This series has ten easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Origins of the War.
The centuries-long dominance of Europe in world affairs was hurt by the victory of an Asiatic power over a major European one. Non-European could rise to great power status, establish a regional zone of influence, and exclude the rest of the powers from it.
Looking at the big picture, the war revealed the strengths and weakness of regional powers like Japan. Disastrous decisions by the Japanese in later decades resulted from not reasoning from what this war revealed. Horne’s selection touches on these revelations. Japan’s strengths: geographical proximity, superior morale, and superior command. Japan’s weakness: lack of ability to recources lengthy war.
We also offer here the somewhat startling view of the war, its meaning and its consequences, by the greatest of Russian writers. Count Leo Tolstoy was, until his death in 1910, the recognized voice of his nation to the world, not the voice of official Russia, which acts, but the cry of unofficial Russia, which suffers and endures. Tolstoy’s thoughtful, final estimate of the war is worth the careful consideration of us all.
The selections are from:
- Article in Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume XX by Charles F. Horne published in 1914.
- short essay “War and Christianity” by Leo Tolstoy.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. There’s ten installments by Charles F. Horne and one installment by Leo Tolstoy.
We begin with Charles F. Horne (1870-1942). He was professor at City College of New York and a principal editor of multi-volume histories such as the Great Events by Famous Historians series.
Place: Korea and Manchuria
The war between Russia and Japan began in February, 1904, and ended in August, 1905. The struggle was gigantic and momentous. Already its results have deeply affected the course of civilization, and they may perhaps avert the entire future of subjugation which at one time seemed the destiny of the Mongolian race.
Where such world-embracing interests have been at stake, an accurate summing up of events, and full elucidation of motives, is no easy task; and the historian’s labor is here made doubly difficult by the fact that both parties in the conflict fully appreciated the value of approval from the remainder of humanity, and made open appeal for sympathy. If we read only the statements of Russia and Russia’s friends, we find the Empire of the North standing forth as the magnanimous champion of civilization against a cunning, treacherous, and cruel barbarism. On the other hand, the pro- Japanese press grows at times hysterical over the insolence and falsity, the avarice and brutality of Russia’s advance. If, however, we once for all reject the idea that we are dealing with monsters upon either side or saints upon the other, if also we put away our very natural human admiration for the little fellow who has dared to face and managed to overcome a gigantic adversary, if we look for a moment at nothing but demonstrated facts, the outlines of the dispute become fairly clear.
Russia has long desired to extend her empire. A generation ago she took possession of Saghalien, the most northern of the Japanese islands. Later she raised her flag upon another isle, Tsushima, and was expelled by a British man-of-war. These at the time were mere side-issues in the vast schemes of the Empire of the North. She was planning to develop her enormous Siberian domain, to make it powerful and profitable. To do this, she built her wonderful trans-Siberian railway, Next, she needed communication with the oceans of the East, not by way of frozen Saghalien or Vladivostok, the mis-named “Empress City of the Orient,” whose arctic harbor is blocked with ice through six long winter months. What she sought was a real port, which should be always open to traffic. So she secured from China a so-called “lease” of the celebrated fortress, Port Arthur, and gradually took possession of all Manchuria, the vast Chinese province that separates Port Arthur from Siberia.
This seizure was both insolent and avaricious, if one chooses to call it so; but the “earth-hunger” that affects all the great European powers has long established as a fundamental principle, that races lacking European civilization, must be taken possession of and “developed,” whether they will or no. In similar manner has England occupied India and Egypt and Southern Africa; and the comparison might be pushed to other instances as well. Russia, in thus assuming her share of the “white man’s burden,” the “duties of Imperialism,” was of course compelled to ignore the desires of the Asiatics themselves. Her chief anxiety was to placate her European rivals and prevent their interference. In this she was so successful that she sought to reach out still farther and continue her advance.
Port Arthur and Vladivostok are eight hundred miles apart, or fifteen hundred if one follows the sea, for between these two strongholds intervenes the peninsula of Korea, extending far eastward. Its possession would have united and solidified the Russian territories; moreover, at its very tip lay Fusan and Masampo, one, the most convenient port, the other, the most perfect natural fortress on all the Eastern coasts. Russia tried to secure a lease of Masampo from the Korean Emperor, and for this purpose sent to his court M. Pavloff, the same accomplished diplomat that had wrung the “lease” of Port Arthur from unwilling China. So well arranged were Russia’s home alliances that no protest against this new step came from Europe, and Korea seemed destined to be taken as Manchuria had been. The only opposition came from the unconsidered Asiatics themselves, from Korea and Japan.
Japan’s interest in the question was intense and of vital import. The tip of the Korean peninsula in the vicinity of Fusan and Masampo is the nearest mainland to the Japan ese islands. One need not lose sight of land in the passage. Twice in far-distant centuries had the peninsula been overrun and conquered by Japanese armies. But in herself-satisfied isolation Japan had taken small interest in her conquest, had neglected and almost forgotten it. With her sudden modern awakening, however, the “Island Kingdom,” imitating European nations in the arts of war and peace, began to imitate them also in her ideas of expansion. Moreover, with the cessation of the old civil wars among her chiefs, with improved sanitation, medical teaching, and all the knowledge of the West for the protection of life, the population of Japan began a rapid increase. The islands were fast becoming overcrowded. Some outlet for the excess seemed absolutely necessary; and the statesmen of the Mikado’s court turned naturally to Korea as affording this.
It was in re-assertion of her ancient hold upon Korea that Japan fought with China in 1894; but her astonishing success in that war brought down upon her the angry weight of Russia, France, and Germany, combined. If any part of China was to pass under foreign dominion, they wanted it themselves; and their united menace compelled Japan to relinquish the territory around Port Arthur, which had been ceded to her as part of the spoils of victory. Immediately afterward Germany demanded possession of a Chinese port; Russia followed suit with the lease of Port Arthur; England, not to be behindhand, added still another district to her already valuable Chinese possessions. Then came the intrusion of Russia into Korea. All this, of course, was explained and arranged with much polite and diplomatic language. Every one’s chief expressed motive was the “peace and prosperity of Asia,” the “integrity of Chinese territory” in general, and the independence of Manchuria and Korea in particular. But gradually it must have become obvious to the dullest Asiatic mind that Japan must assert herself vigorously or be crowded back into her islands, perhaps devoured in her turn.
Leo Tolstoy begins here.
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