Blogs > Cliopatria > Iraq, Manchuria and ... Liberia?

Jun 6, 2004 5:23 am


Iraq, Manchuria and ... Liberia?



Following up on my comparison between Iraq and 1930s Manchuria, Joseph Askew, on H-Asia thinks the Philippines is a better analogy, and he makes some good points. It's been discussed on HNN before, by William Marina and William Loren Katz as well as in comments. I think Iraq's strategic resources, factions, and porous borders make Manchuria the more likely (and therefore more frightening) scenario, but I'm not sure that his is a comforting alternative. I might argue, if I'm allowed a little clarification, is that we are at a point where Iraq might be more like Manchuria or like the Philippines (or like post-WWII Japan, if you want to be absurdly optimistic) depending on what happens over the next year or two.

What's more interesting is his conclusion, where he points out that Japan's former colonial possessions are now all considered modern and healthy economies, whereas the equivalent US record is"gambling in Puerto Rico, money laundering in Panama, prostitution in the Philippines, all three in pre-Castro Cuba. And Liberia is just a basket case." This does not, he argues, bode well for Iraq. However, he fails to include US conquests, including long-term possessions like Texas and California, and short-term occupations like Japan and Germany, which weakens his case. He also paints other"English-speaking countr[ies]" with the same"bad steward" brush, (and does so from London, I might add, with an Australian return address) so we could debate the economic weal of the entire former British Empire, if you're so inclined.

UPDATE: I'm not the only one. Askew's argument is drawing some fire at H-Asia, from Thomas Bartlett (Manchuria was a coherent region and the colonial argument ignores historical background), Michael Jerryson (Japanese not just colonizers but also recipients of US occupation). Rico Azikate, who really knows Philippine history, thinks it's a good analogy, but complicates it considerably with inconvenient facts.


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Richard Henry Morgan - 6/7/2004

Well, I was wrong to say that Taiwan and S. Korea hadn't benefited (economically) from Japanese involvement. They did. Then again, I'd be prepared to compare, say, S. Korean development between 1910 and 1945, with the same during the period 1955 to 1990.

I've been known (big concession coming up) to overstate a conclusion, on occasion. That's the great advantage of publishing in books -- one has an opportunity to reflect on matters at greater length, and remove the traces of spleen-induced overreaching.


Jonathan Dresner - 6/7/2004

You're welcome to be amused, Mr. Morgan, though I still think you're misreading Askew's argument a bit (though I admit that I'm probably refining it considerably in trying to explain its limited merits). Cuba's lack of development is traced, by Askew to its period of US possession (ignoring, as others have pointed out of the Philippines, centuries of Spanish colonial rule), and his argument about non-development stops when US possession stops. Never mind, it's not that much of an improvement.

It's not a great argument, I admit.


Richard Henry Morgan - 6/7/2004

Let me see if I have this right. N. Korea's poor development and economic backwardness are the effects (according to Askew) of adopting Soviet models. S. Korea's success is the result of adopting Japanese models. And Cuba (which today has more prostitutes per capita then it had during US possession, or shortly thereafter) and its poor development (in fact, retrogression from second only to Argentina, to second from the bottom, only outstripping Haiti) is the result of having been a US possession, not the result of adopting a Soviet model. Is that about right?

I'm not debating you, Jon. I just find Askew's "argument" risible.


Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2004

Actually, your dismissive sarcasm goes a bit too far: there is substantial scholarship addressing the question of the legacy of Japanese developmental policy.

Taiwan's chemical and sugar industries were Japanese developments, for example, that Japan couldn't make pay because they didn't have them long enough, but the Guomindang Taiwanese, who inherited the capital plant without paying for it, profited mightily. South Korea is a bit more complicated (North Korea actually benefitted more from legacy capital investment, and until the late-60s/70s was the more economically vital of the two) but Japanese education and capital investment did form a portion of the foundation from which post-Korean War growth sprang. (or is it sprung?)

Japan did not claim Manchuria as a de jure possession, but certainly treated it as a de facto one. That was the problem.


Richard Henry Morgan - 6/6/2004

As often as not, it's a good source of amusement when somebody ventures forth from their area of expertise into an area in which they seem unfamiliar with even the basic facts -- like Askew wandering from mathematics.

