Commodore Perry & the legacy of American imperialism

TOKYO —

Most Japanese know who Commodore Perry is. He’s the man who came with the black ships and opened Japan to the West. According to one survey, 90% of all Japanese school children can identify him.

In America, Commodore Perry is less remembered – and the way he is, differs from that of most historians who write about the legacy of his arrival in Japan.

According to the U.S. naval museum, Perry was a hero who persuaded the Japanese to open their ports in order to able trade and friendship with the West. After the signing of the treaty, the Japanese invited the Americans to a feast. The Americans admired the courtesy and politeness of their hosts, and thought very highly of the rich Japanese culture. Commodore Perry broke down barriers that separated Japan from the rest of the world. Today the Japanese celebrate his expedition with annual black ship festivals.

Historians, however, recount the legacy of the arrival of the black ships quite differently.

It was a moment in history when the Japanese realized how miserably behind the rest of the world they were. While their samurai were bashing away at each other with swords, foreign powers had developed boats and weapons that they were no match for whatsoever. To survive, Japan needed to learn from the West.

So in an ultimate act of “shoganai,” Japan signed the unequal treaty. At the same time it resolved to build a modern military that would be the envy of the rest of the world. The result was the birth of the imperial oligarchy and the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate – and with it, the civil war that lead to the abolishment of the samurai and rise of the Japanese Imperial Army.

Ironically, in some Japanese textbooks, the Meiji Restoration is portrayed as a type of bloodless coup, but that is far from the truth.

The Boshin War was one of Japan’s bloodiest. In consequence, it would lead to a period of rapid reform and modernization known as the Meiji Restoration, which in turn led to the birth of constitutional democracy and the end of feudalism, which was actually a good deal for most Japanese (except the 10% who had previously benefited from the system, such as the many samurai who faced impoverishment as a result.)

For its neighbors, however, it led to a disastrous period in which Japan was convinced that to survive, it, too, had to mimic the West’s colonial behavior.

The legacy of Perry’s “deed” would further build up to World War II when Japanese colonial interests would go head to head with those of rival colonial interests. 

Manifest Destiny

In American schools, the term “American imperialism” is not so commonly used in textbooks, but it was under President James Polk that America attempted to create the American Empire. In its wake, Texas and California were annexed from Mexico.

Under the doctrine of manifest destiny, three arguments were used to justify the expansion of American territories: The Virtue of The American People, The Mission to Spread American Institutions and Destiny under God to do so. 

During this era in the 1830s, the U.S. also passed the Indian Removal Act, which was enforced mostly through treaties that were either unfair, or quickly broken.

America occupied other lands, too—the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Wake Islands and Hawaii as well.

Today, the legacy of “manifest destiny” is argued to live on via the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” which is often used to justify American military actions that fall outside the norms of the international community.

The question arises: when are such actions justified? How is the line between state-sponsored piracy in the name of nation and God distinguished between national security within international norms of rule of law?

And here is where we have a lesson to be learned. 

Perry’s intervention led to the birth of modern Japan, which today is one of the most affluent and prosperous countries on Earth. There’s no doubt that most Japanese are aware of that, and have a sense of stoic gratitude.

On the other hand, in the wake, Japan was briefly turned in to an awakened beast. It led to a brutal civil war, interventions that included genocide in other Asian countries, upon America with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and upon itself with the firebombings of Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some 3 million Japanese died in WWII alone, a half a million Americans – 10-20 million Chinese and about 400,000 Koreans. 

And all for what?

Here is where a rather odd irony arises ... what some older readers will recognize as Paul Harvey’s “The rest of the story.”

At the time of Perry’s expedition, the United States held a global monopoly on the international whaling industry—her ships swarmed around Japan’s territorial waters. Whalers wanted the country to open its ports because they needed places to refit their ships with coal and procure wood, water and revisions. In addition, shipwrecked sailors who had to dock in Japan faced the penalty of death or imprisonment. Japan, however, refused to open its ports. 

It was, in part, under these circumstances that America resorted to gunboat diplomacy.
Today, many of Japan’s disputes with its neighbors as well as the international community can be traced back to the arrival of Commodore Perry, and it was to a great extent for a cause that most people around the world see as reprehensible today: whaling.

