The American Mind in the Orient

THERE is a state of mind quite general, even if not universal, in Americans across the Pacific — cool toward the Filipinos, sympathetic with the Chinese, unfriendly toward the government and people of Japan. It is held against the Filipinos that they are ungrateful and misguided; that, with all our service to them, they wish independence; and yet that they do not really wish it, but suffer a mere surface-agitation, stirred in a children-people who are unfit to rule themselves. Regarding the Chinese and the Japanese, it is hardly necessary to repeat the reasons given for believing in the sterling character of the one and in the want of integrity of the other — enough, if true, to warrant our friendship and aversion.


In seeking to penetrate this state of mind, one feels how partial is its testimony. For the Americans in the Philippines, in saying that the natives are as children, do not usually add that, unlike most children, they eagerly go to school. Indeed, in the last few years, which our residents review so ruefully, the years begun by that coming of Governor Harrison, who is reputed to have been all that a representative of our government should not be, the task has been, not to keep open the schools lhat the Americans established, but to provide sites and buildings and teachers for the ever-increasing number who seek admittance. It is also said — and I believe with truth — that to departments of government which have passed from American to Filipino control grave harm has come; that friends and relatives have been appointed to office, with incompetence, if not dishonesty, to the front. But it is less often said that this people has lived but a few years with our administration, and centuries with the Spanish; that the Filipinos whom age and prestige carry into more important office are those whose habits of thought were formed under Spain; that, even under American rule, serious impropriety in office has been known; and that the young Filipino officials, trained in American schools and colleges, are showing a spirit and ability which I have heard praised in the highest quarter. And is it not greatly to their credit that, with all their aspiration for self-government, they arc not unruly, not impatient of us; so that our people can, as I did, pass unarmed and unafraid among former head-hunters of the Luzon highlands?

Nor is the mind of our residents inclined to consider how much the very desire for independence is a result, not of the mere politico only, but of American ideals and training. For years the Filipino has observed us glorying in our separation even from a people one with us in blood and tongue and culture; and we have officially declared our purpose to grant him a like independence. Yet, when these ideas begin to bud and leaf, it seems to many the mark of a shallow and ungracious life. We may wisely hold that independence should still be delayed; that our rare experiment in the training of an Oriental and dependent people must not, for their sake and the world’s, be imperiled by immense and premature responsibilities; that, indeed, the time has come to give less honor to independence and more to the spirit of community and federation. But the time will, I trust, be late in coming, when America will deny her own great pledge to the Islands; or when to remind us of that pledge will be an offense, and will lessen the patient effort toward its satisfaction.

And if, instead of defending the Chinese, our people in the East disliked them, could they not find ample ground? It will, I hope, not conceal my own renewed wonder at the greatness of China, if I suggest what an unkindly critic might say. For the unvarnished facts certainly awaken doubt of the political fibre of the Chinese: they have long and repeatedly accepted foreign rule, and now, attempting to rule themselves, they have tenfold the dissension which, should it appear among the Filipinos in their freedom, would be held a sure sign of their incompetence. North, as all know, is against South; monarchist is in arms against republican; the political authority of Peking extends hardly beyond her walls; the dethroned Emperor in the Forbidden City, with his Manchu guard, has within a few months had this guard replaced by soldiers of the national army, lest he be smuggled out and proclaimed again in the North. The turmoil of years past is expected for years to come.

But more than the dissension, its continuance seems partly due to the dishonesty of the Chinese. Disorder continues because official dishonor permits Japan to keep the Chinese waters troubled. Indeed, more than once was I told, by intelligent Chinese themselves, that a chief reason for refusing Japan’s repeated offer to confer upon Shantung is that so vital a thing could not be entrusted to their own representatives. Yet, led by a sympathy in which I fully share, our own people speak only of the integrity of the Chinese, illustrating it by the hoary fable of Japanese banks all manned by Chinese tellers. One need not believe that the Chinese at marrow are tradesmen and not statesmen, ready to put private above public good; yet, this would be believed and cried aloud, did we seek reasons against this admirable folk.

