James Phelan


from The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 127 (Jan-June, 1921), pp. 395-403.

For a different view, look at H. A. Millis, The Japanese Problem in the United States


Anyone who has read Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant, whose books graphically describe 'the rising tide of color,' and who show historically the constant pressure of Asiatic populations upon Caucasian civilization, must regard the Japanese question in a much broader, more humanitarian and patriotic light than does your contributor Henry W. Kinney, in the December Atlantic. Mr. Kinney feels qualified, by virtue of his former residence and activities in the Hawaiian Islands, to pronounce the serious judgment,—by implication, at any rate,—that Asiatics are not harmful to American communities and are potentially assimilable, both by intermarriage and by education, with the Caucasian race; and that the process of Americanization will be only a matter of time.

Mr. Kinney says that the objections to the Japanese are twofold: 'one based on purely economic grounds and the other, on the belief that he [the Japanese] is not, because of racial and national characteristics, capable of absorbing American ideals and standards.' He adds: "An ideal opportunity for investigation is, however, afforded by the Territory of Hawaii, where the various races live side by side.' He practically rests his case upon Hawaii, because he says that 'if a group of any race or nationality cannot in Hawaii demonstrate its capacity for American Citizenship, its case may well be considered hopeless.'

In 1916, I visited the Hawaiian Islands and had some opportunities for study and observation. I have supplemented my information by intimate conversations with representative citizens of Hawaii, who have visited Washington and have expressed themselves in hearings before the committees of Congress. One gentleman, in whose judgment I have great confidence and who has had abundant opportunities for observation, told me that, when Mr. Kinney left Hawaii for Japan, there was apparently no 'Japanese question' in Hawaii. There is one now, and it is not complicated with the ownership of land, as in California. The Japanese question in Hawaii grows out of the preponderance of this nationality in the Islands, not out of their absorption of the soil. The Japanese in Hawaii form approximately 44 per cent of the population, and they are increasing so rapidly that, within a short time, citizens of Japanese parentage will be in a position to control the electorate. They take citizenship under the Federal Constitution. Whether such a condition is to be viewed with alarm would seem, in Mr. Kinney's opinion, to depend upon whether these Japanese-American citizens are being assimilated and are growing up with traditional American ideals.

The Japanese began migrating to Hawaii in 1885. During all this time Hawaii has maintained a compulsory school-system modeled upon the American system. If there is any evidence of the Japanese having become Americanized, it is yet to be discovered. They do not associate with white people to any extent, nor do the white people show any disposition to associate with them.

Even where Japanese children have been brought up under American influences and have been educated in American schools and colleges, there is no close association between them.

Some of the factors against the Americanization of the Japanese—if such a thing is possible under any conditions—have been the maintenance, by the Japanese, of their own schools and the support of religious organizations and Japanese vernacular newspapers. These schools, newspapers, and churches have exercised a most potent influence upon the Japanese, and they have always taught, written, and preached loyalty to Japan and reverence to her institutions and culture. All Japanese children attend the Japanese language schools, which are conducted by Japanese teachers sent out from Japan. It is true that the legislature of Hawaii recently undertook partially to control these schools; but it failed. No legislation can control the teachings in the Japanese Buddhist churches. It is well known that the bishops of the Buddhist churches, or missions, are the personal representatives of the head priests of different sects in Japan. The Hongwanji Head Priest is a member of the Japanese royal family, and wields great power. The Hongwanji mission in Hawaii exercises a commanding influence upon the Japanese there; and it is said that the bishop is quite as important, in his own way, as the Japanese consul. It would be puerile to assert that the Hongwanji mission, or any other Buddhist institution in Hawaii, would teach anything but loyalty to Japan.

Mr. Kinney says that, while the past offers no evidence that the Japanese is assimilable through intermarriage, it offers no evidence that he is not, and the question can be answered only by the future. How many years does Mr. Kinney think necessary to prove that the Japanese are not assimilable through intermarriage, or education? Since 1885, the Japanese have been coming to Hawaii in large numbers. It is hardly accurate to say, as he does, that great proportion of them are plantation laborers. There are about 120,000 Japanese in Hawaii, not half of whom work on plantations or in the skilled or semiskilled occupations. The others are engaged in all lines of business. And yet, how many marriages have there been between the Japanese and other races? It is safe to say that they can be counted on the fingers of both hands.