It is here that we learn the ultimate lesson from the consequences of Commodore Perry’s actions: military interventions can have unintended effects which last hundreds of years into the future. In the case of America’s military interventions in other countries today, the question must be asked, what will be the unintended consequences for better and for worse down the line and are they really worth the price?

Author Infomation

Eddie Landsberg
Eddie Landsberg
Eddie Landsberg is a writer, musician and reviewer who's lived and taught in Japan for 17 years. He presents stories and interviews on a wide range of topics related to changing Japanese society. He's recorded three internationally distributed CDs as a Hammond organist. Among his hobbies shogi, dog training and collecting R&B.
Website: https://www.facebook.com/eddie.landsberg1
  • 1

    Frungy

    This is one perspective, the idea that because Perry's action's and America's rampant imperialism (which continues to today) eventually resulted in good things, so it is ultimately justifiable.

    However another perspective is that the term "black ships" was actually coined nearly 300 years earlier to describe the Portugese ships, and that the Tokugawa shogunate would have collapsed eventually on its own within a decade because of internal pressures created by the social changes that had slowly been building since ideas first introduced 300 years ago. I also propose that the current prosperity of the Japanese people has more to do with their own hard work and dedication than with American Imperialism, and that while Japan was a success one just need look at Vietnam, the Philippines, Liberia, Puerto-Rico, Guam, and a long list of other ex-American colonies to see that American interference, in the vast majority of cases, has resulted in weak economies and protracted suffering for the people. and normally a long and persistant reliance on exporting products cheaply to the U.S. for the greater good of the U.S. and to the detriment of the majority of people in the source country.

    In short, Mr. Landsberg, your argument is fatally flawed. To attempt to reduce the entirety of Japan's interactions with foreign countries to Perry's single act (I don't deny it was important, but I think you overstate its long-term consequences), and then to leap-frog from there to the assumption that all of Japan's progress is a result of U.S. imperialism is both arrogant and ill-considered.

    Also, in the light of current events, for example the continuing U.S. imperialist agenda in the Middle-East, it paints a picture of you as attempting to justify the horrific suffering going on there under the assumption that in the end it will all be okay. Since the vast majority of the U.S.'s interference in other countries has not had such a rosy outcome I think that your assumptions are critically flawed.

    I give you an F- minus for your article. A re-write is recommended.

  • -2

    johnnygogogo

    @frungy

    >

    In short, Mr. Landsberg, your argument is fatally flawed. To attempt to reduce the entirety of Japan's interactions with foreign countries to Perry's single act (I don't deny it was important, but I think you overstate its long-term consequences), and then to leap-frog from there to the assumption that all of Japan's progress is a result of U.S. imperialism is both arrogant and ill-considered.

    >

    It looks like you missed the entire point of the article. Where does it say that all of Japan's progress is the result of US imperialism therefore its a good thing. The article says that it triggered off a series of events that lead to both good and bad things... mentions the enormous human toll, then ends on a skeptical point. The facts in the article about Perry's intervention leading to the Samurai uprising, which lead to the ultimate downfall of the Shogunate and rise of the Imperial army is mainstream fact as taught in most Japanese history books. The Boshin War was a turning point in Japanese history and a lot of it had to do with "Sonno Joi" -- a direct reference to the impact of the unequal treaty. The article argues that Japan modernized on its own to protect itself from the West, but in doing so also emulated certain bad behaviors of it as well and paid a cost. The story seems balanced to me as it points out that the course set in effect led to both good and bad. I'd argue that the question closes with to me seems to imply that the author is cynical about American interventionism, not a supporter of it!

  • -3

    tkoind2

    I have to agree with Frungy. Landsberg is off the mark here. History is never so simplistic as to be defined by a single event or action. While it is romantic and epic to think so, it certainly does not consider the plethora of alternate outcomes that could have been driven by any given set of potential eventualities.

    Japan resisted imperialism, the same that had subjugated much of the rest of Asia, longer than most. But with an essentially Medieval culture at the time when the west had advanced to the industrial revolution, meant that Japan would inevitably be marginalized or occupied.

    The actual outcome was not bad when you consider that the people of Japan did not suffer under long term occupation by an imperial power as the Philippines and other nations in the region did. And as a direct result of this intervention Japan went from feudalism to modernity literally overnight.

