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July 27, 2009


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Okay, I'll bite.

1. No.

2. However, this no assumes a 2009 viewpoint and values, and I'm not 100% convinced that that's right. If you had asked a 1939 version of me that question, for example, I might have replied that it was worth it because American bases in the Philippines protected Americans (and Filipinos) from Japanese aggression. This turned out to be wrong in 1941, but it was at least partly true for a while.

3. What if the US had done what was necessary in the 1920s and 1930s to make the Philippines strong enough to deter the Japanese even in 1941? To put it another way, how much weight do you give arguments that "It would have been worth it if the US hadn't screwed up XYZ in 1929, or 1959"?

4. It's obvious that the interest of the US as construed by foreign policy types is not the same as the interests of Main Streeters. Which set of values do you use?

Bravo to item #2, David. I don't like applying ex post outcomes when trying to judge ex ante decision-making in a contingent environment. The most you can ask for is that a given entity play the odds correctly.

Now, if Matt can construct an argument that the apparent contingency is false and that there was no way (or very little way) that the islands were going to contribute to U.S. security _knowing what the policy-makers already knew as of the turn of the century_, then it becomes a legitimate error rather than contingency developing badly for us. The same holds if there was some way they could have hedged against the march of technology and/or the improvement in Japanese capabilities in the future.

A few thoughts. How much did having the Philippines affect American investment and trade with China? Hrm. I'm going to say "not in the least."

Sugar? Well, during the depression we ditched the place partly because of the sugar glut.

It's also not clear why the islands are valuable as a shield against Japan. A shield against what?

Bernard - thanks. The arrogance of hindsight can be really annoying.

However, I don't think that Matt is going in that direction. I think he (and Scott) are wondering if Mr. Smith in Massillon, or Mr. Jones in Peoria, or Mrs. Montello in Brooklyn have now or ever did receive any benefit from the Philippines, as opposed to people in offices in Washington who mount maps on corkboard and stick pins in them.

I haven't made up my mind how to think about this question. On the one hand, the pin-stickers are a bit better informed and see a bit deeper than Mssers. Smith and Jones. On the other hand, they sometimes seem to forget that they aren't playing Risk.

Scott, what I meant about the islands being a shield was that in theory, circa 1939, bases in the Philippines would be a such a wonderful place to launch actions against Japan that the Japanese would have to take those bases out at the beginning of any war. If the basees were strong enough the Japanese might be deterred from starting, and even if not it would give the rest of the US military time to prepare. Didn't work out that way, obviously.

A still-current question is why the United States continues to hold Puerto Rico. The island's usefulness as a site for naval bases has passed, and Puerto Rico is large enough and with sufficient resources to be a viable, relatively prosperous independent country.

You really don't know the answer to that question? I'm quite honestly surprised, but upon reflection I shouldn't be. Very sadly, many Americans make the same implicit mistake that you're making.

I'll use the Socratic method, if you don't mind. Ask yourself two additional questions:

(1) Since 1917, anyone born in Puerto Rico has automatically become a citizen of what country?

(2) What does the Fourteenth Amendment say about American citizenship?

If the answer still isn't clear, here are two facts about Philippine independence. First, people born in the Philippine Islands between 1898 and 1946 were not citizens of the country referenced in question 1 above. Second, Section 17 of the Philippine Independence Act of 1934 required a concurrent vote of the Philippine Legislature to take effect.

You can read more about the status debate in Puerto Rico here. Down in the comments, there are some estimates of the fiscal impact of Puerto Rican independence on the United States. The bottom line is that an independent Puerto Rico would cost the federal government an additional $300 million to $4.8 billion per year, depending on how the courts ruled. That said, the fact that independence would cost Washington more is simply an epiphenomenon, and not the answer to your question.

If that answer still isn't clear, I will be happy to explain more directly.

