The Far East Situation


By PAUL V. McNUTT, Federal Security Administrator and former Governor of the Philippine Islands

A Radio Address on the American Forum of the Air, broadcast over a nation-wide hookup through the facilities of the Mutual Broadcasting Company, Washington, D, C., February 16, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 330-331.

THE history of America has been one of pushing the frontiers, of setting distant points to be reached and distant aspirations to be achieved. Our successive frontiers have been the milestones of American progress.

Those of the Pacific are not new. Unfortunately our people know little about them and, possibly, care less. Our policy in that ocean, where our fundamental interests of national defense and international commerce are rapidly increasing, remains to be definitely decided and consolidated. The mistakes which have been made in the past have been due to lack of information or to misinformation. In the light of

current history and in the shadow of rapidly approaching, unpredictable events of vital concern to us, the Pacific Ocean deserves national attention and careful study at this time. It has been the invariable role of this country, up to and including the World War, to wait until a crisis, which has long given warning, arrives and then, in haste and turmoil, to improvise means to meet the new conditions. But today our citizens are becoming conscious of the impacts of recent events upon us. The great natural bulwarks of this Nation are the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The speed and ease of communication and transportation have greatlylessened their defensive value and it is increasingly apparent that such value will depend on how much of them we control.

This does not mean the establishment of new frontiers in the Pacific. Our possessions in that mighty ocean extend from the Aleutian Islands on the North through the Hawaiian Islands to Samoa on the South, and from the mainland on the East through the Hawaiian Islands, Wake, and Guam, to the Philippines on the West. The great cross formed by these islands is our mark upon the Pacific.

As far as these Pacific frontiers are concerned, the question may be put very simply. Are we in or out of the Far East? I hope that before any conclusion is reached that we should be out our people will consider just what such a decision means. It means the abandonment of three principles, for two of which we were responsible, and the third of which we publicly espoused. These are: The Open Door to China (we opened that door); the integrity of the Chinese Nation; and, what is far more important, the freedom of the seas and the freedom of the air. Our ships have sailed the Pacific since the beginning of our national existence. We have maintained an Asiatic squadron, now known as the Asiatic Fleet, for more than a century. We had the courage, the ingenuity, and the skill to bridge the Pacific by air, one of the most magnificent achievements in our entire history. Getting out means one other thing, endangering our trade route to Malaysia.

While the United States was acquitting itself of its humanitarian task in the Philippines, we were adamant in our faith that the tremendous sweep of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, guaranteed our national security from foreign invaders. The Nation, therefore, entered into treaty agreements that precluded it from fortifying the new frontier. Perhaps one reason for this is that these compacts were ratified before the tempo of world affairs was stepped up to a faster beat; before modern methods of transportation and communication were developed to draw the boundaries and common interests of all countries closer together. But those treaties are forever a part of that chapter of our history devoted to peace and good will toward mankind.

Erection of fortifications in the Philippines and the neighboring island of Guam is now being urged to prevent them from being seized and used against the United States in like manner as this country took them by force—and by the payment of 20 million dollars—from Spain as spoils of war. To back up our status as an Asiatic Power the bulk of our powerful fleet has been shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Even more recently this Government announced that a fleet train—a flotilla used to supply fighting ships—has been greatly augmented so that the fleet can operate in Philippine waters. Other signs are multiplying that the United States means business in defending its interests in the Orient—all of this in the face of repeated warnings from our neighbor, Japan.

Last September that country entered into a 10-year economic-political pact with Germany and Italy. In doing so, it pledged that if the United States should become enmeshed in the present war on the side of Great Britain, the Nipponese fleet would give us battle to determine, perhaps for all time, the balance of power in the Pacific. In December, Yosuke Matsuoka, Japanese Foreign Minister and a graduate of the University of Oregon, reasserted this warning by emphasizing, oddly enough, that the end result of a war between his nation and the United States would be "Armageddon and the total destruction of our culture and civilization."

Mr. Matsuoka knows the American people. He fully understands the art of propaganda—the strategy of terror. He should know that the United States has consistently sought to have and to maintain friendly relations with Japan—as well as with all countries in the Far East, in Latin-America, in Europe, and the whole world—on the basis of sound fundamental principles and of fair and time-proved policies. No doubt, Mr. Matsuoka realizes that it has become increasingly difficult to maintain such a relationship with the militaristic Tokyo Government. But the Japanese Foreign Minister knows that in the presence of that fact there are some Americans who have from time to time during recent years, and more especially during recent months, advocated that their government change its policies, that we forget about principles, that we abandon certain of our possessions—particularly the Philippine Islands—and forego certain objectives in order to appease Japan. The message of the American-educated son of Nippon was designed for the ears of those who believe in Hemispheric isolation.

What changes could the United States make, what could it abandon, that would increase the measure of its security? Would abandonment of its support of the principle of equity and fair dealing toward all nations, promote the people's best interests? Would it make the country more secure? Should the United States think only of the menace in the Atlantic and pay no attention, whatsoever, to the menace in the Pacific?

Abandoning our position in Asiatic Waters to appease a foreign nation would more than seriously impair our prestige as a world power. And, to build a wall around the new world would mean an economic upheaval in this country as great as that produced by war itself, with this difference—wars are brought to an end, whereas this process of isolation would wreck our economy to such an extent that it could not be repaired for a generation or more.

Despite the Nipponese threat, the United States does not believe that it will be necessary to fight Japan. This optimism is based on the success of China's struggle for survival. For America, the Sino-Japanese war now assumes the character of a preliminary action on the outer defense line of the Philippines, and hence becomes inseparable from our hope for peace. Therefore, all economic help given to China now means the inherent strengthening of our own outer defensesOne of the important factors in China's defense program is Chinese Industrial Cooperatives. These small-scale, decentralized workshops have two major goals. One is resistance; the other is reconstruction.

To resist Japan on the economic front, Chinese Industrial Cooperatives have made use of the one thing that Japan has been unable to destroy either by blockade or invasion—Chinese man-power and the skills of the people. They have created jobs for workers and goods for consumers and have effectively restricted the traffic in Japanese smuggled goods.

It would be well to put in a reminder in closing that to the land of Nippon, during the last six years, Americans have shipped 8 1/2 million tons of scrap iron and that that country has in recent years, built almost 500,000 tons of warships. Put these two simple facts together in the light of a Nazi-dominated Europe, a Japanese-dominated Orient, and the richest continent in the world between the two—a continent only now slowly awakening to the danger ahead, and the only large portion of the civilized world clinging to democratic ideals. It makes a picture which calls for a strong policy in the Far East.