Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Go West Young Man: Japan and Manchuria

I just began reading The Rising Sun, The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 by John Toland, and it looks to be a fascinating book. In its first few pages he has fleshed-out some of the events I only learned about after beginning research on my U.S. War Against Asia. I was particularly struck by his evocation of Japanese sentiments towards Manchuria, on pages 7 and 8:
"The two officers felt that Manchuria was the only answer to poverty in Japan. It could be transformed from a wilderness into a civilized, prosperous area, alleviating unemployment at home and providing an outlet for the overpopulated homeland, where more than two-thirds of the farms were smaller than two and a quarter acres."
Was that not exactly the attitude of European settlers towards America, and of the citizens of the United States towards the Indian nation lands of the West?

Were not the problems, including ethical problems, the same? After all, people already lived in Manchuria and felt they owned it. The dominant tribe was the Manchu (or Qing Dynasty), who had conquered China in 1644 and ruled it until 1912. In addition to non-Manchu indigenous groups, many ethnic Chinese, Koreans, an others had migrated to Manchuria over the centuries.

For Americans, the American west (and here I mean that ever-shifting West that originally was just few miles west of the shores of the Atlantic ocean) was considered to be essentially empty. American Indian tribe oral land titles were voided by murder. The attitude of the Japanese was that Manchuria was essentially empty. Land that was not mined, tilled, or urbanized was land wasted. Had the Japanese colonized Manchuria before 1850, no one would think much about a Manchurian state dominated by ethnic Japanese today. But the Japanese were coming late to the land-grab game. The United States had already grabbed Hawaii, Alaska and the Philippines by the time the Japanese got serious about Manchuria. Russia and China both wanted Manchuria. England, France, Germany, and the United States wanted Manchuria to be kept open to their own commercial exploitation. So Japan had to fight two major wars to get a grip on Manchuria, first with China and then with Russia.

It is still an interesting question, the relative rights of natives in thinly populated areas against the rights of intruders to settle. Religion aside, it is the fundamental question in Palestine right now. It is also a fundamental question in Tibet. I've heard it is a fundamental question in the states of Washington and Oregon, who look with horror upon the masses of northward trekking Californians who (except in the current recession) keep pushing up real estate prices.

One might also ask about Hawaii. As I recently found out, when the United States seized Hawaii, the biggest ethnic group there was not native polynesians, nor American colonists, it was Japanese. They were not consulted in the deal. Neither were the natives consulted when the U.S. grabbed the Philippines. Lucky for the Filipinos, not many Americans wanted to emigrate there, although about two million Filipinos were murdered to clear the way just in case.

There does not seem to me to be anything fundamentally wrong with Han Chinese emigration to Tibet, as long as the native Tibetans have equal rights and land transfers are fair and transparent. The fear is always that the new majority (or more powerful group even if it is in a numerical minority) will discriminate against the old majority. In American history, brief though it is, we see this happened in Texas. The Mexican government made the mistake of allowing American (northern European-descended) settlers. As soon as they could they rebelled and established a nation, Texas, that discriminated against Mexicans (and the remaining native American Indian tribes), often simply murdering them without a trial or any pretext.

The peaceful process of immigration into the United States, though sometimes politically contentious, actually serves as a good model for the world. I would like to see more mobility, not less. Every person should have the full human rights recognized by mankind. That should include the right to relocated provided you follow reasonable rules. You should be able to buy land, a residence, or a business from someone who is a willing seller. But doing what the Israeli state does: bulldozing communities off their land, then sending in settlers, is wrong. No matter who does it: Chinese, Americans, Japanese, or any nation or group of people.

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