WOULD A RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR BE ANOTHER WORLD WAR?
AN ADDRESS BY MR. OWEN LATTIMORE
March 22, 1934
In the absence of Major W. James Baxter, M.C., the President, the Chair was occupied by MR. J. P. PRATT, first vice-president.
Before the Guest Speaker was introduced the following were appointed as a committee to nominate the officers of the Club for the ensuing year: Colonel Geo. A. Drew, Mr. John G. Spence, Mr. H. G. Stapells, Colonel Hooper and Mr. Hugh S. Eayrs.
MR. J. P. PRATT: The Club is indeed fortunate in having as its guest speaker today one who is recognized as an authority on the countries of the Far East.
Mr. Lattimore was born in Washington, D.C. At a very early age he accompanied his parents to China where he received his early education. He then attended St. Bees School in England and later Harvard University. Mr. Lattimore is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Member of the Royal Asian Society, and a Member of the Explorers Club of New York. He has travelled by caravan across the wastes of Khara, Gobi and on through Turkestan, drifting down the Sungari River in Wilder Manchuria. He spent months in lonely village settlements to gain first hand information for his book "Manchuria, Cradle of Conflict", a genuine literary contribution to the shelves of historical and documental information on China.
Mr. Lattimore only recently returned from Peking, after having made further travels in Central and Eastern Inner Mongolia. He will speak today upon the subject, "Would a Russo-Japanese War be another World War?"
MR. OWEN LATTIMORE: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: It is a particular pleasure for me to visit Toronto for the first time because although this is only my second visit to Canada, I have close ties with Canada and especially with Toronto because my wife's people come from close to Toronto, right in this country here and I feel that I am in home country when I am speaking to you. (Applause.)
To speak of a possible Russo-Japanese war as the beginning of a world war sounds very sensational. Now, I don't want to make this talk any more sensational than I can help. I want to stick as close as I can to facts.
Let me start off by comparing the present situation in the Far East with the situation in Europe in 1914. When the bomb was thrown at Serajevo in Serbia, few people thought it was the beginning of a war which would involve the whole of Europe. Still fewer people would have laid a bet at that date. Before the War was over, countries as distant from Europe as America and China were involved in the War. Yet, in Europe in 1914, the situation was comparatively well-known. It had developed slowly over years. Each nation knew its own position pretty well; it knew its opponents and its friends and if ever there was a time in history when nations could count on where they stood, 1914 was the year. Yet, in spite of all that was known by the different nations of the positions that they held in reference to the balance and structure of European wars, it was impossible to limit the War. It spread and spread until it involved most of the world.
In the Far East at the present day you have a situation which is much less clear. There are not many people who would sign their name to a prediction that in the event of a general war,, America would do this, or France would do that, or that Great Britain would do something else, and T don't propose to make any such rash predictions. All I can say is that with a situation involving such immense territories and so many nations, if any one nation resorts to a drastic solution by war, there is no telling where the process will stop, how far it will spread or how rapidly it will spread or what nations will be drawn in at the end. The country is so unknown, except the fringe of the coast, and such developments can take place in the interior that a situation of definite important to the whole world can be created before the world knows anything about it and before the world can do anything about it.
Canada is, like us in America, I think, vitally interested in questions of collective guarantees of world peace, the extending of international compacts for the preservation of peace. How far can we rely on it? The League of Nations failed in the Manchurian situation in 1931. How far can we count on the League of Nations in the future? How far can we count on any alternative grouping of nations?
Let us put it this way: International negotiation of any kind is a substitute for war. To declare war is to have recourse to the ultimate realities. War is cruel., war is wasteful, but it does bring out the bedrock facts of the relative power of different nations. If you are going to use negotiation as a substitute for war, you must have negotiation that is based on fact. If the negotiation is not closely based on facts, so they really approximate the true realities of the situation then your negotiation is going to fail and break down.