As to his statement that other races in Hawaii—notably the Portuguese— have not intermarried, the fact is that the Portuguese men and women have intermarried with every other nationality in Hawaii, with the exception of the Japanese and Chinese. As a matter of fact, Japanese men prefer women of their own race, and particularly those brought up in Japan, where a married woman has few rights of her own and where divorces may be granted almost for the asking. Japanese girls born in Hawaii complain bitterly that Japanese men send to Japan for their brides. Rather than marry girl brought up with the possible taint of Americanism, the men prefer to take their brides unseen and unknown, but with the realization that they will be purely Japanese, and the they will be content to occupy the very subordinate position of a Japanese wife in her native country.

If other proof or evidence is needed that the Japanese in Hawaii have not become assimilated or Americanized, it is necessary only to refer the reports of the United States Department of Labor since 1901. The Department is required to make periodical investigations and reports concerning the commercial, industrial, social, and educational conditions of the labor classes in Hawaii. The first of these was made in 1901; and this and subsequent ones have nearly all been made by a man who is known throughout the United States as an economist and a skilled investigator, and who, because of residence in Hawaii for an extended period, was well qualified for the work.

In 1901 the report says:—

The Japanese, with his inherited reverence for the authority of his government, is not a free agent in the social or industrial world, and does not sever himself from the influence of his native rulers when he passes beyond the sphere of their political control. . . . Aside from their religion, patriotism alone is a potent influence in keeping the Japanese loyal to their own national institutions. They cooperate and make considerable sacrifices to maintain schools where their children can be taught in their mother-tongue, in accordance with the customs and beliefs of Japan.... European immigrants are assimilated into this American life as readily as in any other part of the Union.

Up to the present time the Asiatic has had only an economic value in the social equation.... In some respects they [the Japanese] might make desirable citizens, as they readily adopt occidental habits; but they do not amalgamate with Caucasians and are intensely alien in their sympathies, religions and customs.

In 1906, the report says:—

There is no indication as yet that they [the Japanese] will amalgamate with Caucasians. In religion as well as in race they will differ totally and permanently from ourselves and retain their kinship other country.

And in 1916:-

They [the Japanese] maintain their national characteristics and allegiance very stubbornly, and transmit them to their children born in Hawaii. Their Americanization is as yet on the surface, and it has not touched their hearts.

With regard to Mr. Kinney's comparison of the morals of the Japanese with those of the people of the United States, somewhat to the disadvantage of the latter, this much should be said. Whether Japanese suffer in comparison with whites in point of morals depends entirely upon whether you are considering the subject from the standpoint of occidental or oriental standards.

Among the Japanese, the girl is taught that obedience and loyalty, not chastity, are the supreme virtues, which must be preserved at the sacrifice of all other and lesser virtues. She is trained to believe that, for the good of the father or husband, she must be willing to meet any danger or endure any dishonor. Nothing belonging to her is of any importance compared with the good of her husband, her family, or her country. Japanese public opinion does not look upon professional prostitution with the repugnance that it inspires in Christian countries. The reason lies very largely in the fact that these women are seldom free agents, many of them being sold in childhood into this form of slavery. It is not by virtue of any Japanese influence that the condition of these people has been somewhat ameliorated; but it came about through the agitation of a Christian organization—the Salvation Army; and a law was passed making it less difficult for them to free themselves. Concubinage also is common in Japan.

The Yoshiwara and the concubinage systems may be highly moral in the eyes of Japanese. In whatever light we may view them, they certainly offer a sufficient explanation of the non-existence of marriages of Anglo-Saxon women with Japanese men. What American girl would tolerate the bringing into her household of concubines, or face the possibility of her child being sold into slavery at the instance of the male parent. Yet such things happen.

Mr. Kinney asks, and then answers, the question: ‘How deep does Americanization of Hawaiian-born American citizens of Japanese parentage go? This question was largely answered by the response made by them during the war, when they eagerly sought to enlist, and when the number of those who waived exemption was, I believe, greater than that of citizens of American parentage. . . . There can be little doubt that, while there may be exceptions, the American citizens of Japanese birth are and will be loyal.’