    Now while there were negative consequences, the key being their adoption of imperialistic vision, the alternatives could have been just as bad if not worst if Japan had been colonized or gone through years of independence conflict as many other states have done. And this is before you even consider the early 20th century issue of rising Communism in the region and what could have happened had that taken root in a colonized Japan.

    So to assume all that you have in this article stemming only from one set of events is just not sensitive to the massive potentiality that history shows can and does happen from the influence of many events both large and small. From the birth of a Lenin and how that shaped the world, to the influce of an idea. No one thing defines the future. All things, predictable and not, shape the path that nations and time follows. Many things acting in unison with and without predictable outcomes are what create the story of human existence.

  • -1

    Sasoriza

    I would disagree to some extent with the author. While Perry's actions were a manifestation of America's imperialistic ideas at that time, both Japan's development and its atrocities towards its neighbors and during WW2 weren't a simple imitation of these ideas. Japan is and always had been an independent country with its own view on the world and its own place there, with its emperor as a living god and its people-gods descendents, therefore superior to the others before and during WW2, with its movements for a radical change before Perry's arrival and the right conditions for a modernization at the right time. Perry's arrival was one of several equally important factors for Japan's "opening" to the world, and even if it stimulated already riped change, it didin't predetermine Japan's colonialism, nor its military agressions and atrocities towards other nations.

  • -2

    johnnygogogo

    @tkoind2

    Wait, an unfair trade agreement was signed, it lead the Samurai, who were the heart of the society to rebel demanding the treaty be gotten rid of and the foreigners expelled. It lead to a civil war in which Japan briefly split into two countries, and was one of its bloodiest in history, and upon its resolution resulted in an army that turned OUTWARD not inward and forced a trade agreement on Korea that almost EXACTLY mirrored that of Perry's on Japan... and also Japan's decision to rapidly absorb as much Western thought and technology as possible (hence the Meiji Enlightenment) out of awareness that the West was so far ahead of Japan all they had to do was show up with a gun boat without even firing it...Today almost all Japanese school children know who Perry and Black Ships were - and you're trying to tell me that this guy's intervention did not have a serious impact on the course of Japanese history???

    We are talking about the same Perry here... not the 90210 guy, right???

  • -2

    johnnygogogo

    @sasoriza However, when Japan annexed Korea and pushed out the Qing dynasty, the terms of the "treaty" were almost identical to those of the treaty Japan was forced to sign with the US -- and that was the birth of Japanese imperialism. Prior to Meiji/Taisho Japan was a country turned INWARD... during MEIJI/TAISHO, Japan turned outward -- the question is what lead to the sudden change... and I'd argue that it was because the Western world proved that it was a threat from outside. In addition, it is a fact that the Meiji era represented an intentional absorption of Western Ideas... and those were the Western Ideas of the time. To say "Japan is unique and has always been unique," is true is some ways, but MEIJI era Japan was Japan's attempt to become more Westernized. That's a historical fact.

  • 4

    Frungy

    johnnygogogoOct. 26, 2011 - 10:38AM JST @frungy It looks like you missed the entire point of the article. Where does it say that all of Japan's progress is the result of US imperialism therefore its a good thing.

    Right here.

    Perry’s intervention led to the birth of modern Japan, which today is one of the most affluent and prosperous countries on Earth. There’s no doubt that most Japanese are aware of that, and have a sense of stoic gratitude.

    The author may later equivocate, but smack-bang in the middle of the article he makes this statement, flatly attributing all of Japan's progress, affluence and prosperity to Perry's actions, and states that there is "no doubt" that the Japanese are grateful for this intervention. ... Frankly the arrogance inherent in this statement, placed in the middle of the article for maximum impact, is staggering, and colours the entire article.

    He may end in equivocation, but it's clear to anyone reading the article that the author is sure that the Japanese people are grateful and that Perry is a hero, and as such the author's final equivocation is rhetorical, he's already made up his mind by the middle of the article.

    Does this more clearly explain my objections to this article?

  • 0

    johnnygogogo

    @frungy My reading is that the author basically calls Perry a reckless pirate in very polite words. The article seems to be a condemnation of American interventionalism, and is arguing that American Exceptionalism is just as bad as American Imperialism. If I'm reading that correctly, I doubt he personally views him as a hero.