How far does the structure of international treaty arrangements conform with the nations in the Far East? I think that it doesn't conform closely at all, and the reason is obvious. From the time of the first open-door declaration on through 1915, and in the demands of
Japan to the 1922 Washington Conference and the peace treaty when Japan was manoeuvred away from the mainland of Asia, on to 1931 when Japan finally broke away from the treaty system and succeeded in gaining a foothold on the mainland of Asia, the whole international treaty system has been based on naval power. Even in the structure of the Nine Power Treaty and the Naval Treaties in the Pacific is the assumption that international relations of China are closely co-ordinated with the balance of naval power between the great nations of the West and Japan in the Pacific Ocean. Japan, once having succeeded in breaking away from the network of treaties and having succeeded in establishing herself on the mainland in Manchuria, by creating the State of Manchukuo has entirely altered the situation, because one of the vital questions is the land power of Japan in Manchuria and the danger to international peace in the Far East, so that a system of restrictions based on sea power will probably fail to restrain any developments that have been based primarily on land power, and it is the land power of Japan that is now vital, and the only competitor for Japanese land power is the land power of Russia.
The way in which this land power of Japan affects China is peculiar and it is not easy to understand for us who approach the problems of the Far East from the sea, but a good portion of my working life has been spent in the far interior of the Asiatic Continent and when you get as far inland as Chinese Turkestan, a couple of thousand miles from the Coast and turn and look back on China from that position, you see a very different China from the China that appears before the eyes of the visitor coming up on the steamer to Shanghai or Tientsin. You realize that the Western World conception of China is based on a very thin fringe of treaty ports along the Coast and that our relations with the government of China were our conception of Chinese history and of Chinese economics. Chinese geographical factors are all based on the sea.
The foreign office, whether the State Department in Washington or the Foreign Office in London, which would venture to guarantee that its sea coast relation with China would hold good in the face of continental developments two thousand miles inland, is not to be found, I think.
China is an enormous country. It is, roughly, as large as the Continental United States. And yet only about three-eighths, a good deal less than half of that country is true Chinese country. It isn't inhabited by people who speak Chinese, who have always historically been Chinese, who feel themselves Chinese, not only in race and nationality but in culture and tradition. The larger half of the territory marked "China" on the map are not Chinese in feeling or in history. Manchuria, Mongolia, Chinese Turkestan and Tibet are marked China on the map and form the greater part of China on the map but they are not China in the true sense. Manchuria is largely an exception because in recent years the enormous migration of Chinese to Manchuria has greatly altered the picture, so that the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Manchuria at the present day are Chinese in language, race, culture and political feeling, but even with Manchuria added, for the sake of argument to China proper, still the larger part of the country consists of the people in the comparatively inland territories of Central Asia-Chinese Turkestan, Tibet and Mongolia.
Here you have a peculiar situation, that is that almost all of the five hundred million of the population of China are confined within less than half of that territory while in the enormous territory on the north of the great wall and west of the end of the great wall" there are not more than twenty-five million people altogether. There are less Mongols and Central Asian Turks and Tibetans added together than there are Chinese in Manchuria alone, where there are twenty-eight or thirty million Chinese.
The natural assumption of the Westerner in using western history as a basis of comparison is that there must be an irresistible push outward from the crowded heart of true China into the empty fringes of China proper. It is all the more important to realize that throughout some twenty centuries of history there has never been, any such thrust. On the contrary, these lightly held and populated fringes of China have always borne down very heavily on the heart of China. The pulse rate of the history of China has been quickened in an endeavour to successfully resist invasions from these not numerous people of the north coming into China and establishing conquests there.
How is it then that all these countries are marked China on the map? That is because in the year 1911, when the Manchu Empire fell, China formed part of the Manchu Empire and the structure of that Empire was something like that of Austria-Hungary, to take an example of two separate nations with one sovereign. That is, the underlying structure of the Manchu Empire was Manchuria, subject to the Manchu Emperor. China, Mongolia, Tibet, were all subject to the Manchu Empire, none belonging to each other. The concept was not that Mongolia belonged to China or that China belonged to Mongolia; they were under the same Emperor. When the Empire fell the people had already become simply Chinese; they moved the capital to China and it became in language, in social feeling and in everything that made up their way of life, Chinese. So, while the Dynasty had become Chinese there was an underlying contradiction in the history of the formation of the Dynasty. It had been based on an alliance of frontier border people north of the great wall controlling China but not directly owning China and certainly not belonging to China. The Western World had long been in the habit of speaking of the Manchu Empire as the Chinese Empire and the world had taken it for granted that the Manchu Empire and the Chinese Empire were one and the same thing.
