Kevin Myers: How US helped make China most awesome entity in entire world
Who in China realises that the spectacular Games which are entrancing the world were only made possible by the US? Because it was the unprecedented American interest in Chinese affairs in the 1930s that led to a complete shift in the power balance in Asia.
After its involvement in the Great War, which resulted in the victorious European powers actually enlarging their empires, the US had — understandably — withdrawn from involvement in what seemed like, and actually was, a very sordid world.
It was events in China that lured the US out of its self-induced isolation.
China had long since captivated the American imagination, especially that of its evangelical Protestant missionaries. The pro-Chinese writer Pearl S Buck was probably the most influential novelist in the creation of a major power's foreign policy in the 20th century.
Many Americans were intoxicated by the fantasies which resulted. "We are going to raise Shanghai, up and up," said one US missionary. "Until it is just like Kansas City."
The Japanese-Chinese war, which the Japanese called the ‘China Incident’, had only a marginal impact on US opinion. Until, that is, the Japanese laid waste to Shanghai, and Canton, and most spectacularly of all, to the Chinese capital, Nanking — the last in an orgy of bloodlust and murderous libido that is without equal in Asian history in the 20th century: all this, 70 years ago, in 1938.
Seldom has such militaristic self-indulgence been so counter-productive, for these atrocities created a ferocious US hostility towards imperial Japan, leading in time to a US embargo on oil exports to that country.
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This was a serious blow for an island nation with no natural oil resources of its own. Japan was forced to choose between either submission to US policy, or war. The US made a 10-point offer to the Japanese. The US Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, a usually cautious, humane man, later said: "We had no serious thought that the Japanese would accept our proposal."
And the Japanese military leadership, driven insane with a suicidal hubris, obligingly chose war, thus casting the US finally and formally on the side of the Chinese in the Sino-Nipponese conflict.
There could only be one outcome: the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the US government ordered 40 new aircraft carriers. At war's end, the US actually had more than 120 carriers. But against all expectations, what the US intervention actually achieved in the longer term was to clear the path to power of the most dangerous man in the world.
For after 1945, freed of the irresistible Japanese presence in China, Mao Tse-Tung was able to smash the government of the pro-Western Chiang Kai-shek and establish the most brutal and murderous government in world history.
Over a quarter of a million US soldiers had died fighting the Japanese, and the unintended prize that their lives won was the victory of communists in China. Another 100,000 US lives were lost in later wars against communist regimes armed and encouraged by the Chinese — all of which had been made possible by an aggressive sentimentalism in Washington caused by Japanese atrocities in China 70 years ago this year.
For whereas the Japanese killed perhaps hundreds of thousands, the Chinese communists killed tens of millions. What analyst in the State Department today could say, with hand on brain (the heart being an organ one cannot trust in such matters), that the US policy towards Japan from 1938 on was in the long-term interests of the US?
An American Bismarck would probably have looked approvingly on an endless Chinese-Japanese land war. But there was no such clinical beast in Washington — with the results we see today. China is now the most awesome entity in the entire world — not in its military might, for that lags well behind that of the US, but in its mesmerising potential. Certainly, no other country could have summoned up the willpower, the discipline, the money, the sheer exultation of the national ego, to have created the opening to the Olympic Games that we saw last weekend. The dragon is awake. It will soon have men on the moon, perhaps before the next Olympics.
It has created a balance of payments deficit with the US unparalleled between a lesser nation and a world power since the British launched the brutal opium wars in order to reverse their own trade deficit with the Chinese.
It has the most loyal, hardworking, unquestioning yet intelligent, workforce of any country in the world.
It covets Africa as a place to exploit and even, one day, to live; and the US made all this possible by allowing its heart to govern the formulation of its policy towards Japan, from 1938 on.
That was just two years after Hitler made the Berlin Olympics the showpiece for the Third Reich, as these Olympics have become the advertisement for the post-communist Maoists of Peking.
And, of course, we have no idea how events will develop from here — for who in the State Department, 70 years ago, could even have remotely suspected that its greater Asian strategies would, by 2008, have helped China to become the only global rival to the US?