    It is a fact, though, that Japanese school children are taught that Perry was the man who opened Japan to the West, but in sort of a whitewashed way. If you live in Japan, ask around what people think of him. There are several statues of him in Japan and a museum. I don't think he's viewed as a bad guy.

  • 5

    JackSlater

    From this article and reading others from this guy i would conclude that he has a avery limited outlook on the world. It would appear that he believes the world revolves around Japan and America and this taints his writings as make them contain unintentional errors.

    Japan emulated the West mainly Britain from the end of the 19th century. In fact they learnt their naval skills from them.

    Writer, fair effort but please try harder.

  • -3

    johnnygogogo

    @jackslater > Japan emulated the West mainly Britain from the end of the 19th century. In fact they learnt their naval skills from them. > Isn't that funny that the writer is from America and lives in Japan and writes from the perspective of an American living in Japan in an article that's about American military interventions and its effect on Japan??? It must be some kind of crazy conspiracy.

  • -1

    MASSWIPE

    Looks like Eddie was rushing to meet a deadline, because this is a rather sloppily written piece. The Wake Islands? An archipelago consisting of one coral atoll, really?

    This is a tired and well-worn topic. I'm not really sure what Eddie is trying to get at. And all for what, he asks, regarding World War II casualties. Well, for a lot. It was a hegemonic war in which Japan tried (and failed) to supplant the West as the dominant power in Asia. It seems rather silly to write off World War II in Asia as some kind of pointless, perfectly avoidable tragedy.

    As for Perry's place in Japanese history, that's up for debate, certainly. Pressure had been building up on Japan since the early 19th century to end its hermit-like status in the world, with that pressure coming as much (if not more) from countries like Russia, the Netherlands, and Britain. As for the extent of American influence on Japan from 1853-1900, it's long been overstated. The French-inspired national bureaucracy, the British-inspired postal service system, the Prussian-inspired educational system--on and on it goes.

    And as for the idea that Japanese went off the deep end in their treatment of fellow Asians during WWII by mimicking Westerners, ask Asians in Seoul, Nanjing, and Manila if they blame white Westerners for inspiring/forcing the Japanese to behave in a barbaric manner, or if they just blame the Japanese themselves. I think the latter answer is far more likely, anti-Western attitudes among Asians notwithstanding.

  • 0

    SamuraiBlue

    To be fair Japan adopted a lot from various countries. The Meiji constitution was inspired by the German Bismarcksche Reichsverfassung the army also adopted Prussian doctrines, I believe the modern bureaucracy system was adopted from the French and other Hodge-podge mess from the United States, Dutch, and Great Britain.

  • -1

    johnnygogogo

    I think a lot of posters are missing the point. The Meiji Restoration was about Japan learning from many different foreign countries that's a given... the issue is what lead to it and what were the results.
    All of the social institutions that are being named above occurred in that era. The question is what lead to that era?

    Here's the timeline... Commodore Perry Arrival --> 1854 Order To Expel the Barbarians --> 1863 Boshin War --> 1868 MEIJI RESTORATION --> absorption of ideas from West... 1868~ Birth of Japanese Imperial Army --> 1871 Taiwan Expedition --> 1874 First Sino Japanese War --> 1894 Boxer Rebellion --> 1899 Russo-Japanese War --> 1904 WWI --> 1994 Annexation of Korea --> 1910

  • 0

    johnnygogogo

    (correction 1884 Anexation of Korea... substract 100 years please...)

  • 3

    Frungy

    johnnygogogoOct. 26, 2011 - 11:59AM JST @frungy My reading is that the author basically calls Perry a reckless pirate in very polite words. The article seems to be a condemnation of American interventionalism, and is arguing that American Exceptionalism is just as bad as American Imperialism. If I'm reading that correctly, I doubt he personally views him as a hero.

    Then why does he write:

    According to the U.S. naval museum, Perry was a hero who persuaded the Japanese to open their ports in order to able trade and friendship with the West.

    Commodore Perry broke down barriers that separated Japan from the rest of the world. Today the Japanese celebrate his expedition with annual black ship festivals.

    Perry’s intervention led to the birth of modern Japan, which today is one of the most affluent and prosperous countries on Earth.

