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Ron Paul, Imperial Japan, and the (Il)Legitimacy of American Expansion

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An old friend currently working as an advisor to the John McCain campaign recently remarked to me that “much of what Ron Paul says makes sense; but don’t be a wimp -- vote McCain.” The comment was a reminder that the irrational instincts -- the ones that urge us to ignore our more reasonable impulses and not be a "wimp" -- still do drive much of the conventional policy-making in this country.

Unfortunately, it’s too late in the game to turn Senator McCain around. In fact, he's been advocating his own brand of authoritarianism for decades now, which is why the libertarian-leaning Barry Goldwater was never too fond of him.

The problem is that, like the Japanese Empire circa 1935, the U.S.'s central government has become all too powerful to be challenged by an occasional voice of reason. There were several Ron Paul-esque voices in Japan, too, at the time, but they were easily crushed for appearing "sympathetic to the enemy," just as Congressman Paul was "crushed" (according to the major papers) by Giuliani a few months ago for pointing out the fact that we are despised not for our tremendous freedom and wealth, but for our policies and actions abroad.

And the similarities with Imperial Japan do not stop there. After the debate, Ron Paul was interviewed by Fox News, who attacked him on moral grounds for not supporting our numerous interventions around the globe. We have the moral obligation to stop tyrants, they argued.

This "duty to civilize the world" is of course something we are used to hearing, and is part of the legacy we inherited from the British. But it was also an important feature of the Japanese Pan-Asian ideology, which disguised Japan’s particularistic geo-political goals in universalistic moral terms, and transformed nationalist sentiment into an anti-Western, Pan-Asiatic internationalism. The commentator on Fox News, however, is of course unaware of this distinction; for him, there is no difference between the particularistic goals of the United States and the “universal good.”

Thumbing through the last volume of the Cambridge History of Japan, I was recently struck by another similarity to our present American predicament. It appears that there were two strains in Japan’s political discourse at the time -- one that advocated the immediate and violent expansion of Japanese power (today’s Neoconservative doctrine), and the other which advocated a somewhat more polite expansion through the use of what Harvard professor Joseph Nye calls “soft power,” which is what we saw, with several notable exceptions, in the Clinton administration.

But the parallel with America lies here: By the mid-1930s there were nearly no influential voices left in Japan to oppose the very notion of "expansion." Like the American politicians today, the Japanese leaders of the period, after a certain point, stopped questioning the very legitimacy of their expansive policies. It was their "manifest destiny," and the only debate was about how it could be best achieved. I am afraid we're at that point in America today.

For Japan, the problem was that as its empire soaked deeper into Asia and resistance began to mount, they could no longer afford to utilize their softer methods of influence, which had in early decades served them relatively well. More and more, war became Japan's only way of doing business. Today, America is facing a very similar crisis, and it seems the only candidate aware of this -- and bothered by it -- is the conservative, Ron Paul.

In contrast, John McCain, still clinging to the absurdity that they hate us because we're rich and free (I don't know about the rest of Americans, but I'm barely staving off starvation with peanut butter and tofu), now brazenly advocates a broader Mideast war, proving himself to be the most misguided among our misguided Senators. Though a Hillary, Giuliani or an Obama will probably fare no better, a McCain presidency would likely be a most disastrous thing for both the entire Mideast (Israel included) and us.


I should remind us all that there are far greater things to fear than being called a “wimp.”


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Ryan Morrison Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Ryan is a researcher of Japanese literature currently investigating the influence, for better or worse, that the importation of Western realism had on modern Japanese literary history. He keeps a blog -- -- that is in (more...)
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