Japan and Britain

Beverley Baxter February 15 1938

Japan and Britain

Beverley Baxter February 15 1938

Japan and Britain


Beverley Baxter

THE OTHER day I sat in the lounge of the Savoy Hotel before lunch with an American publisher. He was an intelligent man. one of the minority of world citizens who inhabit the Free and United States of America.

He was worried. So was I. The cynic might observe that when a writer and publisher are seen together, it is only the publisher who should look worried. In this case, however, our discussion was not of manuscripts or futurti novels but of the Far East.

“Has Japan gone mad?" he asked, over and over again. “Perhaps the whole world has gone mad." I answered. We tried to talk of other and lighter things, such as literature, the London climate. Hitler, winter sports and Mussolini. It was no use. Japan. Japan. Japan. The word followed us as the eyes of the murdered Nancy haunted Bill Sykes.

A friend of mine passed. “Have you taken the moth balls out of your uniform?” he asked.

A young Oxford Grouper who has wrestled for my soul more than once came over and asked if I knew any inside facts about the Far Eastern situation. When I shook my head, he muttered: “I’d give anything to have a crack at those devils."

An interesting commentary on the Group . . . But then Shaw first created the muscular Christian who was always breaking the necks of infidels who would not see the light. Japan. Japan. Japan.

A waiter came up to us. With that superb detachment of the Italian waiter from all mundane affairs, he bowed to me. “The Japanese ambassador on the telephone for you, sir.”

He would have used exactly the same voice and manners if it had been a blonde, an inspector of police, or the Archbishop of Canterbury. Nevertheless the announcement was not without an element of melodrama, and I went to the telephone box with considerable interest.

It was not the ambassador but his English secretary. Would I honor His Excellency by dining with him on Thursday evening to meet Viscount Ishii, the unofficial Japanese ambassador to Europe? His Excellency had such charming memories of our last meeting, and as this was to be a small private dinner it would give him such intense pleasure . . .

As the Japanese saying has it—when you bow, see that you bow low. At any rate I answered that Thursday evening would witness the honor and happiness of finding His Excellency, Mr. Shigeru Yoshida,

Viscount Ishii and myself under one roof.

When I told the publisher, he shook his head. “I’d be damned if I would go,” he said.

Later on at the House of Commons a friend of mine came up. “I hear you have been asked to dine with the Japanese ambassador on Thursday night,” he said. “I have refused to go.

So has—and-—. You are letting the side down if you accept.”

For half an hour we discussed the matter, but his arguments did not impress me and I told him so. We were not at war with Japan. Viscount Ishii was once Foreign Minister of that country, and wished to put its case to a selected few of us in London. That case might be bad, it might be ludicrous, but Viscount Ishii had a right to make it.

As for the pleasure of snubbing the Japanese ambassador, that seemed a singularly immature gesture.

“You will get in trouble with yourconstituents if they hear about it.” he said as a final warning.

“I shall publish the fact in my local papers,” I answered, “so that they will certainly hear about it.”

That was the atmosphere of London when on Thursday night I drove to .the Japanese embassy. It was going to be interesting to see who would be there.

The Japanese Argument

YTLTHEN WE sat down in the huge dining room of the

* * Japanese embassy in Grosvenor Square this was the personnel:

Viscount Ishii.

The Japanese ambassador.

Four young Japanese diplomats.

Six British M. P.'s.

A former British ambassador in the Far East.

The setting was not without drama or incongruity. On the w-alls were three large paintings. Of warriors? Of emperors? Of victories? Not at all. All three were of flowers.

Mr. Shigeru Yoshida, the Japanese ambassador, and the eighty-one-year-old Viscount Ishii smiled frequently but rather sadly. On the other hand, the younger diplomats were full of vivacity and charm. One of them could easily become a rage on the films with his good looks and his graciousness.

The sextet from the House of Commons was grim and uncompromising. We knew that we were going to be subjected to propaganda, and our minds were drawn up for defense like the British squares at Waterloo.

The former British ambassador looked on, half amused, half curious. He understood the Oriental mentality and the Britishthe two most astute mentalities in the world.

When the dinner was over, we lit our cigars and the game began. I looked around with a keen interest. The British all seemed so huge and imperturbable in comparison with the little Japs interspersed among them. Yet one man stood out above all the others -the old veteran. Viscount Ishii. A great man, this octogenarian statesman. Former Foreign Minister, former ambassador to Washington, former ambassador to France, now a wandering and unofficial ambassador of good will in a world of concentrated ill will toward his country.