    According to one survey, 90% of all Japanese school children can identify him. (Perry)

    ... I don't see a single line in this entire thing calling Perry a pirate, and overwhelmingly Perry is mentioned in a positive light, and there's no basis to support your contention that the author considers Perry a pirate. There's a world of difference between analysing the text in the article and just making stuff up based on nothing, and you, sir, have stepped over that line.

  • 0

    johnnygogogo

    @frungy OMG... First, he says, "according to he US naval museum" -- then explains that most historians disagree and argues that Perry's "deed" destabilized the entire country and lead to civil war (which is a fact) and also lead the country to develop a military and turn outward (fact).

    Then way down, he mentions the positive light many Japanese may see Perry, but then lists the horrible results of it. He then says,

    Perry’s intervention led to the birth of modern Japan, which today is one of the most affluent and prosperous countries on Earth. There’s no doubt that most Japanese are aware of that, and have a sense of stoic gratitude.

    On the other hand, in the wake, Japan was briefly turned in to an awakened beast. It led to a brutal civil war, interventions that included genocide in other Asian countries, upon America with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and upon itself with the firebombings of Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some 3 million Japanese died in WWII alone, a half a million Americans – 10-20 million Chinese and about 400,000 Koreans. >

    He then spends half the article accusing the US of engaging in IMPERIALISTIC activities, and even implying that the US still engages in such activities but calls it something else and asks. I don't know where you're from, but Americans do NOT like being called imperialists... its very strong language.

    Then he says,

    Today, the legacy of “manifest destiny” is argued to live on via the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” which is often used to justify American military actions that fall outside the norms of the international community.

    The question arises: when are such actions justified? How is the line between state-sponsored piracy in the name of nation and God distinguished between national security within international norms of rule of law? >

    He then points out the frivolous reason that Japan forced Japan open, and pretty much asks if America is repeating such behavior in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and soon possibly Libya?

    If you think the article is written in praise of Perry, you missed the entire point of the author. The piece is a condemnation of American interventionism.

  • -1

    johnnygogogo

    (Sorry, the quote function is goofy above...)

  • 1

    icanthinkofone

    A provocative article, sure to result in a lot of comments - and views to Japan Today's delight.

    It seems people are "taking" the article in different ways. For most part I personally I agree with Johnnygogogo's interpretation.

    Actions it seems tend to have unintended and unforeseeable consequences. Even today people argue over this and that, all acting like they have complete grasp of the situation and the consequences of the course of action they are proposing.

    Some try to simplify things by proposing that we follow "principles" and all would be fine. Of course that is complete rubbish, a part from the laws of Physics (which are really vague approximation of reality that undergo constant revision in face of new evidence) it doubtful you will fine "rules" that are universally applicable in all circumstances.

    Like most things in life, I believe there is no resolution to this "topic". The human race will just continue to bumble along like we always did - until the day comes where technological advancement makes us all geniuses, and increases our information gathering capabilities, leading to a new edge of enlightenment or the day we go extinct.

  • 2

    oikawa

    I don't think this is anything to do with Japan at all, in terms of the point of the article. It's actually about American imperialism, using Perry as an illustration of the point that when you meddle in other countries affairs you never know how the beast you awaken is going to react, and what all the various consequences of your actions will be. I'm with chuckberry and icanthinkofone on this one.

  • -2

    unreconstructed

    Guest contributor Eddie Landsberg's conclusions are somewhat paternalistic and embarrassingly Ameri-centric, two of the very vices he imagines his awkward foray into historiography successfully castigates Americans for:

    "Perry's intervention led to the birth of modern Japan, which today is one of the most affluent and prosperous countries on Earth. There's no doubt that most Japanese are aware of that, and have a sense of stoic gratitude."

  • -1

    SamuraiBlue

    After the intervention of American Gunship diplomacy, the British, the French and the Russians came. In fact I believe Japan made diplomatic relationship with the Russians before the Americans concerning the right ownership of of the now known Northern territory in 1855 (Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and Russia). In fact the first contacts between Japan and Russia were made with the Matsumae clan in Hokkaido by the merchant Pavel Lebedev-Lastoschkin in 1778 and by official envoy Adam Laxman in 1792.

    The Russian expedition around the world led by Adam Johann von Krusenstern stayed six months in the port of Nagasaki in 1804-1805, failing to establish diplomatic and trade relations with Japan.