When the Empire fell and the Chinese Republic was declared the easier way to prevent international rivalries, to prevent the Russian ambitions of that time from overrunning Mongolia, to prevent open conflict between Russia and Japan, and in Manchuria to evade the question of the future of Chinese Turkestan and Thibet, was to write out the formula that the Chinese Empire no longer mentioned as the Manchu Empire had become the Chinese Republic. So, it was done.
All that fitted in with the traditions of the open-door doctrine,, the territorial sanctity of China and the self-denying co-ordination of the western nations in refraining from carving out particular colonial dominions in China. That formula worked very well. In fact, the formula was well on the way to becoming the same thing as the reality. Manchuria was fast being turned into a genuine homogeneous part of China but the process had not been extended to Mongolia. Mongolia, to the present day, is still Mongolian. They speak Mongol" and prefer to speak Mongol; they live like Mongols and prefer to live like Mongols. They don't want to be Chinese. It is the same way with the Tibetans. It is the same way with the Mongol races of Asia.
When the shock of the Japanese invasion crashing into the eastern part of the great wall frontier established the artificial nation of Manchukuo its effect went far beyond Manchukuo. Its effect was to shatter the structure of the outlying dominions of China and these effects are working and fomenting at the present day. There is a move toward autonomy m Mongolia and an unrest against Chinese rule in Chinese Turkestan; a wave of Tibetan nationalism moving back toward China is taking away from the Chinese land that the Chinese had colonized in the Tibet for the last few years. In other words, the conventional Chinese Republic has been broken up and the component parts have been preserved as a true China and a number of group organizations.
The process that has been begun in Manchuria can not easily be halted simply by the wish to halt it. I am not a student, particularly, of Japanese problems myself; I don't pretend to speak with authority on Japanese subjects. I believe that the majority of the people who do specialize in Japanese affairs believe that the Japanese themselves would be content to halt with Manchuria rind develop Manchuria but the effects of their action have gone a long way beyond Manchuria. That is the kind of stone you start rolling; after that you have to keep out of the way of the stone. The question is
Where is this process going to halt, that was begun in Manchuria and how are international relations to deal with this new process, the new reality? The new fact is that we are not dealing with a single Chinese nation in opposition to a single Japanese nation. We are dealing with a group of nations of which China is one, and we are dealing not only with Japanese interests in the Far East but with Asian interests and yet, at the same time, all our treaties, all our legal recognition of this nation and that nation, and this naval quota and that naval quota, are based on a situation which has already been, destroyed. If we throw our treaties into the discard and say that this is a chapter now completed and proceed to adjust ourselves by recognizing Manchukuo by attempting to recognize and admit openly and publicly the realities of the new situation, we convict ourselves in the eyes of people like the Chinese of cynicism and hypocrisy, so the practical benefits which we might gain by adjusting ourselves to the new situation would be offset by the moral loss, the distrust in the pledged word of western nations which people like the Chinese would forever feel. It is an almost impossible dilemma.
I think it is legitimate to speculate a little bit on the way in which this new frontier situation works. Take the relations of Manchuria, to go east of the great war frontier to begin with. The average person looks at the map and supposes that in the event of war between Russia and Japan, the key-point would be Vladivostok, the end of the Russian railway, reaching across Siberia to the Pacific Coast. Personally, I don't think this at all. The railways have been there a long time. The Russians have theirs all made. It is only reasonable to suppose have theirs all made. It is only reasonable to suppose that each side knows at least roughly the troop strength at given points along the frontier, the disposition of airbases and so forth. The one frontier of uncertainty is the western frontier of Manchuria. Manchuria, historically--and this, again, is a fact unfortunately not taught in our ordinary books about the Far East-consists very largely of a Mongolian territory. The original Manchu conquest of China was based on an alliance between the Manchurian Mongols and the Manchus themselves. Ever since that time there has been a very large Mongol territory in Manchuria. That territory has been seriously cut into by Chinese colonization in recent years. It still remains the largest single territory in Manchuria. There are about two million Mongols in Manchuria-the largest non-Chinese population in Manchuria. They are on the western frontier of Manchuria, the only frontier not guarded by railway lines along which troops can be moved rapidly. They are in direct contact with the certain parts of Mongolia-Inner Mongolia--which is still under Chinese sovereignty. They are also in direct contact with Outer Mongolia which is under strong Russian influence.
