no small thing to come up against the most powerful empire in the world, even if only in a court of diplomatic opinion. Yet if the British understood the alliance as more flute than drum, the Japanese saw things very differently. The greatest of the White Christian powers had just agreed that they would not do anything about a Japanese occupation of Korea.

Roosevelt—through private intermediaries that included his wife—signaled London and Tokyo that he supported the swap and wished he could trade the Philippines for Korea and make it a triple alliance. But Roosevelt had to ask his allies to spare him the exposure of “open evident agreement.” This, too, would be secret. Writing King Edward VII of England, Teddy said, “I absolutely agree with you as to the importance… to all the free peoples of the civilized world, of a constantly growing friendship and understanding between the English-speaking peoples…. All I can do to foster it will be done…. With affairs in the orient… our interests are identical with yours.”39

Still hopeful, Emperor Gojong dispatched twenty-nine-year-old Syngman Rhee to Washington to urge America to honor its treaty obligations. In February 1905, Rhee met with Secretary of State Hay. Later Rhee remembered that Hay had blandly assured him that the United States would fulfill the “good offices” provision of the U.S.-Korea Treaty.40

BY NOW, THE FOUNDING fathers in Tokyo knew Roosevelt’s thinking like the back of their aged hands. The foreign minister, Jutaro Komura—a fellow Harvard grad—sent Roosevelt a copy of Japan’s plan for a postwar world that just happened to mesh with Teddy’s thinking: after beating the Slavs, Japan would retain Port Arthur and Korea while supporting the Open Door. As Raymond Esthus concludes in Theodore Roosevelt and Japan: “Thus by February, 1905, Roosevelt and Japan were in complete agreement on peace terms.”41

As Japanese soldiers marched north from Port Arthur to attack the Manchurian city of Mukden (today’s Shenyang), Roosevelt fretted. He certainly leaned strongly toward the Japanese, but his ultimate priorities were the United States and his dream of Anglo-Saxon expansion. Making certain of some sort of balance of power in North Asia seemed wise. Observing the Japanese advance, he advised Czar Nicholas to make peace. Teddy wanted his line of friction to be south of Mukden, and he feared a Russian loss would unmoderate the plan. The czar ignored the meddlesome young president and the “little Jap monkeys.”

ONE FEBRUARY DAY, ROOSEVELT staged a match between his American wrestling instructor and his Japanese jujitsu teacher. The assembled generals, summoned to the White House for the occasion, observed the “yellow man” triumph. Back in Asia, the Japanese were putting the moves on the Russians. Their diplomatic offensive was no less robust. That same month, Baron Kaneko handed Roosevelt a written statement he had solicited from several Yale professors while visiting New Haven, which informed the president, “Japan has fairly earned the right to paramount influence in Korea, by reason of her sacrifices, to prevent the Russianization of Korea.”42 This opinion was echoed by Roosevelt’s most trusted adviser on North Asia, William Rockhill, the U.S. minister to China. Rockhill had proclaimed, “The annexation of Korea to Japan seems to be absolutely indicated as the one great and final step westward of the extension of the Japanese empire…. I cannot see any possibility of this government using its influence to bolster up the empire of Korea in its independence. I fancy that the Japanese will settle this question when the present war is finished.”43

Roosevelt didn’t wait until the war was finished. The same month, Teddy secretly told the founding fathers that he approved of Japan having a Monroe Doctrine–like protectorate in Asia. To further the triple alliance on the Atlantic side, Roosevelt used his wife, Edith, and the Brit who had been best man at their London wedding, Cecil Spring-Rice: from Teddy’s mouth to Edith’s ear, then into a folksy coded letter to “Springy,” who finally delivered the message to Whitehall. Sealing deals with London and Tokyo, Roosevelt felt himself at the center of international affairs, navigating the ship of civilization into twentieth-century Asia. And it was all so deliciously secret.

If Congress had been aware of the president’s alliances, perhaps a senator would have challenged Roosevelt to think through the consequences of the United States’ carving out a chunk of Asia for Japan to nibble on. Perhaps a congressman might have inspired Roosevelt to imagine a Japan that later would chafe at Teddy’s leash.