  • 2

    Mark_Richards

    In short, signing a treaty with a gun to your head is the American way. The trend continues, even with yesterday's news that Leon Penetta's visit signals "US forces will be stronger" in Japan. While those in Naha continue to debate the American presence, the US and it's compliant "partner" do whatever they wish and issue press releases from Washington and Tokyo without a care.

    Although Japan became prosperous (for a time) she is at the whim of international markets and these it seems swing and sway to the tune set by the US financial system. Prosperity isn't everything. The true purpose of a state is to care for its people, and this has been the hallmark of Japan's greatness. Hers is not a government served by the citizens. It has, since the end of the war, worked well.

    My concerns are great and I would venture a guess that Mr. Landsberg and I would have some agreement on the main points: that Japan's adoption of western ideas, language, culture and "morals" have over the long term been a detriment and that she will not remain great acting at the behest of a state (the US) which, in rapid decline, is flailing and desperate to prop itself up via the one and only method it excels at: blowing stuff up.

    If Japan's international cultural identity begins at a point in history where America put a gun to its head, I would suggest the rest of the story will surely have a sad end.

  • -3

    johnnygogogo

    I think what's going on under this story is Landsberg is presenting the Japanese view of history which is based on ages and their significance. Meiji represents the opening to the West. Trade existed with the Dutch, Portugese and others long before, but Meiji was about absorption of Western ideas not merely the opening of trade.) Meiji was viewed as an enlightenment in which Japanese scholars were encouraged to learn English, study abroad and European academic ideas were adapted, including a Prussian influenced legal system. The Samurai were against these ideas. The Meiji reformers were for them. The arrival of the black ships set this in motion and Meiji/taisho era Japan are viewed by most Japanese as the birth of modern Japan. Landsberg's narrative is VERY Japanese. If you've ever heard of Keio or Todai, it's also part of the story of those schools.

  • 0

    SamuraiBlue

    johnnygogogo

    The Samurai were against these ideas. The Meiji reformers were for them.

    You got that wrong, they were all samurais and many had studied and spoke Dutch and even some spoke English and French way before the Meji restoration.

    Another interesting point is that dozens of American ship under the Dutch flag had visited Japan as early as 1797 when the French occupied Holland.

  • 1

    johnnygogogo

    @samuraiblue Actually, you are partially correct. It was the Ronin and younger samurai especially who adapted Sonno Joi... not all Samurai.

    You are also correct about Dutch... Most Samurai interpreters were trained in Dutch prior to the Meiji Restoration. The arrival of Perry changed that... Of course, there's the amazing stories of Ranald McDonald, no relation to the Hamburger guy.

  • 0

    SamuraiBlue

    @johnnygogogo

    You may want to open your history books again since they were NOT Ronins nor younger samurais, that's AFTER the Kurofuen. The Edo Shogunate knew about the Opium War and how the British treated the Chinese through the Dutch around the time it happened(1840ish). The first to obtain this news were the Rangakusha (The samurai scholars who studied Dutch under the order of the Edo Shogunate) and the Kaikoku vs Sakoku debate within the Echelons started from here on and grew as more ships carrying foreign flags sailed in.

    The Rangakusha started to study Dutch under the order of Tokugawa Yoshimune around 1740 and was most popular around 1770's so they were very much proficient with Dutch around Perry came along.

  • 1

    John Becker

    Thanks to all above for a stimulating, civilized debate. And for the impromptu history lesson.

  • 0

    johnnygogogo

    @samuraiblue History book opened... http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/japan/japanworkbook/modernhist/meiji.html This is a more mainstream narrative of the significance of the Meiji Restoration.

    @unreconstructed "stoic gratitude" definition -- Realization of the consequences of an event without any emotional delight or joy. The article also explains that the American view of Perry is out of touch with most historians in the very beginning, and backs it up by accusing Perry in destabilizing the country and resulting in a national regional blood bath.

    But I've had my debate for the week... on to something more fun... God knows what...

  • 0

    societymike

    Just want to point out the term "american imperialism" being thrown about so carelessly. By it's own definition, "imperialism" does not match as a correct term when attempting to say "American Imperialism".

