Our Stake in the Pacific


By REAR ADMIRAL HARRY E. YARNELL, former Commander of the Asiatic Fleet

Delivered at the N. Y. Herald Tribune Forum, October 26, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 85-86

BY the Pacific, we mean not only Oceania—the islands of this ocean—but the lands that border it, especially the region known as the Far East. It is the latter area in which we have great interests—political, economic and cultural. It is a vast area in which dwell a billion people—one-half of the world's population.

Few of our people are familiar with the extent of our interests in this area. Little is known of our island possession, the Philippines, other than the fact that we will be clear of responsibility for their defense and welfare after 1946. There is a general opinion that the islands have been a source of great expense and are a military liability. To many, the Far East means China, and the question is asked why we should risk a war to defend our paltry trade with that country. Why not withdraw and leave Asia to the Asiatics. Such an attitude shows a profound ignorance of the extent of our stake in the Pacific.

Dealing with the subject from the political point of view, we have as possessions not only that great group of islands, the Philippines, but also the Hawaiian Islands, Guam, Wake, Midway, Canton, American Samoa and numerous small ones. The Aleutian Islands extend to within a few hundred miles of Asia. At Bearing Strait we are within sight of the Asiatic mainland.

Right now we are responsible for the protection of all these islands against aggression. Even after 1946 we will naturally have a sympathetic interest in and a moral responsibility for the future of the Philippines.

We have treaties with China and with other nations regarding the Far East which, in the words of the Secretary of State "should be modified, when the need therefor arises, by orderly processes carried out in a spirit of mutual helpfulness and accommodation."

Open-Door Policy Saved China

It is with China or with regard to China that our most important treaties referring to the Far East have been made. China is a vast country and it has long been recognized by our statesmen that its stability and integrity is essential to the maintenance of peace in the Far East. By the open-door policy, enunciated by Secretary Hay in 1900, China was saved from dismemberment and annexation by other nations. The integrity of China was pledged in the nine-power treaty of 1922, to which the United States is a signatory.

Politically, we are interested in the English-speaking dominions to the southward, Australia and New Zealand, and the fate that awaits them in the future. We are interested in maintaining the status-quo in the Pacific and in the Far East, and we are concerned with the threats against our citizens and their right to dwell and carry on their business under equal terms with those of other nations. We ask no special privileges.

Economically, we have a vast stake in the Far East. In 1937 over one-fourth of our foreign trade was with Asia and Oceania. It amounted to $1,700,000,000. It was nearly two-and-one-half times greater than our trade with South America.

Although the National Defense Advisory Commission is doing what it can to relieve us of our dependence on the Far East for certain essential war materials, it remains true, for example, that practically all of our rubber now comes from the Netherlands, Indies, Malaya and Indo-China. In 1939 we used 590,000 tons.

We receive annually 850,000 tons of sugar from the Philippines. We buy more than one-third of the world's output of tin, and most of it comes from the South China Sea area. Bolivia is entirely unable to supply us with tinif the Far Eastern source fails us. We buy more than fifty million dollars worth of copra and cocoanut oil annually from the Philippines. Abaca, or Manila hemp, is a world monopoly of those islands. The world's supply of quinine comes from the Netherlands Indies, and we are the world's largest consumer. The largest known chromite deposit in the world is in the Philippines. Of our seven major imports, six are major export products of the Far East.

Our trade with the Philippines amounts to over $200,000,000 annually. They stand fifth in the list of overseas areas.

Trans-Pacific Air Service

In recent years, the Pan-American Aviation Company has established a trans-Pacific air line with bases at Midway, Wake, Guam and Manila. This has been an outstanding accomplishment of commercial enterprise. In course of time Manila will be the greatest airport in the East, The fate of this line and of our commercial overseas aviation in general depends for existence on American control of the air bases unless there comes a spirit in the world different from the one which exists today.

There is an impression among some people that the Philippines have cost us vast sums of money with no return. Although there has never been any attempt to exploit the islands as a source of profit, this impression is not correct. The cost of the Philippine government is borne by the islands themselves. The cost to the United States government has been mainly that of the Army and Navy. It is quite likely, however, that these forces would have remained as a part of our Army and Navy even if not stationed in the Philippines.