ROOSEVELT TOOK HIS SECOND oath of office from the chief justice, Melville Fuller, in a March 1905 ceremony before thousands in front of the East Portico, the grand balustrade entrance to the Capitol building. With his hand on the Bible, Roosevelt swore to uphold American values. A statue to Roosevelt’s immediate left represented some unwritten American values. Seventy-one years earlier, Congress had commissioned sculptor Horatio Greenough to create a statue that would “represent the conflict between the Anglo-Saxon and Indian races.” 44 Greenough testified before Congress that the statue recalled “the peril of the American wilderness, the ferocity of our Indians, the superiority of the white man, and why and how civilization crowded the Indian from his soil.”?45 Greenough called his monumental work The Rescue.

Greenough’s masterpiece features a terrified, cowering White mother shielding her baby from danger with her body. Barbarism, in the form of a savage Indian clad in a loincloth, hovers over her, hatchet in hand, ready to strike. Towering behind the Indian is a heroic White man who is restraining the savage by the wrist, restoring safety and civilization.


The Rescue statue. For one hundred years—from 1853 to 1953—American presidents took their oaths of office standing next to The Rescue .(Library of Congress)

(The first president to be inaugurated next to The Rescue was Franklin Pierce in 1853, and the final one would be Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. By 1958, Congress deemed The Rescue an embarrassment and the statue is now hidden in the government’s memory vaults.)

Roosevelt, newly reelected, was determined to continue America’s civilizing mission. Later on his inauguration day, seated in his reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue, he saw native troops from the Philippines and Puerto Rico march by and joked that they were “rejoicing in their shackles.”46

* * *

IN MARCH OF 1905, the Japanese army ground down Russian forces in the largest land battle in the history before World War I. The month-long battle for the Manchurian city of Mukden involved nearly one million combatants and resulted in almost two hundred thousand casualties. Wave after wave of Japanese soldiers charged into Russian bullets. Americans would later deride Japan’s suicidal tactics in World War II, but in 1905 Rough Rider Teddy praised their willingness to die: “The Japanese are the most dashing fighters in the world.”47 Enthused, he intensified his jujitsu practice, wrestling three times a week with two Japanese wrestlers, and studied Inazo Nitobe’s book, Bushido, “one of his favorite books.”48 Roosevelt secretly told ambassadors from a number of countries—including Russia—that Russia should throw in the towel before Japan beat the country again.49

To express his admiration for Tokyo regarding their monumental victory at Mukden, Roosevelt invited his secret interlocutor, Baron Kaneko, to lunch. Observers remembered that when the president saw Kaneko in the White House waiting room, the president’s “face shone with joy over the unprecedented victory.”50

On April 2, 1905, Baron Kaneko took the stage at fabled Carnegie Hall to explain to a paying audience of New Yorkers that Japan was civilized because it had adopted Western morality in its international relations:

In the struggle for the survival of the fittest, when the West and the East have met, might has prevailed over right. The nations believing in the right have been crushed and trampled on for fifty years, as in the English opium war and when we had acquired Port Arthur and the peninsula of Liaodong in the war with China. In that instance Russia, with Germany and France, snatched away the spoils of victory, and might made us yield without a murmur. We knew as long as ten years ago that war was coming and prepared for it. We had to become mighty to preserve the right.51

Perhaps inspired by the great Japanese victory, Roosevelt decided to get a refill of barbarian virtues for himself. In April, the president left for a month-long vacation, including a bear hunt in Colorado’s snowy Rocky Mountains. Bears had been good for the Roosevelt image: in 1902, he had declined to shoot a roped one in Mississippi, and the retelling of that story had inspired the “Teddy bear” craze.

Roosevelt’s Colorado bear hunt turned out to be a brilliant public-relations stroke. He received more newspaper coverage than if he had stayed in Washington, and Roosevelt projected just the right image to the American Aryan electorate: a manly president with rifle in hand taming the wilderness. Front-page stories chronicled Roosevelt’s sleeping under the stars, how the Rough Rider handled a horse, and whether the president killed one or two large mammals that day.

Roosevelt came down with malaria in Colorado, but this fact was kept secret, just like his secret tennis playing, his secret asthma attacks, and his secret diplomacy. And Americans were not aware that the president’s bear hunt sent a secret message to Tokyo, an inside joke between Teddy and Japan’s founding fathers. When Roosevelt had told Kaneko he was about to go bear hunting, Kaneko recalled that the bear was a symbol for Russia and said to the president, “The Russian fleet is about to enter the Pacific, and there is certain to be a great naval battle with our fleet in the near future. If you should kill a bear, this will be an augury of victory for the Japanese fleet. I pray that you will have great success.” Replied Roosevelt, “I fully intend to.”52 And Roosevelt informed none of the American press that one of the bears he had shot was to be skinned and presented to Emperor Meiji.

