Sunday, February 13, 2011

Japan on the Brink of Imperialism: Japanese Foreign Affairs in the 19th Century

What are foreign affairs?  Foreign affairs by definition by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is:

Matters having to do with international relations and with the interests of the home country in foreign countries

            Japan in the 19th century was an interesting example of isolation; this isolation made foreign affairs extraneous.  Japan first made contact with Portuguese traders who were forced off course on their way to China in about 1542 C.E.  Over the next century, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, France, England, and Spain arrived to conduct business with the Japanese.  The tension that eventually arose didn’t come from the traders, but rather the Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries who tried to convert the Japanese to Christianity.  The Japanese shogunate that were in control of Japan at this time suspected the Western traders and the Christian missionaries to be forerunners of a military conquest.

            During the early part of the 17th century, the shoguante of Japan restricted trade with the outside world to the port city of Nagasaki, mandated that the only traders welcome where the Chinese and Dutch, and removed all foreigners from the country.  Some may view this move as paranoia but I believe that Japan made a wise decision in at least restricting trade, this was an era in which Spain, England, and France were colonizing the world at an alarming rate.  This era of isolation lasted up until the mid 19th century.

              By the 19th century the Far East was a very different place.  China was severely weakened by the Opium trade with Britain and a new threat was rising in the area, the Russian Empire.  More and more foreign pressure was put on Japan to trade, at some point the levee would eventually break and foreign contact would be inevitable, either through war or trade.  Japan, although an isolated state still had its eye on expansion and a weakened Qing China made expansion even more probable. 

            One of the first goals of Japan would be the Kuriles Islands.  These islands were of the northern island of Hokkaido which was under Japanese control.  Russia’s closed land to these islands was the Kamchatka Peninsula and up until 1945, Japan had a upper hand in the claim for these islands but until then this island chain was the center of much controversy.  Taiwan was also a goal for Japan, they finally controlled the island nation in 1895 even though Japan had been attempting to bring it into the fold since 1592.  The ever growing weaker Qing China made the takeover of Taiwan possible for the Japanese.  Korea was also another goal for the Japanese.  Korea came under Japanese control in 1905, again, when the Qing Dynasty was on its last leg and Russia was near the communist revolution as well.

            On July 8th, 1853 four black ships led by USS Powhatan and commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry, anchored at Edo Bay; never before had the Japanese seen ships steaming with smoke.  Matthew Perry brought a letter from the President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, to the Emperor of Japan. He waited with his armed ships and refused to see any of the lesser dignitaries sent by the Japanese, insisting on dealing only with the highest emissaries of the Emperor.  On March 31st, 1854 representatives of Japan and the United States signed a historic treaty.  Negotiations went several months between Perry and Japanese officials on achieving the U.S goal of opening the doors of trade with Japan. 
The Japanese government realized that their country was in no position to defend itself against a foreign power, and Japan could not retain its isolation policy without risking war. On March 31st, 1854 Perry received what he had so dearly worked for, a treaty with Japan. The treaty provided for:
  1. Peace and friendship between the United States and Japan.
  2. Opening of two ports to American ships at Shimoda and Hakodate
  3. Help for any American ships wrecked on the Japanese coast and protection for shipwrecked persons
  4. Permission for American ships to buy supplies, coal, water, and other necessary provisions in Japanese ports.
In conclusion, I think internal strife and relentless foreign pressure caused Japan to end its isolationist view towards the west.  When Japanese society opened its doors to the west and became subject to its influences, it reinvented itself.  This very same reinvention created all the things needed to for Japan to expand in the early 20th century and to become a world power by the time of World War II.   