That his statements arc entirely unfounded can be shown from the records of the Selective Service Draft. The Japanese-American citizens had their option of enlisting or being drafted, as in the case of all other citizens. Before the draft they had the opportunity of joining the National Guard of Hawaii, which had more members in proportion to the population of that territory than the Guard of any American state; and it is well known that the number of Japanese in the National Guard was less than 25 per cent of the number of Filipinos, and the total of Filipinos in the Territory did not exceed 20,000. As to the waiving of the alienage exemption, the records of the Selective Service Draft completely refute Mr. Kinney's statement, and show that the Japanese did not to any considerable extent waive their exemption.

During, the recent strike of Japanese plantation laborers, which the sugar planters of Hawaii and public opinion there branded as national or racial, the newspapers in Honolulu carried many stories of the speeches and statements made by Japanese leaders who were men of education and intelligence. Some of them were American citizens by virtue of their birth. One of the editorials in the leading newspaper in Honolulu said:—

But as for those, the great majority, of Japanese who think they can come to an American territory and do as they please, flout American Institutions, show disrespect to the American flag, insolently affront the American citizenry, and make a mockery of the ideals and standards of life that we cherish, we have no patience with them. We have been entirely too tolerant of them, and as a result they have come to think we are afraid of them.

We are not afraid of them any more than the American government is afraid of that of Japan. If they want to remain among us, it behooves them to respect, not only our laws, but our institutions and beliefs.

Honolulu citizens, during the recent strike, inserted into the Honolulu papers advertisements stating that among, the methods adopted by the Japanese leaders to keep the strike were the following,:—

The ostracism of Japanese who returned to work and the publishing of their photographs and advertising their names here and in Japan. According to the advertisements these men will not be recognized hereafter as members of any social organization, and every member of the Japanese Federation is forbidden to have any relationship with them. Advertisements are printed in all the Japanese papers here, as well as in the laborer's home town in Japan. Inflammatory speeches made by the leaders. Wholesale condemnation of Americans and bitter denunciation of all things American. The older married men of the Japanese strikers have told the managers that it is the younger element of the Japanese—those born here into American citizenship—who are the most radical among the agitators.

The Honolulu papers during the crisis contained accounts of the speeches of some of the leaders, of which the following is an example. 'The Americans,, in our eyes, are people of low and inferior sentiments. They are wild beasts, and we will show them that Japanism will always be successful in any attempt that we Japanese make.'

The recent occurrences in Hawaii have demonstrated beyond question that, when an appeal is made to the Japanese national spirit, no influence that may be brought to bear will swerve a Japanese from the course which is dictated by his leaders.

This, substantially, is the view I get from an informed Hawaiian-American citizen.

Possibly there are American citizens of Japanese parentage living in Hawaii who are loyal to the United States, and would continue loyal in a dispute with Japan; but let us hope that the time may never come when their loyalty will be put to the test.

And, if we turn to the testimony given by the present Governor of the Territory, Honorable Charles J. McCarthy, by Senator Wise of the Territorial Legislature, Mr. Shingle, and others, at a hearing before the Committee on Immigration of the United States Senate, February 28, 1920, we shall find that my informant's words are corroborated and that the following astonishing facts are developed.

'The public schools of the Territory,' the Governor testified, ' where forty-five per cent of the children are Japanese close at two o'clock; and then, at three o'clock, the students go back to the Japanese schools, where they remain until five o'clock. In the Japanese school-books, my understanding is that the Japanese Emperor is their God, and they look to the Emperor for everything —their loyalty, fealty, and patriotism are all owing to the Emperor; and they teach that in the higher-class textbooks.' He testified also that the teachers in the Japanese schools were brought from Japan; and, when a bill was introduced in the legislature to require them to speak, read, and write the English language and to be versed in American history and institutions, the Japanese effected the defeat of the measure, in one way or another. The Governor bore witness also to the fact that 'Japanese do not intermarry; they keep by themselves; they come Japanese, and might remain there a thousand years and still remain Japanese.'

