Gareth Jones

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The Pacific Coast Outlook


By Gareth Jones
San Francisco, January, 1935 

Scares of war between Japan and the United States find fertile soil in California, where racial prejudice is powerful, but the menace of naval conflict between the two powers appears to be almost entirely an artificial growth encouraged by certain American interests.  For a state where unemployment is high it pays to paint a lurid picture of the need for defense in the Pacific, for as a result the fleet is concentrated in Californian waters, the traders benefit by the pay-roll of the officers and the men and the ship-building yards and the aircraft factories are provided with profitable orders. 

Any event, which shows the necessity of strengthening the naval and aviation weapons along the Pacific, is therefore exaggerated or adapted for purposes of propaganda.  Amelia Earhart’s flight from Honolulu to San Francisco in 16 hours is used as a bogey to demonstrate how small the ocean is becoming and how swarms of aeroplanes could suddenly swoop down on the cities on the coast.  When in April a regular air service opened between Canton, China and Manila, Guam, Wake Island Midway Island, Honolulu and the American mainland, the speed of the crossing will be another argument of the jingoists to further plans of naval and air construction. 

In reality there is no direct cause of war between America and Japan and reasonable observers on the Pacific coast realise that two nations whose trade is so complementary would avoid war at all costs.  Japan needs American steel, cotton and oil; America wants silk from Japan and since the war practically 40% of Japan’s foreign trade has been with the United Stated.  While there is competition in foreign markets, Japan has little chance of damaging American one of her vital exports, namely automobiles, nor her export of foodstuffs such as wheat. 

America’s investments in the Far East provide as little cause for direct conflict as do her trade interests.  Realists in San Francisco and Los Angeles know that her investments in her China a are meager, that out of a total of about £15,000,000,000 of United States funds invested abroad only $196,000,000(excluding philanthropic investments) are invested in China (1930 figure), that naval expenses, the cost of consuls, diplomats and marines, of chamber of commerce and of shipping subsidies probably far exceed the total profit annually made in business and finance, and that to risk war for a minute proportion of America’s trade investments and trade in Japan are far more valuable than her connections in China.  “You do not fight with your best customer”, remarked a Los Angeles editor when discussing this problem. 

Another reason why realists consider there will be peace in the Pacific between Japan and America is the tactical difficulty of waging war across a distance of over 5,000 miles.  That the Japanese fleet would come to California, many thousand of miles from its nearest bases and plunge into the very jaws of American defense is a fantastic idea.  To think of sending a n American fleet ti fight its way into the Sea of Japan or to blockade an enemy, which, having a continental area in Korea and Manchukuo, cannot be blockaded, is equally futile. 

Even if war were tactically feasible, political reasons for armed conflict are now absent.  American isolationism still feeds on the evil results of interfering in the last war and there is at present, a definite move away from Imperialism, which is characterised by voting of independence to the Philippines, by the withdrawal of the last American marine from Haiti after 19 years of occupation and by Secretary of State Hull’s declaration on the Latin America that no government need fear intervention on the part of the United States under the Roosevelt administration.  The period of aggrandisement in the Pacific is over and there is much advocacy of withdrawal from possession of territory.  A report of the Harris Foundation of the University of Chicago finds, for example, that possession of the Philippines, Samoa and Guam weakens the United States and that those islands are hostage to potential enemies. 

Japan’s absence of allies is also noted by publicists in California as a barrier against war and this factor is characterised by the remark of a Japanese travelling in America: “We are afraid, for we are isolated.  It would be difficult to have China on our side and the United States and Britain seem to be coming to an agreement.  In a war all would be against us.” 

An equally important Japanese factor in calming moderate opinion is the budgetary difficulties, which Japan is suffering.  The protests made by the Minister of Finance, Takahashi, against the military expenditures in Manchukuo are interpreted as indicating that the opponents of Japanese militarism are daring to raise their head and in support of this the speech of Takao Saito, leader of the Minseito Party, is quoted, in which he said: “The life of the people is insecure due to the menace of war and to the menace to freedom.  Because the Government permits the army and the navy to absorb too great a portion of our national funds we are forced to sacrifice measures which would promote the welfare of farmers and rural communities.” 

While direct causes of war between Japan and the United States are absent, there is, however, one indirect cause, which has before brought America into war, namely insistence of neutral rights.  If there is a war between Japan and Russia, American vessels will be engaged in carrying goods to Russia or to China with the final destination of Russia, and among the wares, traders are certain to dispatch contraband goods.  The day might thus come when a Japanese cruiser would stop an American vessel.  Unscrupulous newspapers would then arouse American public opinion and portray the same of the American citizens being ill-treated by members of what they consider an inferior race, and the problem of the freedom of the seas, which brought the United States into the war of 1812 against England and the Great War, might involve her in armed conflict with Japan. 