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review of Syrian Foreign Policy and the United States: From Bush to Obama

       Recently I have read the book: Syrian Foreign Policy and the United States: From Bush to Obama.  The book was written in 2009 and in my opinion gives a very good overview of Syrian / U.S relations.  One question that may be asked is why is this subject relevant?  Syria seems to be fairly low key in the news as of late so why worry how relations between the two nations are?  The answer to that question is very simple, when two nations stop caring about what the other thinks; that is when relations become strained and then nation’s that were once assumed friends then become a factor and usually in an unfavorable manner.  The United States also is dependent on Syria; Syria can be used as a mediator between the United States and nations like Iran, or groups like Hezbollah.  When there is someone mediating peace between two nations or groups that don’t think highly of one another, having that mediator helps get better results.  Another reason this book is relevant would be that the United States doesn’t have too many allies in the Middle East and Syria would be a good ally to have if the United States wishes to be viewed as a source of good once again in the Middle East.  The Iraq War did a lot of damage to the U.S brand and it is going to take a lot of hard work to restore that brand to its former glory.  With all that being said I think it is time to focus more on the paper.


When reading a paper like this there are several issues to keep in mind in regards to Syrian / U.S relations as well for that matter anything in regards to the Middle East; some of the issues I have found with similar writings are listed as followed:


·         Some readings have obvious bias.  A lot of papers are Pro Arab, Pro Western, Pro Israeli, etc.  In most instances there are several sides to every story and many writers get truths (opinions) and facts (data or statements that cannot be debated) confused.

·         Some readings focus too narrowly on a particular subject, or too broadly.

·         Syria, like the rest of the Middle East is changing and changing fast.  If a particular writing is more than a couple years old it is sometimes out of date.


To explain the validity of this book I think you have to address the paper on each of these questions.  Does this book have a bias or an ax to grind; in my humble opinion I would say no.  At no point did any of the four authors make statement s that could be interpreted as malice or biased.  Some may say that they viewed U.S foreign policy towards the Middle East with cynicism and disgust but I would disagree with this argument.


One of the big chasms that have been created between the Arab world and the United States came over the Iraq War.  In the book references to the Iraq War would be viewed by some American’s as biased but I don’t believe so.  The statement “The war in Iraq was imperialistic and shameful of the United State government;” that statement is biased and also not in the book.  An example of an unbiased statement from the book on the Iraq War would be “from o political and strategic perspective, Syria was almost certain that the war against Iraq was fought by the US on behalf of Israel (32).”  That statement would infuriate many on the right in this country who held true to a pro-Israeli view.  The reason why I say that statement is not biased is because the author was not describing his or her thoughts, merely the thoughts expressed by many in Syria.  Relaying the view of someone doesn’t mean that the writer adheres to it as well.  If I make a statement saying “Hitler was anti-Semitic,” few would argue with that and labeling me as anti-Semitic for saying that would be wrong as well.


Another issue I personally have with books, articles, blogs, and the like about foreign policy is that they focus too narrowly and lose sight of the big picture or are so broad that it is impossible to keep focused.  With this book it found perfect harmony of each the extremes and never lost sight of the main objective, to educate the reader about Syrian / U.S relations.  Some of the major issues between the United States and Syria are followed:


·         Lebanon, what their government should be and the related factors that go with the topic such as Hezbollah

·         Israel and possession of the Golan Heights

·         The Iraq War and Western intervention

·         Syrian / Iranian relations; the U.S government and the Iranian government have been playing chess with each other since the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and Syria seems to be caught in the middle at times

·         U.S / Israeli relations; Syria feels that the United States holds the rest of the Middle East to a different set of standards than it does Israel


It is very hard to cover all these issues and the sub-issues that arise from these but the book does a good job of going over them in detail to explain the relevance, but not too much so the reader doesn’t get lost in the vast amount of information.  This book is a good foundation for one studying U.S / Syrian relations to start from; from this book one can get into more in depth reading and the reader will then be able to make a relationship between all the various issues. 


Relevance has always been an issue of mine.  An example of this would be Egypt.  If one was to read a book from a year ago about U.S / Egyptian policy, they might as well throw the book out now with the revolution that is currently occurring there.  In the blink of an eye books on diplomacy can become outdated or obsolete.  This book was wrote in 2009 so it is only a little over a year old and the political climate hasn’t changed too much for this book to be considered a waste of time to read.  Although Lebanon has been changing rapidly recently, the book still does a good job of informing the reader without being too outdated. 