    Furthermore, the biggest difference in say the Britsh imperialism and so-called "american imperialism" is the "colonies" were under complete british rule and paid tax to the British empire. This is very different than the situations where people say on here, "oh that's american imperialism". Besides the fact that America does not have any colonies, the closest thing to one being Guam or Peurto Rico, both of which have their own governments and are not forced to pay all their taxes to the US. They also don't export much of anything to the US. Then you have the Middle-East issue, again, Iraq and Afhganistan both having their own government, not paying any tax to the US, and now the US leaving enitrely from Iraq by Christmas and plans being drawn for leaving Afghanistan starting next year. This is vastly different than any other form of "Imperialism".

  • 0

    lrodriguezsosa

    Excelent article. Very good indeed.

  • 0

    Foxie

    You are right societymike, it is not about 'American imperialism' it is about 'American economism' and 'historical materialism' now and then. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

  • 0

    SamuraiBlue

    Here is how I see what had happened in chronological order the historical defeat by the Qing Dynasty to the British had become know in Japan. Shimazu clan head of Satsuma Han (Province) ever since their ancestors had sided with the Toyotomi side at Sekigahara and had been casted away to Kagoshima, had old scores to settle with the Tokugawa Shogunate heard of the news through an independent source through Ryukyu. They knew of the riches the western empires possessed through indirect trading via Ryukyu but also new that any route will take the European force through Kyushu first placing them first on the list to be conquered. At this point they discussed on how to handle the situation remained as academic debate since they did not see any western fleet invading Japan at that point.

    In 1853 Perry came with a fleet of black smoking frigates knocking on Japan's door making it clear discussion time was over. In 1858 Iinaosuke the substantial head of Tokugawa shogunate bureaucracy signs the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Townsend Harris without a rubber stamp sign of approval from the imperial household. The treaty was an unfair treaty and was also sign of weakness to the opportunists waiting for a chance to revolt but Ii pulled a fast one and initiated the Ansei no Taigoku or the Ansei Purge, prosecuted big names including all three Tokugawa families(Hitotsubashi, Owari and Mito) into house arrest. Satsuma was planning a coup but with the sudden death of Shimazu Nariaki right before departure towards Edo the plan fell apart and many who had participated were ordered Sepuku.

    Now with fresh blood mixing with the old and the various fact of threat and opportunity from the western countries, Satsuma had an actual target, Ii Naosuke and carried out a bloody assassination now known as Sakurada-mo no Hen(1860) successfully hitting their mark tagging up with an Emperor as the top ideological group known as Sonoi faction also having a grudge against Ii for signing the treaty on his own without the approval of the Imperial household. From this event on all hell breaks loose between Opportunist(Kaikoku)-ideological(Sonojoi) group against the Conservative(Sakoku)-Maintain the status quo(Sabaku) group.

    The Opportunist group(Satsuma, Choshu) never really saw the emperor as the all mighty god but only placed him on the pedestal as a symbol to justify their claim. The funny thing is that the emperor really did not have a say from the start and never actively participated in this charade.

  • 0

    Frungy

    johnnygogogoOct. 26, 2011 - 05:14PM JST @frungy OMG...

    Thank you for acknowledging me as your God. Now sacrifice something to me. Chocolate for preference. :P

    Then way down, he mentions the positive light many Japanese may see Perry, but then lists the horrible results of it. He then says, Perry’s intervention led to the birth of modern Japan, which today is one of the most affluent and prosperous countries on Earth. There’s no doubt that most Japanese are aware of that, and have a sense of stoic gratitude.

    ... so being one of the most affluent and prosperous countries on Earth is a "horrible result"? I don't think that most would agree with you.

    He then spends half the article accusing the US of engaging in IMPERIALISTIC activities, and even implying that the US still engages in such activities but calls it something else and asks. I don't know where you're from, but Americans do NOT like being called imperialists... its very strong language.

    So you're proposing that one should deny history simply because "Americans do NOT like being called imperialists"? What term should he have used?

    He then points out the frivolous reason that Japan forced Japan open, and pretty much asks if America is repeating such behavior in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and soon possibly Libya?

    No, he doesn't raise these issues at all. I did, he didn't.

    If you think the article is written in praise of Perry, you missed the entire point of the author. The piece is a condemnation of American interventionism.