The bear that Roosevelt bagged for Meiji must have brought good luck, for on May 28, 1905, the Japanese navy demolished the Russian navy in the largest sea battle in world history. It took place near the Japanese island of Tsushima in the Japan Sea and is today called the Battle of Tsushima. The Japanese—who two generations earlier had no military-industrial complex—sunk all of Russia’s warships while losing none of their own. Roosevelt, a lifelong student of naval history, gushed to Kaneko, “This is the greatest phenomenon the world has ever seen…. I grew so excited that I myself became almost like a Japanese, and I could not attend to official duties.”53

On the Sunday after the Battle of Tsushima, Reverend Robert MacArthur—for thirty-five years the pastor of New York City’s Calvary Baptist Church and one of America’s best-known clergymen—preached a sermon entitled “Japan’s Victory—Christianity’s Opportunity”:

The Great Master said, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ Apply that standard, and you will find that the nominally heathen Japan is more Christian than ‘Holy Russia.’

The victory of the Japanese is a distinct triumph for Christianity. The new civilization of Japan is largely the result of Christian teaching. A very great proportion of Japan’s leading men to-day, especially those who fight her battles on land and sea, with such skill and valor, profess the Christian faith.54

After Roosevelt calmed down from almost being Japanese, he began to suffer from some qualms. Japan’s navy had just proven itself world-class, a fact that must have worried him; after all, Teddy still wanted a significant and unthreatened American presence in Asia. Before he turned in on the evening that news of the Japanese triumph had reached the White House, he wrote a letter to Secretary Taft. When his party reached the Philippines, Roosevelt instructed, the secretary should take the senators and congressmen on a tour of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific headquarters at Subig Bay.55 In time, Congress would enthusiastically embrace Roosevelt’s vision of the bay, a former Spanish naval station captured in 1899, as America’s naval outpost in Asia, pouring many millions of taxpayer funds into building a U.S. Navy citadel there.

THE NEWS THAT THE Japanese navy had so completely dominated the Russians electrified Japan. The founding fathers rejoiced, but they did not tell the public that its military brass had notified Tokyo that in victory the military had expended itself and had little strength remaining. Out of a productive male populace of ten million, a staggering two million boys and men were in the military and one million had endured the rigors of the front. And the war was bleeding Japan financially, costing a staggering one million U.S. dollars a day. And while hit hard, Russia could still tap the enormous resources of its large army. The Japanese government allowed the people to believe that Japan was strong in victory and Russia weak in defeat, when it wasn’t true. Japan had won battles in Manchuria and had won them handily, but only the impossible task of marching to St. Petersburg could defeat Russia. Japan simply did not have the strength to demand an indemnity from Russia, and the Japanese government hesitated to tell its jubilant population the hard truth.

The founding fathers worried that if they revealed their hand, Russia would sense weakness and Japan’s bargaining position would be reduced before the negotiations began. At odds with its own public, the founding fathers now turned to Theodore Roosevelt.

On May 31, Ambassador Takahira brought Roosevelt a secret telegram from the foreign minister, Komura, requesting that his fellow Harvard graduate invite Russia and Japan to open direct negotiations.56 Roosevelt was to keep it secret from the world that Japan had requested the president’s help and instead tell the Russians that negotiations were his idea.

Roosevelt, a lame-duck president beleaguered by his dealings with Congress, jumped at the chance. With no Senate looking over his shoulder, the president would friction the powers in North Asia. And Roosevelt had the international stage to himself because his secretary of state lingered on his deathbed and his secretary of war was about to embark upon a three-month cruise in the Pacific.

It never occurred to Roosevelt that China should participate in a peace conference that would parcel out Chinese territory. As Howard Beale writes in Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power, “Blinded by his concept of the Chinese as a backward people, he utterly failed to comprehend or take into account the rise of an independent and assertive China to a role of major importance in the twentieth century.”57

Roosevelt acted immediately on Komura’s request and told the Russian ambassador the white lie that the idea of a peace parley was his. If the czar agreed to the concept, Roosevelt said, he would then approach the Japanese. Given Teddy’s obvious tilt, it’s doubtful the Russian diplomat was taken in, especially when Roosevelt said he had a hunch that Japan would agree to his plan.

