The League of Nations: Its Life and Times, 1920-1946

By F. S. Northedge | Go to book overview
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7 Manchuria: the Covenant defied


The League of Nations came into existence theoretically as a world-wide organisation. In reality it was a regional system, the region being Europe, despite the major role in its birth played by President Wilson. Once the American Congress rejected Wilson's brain-child, the League's European character became even more pronounced. It is true that the score of Latin American states were active in different sectors of the League's work, especially in cultural relations, but in the political field they were rarely prominent. As for Africa and the Middle and Far East, those areas still lay under European control. The big exception was Japan, which reformed its way of life with startling suddenness when faced with the impact of the West in the form of the American 'black ships' in the 1850s, and then signalled its entrance into the inner circle of the great Powers, first, by defeating China in 1895, then, to the astonishment of the world, Russia in 1905. Allied to Britain as from 1902, Japan fought on the Entente side in the First World War and took her place in Paris in 1919 as a leading maker of the peace and also of the League Covenant.

That Japan should have found an ally in Britain is not remarkable considering the insular character of both countries and the fact that (at least until 1907) both had a common enemy in Tsarist Russia. There was another similarity in that both states were anchored off a politically turbulent continent, which, if it were ever brought under the control of a single political centre, would make the independence of either hard to maintain. China, the potential unifier of the Asian mainland facing Japan, had undergone a revolution in 1911, a delayed reaction to its defeat by Japan in 1895, in much the same way as Russia suffered changes of vast proportions in 1917 after its defeat by Japan in 1905. China


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