And even Dr. Sidney L. Gulick, Japanese apologist, author of numerous books on the Japanese question, lecturer in the Imperial University of Japan, has frankly written to the same effect in his volume, The American~Japanese Problem, from which I quote the following:—

The mere fact, accordingly, of American birth, public-school education, and the requisite age should not be regarded as adequate qualification for the suffrage, for it is to be remembered that, during the entire period of schooling, not only have they been in Oriental homes, but the Japanese at heart have been diligently drilled in Japanese schools by Japanese teachers, many of whom have little acquaintance and no sympathy with American institutions or a Christian civilization.

If, as Asiatics, they maintain their traditional conception of God, nature, and man of male and female, of husband and wife, of parent and child, of ruler and ruled, of the state and the individual, the permanent maintenance in Hawaii of American democracy, American homes, and American liberty is impossible.

Mr. Shingle, of Honolulu, who also testified at these hearings, quoted a statement of Judge William W. Morrow, of the United States Court of Appeals, in the Constitutional Review of January, 1920, to the effect that, 'in 1927, seven years hence, the majority of the voting population of the Territory of Hawaii will be children of Japanese, born in the Hawaiian Islands, since they became a part of the territory of the United States in the year 1900.'

It is a sad commentary upon the American occupation of Hawaii that, during that period, the Japanese were allowed to overrun a most fertile and productive territory of the United States, and that now this American outpost, the naval 'key of the Pacific,'

where twelve thousand of our own countrymen and a grateful and hospitable native population were enjoying the benefits of American institutions, will, as a measure of self-protection, be required to abandon the democratic form of government and all participation in the management of their own affairs and seek the protection of a commission form of government from Washington. Why? Because the alternative is Japanese domination.

According to the testimony, the birth rate is extraordinary; and in the few years that the Japanese have been in Hawaii, there is a record of 19,889 births. Under the Federal Constitution, these children, when they become of age, may vote. Governor McCarthy expressed the opinion that the large number of Japanese qualified to vote refrain from voting under the direction of their own government. He says that something is holding them back, and that 'if they were all instructed to register and vote, we might be swamped.'

I then asked the Governor, when he was testifying: 'In view of the fact that in ten years the native-born Japanese, having the right to vote, would be able to control politically the legislature and the public offices of the Territory of Hawaii, would there, in your judgment, be any opposition on the part of the people of Hawaii, outside of the Japanese, to a commission form of government, to be established by the American Congress?'

To which the Governor replied 'Well, I might say this much, that the people of Hawaii would object to a commission form of government if it were proposed at this time; but the people of Hawaii, according to the evidence produced here, have shown their patriotism, and as good Americans,—they are one-hundred-per-cent Americans,---if the time should come when it was seen that the Japanese, by voting, would control conditions down there, the other people in Hawaii would be the first to ask Congress to give us a commission form of government, or any other kind of government that would maintain Americanism in Hawaii.'

Such is, therefore, the lesson of Hawaii. A democratic form of government is destroyed by the infiltration of an alien and unassimilable race. Tried out in practice, the other races do not amalgamate with the Japanese, who remain permanently foreign. If, as very rarely happens, they become intellectually assimilated, they are incapable of blending by intermarriage and helping to make a homogeneous population, without which there can be no equality, and hence no democracy. 'There would remain two classes, one antagonistic to the other, which would mean ultimately a conflict for supremacy; and 'a house divided against itself cannot stand.'


California is the most exposed state on the Pacific Coast, and has had the greatest experience with Oriental immigration. She has on numerous occasions learned the nation of the danger. That state is not provincial. She is a microcosm of the Union. Settled from the beginning by men and women from all the states, she has rapidly developed and has attained a high position in culture and civilization. She can exhibit an unblemished record of devotion to American principles and ideals. She freely decided in 1850 to come into the Union as opposed to slavery, as the thirty-first State, when the national alignment was fifteen free and fifteen slave states. She stood for the Union. Her gold gave credit to the North; no inconsiderable factor in the success of the Union cause.