I intend that the readers of Maclean's shall hear his case just as it was put to us. We did not interrupt him as he spoke in slow but excellent English. So if you will join our table we shall now listen to the apologist for the Orient:

“We were very proud in Japan to be the ally of Great Britain, Every boy, as soon as he was old enough, was taught to believe that the English nation was his friend. That made him proud and happy. When the war of 1914 occurred, you did not ask us to come to Europe, but we did what you wished and cleared the Pacific of any German menace. Then in 1921 you decided that you were finished with the Alliance. America asked you to break our partnership, and Canada added a decisive voice. Canada and America were nations on the Pacific. Once more we found ourselves alone in the East, our great friend wanting us no more.

“Yet we did not change toward you. We still said, 'Britain is our friend, even if notour ally.’ And that is true today, although the situation is so difficult.

“But soon we found that the Western world did not want our goods or our people. Japan, they said, must stay in the East. We had commercial treaties with China, but China always breaks treaties. No nation can be so distrusted as China when she signs a solemn agreement.

“China, seeing that we were no longer an ally of Britain, began to boycott our goods and endanger the lives of our people. We had to take over Manchukuo to safeguard ourselves. The harsh opinions of Britain hurt us very deeply, but since the West did not want us we had to make our lives safe in the East.

“But China would not be friends. We had our rights by the Treaty of Peking, the same as the other Powers, and we sent a small army to North China to protect our people and our business. China had an immense army, perhaps a million and a half. The Chinese officers said that the Japanese army was not good, that we had not fought a real war since Russia.

“One day they attacked our soldiers, who were exercising, as was their right. So surprised were we that we sent an officer to enquire, and the Chinese fired again. So the fighting began. We hotted to settle it soon in the North, but China began fighting at Shanghai so as to involve us with the Powers.

“We have no territorial designs in China. We shall respect the rights of other Powers, although China intends to get rid of every foreign concession, in spite of the fact that it is foreign money that has built up her wealth.

"All we desire is jteace in China and the safety of our trade and our people. We still love the British, although your newspapers have been so severe that there have been antiBritish outbursts in Tokyo. The Japanese cannot understand why the British press sees only the side of China, the wrecker of treaties.”

That in substance was the case made by Viscount Ishii. It was listened to with respect.

The British Reply

WHEN IT was over, we put our case. Each of us contributed to the discussion, but so completely were we in accord that it is not necessary to differentiate between one speaker and another. Therefore, just as I have asked you to hear the cast: for Japan as presented by its unofficial spokesman, I now ask you to listen to the British case as it was heard by the six Japanese present:

“Your Excellency, we are very grateful for your exposition. If we are unable to accept all that you say in its entirety, that does not lessen our gratitude to you for having put it to us. We recognize that you yourself have nothing but good will toward the British people, and we thank both you and His Excellency the ambassador for this opportunity to meet around this table.

“Your description of the life and death of the AngloJapanese Alliance is perfectly accurate. That Alliance was invaluable to us. During its existence the Pacific was a safety zone for British interests, and we never had cause to complain of your country as a partner.

“Whether or not that Alliance should have been ended, is

Continued on page 30

London Letter

Continued from page 17 -

a very serious question. You will no doubt remember that after the War there was an irresistible movement in Britain to cement the understanding of the English-speaking nations. To please America we accepted an impossible war-debt settlement, we extended the three-mile limit to twelve miles to assist their prohibition law, we made Southern Ireland into a Free State to soothe the feelings of Irish Americans, and finally we parted company with our good friend and ally, Japan. It is only fair to say, Your Excellency, that we might not have done so if the pressure from Canada had not been enormous and finally decisive.

“Many of us had grave doubts at the time and expressed them. However, the Anglo-American ideal won out. Also, you must remember that we hoped that the League of Nations would see the end of all alliances.

“Therefore, we take no issue with you on these points. We think, however, Your Excellency, that you might have given us a little more history of your country than that which deals only with Anglo-Japanese relations. It was not merely for poetry that China in ancient days gave your island the name Ji-Pan, meaning the source of the sun. There have been many signs that your people not only believe that they are the children of the sun, but that they have a special mission to dominate the Orient.

“That feeling was given an immense impetus by your defeat of Russia in 1904, although we think you will not deny that another few weeks would have seen your troops too exhausted to fight on.”

(Viscount Ishii nodded assent. I wanted to remind him that the Japanese attacked the Russian Fleet before the declaration of war, and to enquire if this was a permanent Japanese custom. However, I contented myself with saying it to the Japanese diplomat on my right.)

The Japanese ambassador interrupted to suggest that we should circulate the port, and we then went on with our case.