Unless President Roosevelt modifies the traditional American policy of protecting her traders against blockade, there is a slight danger of a Japanese-American War, Japan and the Soviet Union are ever engaged in fighting.  For this reason the indication that the President aims at amending neutrality rights in order to keep the United States out of embroilment is regarded as a bright omen for peace on he Pacific.  If there is war in that area, it will be safer for the United States that each trader sends goods to the belligerent nation at his own risk.  Revision of neutrality rights along these lines, leading to the abandonment of the Freedom of the Seas, which has been a stumbling- block in Anglo-American relations would lead to better feeling between the United States and Britain and by increasing against Japanese aggression. 

Although a war between Japan and the United States – except a war arising out of the violation of neutral rights appears - almost impossible, there remains a number of problems, which can lead to strained relations between the two countries.  Racial hatred mounts in the West from time to time and recently this has been typified by the fight over land ownership between the whites and the Japanese in Arizona.  Last year a number of Japanese migrated from the Imperial Valley in Southern California to the irrigated district of central Arizona where with their industry, thrift and low standard of living they provided severe competition with local farmers.  The result has been several bombings of Japanese farm property and arson of Japanese dwellings. 

Such events intensify the bitterness of feeling over immigration problems.  Although an intelligent section of the Californian population advocates that Japanese be allowed to enter on a quota, instead of being entirely excluded as at present, a more vociferous section fights vigorously any attempt to modify the Exclusion Act.  It is not likely that the wound dealt to the Japanese susceptibility by not allowing any Japanese immigrants will be healed and the supersensitiveness of the Japanese on this point will continue to mar friendship between Nippon and the United Stated. 

Other grievances – although not deep enough to cause war – are likely to separate Japan and America, among which are Japan’s blows at America’s traditional policies in the Far East, namely the Open Door and the Integrity of China.  The settling up of the oil monopoly in Manchukuo, which may be followed by the establishment of a Manchukuo tobacco monopoly, shows that the Open Door, to quote the Christian Science Monitor, “is being taken off its hinges and the opening steadily boarded up, nailed and sealed.”  Statements that American trade with Manchukuo has increased since Japanese occupation are misleading because, while it is true that American experts to Manchuria are greater in 1933 than in 1932, America’s share has since 1929 been reduced from 9% of the total import trade of Manchuria to 5% in 1933, while the Japanese share of imports has risen to 66% in 1933 as compared with 44% in 1929. 

American fear of trade competition, especially in Latin America, may lead also to worsening of relations.  Californian traders are alarmed by the Japanese imitation of American goods, and their low prices are as staple an item of conversation in San Francisco and in Los Angles clubs as they are in the Orient. 

Politically, the Californians fear the extension of Japan’s policy of “Asia for the Asiatics”, although few would be found willing to lay down the bones of an American soldier to stop Japan.  “If the Japanese see that the Americans threat s are never backed by force, they will venture more and more” is a prophesy often made on the Pacific coast and the belief that Japan will seize the Philippines as soon as those islands are abandoned by America is almost universally held. 

Curiously however, Japan's denunciation of the Washington Treaty has failed to arouse great excitement in California and is met by confident declaration that the United States could outbuild Japan and that, moreover the building of a large American Navy would be good for California.  However illogical it may appear the Western American combines a growing Big Navy consciousness with a desire for withdrawal from commitments in the Far East. 

The grievances and fears of the Japanese are as deep as the American.  They still resent bitterly the Exclusion act, the continuation of the Stimson policy of non-recognition of Manchukuo and the concentration of the American fleet in the Pacific.  Nor have they forgotten that at the end of the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, President Theodore Roosevelt conducted a conference at which Japan did not gain all she desired and that at the Conference of Versailles, president Wilson helped to make Japan yield Shantung. 

These differences between Japan and America are creating a strong pro-British sentiment on the Pacific coast and there is general support for an entente between Washington and London.  The passage of General Smuts’ speech in November advocating Anglo-American understanding, when quoted by a British lecturer, was enthusiastically cheered in several towns.  The need for closer relations between the two countries is stressed in conversations and articles with greater emphasis than formerly.  That this sentiment will lead to any alliance is highly improbable, for hatred of “entangling alliances “ is still powerful and there is a suspicion that Britain is using the United States “ to pull her chestnuts out of the fire for her in China”.  Nevertheless, in the event of no agreement being reached between the three powers in the Pacific, there will be almost universal approval of Anglo-American unity in defense of common interests in the Far East.


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