2007-12-22 22:35:13 UTC
isolationism was primarily in favor of isolating the US from the
political conflicts of Europe, and objected far less to US
intervention in Latin America or the Pacific for example. This
perspective has come forth in general historical works, which often
see an anti-Atlanticist, Asia-First or "Asialationist" perspective as
continuing from the the debates of the late 30s and early 40s on
whether to support the anti-Hitler coalition into the early 50s among
conservatives who favored MacArthur's aggressive proposals against
Communist China and viewed NATO as much less important.
In alternate history, the belief that interwar isolationists objected
to another conflict with Germany, but accepted conflict with Japan, is
reflected in a few published stories and unpublished timelines where
the US stays out of war with Germany but nevertheless clashes with
One theme used by some authors is that there is that the China Lobby
was a powerful forces from the 1930s through the 1950s and beyond that
made aggressive opposition to Japanese expansion and later to
communist China more politically palatable among domestic
constituencies (especially conservatives and Republicans) than
opposition to Hitler. In theory the Asia first emphasis gained
strength from the history of US missionary and business involvement in
the Far East.
The main problem with this viewpoint as a description of history, or
in generating plausible alternate histories, is that the record does
not back it up.
In fact, the same people who supported vigorous neutrality laws and
most opposed intervention in Europe also generally opposed involvement
in the Sino-Japanese war, economic embargoes and a big military
buildup in the western Pacific.
It's false to create a dichotomy between those favoring intervention
in Europe on the one hand and those favoring intervention in the
Pacific and Latin America on the other.
The strictest neutrality laws for example were pushed at the same time
as the US was completing implementation of the "Good Neighbor Policy"
of abstaining from military interventions in Latin America.
In retrospect, the China lobby seems rather weak in the 1930s. There
was no embargo on Japan until the 1940s, and Gglobal considerations,
related to Germany, played even more of a role than specific Chinese-
Japanese considerations. The China Lobby was actually much stronger
in the 1950s, especially after China entered the Korean War.
Why have many assumed that the US found fighting Japan a more
acceptable prospect than fighting Germany in the 1930s, and why have
they inferred that racism was important in that equation?
Basically for two reasons - because racist caricature was used against
the Japanese before and after Pearl Harbor, and because there was an
Asia-first constituency after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
I believe that people incorrectly project post-1941 Asia-firstism back
to the pre-Pearl Harbor era.
But the reasons for an Asia-First orientation after Pearl Harbor were
far more straightforward than some preexisting popular sentiment for a
racial clash with the Japanese. It was motivated because the Japanese
started the war with the US and in 1942 were the attacking US
possessions and ground forces. It does not mean that the people who
were Asia-Firsters had been eager to fight Japan in 37, 38, 39 or 40.