As Roosevelt fronted for them in Washington, the founding fathers met in Tokyo to work out their peace demands. These included Korea and parts of Manchuria, but the demand for an indemnity was listed as “not absolutely necessary.”58

On June 5, 1905, the czar agreed to the concept of discussing peace with Japan, but “without intermediaries.” Roosevelt would not sit at the negotiating table. That same day, Teddy welcomed to the White House a group of victorious Japanese navy admirals, who regaled the president with stories of their stunning victories at sea.

Roosevelt so enjoyed his day with the Japanese military men that he didn’t want it to end. He asked Ambassador Takahira to stay with him until 10:00 p.m., and then, after the ambassador left, a still-energized Roosevelt was unable to sleep and so took up his pen. In a series of letters, Roosevelt marveled that the Battle of Tsushima was “a rout and a slaughter,” that the Japanese fleet was left “practically uninjured,” while the Russian fleet “was demolished.”59 Roosevelt called the Slavs “hopeless creatures… helplessly unable,”60 but still hoped the Russians would balance the Japs as the Anglo-Saxon walked through the Open Door. Roosevelt was captivated by his secret diplomacy, as he wrote to his son Kermit:

I have of course concealed from everyone—literally everyone—the fact that I acted in the first place on Japan’s suggestion…. I have kept the secret very successfully, and my dealings with the Japanese in particular have been known to no one.

Remember that you are to let no one know that in this matter of the peace negotiations I have acted at the request of Japan and that each step has been taken with Japan’s foreknowledge, and not merely with her approval but with her expressed desire.61

Gazing out from Washington, Roosevelt looked west and wrote: “I believe that our future history will be more determined by our position on the Pacific facing China than by our position on the Atlantic facing Europe.”62 To make sure that future Americans could walk through a wide Open Door in North Asia, Roosevelt would balance the powers just so: “It is best that [Russia] be left face to face with Japan so that each may have a moderative action on the other.”63

Roosevelt imagined the Japanese as eternal opponents of the Slav, not entertaining the possibility that Japan and Russia would kiss and make up after the war. And since Roosevelt kept his analysis secret from everyone except his Japanese allies and yes-men like Taft, there was no one to grab the reins before Roosevelt drove America’s future in Asia into a ditch.

ROOSEVELT LEFT WASHINGTON AND arrived at Sagamore Hill, his compound on the Long Island Sound, on Thursday, June 29. He would spend his summers there. Roosevelt complained that he had “been growing nearly mad in the effort to get Russia and Japan together,” but he was excited that a large trophy room had been added to his already sprawling mansion by the sea. There, Roosevelt could sit among his stuffed conquests. The trophy room’s sleek wood paneling was from America’s largest colony, the Philippines.

Though Roosevelt had tried to draw London into his secret diplomacy, the much more experienced hands at the British Foreign Office were unenthusiastic. The foreign secretary, Lord Lansdowne, thought it better not to encourage Roosevelt and his frictioning. Lansdowne had written his ambassador in Russia, “Is there any case of a war of this kind in which the losing side has not had to pay for its folly or ill luck?”64 The British ambassador in Washington had warned Lansdowne that Roosevelt was managing the negotiations, “not altogether I venture to think in a very adroit manner.”65 In frustration, Roosevelt wrote his ambassador in London, “President desires you to find out whether the English Government really does wish peace or not.”66

The secretary of state, John Hay, passed away on July 1, but it had no effect on Roosevelt’s secret diplomacy. Reflected Roosevelt in a letter to Taft, “For two years [Hay] had done little or nothing in the State Dept. What I didn’t do myself wasn’t done at all.”67 Roosevelt selected Elihu Root to replace Hay but did not share his Asian strategy with the new secretary of state. Root later wrote about Roosevelt’s diplomatic secrets that summer: “He held them in his hands and kept them in his hands.”68

On July 2, Roosevelt announced the news that Russian and Japanese envoys would meet at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on August 5. They would negotiate between themselves without Roosevelt. Unofficially, Teddy would coach the Honorary Aryans from the sidelines. That same month, Roosevelt would complain that “the Senate is a very poor body to have as part of the treaty-making power” because of constitutional “defects which cannot be changed.” Teddy was determined to institute “a wise foreign policy on his own.”69

A few days later, Roosevelt invited Baron Kaneko to be his houseguest at Sagamore Hill. Roosevelt and Kaneko both understood that the purpose of the visit was for Teddy to give his private thoughts to Kaneko, who would then convey them to the founding fathers and Emperor Meiji.