The four authors of “Syrian Foreign Policy and the United States: From Bush to Obama” are Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Marwan J. Kabalan, Bassma Kodami, and David W. Lesch.  I believe that you can tell a lot about an author by what he does.  I am more inclined to believe proffesors, historians, and the like as opposed to a political talking head.  All four of these authors in my opinion are well educated about the subject matter and I feel from their writings they have no ax to grind, their goal is to inform the reader. 


Raymond A. Hinnebusch is a professor of international relations and Middle Eastern politics and director of the Syrian Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland.  Marwan J. Kabalan is lecturer at the faculty of Political Sciences at Damascus University.  He is considered an expert on foreign policy and a regular contributor to several Arab and English newspapers.  Bassma Kodami is the Executive Director of the Arab Reform Initiative, an organization working on bringing democratic reform to the Arab world.  David W. Lesch is a professor of Middle East History and chair of the Department of history at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.(55 / 56)  With this being said, I feel that all people involved are educated enough on Syria to make a fair assessment of Syrian / U.S relations.


In closing, I felt more informed about Syrian / U.S relations after reading the book.  This book has given me a good foundation on which to build off of.  If I read a book now on Lebanon I understand how and why Syria and the United States are related to the issue, as well as Hezbollah, the Golan Heights, or even how to bring peace between the United States and Iran.  I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about the Middle East, and the Levant area Raymond A. Hinnebusch in particular.


Works Cited
Hinnebusch, Raymond A., Marwan J. Kabalan, Bassma Kodami, and David W. Lesch. Syrian Foreign Policy    and the United States: From Bush to Obama. St Andrews: Centre for Syrian Studies, 2009. Print.

The First Opium War, its causes and effects?

            The First Opium War was a perfect example of the East (China, Japan, Korea, etc.) and West (Europe and the Americas) fighting over control of a situation in which mutual power was needed.  The Qing dynasty was in power in China during the first Opium War and the Qing were infamous for their strong handed approach to leadership.  When dealing with the West, the Qing at first where in complete control of the relationship.  The West, the British in particular wanted tea from China; whereas all the Qing were interested in was the West’s money.  The British Empire did not look favorably upon this method of trade; at this point in history they had amassed one of the largest empires in the history of the world and they preferred the barter system to outright payment.  China under the rule of the Qing had almost everything they wanted or needed but the British saw something they didn’t have and this product would swing China into bartering with the British as opposed to the capitalist system they were in at that time; this item was opium.
         British opium was grown in India before and around the time of the Opium Wars.  Opium was initially used to cure diarrhea but it soon was more commonly used as a recreational drug and outlawed in Britain by the year 1799 C.E.  The Qing banned both production and use of Opium in 1800 and in 1813 it outlawed smoking opium.

            The East India Company, which at this time was the economic arm of the British Empire invested heavily in opium cultivation.  When the Qing Dynasty forbade the selling of Opium the East India Company found other ways to sell opium but not directly.  The East India Company sold opium through middlemen who operated illegally and sold the opium to the Chinese public.  By doing this they got their product out into the market and sure enough the public wanted more of this highly addictive drug which gave the British what they wanted, a trading leverage they could use against the Qing Empire.

            By the year 1831 there were almost 200 smuggler’s boats off the coast of China.  The Qing Empire called for public debate on how to solve the opium issue.  This debate came to the conclusion that controlling the user was not working so well, so maybe controlling the sellers of opium would be a better approach.  Lin Zexu was appointed by the Qing Dynasty to deal with the Opium Issue and arrested some 1700 dealers; ordering western traders surrender all opium in exchange for tea. When these western traders refused he laid a siege on them starting the Opium Wars.

            When the western traders finally surrendered to Lin Zexu they turned in 2.6 million pounds of opium which was poured into the China Sea.  The British saw these actions as an act of war and started to make war on the Qing.  The British sent from India a small expeditionary force and shut down the ports of Ningbo and Tianjin.  A preliminary agreement was reached to cede Hong Kong and pay war losses to the British but it was not well received on both sides.  Shortly after this weak peace was made hostilities resumed again, the resurgence of war did not last long and the British soon defeated the weaker Qing Dynasty.  A peace treaty was signed aboard a ship at gun point, obviously this treaty favored the British, not the Qing.  The Treaty of Nanjing officially ended the First Opium War; the treaty handed Hong Kong over to the British, opened five new ports, granted Britain "most favored nation" status, and the Qing had to pay 21 million silver dollars to cover British expenses and war losses.  This treaty also opened up trade to the United States and France.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The U.S. Government and Reform in the Late 19th Century

