Japan Over Asia

by William Henry Chamberlin
[Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $3.50]
WHENEVER a crisis arises in Far Eastern affairs, the men and women who are content with newspaper accounts of Europe’s troubles seem to require books about the Orient to explain to them in more detail who is responsible and why, and what the outcome is likely to be. This demand naturally brings down upon us in such times as this a plethora of responses, most of which make painful and irritating reading for those who have lived in the thick of the Sino-Japanese conflict. It is taken for granted in the East that the ‘timely’ book will be a slovenly and superficial one; but Mr. William Henry Chamberlin has broken completely with this tradition. He has written the most intelligent ‘background’ book on the Far East that has appeared in several decades.
Japan over Asia is first of all a remarkably accurate piece of reporting in a field where every obstacle that human ingenuity can devise is opposed to accuracy. It is the first work on the Orient which this reviewer has read in twentyfive years in which he could find no Oriental name misspelled, no instance of geographical confusion, no errors in dates, and no citations of doubtful statistics, unless with due warning that they were doubtful. Secondly, perhaps as a result of his long Russian sojourn, Mr. Chamberlin seems to have been absolutely impervious to the partisanship of the Occidental communities in Asia and to propaganda, published or personal. He seems to have studied each bit of special pleading that came his way as an interesting psychological phenomenon, revealing Oriental ways or aspirations that were worthy of his notebook. In short, Mr. Chamberlin has achieved in a couple of years a judicial attitude towards Far Eastern issues at which old-timers in that part of the world usually arrive after a generation of successive enthusiasms and disillusionments — if ever. The result is that this opinionated critic has found it impossible to disagree wholly with any of tlie author’s findings; for when I am not predisposed by my own experience to agree with him, he persuades me to doubt my own judgment.
Japan over Asia is two books in one. The first 224 pages have to do with Japan’s craving for expansion — an appetite which, like most others, grows with eating. This is traced to its economic and spiritual stimulants: to overpopulation, poverty in natural resources, exclusion from desirable colonial fields and restricted markets; also to the psychology of the military caste, ascetic, obsessed by an almost mystical conception of Japan’s destiny, as contemptuous of bourgeois interests as the Communists, yet (on the practical side) determined to prepare for the supposedly inevitable conflict with Russia by taking essential strategic positions on the mainland, without concern for the rights of others or the cost to the Japanese people. Mr. Chamberlin exhausts the possibilities of Japan’s expansion southward (as advocated by the navy) through the Philippines to the Dutch East Indies, of her expansion northwestward into Mongolia and Siberia, and of her immediate plans for reducing North China to docile economic ‘coöperation.’ Add to these discussions the book’s last chapter, ‘How Strong Is Japan?’ — in which the author expresses the belief that major military operations would exhaust Japan in a year, and half concludes that Japan has no imperial destiny after all.
Between page 224 and the closing chapter there are 134 pages of detailed analysis of Japan’s domestic politics and economy, including a brilliant explanation of the fact that in such a highly regimented and purposeful state there is no responsible authority, that Japan is a dictatorship which has not and is unlikely to have a dictator. These latter pages really form a supplementary book, which explains still more fully to those who want a deeper understanding of the Far Eastern problem how Japan’s serious worries and native conceits have mated to bring forth a ruthless, reckless, possibly ruinous foreign policy.