And if there were good-will toward the Japanese, would not there be found a counterweight to all that is nowheaped in but one pan of the scale? Might we not then once more admire the industry, the intelligence, the beauty, the courtesy in Japan? As I journeyed hundreds of miles in Kyushu, I marveled, as have many before me, to see impossible lands bearing rich harvests; marveled still more to see laboring men and women, untired of body and unhungry of heart , joyful even at their toil. Almost everywhere fair nature is respected, and linked with worship. Their insolence toward Americans has been affirmed; but in our railway-car an American sprawled his legs into the gangway until they became a hurdle for all who went that way; a large American woman put her nailed shoes hard down on a Japanese passenger’s new and spotless leather suitcase, and brushing aside the rug with which he had reserved a sleeping-space for himself, she stretched herself well into his sphere of influence, and all of her slumbered and slept. Nor by word or look could one detect in the many Japanese a sign of impatience or displeasure. These are the people who, to the American in the East, almost seek occasion for discourtesy toward us.


This state of mind, then, is not wholly due to the reasons that are heard. Yet it has its causes, which it would be both interesting and useful to discern.

The instinctive antipathies of race are not its source. The Chinese, toward whom our people warm, are racially as repellent as are the Japanese and the Filipinos for whom we have scant favor. Nor must it seem that I am not deeply sensible of the moral offense in the substance and manner of Japan’s extension upon the mainland of Asia, if I suggest that this does not fully explain the American attitude toward her. For many of our people in the East, who see with indignation Japan’s delay in fulfilling her promise of Shantung, can look dispassionately on our own indefinite postponement of our promise to the Filipinos. Indeed, American merchants in Manila recently passed a resolution favoring, not delay, but repudiation; favoring definite annexation— but with a soothing word added, that the annexation should be ‘ non-imperialistic,’ whatever that may mean.

But while, in spite of lapses on our part, there has indeed been deep offense in the manner of Japan’s territorial growth, yet a more potent cause of illwill lies in a vague and ominous rivalry in the Far East. We have a growing interest in national and private possessions there, in political and commercial prestige in those distant coasts. Japan and America almost suddenly find themselves powerful and face-to-face, the limits of their action all undetermined, their confronting energies without adjustment or accepted bonds. Rivalry without rules and for great possessions can hardly be other than unfriendly. It spawns ill-will, with delusions that innocence is being thwarted by cunning. Japan menaces our movement in a wide region that excites the imagination, and stirs both avarice and ambition. Were an angel from heaven to do us this turn, we should hardly find in him pure virtue. Our people fear Japan and fortify themselves for conflict. One will fight the better if he hates; one will hate the better if his rival seems to be in character detestable. The avenues of reason, when cupidity and ambition are astir, are thus given into the service of passionate desire, and truth finds its own way hindered.

But of China we are not afraid. And the natural sympathy for a nation struggling to shake off an ancient tyranny is strengthened by her hating the object of our own dislike. To this is added the sense of advantage in her friendship, both in itself and as a check upon our rival. Thus our people in the Orient see only the virtue in the Chinese.

As for the Filipino, the judgment of him is affected by the same obscure currents. He will not easily be estimated on his merits. The temptation is to condemn the Filipino’s desire of liberty because it is inconvenient, not so much to him as to us. We need his islands for our own far-flung design. All of the coolness toward him, therefore, need not be of his making: its source may, in part, be in an unacknowledged wish to find him incompetent, to justify the longer possession of his land. So the tangled skein of motives, which brings too exclusive attention to China’s excellence and Japan’s defect, brings also into clearest notice the shortcoming of our own island ward.


Such a state of mind gives promise neither of healing by time alone, nor of remaining unperilous. For, besides the possibilities of accident and drift, there are too many interests, both American and foreign, ready to use a conflict between us and Japan profitably; our paw and claw would draw out chestnuts.

We should face the truth without self-flattery; if Japan appears to us overdesirous of territory, how much more so must we appear to her. And while her political extension has been away from us, we have been sweeping into regions ever toward her: first to the hither coast of the Pacific; then up and down that coast to include both California and Alaska — on the map seeming as an arm almost ready to encircle her on the north; then out upon the Pacific, to Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines, as an arm almost ready to encircle her on the south. Our fortifications, camps, and warships, multiplied in the waters ever nearer her, seem — I have quiet and honorable Japanese word for it — a direct threat. Our troops are on the mainland of Asia, behind her. Let us recognize that the tension in Americans of the Orient is not borne in upon them as harmless stay-at-homes, glad to hold only what their fathers had. They are in the van of the great and exciting march of a restless race. The crisis is not, as many Americans believe, forced upon us by Japan; she is not challenging our place in the sun. Upon our side it is no struggle for existence; it is rather a struggle to make a success already unparalleled still further from equality.