"Scott, what I meant about the islands being a shield was that in theory, circa 1939, bases in the Philippines would be a such a wonderful place to launch actions against Japan that the Japanese would have to take those bases out at the beginning of any war. If the basees were strong enough the Japanese might be deterred from starting, and even if not it would give the rest of the US military time to prepare. Didn't work out that way, obviously."

Sure, but my understanding is that War Plan Orange entailed rushing to the defense of what was perceived as an isolated outpost. And since an American preemptive attack on Japan was never in the cards, having the islands there essentially left Americans vulnerable to Japanese aggression.

But if we didn't have bases in the Phillipines, making a Japanese invasion of Indonesia problematic, would we have ever gone to war with Japan in the first place? I'd consider the long-term survival of the Japanese Empire, at least as it was constituted in 1941, as a bad thing...


But if we're positing "WI America didn't have the Philippines" don't we have to consider its replacement?

Maybe the key to shiny happy Japanese Empire is the Filipino-Japanese alliance after the 1901 Revolution in Manila.

It seems to be backwards here. Not the US using Phils against Japan, but a militarist Japan having absorbed the weak Phillipines around 1905, and using the population and resources against the US.

Well, how would Japan use the Philippines against the United States? Manpower was never the limiting factor for the Japanese war effort. Rather, the limiting factors were natural resources and industrial capacity. The Philippines didn't fill any of those natural resource constraints, and it had no heavy industry. Nor would Japanese annexation conjour up said industry: it didn't in Taiwan, and the P.I. didn't have any of the resources found in Korea or Manchuria.

Similarly the Philippines aren't in a strategic position to attack other U.S. interests in the region. You don't need the P.I. to invade China (obviously) and you don't need the P.I. to stage an attack on Guam.

So it isn't clear how the early possession of the Philippines would have aided Japan in a hypothetical future war agains the United States.

Finally, there is Bruce's point above: would the U.S. and the Japanese Empire have even gone to war had there been no American presence in the Philippines? This is arguable either way, of course, since the possession of Indonesia did not fully alleviate Japanese resource constraints and the possession of the Philippines did not prompt the American embargo of Japan. But it is certainly something to think about.

After all, Japan wasn't militarist in 1905. Who knows what effect a Japanese-Spanish War (or a Japanese invasion of a weak República Filipina) would have had on Japanese political development?

Actually, does anyone know? Thoughts?

From the infallible oracle Wikipedia's article on the history of Japan:

"Japanese intellectuals of the late-Meiji period espoused the concept of a "line of advantage," an idea that would help to justify Japanese foreign policy at the turn of the century. According to this principle, embodied in the slogan 'fukoku kyōhei', Japan would be vulnerable to aggressive Western imperialism unless it extended a line of advantage beyond its borders which would help to repel foreign incursions and strengthen the Japanese economy. Emphasis was especially placed on Japan's "preeminent interests" in the Korean Peninsula, once famously described as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Japan." It was tensions over Korea and Manchuria, respectively, that led Japan to become involved in the first Sino-Japanese War with China in 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War with Russia in 1904-1905."

So Japan was an actively imperialist power in the 1890's even if it wasn't yet militarized. While Korea might have had first place in the Japanese list of potential invasion launching sites, the Philippeans couldn't be completely ignored. It's hard to imagine that any opportunity to "secure" them would be passed up.

According to the same oracle's article on Japanese-Korean relations, Japan began trying to throw its weight around in Korea in 1876, but didn't actually annex it until 1910. So they might have been comfortable with the idea of a puppet government in the Philippeans, at least in the beginning, but the big question would be whether they and the Filipinos could agree on the length of the strings. I'm skeptical. Call it 60% probability annexation (which wouldn't be fun) 30% puppet state, and 10% something unlikely.

Glancing at said article on J-K relations, Japanese political development would like OTL only more so. The only way I see a non-butterfly divergence would be if the extra effort somehow pushed them over some threshold after which they had to acknowledge that This Wasn't Working.

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