The baron arrived at the village of Oyster Bay by train on the afternoon of July 7. A waiting Roosevelt carriage took him to Sagamore Hill, where Teddy warmly welcomed Kaneko. The baron and Roosevelt ate dinner together, then chatted in the president’s study and retired after 10:00 p.m. Years later, Kaneko remembered how Roosevelt put him to sleep:

The President… lit two candles, one of which he gave me, while he carried the other himself, and showed me to my bedroom upstairs. Thinking that the bed cover was too thin and that I would be cold in the night—he explained that a cold north-east wind usually came from the bay after midnight—he went downstairs and returned with a blanket on his shoulder.70

The next morning Roosevelt and Kaneko breakfasted together and then went out onto the porch alone. The baron later wrote that what he heard Roosevelt say that July morning overlooking the Long Island Sound “made such an ineffaceable impression upon my mind as can never be forgotten as long as I live.”71 Kaneko paraphrased Roosevelt’s words from memory:

Japan is the only nation in Asia that understands the principles and methods of Western civilization. She has proved that she can assimilate Western civilization, yet not break up her own heritage. All the Asiatic nations are now faced with the urgent necessity of adjusting themselves to the present age. Japan should be their natural leader in that process, and their protector during the transition stage, much as the United States assumed the leadership of the American continent many years ago, and by means of the Monroe Doctrine, preserved the Latin American nations from European interference, while they were maturing their independence. If President Monroe had never enunciated the doctrine, which bears his name, the growth of the independent South America republics would have been interfered with by influences foreign to this continent. The future policy of Japan towards Asiatic countries should be similar to that of the United States towards their neighbours on the American continent. A ‘Japanese Monroe Doctrine’ in Asia will remove the temptation to European encroachment, and Japan will be recognized as the leader of the Asiatic nations, and her power will form the shield behind which they can reorganize their national systems.72

Roosevelt couldn’t back up his vision with any signed pledge notes because what he was doing was against the Constitution he had sworn to uphold. So instead Roosevelt blustered to Kaneko that if Tokyo proclaimed a Japanese Monroe Doctrine for Asia after the Portsmouth peace negotiations were concluded, “I will support her with all my power, either during my Presidency or after its expiration.”73

This was the first time Kaneko had heard anyone enunciate the concept of a “Japanese Monroe Doctrine.” Three days later Roosevelt’s historic idea was rendered into Japanese diplomatic code and pulsed through the long cable deep below the Pacific.74

Japan’s founding fathers cannot be faulted if they believed that Roosevelt was powerful enough to control American policy even as he kept Congress in the dark. Throughout the summer, Teddy continued to signal that he could sway the U.S. government and people his way. On Saturday, July 15, 1905, Ambassador Takahira visited Roosevelt at Oyster Bay to complain of the anti-Japanese prejudice that had erupted in San Francisco. After this meeting, Roosevelt wrote this astounding sentence for transmittal to the founding fathers: “While I am president, there will be no discrimination.”75 Thus, Roosevelt, relaxing in his Long Island mansion, sparing no time from his vacation to consult anyone at the State Department, furthered the impression that a president could control U.S. states like he could corral rebels in the Philippines. Later, when Roosevelt delivered neither on his promises nor his boasts, Tokyo could only wonder why.

America’s love affair with Baron Kaneko never faded, even after more than a year of his constant propagandizing. On July 23, citizens of Seattle applauded as the suave Harvard-tongued lawyer assured them, “Not only Japan and China, but the entire civilized world, will gain immeasurably by our conflict with Russia.”76 Recognizing the Aryan male’s chivalrous feelings for foreign females (a key motivation for the invasion of Cuba), Kaneko wrote an article entitled “Japanese New Women,” which the New York Times honored with six-column prominence. Kaneko played to America’s benevolent intentions when he wrote, “One of the results of the Russo-Japanese war will be that a new era will arise for the women of Japan.” Like a famous celebrity known to all Americans, the editors of the Times identified the author as simply “Baron Kaneko.”77

On Wednesday, July 26, 1905, Roosevelt welcomed Ambassador Takahira to his seaside mansion to iron out some last-minute details for the deal. On that same day, Alice dined with Emperor Meiji in his moated palace in the center of Tokyo. To influence Teddy, Meiji showed Alice his private gardens, an honor never before accorded a White Christian.