We are, then, not constrained: we are free to will the instrument, the time, the method. It is upon us to examine and control, in the interests of national and world policy, the promptings both of our commerce and of our military strength.

As for our commerce, important as it is for us and others, it must not be allowed to dull America’s sense of right. It must not make us tear up the paper on which any national promise to an alien people is written; it must not have a deciding voice against measures that bring us nearer to a well-ordered world. The menace of our age, of which 1914 was an indication, but which did not end with Germany’s defeat, lies in the acquisitive instinct, the instinct for possessions. It threatens to play in national life the rôle which, in the individual, the Freudians assign to the. seximpulse. Its energy must be sublimated if we are not to be undone. For never has there been such stimulus to this corporate impulsion; never such a prompting to make government its instrument, both at home and abroad; never such temptation to seek commercial supremacy even at the cost of international friendship, indeed at the cost of war itself.

Nor must we allow the suggestions of military strength in the Pacific to control our policy. There is less security than peril in such a programme. In so doing we follow a course which, appearing as insurance against war, is assurance that war will come. We rightly complain of the militarism of Japan, and yet we take the perfect means to give it strength. Military prudence will suggest that we revise our standing policy regarding the Philippines, with an eye to their permanent retention, even as Admiral Mahan felt that we should permanently retain Cuba. The suggestions of needed strength at distant outposts are endless. Lord Salisbury, after listening to such appeals, sagely wrote to the Earl of Cromer: ‘I would not be too much impressed by what the soldiers tell you about the strategic importance of these places. It is their way. If they were allowed full scope, they would insist on the importance of garrisoning the moon, in order to protect us from Mars.’

Is not this endless progress to be seen in our own history? A strong reason, among others, why we had to have the Hawaiian Islands was that they were the key to the Pacific. We now are tempted to continue in the Philippines as the key to our position in the East. A military writer has just told us that we have utterly failed to see that Guam is the key to the Philippines. Latest of all, the world is startled to discover that, with the little isle of Yap in Japanese hands, our whole structure of safety is insecure; Yap is the key of keys. Thus everything of this nature that we are assured will give strength gives weakness, gives a new point where we are vulnerable. No safety, no peace of mind, lies in that direction.

Our policy must show real safety in the Pacific. No one power, not even ourselves, can well be entrusted with might uncontrolled by the community. The community of nations bordering on the Pacific must be formidable, and not the several nations of themselves.

The key to the Pacific is in Europe; or rather, the keys are in Europe, Asia, and America. With the powers hovering over China, ready to snatch more flesh from her living body, Japan (by all principles of worldly wisdom) can follow little other than her present course. The only way to keep what she has (again by the worldly wisdom to which we ourselves have subscribed) is to be forever getting more. Japan’s danger to us is not that she is strange to our modern world, but that she has revealed as in a glass the very face and features of the Occident. She reveals in an unexpected quarter the intrinsic peril of the historic policies of the West.

We can in honor ask of her nothing that we ourselves will not grant. She and we can be brought to comity only by a communal device for safety, an agreement organized and made institutional, in which we with others take the risk along with the benefit. Japan has shown her willingness to enter such a cooperative device, while we have refused. Japan has been willing to have her aggressive hands prevented, and to give her pledged support against the aggressive hands of others; while we have been unwilling. We haggle over the terms upon which we shall become a member of an organized community; we want no inconvenience of contract, of stated obligation. Japan has been willing to bind herself, even with her chief rival left in all liberty of action. This difference in spirit of accommodation to a new world-order ought to make our residents in the East less confident that we are always right and Japan always wrong.

It is thus within our power to relieve the perilous tension. Japan’s chief incentive and excuse would disappear, should America organize the world’s will against all political expansion in the Orient. But our first care must be that the organization be of certain doom to the aggressor, not that it leave us our perfect freedom. If we can persuade the nations to create an instrument more effective than the present League, therein lies our course; but we and the Eastern world need nothing less effective.