Entered World Politics Too Late to Realize Ambition Of Bestriding the Ear East
REVIEW of REVIEWS
IN Harper's Magazine, Nathaniel Peffer asserts that Japan will never realize its ambition to bestride even the Eastern world much less the whole world, and in an analysis of that country’s economic position he tells why.
Until now Japan has had only the advantages of Westernism — wealth, power, extension of range, comfort, conveniences, and efficiency. It has begun now to get the disadvantages—dependence on foreign trade, dependence on external sources of raw materials, burden of armament expenditure to support expansionist policies based on need for foreign trade and foreign raw materials, entanglement in the world economy, increasing disparity of wealth at home and the resulting discontent, growing antagonism between classes, submergence of the agrarian population. That Japan has been successful in adopting Westernism can no longer be doubted. What can be questioned is whether it will be any more successful in escaping the penalties of Westernism than the West has been. On the evidence of 1937 the answer is an emphatic negative. For to the disabilities inherent in industrialism it has added encumbrances of its own making.
By encumbrances of its own making I mean the heedless, almost frenzied attempt in the past few years to annex the whole of the Far East. If one knew nothing of Japan’s past and took no account of the state of the rest of the world, one could logically come to the conclusion that all of Japan’s troubles are traceable to this cause alone. Japan’s troubles are mainly economic of course. But in their immediate, critical aspect they are the difficulties, not of an industrial, capitalistic economy but of a war economy. For all social purposes, for all purposes except the dispatch of troops and the military burial of men killed in action, Japan has been at war since 1931, a war of economic attrition in which there is not even the advantage of a definite enemy to be attacked.
Had Japan not been unofficially at war it would probably be sounder today than any of the countries numbered among the great Powers. It had just passed into the stage of industrial effectiveness. It had for the first time reached the position of active competition for world trade, the position from which it has made such successful inroads into the market of almost every country in every part of the world. Had it confined its expansion within those channels it would now have been stable and, compared with the rest of the world, prosperous. Much of the recent prosperity may have been a war prosperity, the flush of armament orders that is a symptom of fever rather than health; but with this discounted, it would still in the normal course have escaped the worst of the worldwide depression and shown a net gain in national balance. The increase in trade might have been smaller
but the drain on wealth to pay for arms, would have been still smaller.
To be sure, nationalism and expansion are inseparable from modem industrialism. They may even flow from modern industrialism. To a degree Japan’s attempts to conquer the Far East followed from its success in reaching the stage of industrial effectiveness. That is to say, it had come to a point where it had to have access to the raw materials to be found on the Asiatic continent and outlet for its finished products. To a degree Japan’s economic needs dictated expansion, but not to the degree that Japan has carried expansion. For that an intoxicated chauvinism and an uncontrolled militarism are responsible, more than the requirements of its industrialization and its poor endowment by nature.
The army has staked its position at home on continued glory abroad. That is the only justification for the sacrifice it has exacted from the Japanese people. It must show success and more success. The Japanese army may some day be wiped out by an alien enemy or an internal rising, but it will never commit hara-kiri, romantic misconceptions about the Japanese code of chivalry notwithstanding.
Directly or indirectly, higher taxes must materialize in higher prices. They cannot be taken out of labor costs, since wages are already at a minimum and the new tax levies are on commodities of general use,
so that the cost of living must rise in any case. It has done so since the beginning of this year and wages have had to be raised to avoid strikes. From wages and costs of raw materials up through every' stage of the productive process the taxes must become an added charge, pyramiding at every stage, until they appear as a higher selling price for export goods. And Japan’s competitive position is weakened.
By any long-run calculation Japan is weak. Its social foundations are unstable. Its present status is not permanently tenable. And it is laying up for itself a lean and perhaps disastrous future. But that hardly warrants setting a date for its demise, and the sermons now being rehearsed on the fall that followeth pride in Oriental nations are premature. Not only is the staying power of nations longer than is commonly believed, but though they may be socially spent, they can still have tremendous striking power. They may be destitute so far as capacity to feed and house their population on a decent standard is concerned; but they can still be potent in war.
Japan may not have reached its limits, but it will never attain the heights it sought. It will never bestride the world, not even the Eastern world. For that it is too small a nation and too lacking in the national resources indispensable to omnipotence. And for that it entered the arena of world politics too late.
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