Facing West: Americans and the Opening of the Pacific

Facing West: Americans and the Opening of the Pacific

Facing West: Americans and the Opening of the Pacific

Facing West: Americans and the Opening of the Pacific


From the early years of the republic, many Americans anticipated a Pacific Age in world affairs that the United States would inevitably dominate, not in a territorial sense so much as in a cultural and commercial one. Despite the reality that Asia was of little real economic importance in American life until recently, a powerful image persisted in the American mind of the promises of riches to be found across the Pacific. This book provides the history of that dream, from the time of Spanish galleons to the hypersonic airplane of the future.


In the North Pacific today, the world's most populous nation, the world's largest nation, the world's leading manufacturer, and the world's greatest military power meet. China, Russia, Japan, and the United States face one another across the North Pacific. Their individual and collective global importance is unquestionable; the region where they meet thus forms a fulcrum, a crucial balance point of international interaction.

Now, as the twentieth century ends, a North Pacific center of wealth and power has emerged, generated by manufacturing and nourished by commerce. In the late 1970s, trade flowing across the Pacific began to exceed the trade across the Atlantic; the margin is now ballooning. The North Atlantic, former global center, recedes in importance as statistics reveal the greatest and most sudden shift in the geographical distribution of industrial production and wealth in world history.

Although the British journal Economist (July 21, 1984, p. 13) noted that "pundits have been forecasting the dawn of the Pacific age for so long that most people have turned over and gone back to sleep," even Europeans have begun to wake to the region's new importance. Americans have done more than any other people to link the North Pacific region together--diplomatically, technologically, and commercially. Americans were the first to anticipate a Pacific era in world affairs.

Philosopher George Berkeley, with his popular verses on "westward the course of empire," first pushed American thinking in the direction of the Pacific by suggesting a natural progression of history that had carried the core of world culture from the Mediterranean to North Europe. He predicted that this progression would ultimately take cultural centrality across the Atlantic to America. Americans like John Quincy Adams enthusiastically endorsed the Berkeleian idea that the United States . . .

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