            In the latter half of the 19th century the United States was expanding westward.  Lands acquired from Mexico in the Mexican / American War was free to be settled now without the question of slavery becoming an issue.  Also the wrath of the Civil War on the south and the influx of immigration made westward expansion a top priority for the United States Government and an opportunity for many to start over.  In actuality, there was a perfect storm brewing in the United States caused by several different factors; many things caused completion of Manifest Destiny to be a main goal after the Civil War.
What has inspired this essay is a chapter from: “American Issues:  Volume 2: Since 1865.”  The readings in this chapter bring many different views of the then growing American West into perspective.  While reading this you are in the shoes of Indians, congress, settlers, and farmers; all of these people have an issue with the American West or have played a major role in its history.  Through reading these stories it helps the reader to understand many of the complicated facets that compose American life today.

While reading this essay I noticed some things that intrigued me.  The United States in today’s world, even after the events in Tucson is a divided, partisan nation.  These stories I believe deserve much reflection, but I wish to view them from a different angle.  To do this I must purpose the question; when did we lose faith in the federal government and would it be possible to accomplish some of these goals in this very partisan world we live in?

How was the West won; from an American settlers perspective?  There were several things that made the conquest of the American West by the American settlers possible.  The following is a brief list of some of the things that helped make western expansion possible:

·         Creation of Trans-Continental Rail road and expansion of rail road systems throughout the American West.
·         Free or nearly free land opened up to settlers by the federal government
·         U.S military intervention driving Indians onto smaller and smaller reservations opening up more and more land for White Americans to settle.

I’m sure that one could make a valid case why other things could be listed as factors on this list but for simplicities sake I have chose only to list these three.  These three things may not appear to be attached in any way but they share one major thing in common with each other.  All three of these factors were paid for, supported, and initiated by the United States Federal Government. 
With all this being said I again ask the question of when did we lose faith in the federal government?  At this point in American history people wanted the government to be active in their lives.  American settlers in the west wanted goods to be able to come into the area, as well as leave it and the creation of the railroad systems helped make this possible.  Why is the government relevant to this; railroads in the west were encouraged by the federal government.  The federal government acquired lands, and compensated railroad companies well for expanding rail lines west.  The first story of the reading is about the free land grab in Oklahoma by one of the settlers Hamilton S. Wicks.  Mr. Wicks talks about his experience on the train and how it affected the race for the prime real estate in Oklahoma:

“The occupants of the train now became absorbed in their own fate.  Indeed our train was one of the participants in this unexampled race…”   

I realize that this may not be the best example to use to present the argument that whether people admit it or even realize it, they want their federal government to look out for them.  This excerpt does show the importance of the rail road to the growing West though.  Another one of the readings in this chapter shows beyond a reasonable doubt that American’s want government intervention.  
The second article is also from an American settler’s perspective of the west, but it is about the issues with farming and some of the farmers own explanations of how to fix the situation.  I found the arguments proposed to be practical, but in today’s bipartisan political climate, I wonder how some of these thoughts would have been received.  

American farmers after the Civil War faced a relentless series of problems.  Farming after the Civil War was plagued with overproduction which caused plummeting prices and new technology which was too expensive.  Farmers viewed themselves at this time as the back bone of society, and yet the most unappreciated.  In several cases at this time, the farmer made less than his workers.  It truly was less profitable to farm.

     Farmers proposed many ways of correcting this issue.  Ideas such as unionizing and government intervention were thrown out.  One of the things that the Farmers Alliance (a farmers union) called for is: 

“The ownership by the government of all railroads, telegraphs, and telephones”
      I think this statement is reasonable, but again, where was the outcry over government intervention?  If there was none then when did the American people become so paranoid of the federal government?  Those questions I don’t know the answer too but when asking those questions I feel that it shows how over time a societies concerns change with the times.  Years from now will the question of government intervention still be an issue or will it be another fad for the history books?