PART II - The Ebbing Tide of White
THE WHITE FLOOD
The world-wide expansion of the white race during the four centuries between 1500 and 1900 is the most prodigious phenomenon in all recorded history. In my opening pages I sketched both the magnitude of this expansion and its ethnic and political implications. I there showed that the white stocks together constitute the most numerous single branch of the human species, nearly one-third of all the human souls on earth to-day being whites. I also showed that white men racially occupy four-tenths of the entire habitable land-area of the globe, while nearly nine-tenths of this area is under white political control. Such a situation is unprecedented. Never before has a race acquired such combined preponderance of numbers and dominion.
This white expansion becomes doubly interesting when we realize how sudden was its inception and how rapid its evolution. A single decade before the voyage of Columbus, he would have been a bold prophet who should have predicted this high destiny. At the close of the fifteenth century the white race was confined to western and central Europe, together with Scandinavia and the northwestern parts of European Russia. The total white race-area was then not much aver 2,000,000 square miles - barely one-tenth its area to-day. And in numbers the proportion was almost as unfavorable. At that moment (say, A. D. 1480) England could muster only about 2,000,000 inhabitants, the entire population of the British Isles not much exceeding 3,000,000 souls. To be sure, the continent was relatively better peopled. Still, the population of Europe in 1480 was probably not one-sixth that of 1914.
Furthermore, population had dwindled notably in the preceding one hundred and fifty years. During the fourteenth century Europe had been hideously scourged by the "Black Death" (bubonic plague), which carried off fully one-half of its inhabitants, while thereafter a series of great wars had destroyed immense numbers of people. These losses had not been repaired. Mediaeval society was a static, equilibrated affair, which did not favor rapid human multiplication. In fact, European life had been intensive and recessive ever since the fall of the Roman Empire a thousand years before. Europe's one mediaeval attempt at expansion (the Crusades) had utterly failed. In fact, far from expanding, white Europe had been continuously assailed by brown and yellow Asia. Beginning with the Huns in the last days of Rome, continuing with the Arabs, and ending with the Mongols and Ottoman Turks, Europe had undergone a millennium of Asiatic aggression; and though Europe had substantially maintained its freedom, many of its outlying marches had fallen under Asiatic domination. In 1480, for example, the Turk was marching triumphantly across southeastern Europe, embryonic Russia was a Tartar dependency, while the Moor still clung to southern Spain.
The outlook for the white race at the cIose of the fifteenth century thus seemed gloomy rather than bright. With a stationary or declining population, exposed to the assaults of powerful external foes, and racked by internal pains betokening the demise of the mediaeval order, white Europe's future appeared a far from happy one.
Suddenly, in two short years, all was changed. In 1492 Columbus discovered America, and in 1494 Vasco da Gama, doubling Africa, found the way to India. The effect of these discoveries cannot be overestimated. We can hardly conceive how our mediaeval forefathers viewed the ocean. To them the ocean was a numbing, constricting presence; the abode of darkness and horror. No wonder mediaeval Europe was static, since it faced on ruthless, aggressive Asia, and backed on nowhere. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, dead-end Europe became mistress of the ocean - and thereby mistress of the world.
No such strategical opportunity had, in fact, ever been vouchsafed. From classic times down to the end of the fifteenth century, white Europe had confronted only the most martial and enterprising of Asiatics. With such peoples war and trade had alike to be conducted on practically equal terms, and by frontal assault no decisive victory could be won. But, after the great discoveries, the white man could flank his old opponents. Whole new worlds peopled by primitive races were unmasked, where the white man's weapons made victory certain, and whence he could draw stores of wealth to quicken his home life and initiate a progress that would soon place him immeasurably above his once-dreaded assailants.
And the white man proved worthy of his opportunity. His inherent racial aptitudes had been stimulated by his past. The hard conditions of mediaeval life had disciplined him to adversity and had weeded him by natural selection. The hammer of Asiatic invasion, clanging for a thousand years on the brown-yellow anvil, had tempered the iron of Europe into the finest steel. The white man could think, could create, could fight superlatively well. No wonder that redskins and negroes feared and adored him as a god, while the somnolent races of the Farther East, stunned by this strange apparition rising from the pathless ocean, offered no effective opposition.
Thus began the swarming of the whites, like bees from the hive, to the uttermost ends of the earth. And, in return, Europe was quickened to intenser vitality. Goods, tools, ideas, men: all were produced at an unprecedented rate. So, by action and reaction, white progress grew by 1eaps and bounds. The Spanish and Portuguese pioneers presently showed signs of lassitude, but the northern nations - even more vigorous and audacious - instantly sprang to the front and carried forward the proud oriflamme of white expansion and world-dominion. For four hundred years the pace never slackened, and at the close of the nineteenth century the white man stood the indubitable master of the world.