At a dinner the next night, Alice tapped the minister Griscom on the shoulder:


Secretary William Howard Taft and Alice Roosevelt in Tokyo, July 1905. One Tokyo newspaper reporter observed, “This is truly the highpoint in the long history of Japanese-American relations.” (Collection of the New-York Historical Society)

“Do you see that old, bald-headed man scratching his ear over there?”

“Do you mean Nick Longworth?”

“Yes. Can you imagine any young girl marrying a fellow like that?”

“Why, Alice, you couldn’t find anybody nicer.”

“I know, I know. But this is a question of marriage.”78

The following evening, Prime Minister Katsura threw a gala banquet at the Imperial Hotel. In his speech, Katsura saluted Roosevelt as “a true exponent of the best principles of civilization.” Speaking next, Taft cited “the fifty-year-old friendship of America and Japan, a friendship which had never been dimmed by a cloud nor ever ceased to grow, which would be stronger and more durable than ever in the future.”79 Taft also said of Japan, “during the past 50 years she made an advance unparalleled in the history of nations, an advance which had placed her in the very foremost rank of the world’s leading Powers.”80


Emperor Meiji. He oversaw Japan’s tilt toward the west and away from Asia. President Roosevelt sent him the skin of a Colorado bear. (Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The banquet was a public expression of mutual goodwill; the secret deal between the nations would be done the next morning behind closed doors. For generations, British imperialists had sat in their private London clubs or the back rooms of Parliament charting new boundaries on maps, lines that cut through nations, tribes, and families. The United States had redrawn the map of the North American continent with unmarked graves as they spread westward. Now two new Pacific powers would play the civilizer’s board game.


The Taft party observing a sumo match, July 1905. While the American public saw photos like this, Taft was secretly negotiating agreements with Japan not discovered until years later. (Collection of the New-York Historical Society)

On Thursday, July 27, Roosevelt met publicly with Baron Kaneko, Minister Komura, and Ambassador Takahira aboard his presidential yacht, the Mayflower. In Tokyo, the morning after the Imperial Hotel banquet, Secretary Taft and Prime Minister Katsura met secretly in a simple, unadorned room in Shiba Palace. Besides Taft and Katsura, the only other person present was the interpreter, the foreign affairs vice minister, Shutemi Chinda. No transcript was made of the conversation and the palace has since burned down.

Katsura knew that in speaking to Taft he was communicating with Roosevelt, and from Baron Kaneko’s many notes, the prime minister was well aware of how Roosevelt’s mind worked.* So race was the topic of conversation as Katsura assured Taft that “the insinuation of a ‘Yellow Peril’ was only a malicious and clumsy slander circulated to damage Japan.” Taft asked for a promise that Japan would keep its hands off the Philippines. Katsura responded that “Japan had no aggressive designs whatever on the Philippines.”

Katsura told Taft that “the only means for accomplishing” peace in North Asia “was the drafting of an understanding among Japan, the United States and Great Britain which would uphold the Open Door principle.” The prime minister understood that “a formal alliance was out of the question”—meaning that Tokyo knew that the U.S. Senate would not approve what Roosevelt was now granting Japan—but because “such an understanding would benefit all the powers… could not an understanding or alliance—in practice if not in name—be arrived at?”

At this point, former judge Taft had to know that he was in hot constitutional water, and he replied legalistically that of course it was “impossible for the President of the United States to enter even an informal understanding without the consent of the Senate.” But then Taft quickly added, “Without any agreement at all… just as confidently as if a treaty had been signed… appropriate action by the United States could be counted upon” to support Japan’s sphere of influence in Asia because “the people of the United States were so fully in accord with the policy of Japan and Great Britain.”

This remarkable American commitment to Japan’s expansion “as if a treaty had been signed” would remain secret for almost two decades and has been obscured by time. Here was the triple alliance for which Japan had struggled since the Shame of Liaodong. And now that the prime minister had promised to support the Anglo-Saxon Open Door, Katsura submitted the bill.