“You will agree, Your Excellency, that the Treaty of Versailles, after the War, gave Japan the prizes of contest without the sacrifices. Europe was exhausted, a giant ruined by its own folly if you like. The sun was rising in the East in more senses than one. Modern machinery from Britain had created a vast textile industry in Japan. You had the latest methods, no weight of dead capital, and the newest equipment generally. It is no use our denouncing Japanese competition merely on the grounds of cheap labor. There is no question that your industries generally are efficient, even if you have copied everything from the Western world.”

Irresponsible Japanese Army


Y “For 250 years,” he said, “we tried to isolate ourselves from the whole world. We even kept our ships so small that they could not go beyond a certain range. After all, it was Britain, America and France that insisted upon our abandoning that isolation. You cannot blame us if we learned from our teachers.”

We admitted his point, and said that so far as it had gone our argument was not intended in any sense of criticism.

“You will admit, however,” we went on, “that with the coming of industrialization, the surface standards of Japanese life became changed. Your young ladies, for example, took to dressing like Westerners and actually met their fiancés before betrothal.”

“That is true,” said the ambassador, “but they revert to traditional dress when they marry.”

The four Japanese diplomats smiled broadly. The British case was much more mild than they had expected. They did not, however, know what was coming.

“We have long admired the courtly manners of your country, Your Excellency,” we continued. “Your people have a delicate and pervading sense of beauty which made it a land of much charm for those fortunate enough to visit Japan, but I think you will admit that perhaps the greatest change in the new Japan was that which took place in your army. It is well known that your Government became greatly worried by the growth of secret societies. The gospel of the mailed fist was preached behind closed doors. In fact, to put it bluntly, a very unpleasant development began to take place. A new Japanese army was arising, consisting of men of poor education, of violent egotism, and a fanatical belief in their own invincibility. We have noted with great sorrow how the soldiers have become the masters of your politicians.

“As time went on they either dominated your Government by the appointment of ministers to suit themselves, or they got rid of ministers of whom they did not approve by the simple method of assassination.”

(I ' looked at the face of the Japanese ambassador. It had the mask of a fixed smile, but I was wondering if his thoughts had not gone back to an incident not long ago in Tokyo when his father-in-law, Count Makino, just managed to escape death through the efforts of his wife who was wounded by the would-be assassins. Mr. Shigeru Yoshida, like Viscount Ishii, is a Liberal and a man of good will toward men. There are more sufferers from Japanese violence than the unfortunate Chinese on the Yangtze.)

“In other words, Your Excellency, we believe that the army is the master of your country and that its aims are dangerous, its officers irresponsible, and its menace to the world very great. You have given your version of what started this trouble in North China. Y'ou will not object if in turn we give you ours, based upon the reports of men on the spot and whose integrity we cannot doubt.

“Your army in North China was there by treaty rights and existed for the ostensible purpose of protecting Japanese interests and Japanese lives. Unfortunately, it extended its activities far beyond those legitimate purposes. It became a cloak for the smuggling of Japanese goods, which reached such a point that it was demoralizing the whole economic structure of the country. Further than, that, your soldiers offered such persistent affront to the Chinese that even the almost inexhaustible patience of that country could stand it no longer. We agree that the Chinese fired first and without warning. Our belief is that it was only a matter of time when that had to happen, and that it was the desire of your army that it should be so. We are not impervious to the fact that there is in Japan a strong but submerged liberalism represented by yourself and by our host. Our hope is that the very violence and the monstrous blunders of your army may hasten the day when the true Japan will speak again. If that time comes, you will find Britain ready to resume its ancient friendship with your country. Unless that comes, we can see nothing but the gravest developments between Japan and Britain.”

A Grave Situation

OF NECESSITY there will be a considerable lapse of time between the writing of this London Letter and its appearance in Maclean’s. It is possible that by the time these words appear, America and Britain will have made a combined move in the Pacific.

The situation is so grave that one can only hope that its very menace may bring a sense of caution to the madmen who are dominating Japan today.

Is Japan committed to a policy of world conquest that will eventually bring her in conilict with the white races? If that is so then Japan is doomed, but no man can foresee what mighty things will be destroyed in the llames that will consume her.

Or is there still the Japan of cherry blossoms and scented mists, of lovers of beauty and courtly manners, the Japan of simplicity and good intentions toward mankind?

Perhaps—though silent under the heel of arrogant and damnable militarism.

As I said good-by to our host I glanced at the paintings of the flowers on the wall. Outside in the streets, the newspaper posters were proclaiming that another British protest had just been made to Tokyo.