    If the author is trying to make this point then he really needs to go back to writing school, because starting from the point that

    Perry’s intervention led to the birth of modern Japan, which today is one of the most affluent and prosperous countries on Earth. Doesn't exactly scream, "Imperialism is bad!", on the contrary it tends one to lean towards the belief that the author is justifying it in the long-term.

    Perhaps he's just a lousy writer, but it's more likely that this was his point.

  • 0

    johnnygogogo

    @frungy head palm

  • -2

    T_rexmaxytime

    The guy says

    While their samurai were bashing away at each other with swords, foreign powers had developed boats and weapons that they were no match for whatsoever.

    There was no feudal war going on in Japan at that time. The samurais basically did nothing. Edo period was a peaceful 250 yrs reign but the Tokugawa shogunate... The writer doesn't seem to know his Japanese history that well.

  • -1

    johnnygogogo

    @T_rexmaxytime umm... in terms of defending itself against a foreign threat (which Japan feared for 100s of years and happened with Perry's arrival) or in the event of a civil uprising (which occurred as a result) what kind of military did Japan have prior to Perry? The author is pointing out that the Samurai were USELESS in defending the country... they had no ability to do anything. They were, as you point out, civil administrators. Perry's arrival made them irrelevant...

  • -1

    T_rexmaxytime

    Johnnygogogo I see your point. There wasn't any need to develop any weapons since it had no outside enemies till Perry arrived.

  • 0

    SamuraiBlue

    The Tokugawa Shogunate out banded the usage of guns very early within their reign since it threatened the very existence of the Samurai class since a commoner could kill a samurai from a distance.

    Which is ironic since Oda utilize the power of guns and cannons to win battles and was said to obtain 1/10 the global arsenal at his time.

  • -1

    techall

    One thing missing from this history is the fact that Perry's primary goal was to open Japanese ports as safe havens for ships caught in storms or otherwise disabled. Until then any ship entering Japan was burned and the crew executed. Opening Japan to foreign trade was a by-product.

  • 0

    Psyops

    and the rest is history, thank you for the history lesson. I like to leave the past where it belongs, in the past. Now how about that Euro money thing and US protest thing and Japan nuc thing going on now? :P

  • 0

    Seiharinokaze

    The legacy of Perry’s “deed” would further build up to World War II when Japanese colonial interests would go head to head with those of rival colonial interests.

    The position the U.S. took in the War of 1812 against Britain was somewhat similar to the position of Japan in relation to the U.S. in the war with China in 1930's and WW2. And now China seems to take the position of the U.S. in the 1812 war. Time goes around as roles devolve and hegemony shifts.

    BTW, the origin of the legacy that would lead Japan to World War II was such Brits as Harry Parkes, Ernest Satow and Thomas Glover rather than Commodore Perry. Britain pulled strings from behind in the closing days of the Tokugawa Shogunate. 'Revere the Emperor and expel the barbarians' seemed to be just an expedient to rally samurais to carry out a coup against the Shogunate which was baked up by France. But the awakened little beast would later overdo Britain's deliberate intention (to check Russia from coming south) and begin eroding her textile goods market in Chin until at last it ungratefully sank Prince of Wales and contributed to the downfall of the British Empire. It's true armed interventions can have unintended effects into the future.

  • 1

    BurakuminDes

    Interesting read, Mr.Landsberg - thanks. I wonder if Mr.Perry and his mob were perceived as "kakui" by the Japanese of the time, in much the same was as many Japanese these days look up to American culture, fashion and celebrity?

  • 0

    albeit

    So much trouble could be avoided if values were practiced consistently.

    Japan wanted to be left alone, but did not leave its citizens alone to trade with whomever they wished.

    And the US recognized its own citizens' right to trade or not to trade. Should it have not also extended that recognition to Japan?

    Of course, reality is often more complicated. Japan probably thought that a strong government firmly in control and opting out of trade was the best way to resist domination.

    And the US probably thought expanding its realm was the best way to achieve that same freedom from domination. And succeeded in convincing Japan of that.

    Dominate or be dominated. We have to move away from that to a world where each individual is free of domination and where government, in all its affairs, is subject to the rule of law and coercion is a thing of the past.

Login to leave a comment

OR

More in Opinions

View all

View all