- West across the Pacific: American Involvement in East Asia from 1898 to the Vietnam War
This is an interesting book in that it provides a different perspective on America's role in East Asia and the Pacific between 1898, when the United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands, and 1965, when the first American combat units set foot in Vietnam. Unfortunately, it also has some shortcomings that limit its appeal as a book for all but the specialist.
Authors Hilary and Francis Conroy (father and son), joined by colleague Sophie Quinn-Judge, believe that both the "standard" and "revisionist (or New Left) accounts of the Asia-Pacific narrative left over from the Vietnam War era" (p. xiii) are wrong. They reject the traditional view that the United States was motivated exclusively by "openness" (e.g., as suggested by the Open Door policy) and democratic impulses in its dealings with Asia from 1898 to the Vietnam War. But the Conroys and Quinn-Judge also reject the revisionist (or structural Marxist) narrative that insisted that America was a neo-imperialist power and that its involvement in East Asia may be explained principally by economics.
West across the Pacific argues that it is more accurate to see U.S. involvement in East Asia as a complex mixture of both ideology and economics. The authors insist, for example, that Secretary of State John Hay's Open Door policy in China was taken seriously by the British, French, Germans, Russians, and Japanese and that "the policy had real meaning and some teeth as far as relationships among the Powers went" (p. 37). While the Russian-Japanese agreement of 1910 meant that Open Door as an international structure was at an end, the policy in fact had helped forestall the dismemberment of China.
The strength of this book is that it uses primary sources—chiefly the papers of "in-between people" (p. xix) like diplomats, foreign ministers, and émigrés—in examining American policy in the Asia-Pacific region. One of the most valuable chapters in this book (pp. 43–70) is titled "The Immigration Cloud and Japanese-American Estrangement." By using notes, cables, and memoranda authored by ambassadors and diplomats, and letters written by Japanese immigrants, West across the Pacific proves that the rise of U.S. racism toward Japanese immigrant workers in California in the early years of the twentieth century poisoned Japanese-American relations. This bitterness ultimately [End Page 360] emerged as a "chilly reserve" that became the "keynote of Japanese relations with the United States" (p. 71) and that contributed to Japanese-American rivalry in China. As Japanese militarism and aggression escalated in the 1930s, this omnipresent American racism did nothing to engender trust or encourage the Japanese to work harder for peace. The bottom line of West across the Pacific is that the path to war—the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941—was not inevitable. On the contrary, armed conflict might have been avoided had leaders on all sides better understood one another and if the thousands and thousands of Japanese Americans living in Hawai'i (and California, Oregon, and Washington) had been able to serve as a bridge between their country of origin and their new American homeland.
Unfortunately, the book has a number of flaws that undercut its usefulness. First, virtually all the sources cited in the endnotes are more than thirty years old, and of the 250 secondary sources cited in the bibliography, fewer than fifteen were published in the last ten years. Since Francis Conroy explains that West across the Pacific "was lost for 15 years" (p. ix) and that his father was unable to finish the manuscript because of his advanced age (p. xxxvi); this may account for the lack of more recent scholarship in the notes and bibliography. For the reader, however, the question becomes whether the authors know about—and consulted and considered—recent dissertations, theses, articles, and other...