vendredi 14 décembre 2007

The "i" word.




Another apparent source of nervousness with some Americans is when it is suggested that their country is imperialist (evil). Of course we should agree on what we understand under the word "imperialist". What about "the drive to impose one's will, might and values upon others"?

The first time I wondered about the history of Japan I learned about the Commodore Perry and how he was sent by the Federal Govt of the USA in order to have Japan open its harbors to American ships. The black ships (kurofune) were another episode of the gunboat diplomacy.

I was a teenager then but I couldn't help being somehow surprised by the brutality of the invaders. Japanese, who were not interested with Americans or anybody else for that matter, were held a knife under the throat and they had one option only: to surrender! How's that for imperialism? And so ended the Sakoku policy.

What didn't fail to surprise me was also the period in the history of the US. Hardly 3/4 of a century after the inception of the American Republic, this nation was already expanding west and over the seas. The Californian coast was scarcely populated to say the least, there were no more than 25 million inhabitants in the whole USA and Americans were after an island 3000 miles away.

As everyone knows, trade was the key word of this virtual military conquest of western markets.

Is it really surprising then that less than a century later the Japanese in return thought they could as well play the same sort of game than their former invaders and attack in Pearl Harbor? (which was suicidal of course).

The question of American imperialism is still open as far as the XXth century is concerned but once again, as stated before, the souvenir of America in the making will still weigh heavy in the image of America abroad.


10 commentaires:

LASunsett a dit…

Hi Flocon,

//Another apparent source of nervosity with some Americans is when it is suggested that their country is imperialist (evil). //

One possible reason for this, could easily be because those that do the suggesting seek to confine the definition to a very simplistic and narrow one. Imperialism is a complex subject.

//"the drive to impose one's will, might and values upon others"//

This is a start, but I think before one can begin to define and analyze the causes of actions that are deemed imperialistic in nature, we must look at motives -- or better yet -- we must determine whether a certain imperialistic endeavor is exploitative or beneficent. And while both are a distinct type of imperialism, in their motives, they are diametrically opposed to each other.

This must be done, before any value (of good or bad) can be assigned to it.

Maybe you missed this post that I wrote, way back when PYY was but a pup in the blogosphere.

Anonyme a dit…

LA, thanks for the link to your 2005 post. Your distinction between "benevolent" and "exploitative" imperialism is a tricky matter.

It is a fact that the US never conquered and politically occupied directly foreign lands, as European did since the 19th century, if you except small bits here and there
(Mexican territory - but it was a conquest and not a colony - Pacific islands...). It has never followed the same theoretical path and
scheme, and its epochs were not the same. Furthermore, a formerly exploited territory as were the US under UK colonial rule is unlikely to reproduce the same formal concept and planning of imperialism. But they have worked out other forms of undirect exploitation which are at least as efficient and leave the casualties not to their soldiers but to local people.

Imperialism, as you say, may take various forms, but it is always combined with interest. True, the US helped Europe to recover after WWII. Nobody doubts it was their
interest too to have a strong Western Europe to face the Soviets - and it was an easy market to conquer. Interest is one quite understandable thing, but were the experiments in Chili, Philipines and so many others conducted in the true interest of their inhabitants?
Wasn't it rather for US companies (General fruit, oil companies (hum, as Flocon says, those are still kicking) and so many others)?.

Seen from afar, yes, the US is an imperialist country, undirectly (and smartly) exploiting weaker or politically submitted countries. And this is not benevolent, if you ask the relatives of assassinated union men in South America, among so many others...

-----------------------


Flocon

Funny to see how Commodore Perry's face has been japonized, with a nose bigger than real and slit eyes. The accompanying text reinforces his alledgedly weird
look. Barthes already noticed (L'empire des signes that his own face appeared in a Japanese paper (in the 70ies and it was a photography!) with the same
alterations. Anthropo-iconography is a fascinating subject.

Now for the contents, Pearl Harbour is not quite the backstabbbing it has been said. The US expected that the Japanese would soon meet them after their indefinite expansion on the Asian continent. It was a matter of time, but they didn't expect it would take place there in PH. They did nothing to protect the site because they thought it was too far from Japanese bases.
After the strike, Roosevelt didn't mention details of the casualties in his speech to engage the war. He stressed the "treacherous" attack, and it was more this aspect which decided the reluctant American people to accept the idea, in order "never to go to war with one another again" (version US de la "der des der").