California ranked high, as well, in her proportionate contribution of soldiers to the recent Great War. Her population has grown rapidly in recent years because of vast migrations from Now York, Illinois, and Iowa, conspicuously; and she speaks to her sister states in no strange voice and is moved by no hidden or inexplicable motives. She is American from the head, bathed in sunshine, to the foot, planted in the soil, and passionately desires to remain so. Is not her judgment worth something? Within the last few months she has, by an initiative law, passed overwhelmingly by a direct vote of the people, decided to bar from the ownership of her agricultural lands all persons ineligible to citizenship; and, having heard that the Department of State was negotiating a treaty with Japan and giving ear to the Japanese proposal to invalidate the state law and confer civil rights on the one hundred thousand Japanese now in the state, the California Legislature solemnly, by unanimous vote, and pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, memorialized Congress against the threatened invasion of her reserved rights.

Can the Federal government invalidate a land law—a matter of domestic policy, involving no international right —enacted by a state invalidate a land law--a matter of domestic policy, involving no international right---enacted by a state whose jurisdiction is questionable? That, the lawyers say is an open question, because a treaty becomes, when ratified, 'the supreme law of the land.' In other words, in order to maintain friendly relations with Japan and to encourage international commerce, the domestic jurisdiction of a state may be invaded, even though her vital interests are concerned, and state statutes may be set aside because they bear heavily on the nationals of a powerful government who desire to exploit the land.

What is California worth to the nation—a most productive and naturally attractive state, having an extensive coast line the greatest of the world's oceans ? What are Oregon and Washington worth? What Arizona, New Mexico Texas, and Nevada?

The Japanese claim the right to expand. Seven hundred thousand is their yearly net increment, and they calmly assert, as a right, that anywhere in the world they may go, and that they must have an outlet. They express no consideration for other people; it is the survival of the fittest.

Only while we are fit, can we dispute that doctrine. To admit it would involve our destruction. Unrestrained, the Japanese in California can and will underlive and under-bid us, and acquire in time every acre of tillable land; They control one in eight now. But can we not, we are asked, assimilate a large portion of them, and so increase our own productive energies? To preserve our population is our one goal—not to increase production. Production will take care of itself.

Herbert Spencer was asked by a Japanese statesman, at a time when Japan —now only seventy years in the family of nations—was formulating her foreign policies, whether she should admit Europeans and attempt assimilation. His answer was an emphatic 'No.' I cannot refrain from quoting this letter in part, as it squarely meets the present American-Japanese situation. Japan accepted Spencer's advice, has grown in strength, industrially, and as a nation, and has preserved the purity of her race. She is as wise as a serpent and as gentle dove.

It seems to me [says Spencer] that the only forms of intercourse which you may with advantage permit are those which are indispensable for the exchange of commodities—importation and exportation of physical and mental products. No further privileges should be allowed to people of other races, and especially to people of the more powerful races, than is absolutely needful for the achievement of these ends. Apparently you are proposing, by revision of the treaty with the powers of Europe and America, 'to open the whole Empire to foreigners with foreign capital.' I regret this as a fatal policy. If you wish to see what is likely to happen, study the history of India. Once let one of the more powerful races gain a point d'appui, and there will inevitably, in course of time, grow up an aggressive policy which will lead to collisions with the Japanese; these collisions will be represented as attacks by tile Japanese which must be avenged, as the case may be; a portion of territory will be seized and required to be made over as a foreign settlement; and from this there will grow, eventually, subjugation of the entire Japanese Empire. I believe that you will have great difficulty in avoiding this fate in any ease; but you will malice the process easy if you allow of any privileges to foreigners beyond those which I have indicated....

To your remaining question respecting the intermarriage of foreigners and Japanese which you say is 'now very much agitated among our scholars and politicians,' and which you say is 'one of the most difficult problems,' my reply is that, as rationally answered, there is no difficulty at all. It should be positively forbidden. It is not at root a question of social philosophy. It is at root a question of biology. There is abundant proof, alike furnished by the intermarriages of human races and by the interbreeding of animals, that when the varieties mingled diverge beyond a certain slight degree, the result is inevitably a bad one in the long run.