Katsura told Taft that “Korea was the direct cause of the war with Russia,” an outrageous overstatement that Taft judged “wholly reasonable.” Katsura said that to prevent further “international complications… Japan felt compelled to take some definite steps to end the possibility of Korea lapsing into her former condition.”81

It wasn’t until nineteen years later—after Roosevelt’s death—that a researcher came across Taft’s top secret summary to Roosevelt of his meeting with Katsura. For protection, Taft had composed his memo with no direct quotes. Upon reading the summary, Teddy quickly cabled Taft, “Your conversation with Count Katsura absolutely correct in every respect. Wish you would state to Katsura that I confirm every word you have said.”82 The Japanese Foreign Ministry rendered the Taft-Katsura agreement into diplomatic code and sent it through a deep Pacific cable to the foreign minister, Komura, now in America.

The Taft-Katsura secret treaty sentenced Koreans to Japanese subjugation for forty-five tortuous years. Teddy would later dissemble regarding his role, and his many apologists have downplayed its significance; one historian advanced the curious argument that the agreement wasn’t important because Roosevelt didn’t mention it in his autobiography. But Teddy consistently whitewashed unpleasantries from his past, even the existence of his first wife. The president of the United States had skirted the Constitution and negotiated a side deal with the Japanese at the same time he was posing as an honest broker between Japan and Russia at the Portsmouth peace talks. And he would lacquer his accomplishment with multiple coats of obscurity.

Proof that Taft was aware that he had pulled a fast one can be found in the words the secretary used in his departure speech at Tokyo’s Shimbashi station. (Alice remembered, “I have never seen a denser and more enthusiastic crowd than that which packed the open spaces around the station.”83) Bidding goodbye to his Tokyo hosts, Taft curiously devoted his speech to the Japanese “ability to keep a secret.” He said, “For example, Lady Oyama here [wife of a heroic general] speaks very good English and from our conversation I realize she knows of many things from her husband. However she will never talk about a military secret. If this was an American lady she would speak everything she knows and everything that she think she knows. Secrets have to be kept strictly especially in military matters.”84

Prime Minister Katsura now announced the new triple alliance via an interview with the New York Times, in which he said:

Our Far Eastern policy [will be] the introduction of all the blessings of modern civilization into the East Asiatic countries. [Japan’s] policy in the Far East will be in exact accord with that of England and the United States. [Japan would soon force] upon Korea and China the same benefits of modern development that have been in the past forced upon us…. We intend to begin a campaign of education in [Korea and China] such as we ourselves have experienced [and to develop] Asiatic commercial interests that will benefit us all. China and Korea are both atrociously mis-governed…. These conditions we will endeavor to correct at the earliest possible date—by persuasion and education, if possible; by force, if necessary. And in this, as in all things, we expect to act in exact concurrence with the ideas and desires of England and the United States.85

Simple as that and conveniently translated into English by the New York Times: at the behest of London and Washington, the Japanese military would expand into Korea and China to civilize Asia. Later generations would call it World War II.

The Japanese public knew nothing of Roosevelt’s giveaway of Korea to Japan. They were focused only upon the indemnity they expected Roosevelt to wring from the Russians. On July 31, Kaneko warned Roosevelt in a letter, “My own opinion is that the payment of the actual cost of the war by Russia is absolutely necessary… because the public sentiment in Japan is strongly demanding a far larger amount of indemnity.”86

Roosevelt gave little thought to the Japanese public’s strong yearning for the dignity a White Christian cash indemnity would bring Japan. But as Alice wended her way south from Tokyo to Nagasaki, millions of Japanese banzaied her, delirious with the expectation that her father would help Japan finally secure a square deal.

THE TAFT PARTY SLIPPED into Nagasaki harbor on Monday, July 31. On Tuesday morning, August 1, crowds gawked at Alice purchasing some cigars, a business-card case, and a tortoiseshell-handled knife. Lunch was at the American consulate, and afterward the city of Nagasaki threw a huge send-off party in Suwa Park for the honored guests, who would next depart for the Philippines.

The mayor of Nagasaki addressed the happy crowd and toasted the Americans with champagne, thought to be much more Western and civilized than traditional Japanese sake. Then Taft, a mountain of a man, the Lord of the Philippines and the American God of War, rose to speak. Taft concluded his speech with a happy war chant in Japanese and English that brought the cheering crowd to their feet:

Japanese emperor… banzai!

Japanese navy… banzai!

Japanese army… banzai!

Japanese emperor… banzai!

Japanese navy… banzai!

Japanese army… banzai!87

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