It is argued by some that the islands are a source of military liability since we do not have adequate force or bases there to defend them. They are defended by the flag and by a powerful navy even if it is not stationed in the Far East.

Culturally, we have large interests in the Far East, especially in the Philippines and China. Education in the Philippines was encouraged and expanded at the beginning of our occupation and has been continued. The Filipinos have always had a large share in the government. No attempt was ever made by the United States to exploit these people for profit, a situation different from that which exists in Manchuria and Korea, where the natives are hewers of wood and drawers of water. The lot of the Korean peasant is said to be worse today than it was forty years ago under a very incompetent native government.

In China, we have had missionary, educational, and medical interests for many years. There are thirteen Christian colleges in China with an enrollment of 6,000 students. These colleges have been supported in large part by the Chinese government, and over half of the faculties are Chinese, but spiritually and to a certain extent financially they still have close ties with this country.

There are 270 hospitals and dispensaries throughout China supported by the various missions. These have done heroic work in relieving a part of the vast amount of suffering among the Chinese people during the past three years.

As a result of our policies regarding China and of our cultural activities, there exists today a general feeling of friendship for the United States, an asset that cannot be lightly disregarded in these days of international hatreds.

Sees Interests Threatened

At the present time, all of our interests in the Far East are threatened by a nation that has proclaimed a "New Order in East Asia." This vague phrase means the extension of Japanese domination by force of arms over the entire Far East, and the expulsion of our citizens and ourtrade from that area. This has happened in Korea, in Manchuria, in the occupied parts of China, and it will happen in every area controlled by Japanese bayonets.

Hundreds of notes have been written by our government protesting against violation of treaties, and the treaty rights of our citizens, and assaults against their persons and property. Scant courtesy has been given these notes and many of them remain unanswered.

The momentous question confronting our nation today is how long or to what extent we will submit to infringement or destruction of our rights and interests by nations that respect nothing but force.

Appeasement and confession have been a failure both in Europe and in Asia. They are interpreted by Germany and Japan as weakness, and win only contempt followed by increased insults and acts of aggression. If other means fail, the defense of our rights and vital interest by force is the only method of preserving them. If we are unwilling to defend our rights by force if necessary, we soon will have no rights to defend.

It is to be remembered that the war in China and the war in Europe are one and the same war, waged by three dictator nations bound by a military treaty against the democracies of the world. Must we resign ourselves to a world order in which Europe and Africa are dominated by Germany, and the Far East by Japan, while we endeavor to defend and sustain ourselves on the Western Hemisphere? Such a situation would be intolerable.

There is only one solution to the present world situation, and that is the overthrow of the military despotisms, Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the restoration of the government in these nations to men who understand honor and justice, and who realize that war and conquest will only bring misery to their own people. There are such men in those nations but, today, they are in prison, in exile, or for obvious reasons silent.

The world must return to decency in international relations and the burden of armament must be lifted if civilization as we understand it is to survive.

When the final settlement is made after the defeat of the Axis powers, the mistakes of Versailles must not be repeated. Great nations cannot be kept in a condition or servitude by armed force. The legitimate claims and grievances of Germany, Italy, and Japan must be given full consideration. But they must be made to realize that the time has passed when conquest by force over alien peoples brings welfare to the conquerors.

There can be no finer basis for a peace treaty than the statement of the Secretary of State on July 16, 1937, on the "Fundamental Principles of International Policy," which is commended to your attention.

When this war ends, as it must, with the defeat of military despotism, our own nation must take a leading part in the final settlement. We are one of the great nations of the world, and we cannot remain aloof or isolated. The world has become too small for that. As Secretary Hull has said: "There can be no serious hostilities anywhere in the world which will not one way or another affect interests or rights or obligations of this country."

In that final settlement we may have to sacrifice some of our beliefs and policies of the past. We may have to modify our items of protective tariffs, or those of avoidance of alliances or understandings with other nations as to joint action to prevent war.

But it is only in this way that our stake in the Pacific and in the rest of the world can be preserved, peace insured for a reasonable time, the armament burden restricted, and freedom preserved to coming generations.