Images de page
PDF
ePub

JAPAN AND THE PEACE.

By R. G. CORBET.

WHEN the representatives of the Mikado at Portsmouth agreed to terms which filled the world with amazement, the newspapers, as was to be expected, burst forth into a chorus of eulogy of the humanitarian motives that had prompted all concerned, especially lavishing praise upon President Roosevelt as a benefactor of mankind. But it at once struck those not content to look at the surface that there must be something else beneath it. As a rule, "business is business at any rate, in this commercial age-in the case of nations no less than of individuals. is only Britain who makes presents to people that give her no thanks for them. It accordingly seemed perfectly incredible that Japan, who had the game in her own hands both by sea and land, should spontaneously acquiesce in what the Russians openly boasted of as a brilliant diplomatic victory.

It

Signs soon began to appear in confirmation of the doubt that she had acted of her own free will in the matter. The Government behaved as though ashamed of what it had done, and afraid to let the people hear news certain to prove unwelcome. It took every precaution to break this very gently to those in the islands, whilst, as regards the troops in the field, it went so far as to stipulate that they should not be informed of the cessation of hostilities until the treaty had actually been signed and the national honour pledged. But the best proof that the Japanese had not at a stroke been turned into disciples of Mr. Gladstone was furnished the moment some idea of what had happened filtered through. The conditions of which they were told caused them the same pang of pained surprise that all friends of Japan had experienced before them, and in so marked a degree that they actually cast aside their usual

impenetrable veil of reserve, and entered a violent protest, in the shape of public disturbances, against the agreement come to with the enemy. And in this the followers of every party were at one.

Their indignation is easy to understand, but the reason of its intensity and of the form taken by it is not so obvious; hence, as much light has been thrown upon this by one of the very few persons competent to do so, it may not be amiss to introduce him to the reader. To this end it must be explained that Italian journalism, which had, as a rule, been highly unsatisfactory up to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war, was moved to sudden activity by it. Previously the most meagre and inaccurate telegrams had been considered quite sufficient where all foreign news was concerned; now one paper after another began to announce that it had made arrangements to procure a full account of events abroad, particularly in the Far East. Among the journals that most distinguished themselves in this connection was the rather sleepy Corriere della Sera of Milan. This appeared to have been electrified into new life by the conflict, since which it has become the best paper for news in North Italy, not to say in the whole Peninsula. Hence, the Corriere sent out a correspondent of its own, Signor Luigi Barzini, to the seat of war, and his letters thence were every whit as interesting and authentic as those of the best Anglo-Saxon correspondents-a phenomenon observed for perhaps the first time in the history of Italian journalism. The reason is that Signor Barzini is a cosmopolitan, whose sympathy with those among whom he was thrown enabled him to put himself completely in their place. One of the consequences was that he, who appreciated the difficulties of the Japanese at Liaoyang, remained in their midst when several of his colleagues marched off in a huff, because their hosts did not carry on the war with a special view to providing copy for the papers; and a further result was that he alone, with

men belonging to news agencies, represented the

Fourth Estate on the Japanese side at the Battle of Mukden, with regard to which he was presented with a number of secret documents and plans that give his coming book on the subject a unique value.

This digression has proved somewhat longer than was intended, but it had better remain unaltered, as a knowledge of Signor Barzini's qualifications adds point to his remarks.

What struck him especially in the riots was the departure they showed from the customary attitude. There are two things which the Japanese treat as if they were the most sacred duties: an unquestioning conformity to the Imperial will, and the complete suppression in public of his own feelings. Tale after tale has come from the Far East of the heroic degree to which these observances were carried— how, for instance, men and even women would smile, and maintain every outward appearance of cheerfulness, while their heart was oppressed with the loss of those nearest and dearest to them. "The grievance must be very bitter indeed," said Signor Barzini, "that could cause such a people to abandon its traditional impassibleness even for a ; and he went on to explain in what this grievance

consisted.

To the outsider it would appear that Japan, having been granted practically all that she asked for before the war, ought to have reconciled herself to the position, the more so as the Muscovite no longer threatened her in the Far East, where her ascendancy seemed assured, and the whole world had been compelled to give her unqualified recognition as a first-rate Power. She had not received the indemnity claimed, it is true, which had loomed large in the discussion; but this, after all, was not an item the people's heart was set upon. What, then, was the cause of her fury?

Signor Barzini traces it back to old wrongs, of which the Treaty of Portsmouth was deemed a perpetuation. They began when, as a matter of course, Japan was robbed

of Karafto, an island which she has never ceased to regard as part of the national territory, whilst for years afterwards her moral qualities, like her mental and material progress, were ignored, and she had to put up with the contemptuous treatment meted out to inferiors. Among the insults that hurt her more than even the loss of Karafto was the obligation imposed upon her to open her ports, under humiliating conditions, to the foreigner; the hated consular jurisdiction within her borders lasting until she defeated China. A fresh injury then took the place of that just at an end: several of the Powers combined to deprive her of the fruits of her victory, the rest placidly consenting. The series of tyrannical acts which to us was understood seemed, indeed, to tell of a conspiracy against all her efforts to assume the position in the world for which she felt herself fitted, and it was in constant fear of the usual interference that she nervously watched every phase of the recent war.

The people never ceased to expect occult pressure, open threats, or oppression in some other shape, naked or disguised, to step once more between them and their due. In their feverish anxiety to ward off this calamity, they kept their desires steadfastly before the authorities; the terms of peace were discussed on all hands, resolutions on the subject were passed at meetings of every political colour, the Press devoted frequent articles to the conditions, and, as each Russian reverse helped to bring them within the range of practical politics, Statesmen like Baron Okuma interpreted the general aspiration by giving them concrete form. On the other hand, the Government, by means of the official organs, tranquillized all and sundry, assuring them that the time had at last come when Japan would receive complete satisfaction for all the wrongs she had suffered, and would triumphantly take her seat as an equal in the council of the nations. Then, all at once, instead of this happy consummation, the darkest popular forebodings were realized by the news from Portsmouth.

Elsewhere this had been received with hesitation, and

believed to be merely a cloak for secret clauses which really gave Japan what was ostensibly denied her; for people could not persuade themselves that she had so extensively gone back from her demands. But no confirmation of this sanguine surmise was forthcoming; only the bare fact proved true that the Japanese had acted as if they felt unable to carry on the war-an implicit confession that could not but lessen the esteem in which they had been held. And they naturally asked themselves why their emissaries had stated the premises that led to this conclusion. Russia insisted that her honour would not allow her to give up an inch of her territory. What had induced Japan to give up half of Karafto, that part of the national inheritance which she had just recovered from the despoiler? Was Dai Nippon vanquished, that she had given way almost all along the line?

Two explanations had been offered abroad: that her army in Manchuria was not equal to defeating the enemy when the expected great battle took place, and that her financial position was such that she must stop the war at any cost. In the course of a conversation with him— which, with an article of his in the Corriere, has furnished the bulk of the materials for this paper-Signor Barzini declared that the former hypothesis was untenable a Japanese victory was as certain as such things ever can be. The people knew this perfectly well, and paid no attention to the theory of their military impotence; but the other found an echo in their own thoughts.

They saw the secret methods of diplomacy neutralize their victories once more, and when they asked themselves how this had been done, the most plausible conclusion they could come to was that, beneath the veil of the usual honeyed phraseology, Japan must have been threatened with the refusal of foreign financial assistance if she carried hostilities. any further. She was to consent to the terms the Russian representatives were pleased to grant her, which were, in the main, but the fulfilment of the promises their country had

« PrécédentContinuer »