The situation of Outer Mongolia is in many ways parallel to the situation of Manchukuo. The Russians assisted a certain element in Outer Mongolia in establishing an independent state. The Russians have since recognized the state but no other nation does. Russia and Outer Mongolia exchange ambassadors. China does not admit Outer Mongolian laws. So the State of Manchukuo, being recognized by Japan and not by anybody else is a fairly close parallel.
In Outer Mongolia there has been a severe revolution. The younger Mongols, believing that their hereditary princes had failed to lead them, had failed to support the cause of Mongolia, were ready to depose their princes and create a regime closely modelled on that of Russia. In eastern Mongolia, the part within; Manchuria, you have a Mongol population which is strongly conservative and still keeps its own princes and is still very loyal. In southern Mongolia you also have a very conservative population, but in southern inner Mongolia, the part under Chinese control, the Mongols have suffered heavily from invasion, their land being taken away and Chinese colonists put on it.
You have ire Mongolia a regional geographical condition; no part is out of touch with the rest of Mongolia, but a three-way frontier is running through it. Yet, the Mongols feel themselves to be a united race. They all speak the Mongol language; they all feel the historical difference between them and China because, perhaps, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that the Mongols are not just a branch of the Chinese. They are a separate race with a separate historical tradition, a different language, a different form of writing and so on. All Mongols feel that Mongolia ought to be united and become a single nation again. But the difference of opinion rests upon whether it should be united by a revolutionary process opposing the princes still left in Chinese Mongolia" or whether it should be accomplished by a conservative counter-revolution, retiring the princes in Outer Mongolia. Whichever way it goes, a civil war among the Mongols to bring unity would not lead to a permanent split among the Mongols themselves because the Mongolian history is a warlike history and the tradition among the Mongols is that the victor in battle has the right of initiative. If one Mongol gives another a good licking there are no hard feelings. The one who is licked says, "You are a better man than I am and I am delighted to follow you henceforth." Then, a civil war based on such certain things as a revolutionary conception of society and a conservative conception of society would not necessarily leave hard feelings among the vanquished portion.
Now, these Mongols realize that they are now living in a day of great and rapidly moving events. Many of them feel that now, if ever, is the chance for the Mongols to save themselves from extermination and create a new nation. The dispute among them is whether it is to be done through reliance on a Russian alliance or dependence on a Japanese alliance, and if the dispute among the Mongols goes to the point of breaking into a tribal war, you may get the Serajevo bomb, the equivalent of the incident in Serbia, that started the European War.
It seems absurd in the civilization in which we pride ourselves that a tribal war among the Mongols, who don't number more than five million people altogether, might precipitate a general climax in which all the nations of the civilized world might find themselves involved. Nevertheless, I believe that is the true danger of the situation, because the western frontier of Manchuria adjoining Mongolia is the one vulnerable frontier of the new state of Manchukuo. If Russia and Japan were to fight and the war were to be fought on the lines of the former RussoJapanese war, it would be indecisive. If the Japanese can cut off the southern terminal of the Russian railway or if Russia can cut off the northern end of the Japanese railway, then the basic situation is not changed, but if either side sweeps around through Mongolia, it can outflank the other permanently and decisively and create a really new situation.
Therefore, in the event of a tribal war among the Mongols, Japan could not afford not to support the Mongols under Japanese influences and the Russians certainly could not afford not to support the Mongols associated with Russia.
On the record, I think it is fair to say that Russia would be most unlikely to start a war in the Far East. Every move in Russian policy since 1931 has indicated that the Russians genuinely feel that they have more to lose than to gain by a war and would do everything in their power to avoid it. Several times since 1931 there have been grave indications that at least certain elements in Japan believed that the time was ripe for a war against Russia and there were times when many people thought Japan was just about to jump on Russia, but in the last .few months Japanese policy seems to indicate that the Japanese also would rather not fight Russia at the present time.