Now four hundred years of unbroken triumph naturally bred in the white race an instinctive belief that its expansion would continue indefinitely, leading automatically to ever higher and more splendid destinies. Before the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 the thought that white expansion could be stayed, much less reversed, never entered the head of one white man in a thousand. Why should it, since centuries of experience had taught the exact contrary? The settlement of America, Australasia, and Siberia, where the few colored aborigines vanished like smoke before the white advance; the conquest of brown Asia and the partition of Africa, where colored millions bowed with only sporadic resistance to mere handfuls of whites; both sets of phenomena combined to persuade the white man that he was invincible, and that the colored types would everywhere give way before him and his civilization. The continued existence of dense colored populations in the tropics was ascribed to climate; and even in the tropics it was assumed that whites would universally form a governing caste, directing by virtue of higher intelligence and more resolute will, and exploiting natural resources to the incalculable profit of the whole white race. Indeed, some persons believed that the tropics would become available for white settlement as soon as science had mastered tropical diseases and had prescribed an adequate hygiene.
This uncritical optimism, suggested by experience, was fortified by ill-assimilated knowledge. During the closing decades of the past century, not only were biology and economics less advanced than to-day, but they were also infinitely less widely understood, exact knowledge being confined to academic circles. The general public had only a vulgarized smattering, mostly crystallizing about catchwords into which men read their prepossessions and their prejudices. For instance: biologists had recently formulated the law of the "Survival of the Fittest." This sounded very well. Accordingly, the public, in conformity with the prevailing optimism, promptly interpreted "fittest" as synonymous with "best," in utter disregard of the grim truth that by "fittest" nature denotes only the type best adapted to existing conditions of environment, and that if the environment favors a low type, this low type (unless humanly prevented) will win, regardless of all other considerations. So again with economics. A generation ago relatively few persons realized that low-standard men would drive out high standard men as inevitably as bad money drives out good, no matter what the results to society and the future of mankind. These are but two instances of that shallow, cock-sure nineteenth-century optimism, based upon ignorance and destined to be so swiftly and tragically disillusioned.
However, for the moment, ignorance was bliss. Accordingly, the fin de siecle white world, having partitioned Africa and fairly well dominated brown Asia, prepared to extend its sway over the one portion of the colored world which had hitherto escaped subjection - the yellow Far East. Men began speaking glibly of "manifest destiny" or piously of "the white man's burden." European publicists wrote didactically on "the break-up of China," while Russia, bestriding Siberia, dipped behemoth paws in Pacific waters and eyed Japan.
Such was the white world's confident, aggressive temper at the close of the last century. To be sure, voices were occasionally raised warning that all was not well. Such were the writings of Professor Pearson and Meredith Townsend. But the white world gave these Cassandras the reception always accorded prophets of evil in joyous times - it ignored them or laughed them to scorn. In fact, few of the prophets displayed Pearson's immediate certainty. Most of them qualified their prophecies with the comforting assurance that the ills predicted were relatively remote.
Meredith Townsend is a good case in point. The reader may recall his prophecy of white expulsion from Asia, quoted in my second chapter. (p. 22.) That prophecy occurs in the preface to the fourth edition, published in 1911, and written in the light of the Russo-Japanese War. Now, of course, Mr. Townsend's main thesis - Europe's inability permanently to master and assimilate Asia - had been elaborated by him long before the close of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the preface to the fourth edition speaks of Europe's failure to conquer Asia as absolute and eviction from present holdings as probable within a relatively short time; whereas, in his original introduction, written in 1899, he foresaw a great European assault upon Asia, which would probably succeed and from which Asia would shake itself free only after the lapse of more than a century.
In fact, Mr. Townsend's words of 1899 so exactly portray white confidence at that moment that I cannot do better than quote him. His object in publishing his book is, he says, "to make Asia stand out clearer in English eyes, because it is evident to me that the white races under the pressure of an entirely new impulse are about to renew their periodic attempt to conquer or at least to dominate that vast continent.... So grand is the prize that failures will not daunt the Europeans, still less alter their conviction. If these movements follow historic lines they will recur for a time upon a constantly ascending scale, each repulse eliciting a greater effort, until at last Asia like Africa is 'partitioned,' that is, each section is left at the disposal of some white people. If Europe can avoid internal war, or war with a much-aggrandized America, she will by A. D. 2000 be mistress in Asia, and at liberty, as her people think, to enjoy." (Townsend ("Asia and Europe "), pp. 1-4) If the reader will compare these lines with Mr. Townsend's 1911 judgment, he will get a good idea of the momentous change wrought in white minds by Asia's awakening during the first decade of the twentieth century as typified by the Russo-Japanese War.
1900 was, indeed, the high-water mark of the white tide which had been flooding for four hundred years. At that moment the white man stood on the pinnacle of his prestige and power. Pass four short years, and the flash of the Japanese guns across the murky waters of Port Arthur harbor revealed to a startled world - the beginning of the ebb.