"Possessions" is an awfully vague term. Did Japan ever claim Manchurai as a possession? Okay, let's get beyond labels to facts on the ground.

Panama a US possession? Apart from the former Canal Zone, I'd say no. But assuming it was. Would you prefer to live in Columbia? Honduras? I think not. Until the US jumped in, Panama was the backwater of Colombia. That's saying something. Costa Rica? A close call, but I'd still prefer to live in Panama (in fact, I did).

Liberia a US possession? I think not.

Puerto Rico? Yes. Now let's compare. Would you prefer to live in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, or even Jamaica? I wouldn't.

OK, let's look at the Philippines. Let's find a yardstick for comparison, say, a nation composed of thousands of islands, formerly exploited by a European power. I know. Indonesia. I think I'd prefer to live in the Philippines.

Taiwan and South Korea the beneficiaries of Japanese development? I don't think so. Remind me one more time of those flourishing Asian Pacific former Japanese possessions that owe their great development to Japan. What? Tongue-tied?

I don't think I've read anything as funny as Askew's screed since Chomsky cited Michael Vickrey as an expert on Cambodian demography.


Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2004

Mr. Riggs,

No, I didn't mean to imply that the Philippines were not a conquest, just that other conquests were left out of the equation, and my citation of Texas and California were meant to be good examples, not exhaustive (including all the US west of the Appalachias would be more contentious than I'm prepared to be at this time, but you're right that a case could be made).

Mr. Askew was making a point limited to consciously colonial possessions, as you correctly indicate the Philippines to have been, and I wanted to complicate that.

If I wanted to really complicate it, I would cite Hawai'i, and let everyone else try to figure out if it was more like California or the Philippines....


Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2004

I did, though I don't think I encountered him then. My USENET time was mostly spent in Jewish, folk music and chocolate newsgroups; there wasn't much in the way of good Asian Studies discussions going on at the time (The Japan group, as I remember it, was mostly a WWII-buff domain).


Christopher Riggs - 6/6/2004

Prof. Dresner writes:

“However, he [Joseph Askew, in a piece comparing Iraq and the Philippines] fails to include US conquests, including long-term possessions like Texas and California, and short-term occupations like Japan and Germany, which weakens his case.”

A couple of questions and comments, if I may…

1. Is there a suggestion here that the United States did not acquire the Philippines through conquest? If the acquisition was not a conquest, then how should we characterize the Spanish-American War (Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino War), the Philippine-American War (“Philippine Insurrection”), and the like?

2. Why limit the discussion of “US conquests” to California and Texas? Was not most if not all of the current territory of the United States acquired at least in part through conquest and coercion?

3. In the context of this discussion, it seems to me that there is a difference between places like California and Texas, on the one hand, and the Philippines on the other. The former were taken with the expectation that Americans would migrate and settle there (becoming the majority and the dominant population), and that those places would be incorporated into the United States on an equal basis with other states. That’s more or less what happened: Texas entered the Union in 1845 as a state and California was only a territory for about two years before becoming a state in 1850. Consequently, Californians and Texans gained the right to send voting representatives to Congress on the same basis as other states, and at least in theory enjoyed the protections of the U.S. Constitution. (In practice, non-whites in California and Texas, and in the rest of the nation for that matter, did not enjoy the same rights as others and were often treated with stunning brutality. In fact, massacres, diseases, and economic dislocations produced a 70% decline in California’s Indian population between 1848-1870. Prof. Dresner is absolutely right to describe what happened in California as a conquest.)

As for the Philippines, the McKinley Administration by 1898-1899 decided to take the islands and hold them as a colony. So far as I know, there was no expectation that the archipelago would be a major destination for American migrants and no expectation that it would ever become a state. It would have an inferior political status as long as it remained under American rule. According to the Supreme Court in the Insular cases in the early 20th century, Filipinos and peoples in other U.S. colonies were not automatically entitled to the protections of the U.S. Constitution. Rather, they were subject essentially to whatever policies Congress desired. (Interestingly, the Supreme Court issued a similar ruling around the same time in regard to Congressional power over Native Americans--Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock.)

Thanks for your time.


Josh Kaderlan - 6/5/2004

I don't know if you ever hung out on Usenet, but Joseph Askew has a long and varied posting history. I always wondered where he'd gotten off to.

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