I think it is fair to say as between Russia and Japan and just those two nations, neither one really wants to fight the other at the present time, but if that trouble should start in Mongolia, and I think I know enough of the Mongols and have lived among them enough and shared their feelings enough to be justified in saying that a war there is very dangerous. If a tribal war should start there, Japan and Russia might be drawn into it; quite apart from their own feeling, the situation would run away from the nations.
Suppose such a war should start: Where would it end? There is absolutely no predicting it. We don't know how far into China it would spread. We don't know whether Manchukuo would attempt to support China against Japan in order to score back the grudge of the Manchurian business or not. We don't know whether China, as a matter of policy, would prefer to stand out and wait until one or the other was victorious, because it wouldn't damage China to see either one get a good licking, but we can be justified in saying that it would intensify this breaking up of China into such component parts as a Mongolian sphere, a Central Asian sphere, a Tibetan sphere and a very much reduced, a very much amputated Chinese sphere of China.
That makes a situation of international power in Asia, based on groups of land powers, almost or entirely superseding the dominance of sea power which has represented the authority of the West in Asia for the last several generations. I don't want to say that this or the other western nation would find such a situation intolerable and would feel forced to intervene in order to prevent the development of either an overwhelmingly great Japan or an over-swollen Russia. But I do think that the situation in itself would force important shifts of alliances and interests in economic, political and strategic balance among the western nations themselves and it is precisely because what shifts would occur, what new adjustments would be made, can not be accurately predicted, that the situation is dangerous. If each nation knew exactly where it stood, and granting that the feeling, especially among the younger generation all over the world today is that a general war ought to be avoided if humanly possible, I think that the restrained, the reasonable, the balanced .element in every nation would warn against war, but where you have something happening so out of sight and so rapidly that the situation may be completely created and reach an advanced stage of development before anybody can take notice of it" or do anything about it, there is no chance of guiding and directing developments into peaceful channels.
Think of our relations with the Asiatic Continent: a sprinkling of little ports along the coast without even telegraph services reaching far into the interior. Not a correspondent in the whole of Mongolia, not a correspondent in Turkestan, not a correspondent in Tibet! Everything that happens there happens behind a screen, and while Downing Street and State Departments are happily pounding their ears on the pillow of peace, the actual development of events in China, behind that screen of .ignorance, may have forced the situation that will make war inevitable.
Of course, Manchukuo, itself although only a part of that great war frontier of China of which I have spoken, is an important part. We have a situation there that makes for war. The signs now are hopeful that we may be able to avoid war for a year or two or three or five years but, eventually, there is bound to be war in that sector. The geographical situation of Manchuria makes as much for irreconcilable conflict as the Alsace-Lorraine frontier between Germany and France. As far as ideals of permanent peace are concerned" it is absurd to point to a situation in Manchuria that will be free of war in any given century, or any given half century, for that matter The pressure now is not even as great as it will be in time because it is only when Russia has fully developed Siberia, the economic possibilities of which have as yet only been touched, that the true need of a warm water port for Russia will be felt, but when Russia is fully developed, if Siberia has not got a port and access to the Pacific Ocean under its own control, then the situation will be as impossible as if you were to make a United States with its present industrial and economic and commercial development, its present need of Pacific trade and with, say, California, Washington and Oregon" controlled by an alien power. Geographically, in terms of railways, of course you can still run a railway to San Francisco, Seattle and so forth and ship your goods out. But how would a nation of the size and power of America feel if that port were in the last resort under the control of an alien nation? It requires a very abounding faith in the sweetness and nobleness of human nature to assume that war could be permanently prevented in such circumstances.
Now, I feel that I may have been destructive in my remarks today. I have shown you something of the dark side of the possibilities of war in the Far East and T haven't said a word about any method for dealing with them. That is because I simply can't. I don't pretend to be a statesman. I don't pretend to understand the working of international negotiations but I do say that unless international compacts, collective agreements and other devices for obviating war take into account the new structure of power in Asia and the swing from sea power to land power, neither the League of Nations nor any substitute for the League of Nations can possibly be effective.
Thank you all for listening to me so patiently.