Bon, j'arrête, j'ai plein de boulot.

Etchdi

LASunsett a dit…

Hi Etchdi,

//LA, thanks for the link to your 2005 post.//

You are most welcome.

//a formerly exploited territory as were the US under UK colonial rule is unlikely to reproduce the same formal concept and planning of imperialism.//

I think you make an excellent point here, by drawing this distinction. If colonialism is a component of imperialism and is present in the model, it will invariably be judged to be exploitative.

Which brings me to this:

//Imperialism, as you say, may take various forms, but it is always combined with interest.//

All countries will act in their best interests. The question then becomes the methods used to bring about that self-serving interest. Knowing this, we have to set about determining what that interest is, and whether or not the country providing that interest directly benefits the people in that country--if we want to make an accurate determination as to the specific nature of the imperialism.

Keep in mind when reading my essay I did say make this statement that might get lost in the shuffle:

An important point to note in all of this is, not all imperialists were strictly one form or another.

There is no pure form of beneficent or exploitative imperialism, any more than there is a pure form of capitalism or socialism. Some were closer to one than others and vice versa, but all contain a mixture of both.

//True, the US helped Europe to recover after WWII. Nobody doubts it was their interest too to have a strong Western Europe to face the Soviets - and it was an easy market to conquer.//

There can be no doubt about this. These words you write are true. Here's something to chew on: Here is the theory that this act of self interest the US displayed post WWII is based on. Here is Dr. RJ Rummel's (from the University of Hawaii) blog that deals specifically with topics that this theory makes claim of.

Anonyme a dit…

Thanks for these other links.
It goes without saying that Pearl Harbour was not an "inside job". But Japan's war in Asia boosted its need for resources, oil, rubber, etc.; as a result of the control of the sea roads by UK/US, an attack against the US domination was not only predictible, it was also well known and expected by US intelligence.

Etchdi

Flocon a dit…

LA
The point of the post (if there's any point) wasn't to single out the US as the sole bad guy in the history of imperialism, whatever form it may have taken. All European powers played that game at one time or another since the Spaniards in S. America at least.

Rather, I chose the Commodore Perry episode to illustrate a given figure of imperialism, the one associated with the gun-boat diplomacy.

This Perry story is somewhat fascinating I think.

Flocon a dit…

Etchdi,

My phrasing was wrong I assume since I didn't see Pearl Harbor as a payback for the 1853 ultimatum.
Whether F.D.Roosevelt saw it coming and let it happen... hmmm... I don't know. This is a can of worms really.

LASunsett a dit…

Flocon,

//The point of the post (if there's any point) wasn't to single out the US as the sole bad guy in the history of imperialism, whatever form it may have taken.//

I gathered that. I just wanted to make the point that imperialism is often viewed as some monolithic creature and nothing could be further than the truth.

//This Perry story is somewhat fascinating I think.//

I have always found Japanese history to be fascinating, especially the Shogun rule and the Samarai. Have you seen the film titled, The Last Samarai, with Tom Cruise? If not, and Japan truly fascinates you, I highly recommend it.

Mustang a dit…

Flocon & LA: From Wikipedia comes this summary of the film:

"The film's plot is based on the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, and also on the story of Jules Brunet, a French army captain who fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki in the Boshin War. The historical roles in Japanese westernization by the United Kingdom, Germany and France are largely attributed to the United States in the film, and characters in the film and the real story are simplified for plot purposes. While it is not an accurate source of historical information, the film illustrates some major issues in Japanese history."

The book and film "Shogun" was based on an actual person and provides an excellent historical backdrop to the development of a centralized feudal state in Japan. The film "The Last Samaurai" provides a glimpse of the end of feudalism under Emperor Meiji and with the exception of Perry and Townsend, the US played no role in the last conflicts.

Flocon a dit…

Hi Mustang

Thanks for the info.
I didn't know about this Jules Brunet I guess Etchdi knew.
The history of Japan is terra incognita for me, like that of all countries in the Far East.

ThanKwee-Anajo a dit…

Ah oui, quand j'étais en France, ce mot "impérialiste" sort de la bouche des français très souvent quand ils parlent des états-unis. Je l'utilise, maintenant, pour m'amuser en me traitant comme impérialiste, tel que, quand on me demande de quelle pays je suis, je disait, "le pays impérialiste!".. :))