Japan since then has become a powerful nation and is growing greater in numbers and in efficiency in peace and war. The younger and ruder nations, we know from history, have been aggressive, and have finally subjugated the older ones, accustomed to ease and luxury. What nation in all the ages has been organized and effectively established as a world-power so quickly as Japan? Herbert Spencer's advice to America would logically be on the same lines, believing, as he did, in the biological impossibility of assimilation

Darwin has observed, on the subject of mongrelization, that when widely divergent stocks are crossed there is a strong tendency to revert; the higher and more recently evolved characteristics vanish; and the primitive traits, not only physical, but mental and moral, come to the surface. Indeed, there is a saying in the darkest continents that 'God made the white man; God made the colored man; but the Devil made the half-caste.'

Agassiz wrote: 'Let anyone who doubts the evil of this mixture of races, and is inclined from mistaken philanthropy to break down all barriers between them, come to certain southern countries.... The amalgamation of races is rapidly effacing the best qualities of the white man, the negro, and the Indian, leaving a mongrel, nondescript type, deficient in physical and mental energy.'

A writer in the New York Times comments, that, as the Japanese is able to 'under-live' the American, so the Korean and the Chinese are able to 'underlive' the Japanese, and once made the attempt to do so. The question of miscegenation was relatively unimportant, the racial stocks being kindred; 'yet the Japanese passed exactly the same kind of laws to which they now object in California.' He sanely concludes that the relations between Japan and the United States are endangered, 'if we persist in regarding as a question of race-pride what in reality is a matter of biology.'

Echoing Japanese sentiment, Mr. Kinney imputes, not economic competition, but race-prejudice to Americans in their opposition to the Orientals. No one can deny the menace of competition within our own territory, demonstrated in California, to be destructive of the white worker and ultimately, uncontrolled, of white civilization and American institutions. But is not race repugnance—call it 'prejudice,' if you will---based also on rational grounds? If, for whatever reason, there can be assimilation between European stocks and Japanese strains, inevitably there will be racial class-divisions. Instead of one family, there will be two or three, trying to live in peace in the same house. It cannot be done. Each should live in a house of his own. St. Paul told the Athenians, that the Lord made the people of the Earth all of one blood, but 'determined the bounds of their habitation.' That is the inspired word.

There can be no homogeneity and no harmony where there is no assimilation. The temple of democracy rests on the foundations of equality, and equality not, can exist only where the power and right of intermarriage are confidently asserted and assured.

What Japan demands now is what nature and experience have denied---racial equality. But it is something which cannot be forced. Mr. Kinney, however, says that, especially since the 'insistence of the Japanese on free immigration . . . Japan, with the pride that is her predominant national characteristic, resents having her citizens discriminated against, and no amount of argument that such discrimination is economic, not racial, will satisfy her.'

The world knows that Japan made the demand of the League of Nations, when in conference in Paris, for 'racial equality,' and that it was denied by the

non-concurrence of Great Britain, influenced by the unflinching stand of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and also by the United States. Racial equality,—the right of Japanese nationals to enjoy equal privileges with the nationals of every other country,—reduced to terms that may be understood, means that Japanese may freely enter the United States, be naturalized and become citizens, enjoy the voting privilege, intermarry, and possess land. As our own people on the Pacific Coast would speedily, in these circumstances, be submerged or mongrelized, and driven off the soil, and as their legislative bodies would be captured without striking a blow, the proposal is preposterous. It then becomes a question of self-preservation---who shall survive.

Let us candidly, but sternly, say to Japan, now, before her armament grows more formidable, that it is fundamentally a race-question---for which we are not, however, responsible---that prevents intermingling, and---in a secondary sense---impossible economic competition.

Come what may, we will make our stand, like Sobieski at Vienna and Charles Martel at Tours, against ‘the rising tide of color.’ Whether we combine them as one argument, or consider them apart, I believe that, in the minds of all reasonable and unprejudiced men, sufficient grounds will be found to take heed of the warning of Hawaii and California, and preserve, uncontaminated, according to nature’s laws, the white race---the white race, which has rescued the world from despotism and developed splendidly the arts and sciences, and served as a beacon- light to other lands. It certainly is entitled to the integrity and security of its own house. Free immigration is incompatible with free institutions, racial homogeneity, remunerative employment. America is the home of the new dispensation. Imitate it, duplicate it on your own soil, O Asia, but do not spoil it. It is our sacred obligation to save it. Perhaps it is even of some value to you.




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