When our house’s previous owner sold it to us she left behind several sheds full of books and other random items in various states of decay. Most of the stuff had been destroyed by weather, rodents or just the passage of time, but there were a few treasures to be found among the trash. Thirteen years later I’m still working my way through the literally hundreds of books that survived in decent shape, protected by stacks of their less-lucky brethren.
The previous owner was an elderly woman whose mother had been a teacher a LONG time ago, so there were also some nice turn-of-the century scholastic memorabilia items, like fancy wooden pointers and brass handbells and ooooooold textbooks and such. Years ago when I was first sorting it all out I gave the oldest antique books their own high shelf in my computer room, away from sticky and curious child-hands, and resolved to look through them more closely during some hypothetical stretch of leisure time in the future. (More than a decade later most of those old volumes remain unexplored. What is this “leisure time” of which you speak?)
A few weeks (or possibly months? The tempus, she fugit) ago I was searching that shelf for a particular textbook on basic physics that I thought Luke would enjoy, and I came across an old handwritten journal of what appears to be school essays. I pulled it down to read, and found myself completely enthralled by the first essay: a vivid description of the Russo-Japanese War and its predicted effects on the rest of the world, written in May of 1905 while the war was still being fought. This was before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before Pearl Harbor, before both World Wars, back when relations between Japan and the US were friendly and unstrained. It was before Krushchev, before Stalin or Lenin, when Imperial Russia was the largest country in the world and ruled by an Emperor who was likewise on good political terms with the US for the most part. The essay’s author had some definite opinions of his own but in general it’s a fascinating, educational and relatively objective glimpse into a younger, much more optimistic world. I like it so much that I’ve decided to transcribe it here so that you, dear Internet, can read it for yourself. I’m going to break it up into three or four chunks, because it’s rather long. I’ve corrected some minor spelling and punctuation errors, but otherwise it’s a faithful copy of the original. Enjoy!
THE DESTINY OF THE FAR EAST
Japan’s quarrel with Russia began with her birth as a modern nation, and has ever progressed steadily toward the present inevitable climax.
Russia, overcrowded with a population of one hundred and ten million souls, 90% of whom are illiterate peasants, bounded in by the Arctic Zone to the north, populous Europe to the west, and by the principles embodied in the “Balance of Power” to the south, has for centuries overflowed to the east. Recently a single track of railway has been completed connecting Vladivostok and Moscow, more than five thousand miles distant from each other. All along this road of steel Russian cities have sprung up, while branch lines have been dropped southward to carry Russian advance to the gates of Peking and the borders of Korea. At the beginning of the present century the czar was lord of a vast and continuous stretch of territory measuring nearly nine million of square miles — about one-seventh of the land surface of the globe — and inhabited by a total of about one hundred and forty million people.
Japan’s marvelous development has been social, industrial, intellectual, and military, not territorial; but her population has swelled to a figure which threatens to crowd the island empire to suffocation unless an outlet can be found for her ever-increasing human surplus. At present, to one hundred and forty seven thousand square miles of mountainous country, of which only one-twelfth is cultivable, she reckons about forty seven million inhabitants. She needs, as Russia may never need, additional territory upon which to plant colonies. Fertile, sparsely settled Korea lies at her very door, and the rich commercial field of Manchuria lies beyond. Both countries desire the commerce of Korea and Manchuria, but the quarrel between them turns upon a far more vital issue than any trade question. Russia’s age-long ambition has been to reach the open ocean and to possess ports that would give her an unfettered outlook upon the world. Unable to face the combined forces of the western nations, Russia moved along the line of least resistance and spread eastward. Here her conquest was easy and finally she reached the ocean. She gradually extended her frontier southward and built the fortified port of Vladivostok. A significant name, for that it means “the control of the east.” By diplomatic and military moves they occupied Manchuria. But now she began to desire Korea, just as a century ago, owning the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, desired Florida, and she took steps to get a footing there.
Is the mighty empire to be halted in her forward march? Is she to be prevented from rounding out her position on the Pacific? Is she to be driven back from the ports that she has striven so long and hard to win? Is she to suffer a loss of prestige that would be almost as disastrous to her as the wresting from her of valuable territory? It does not seem possible that she can accept such a tremendous and crushing defeat so long as she has strength left to strike against the daring islanders who have challenged her to battle.