SHANGHAI AND SANCTIONS—3
WHEN Lord Cecil wrote his book, The Great Experiment, in 1940, he maintained that if “the Peace Powers” had been “prepared to take serious action, as at Shanghai,” then Japan would have complied with their demands concerning Manchuria. “Nothing that occurred later,” said Lord Cecil, had modified that conclusion:
At Shanghai, Japanese action not only brought fire and sword to the destruction of Chapei and its inhabitants, but in doing so threatened the safety of Western interests. We and others had invested very large sums in the Foreign Settlements of Shanghai. The maintenance of the law of peace under the Covenant might be belittled as “idealism.” But the protection of British property was a British interest. Accordingly, warships were sent there, such reinforcements as were readily available were also despatched, meetings of foreign representatives in Shanghai were called. All talk of the possibility of Japanese reprisals on Hong Kong was forgotten. And what happened? A British admiral presided over a conference, a British Ambassador devised formulas, and in a little while Tokyo became convinced that the Western Powers were in earnest and the Japanese naval and military reinforcements were withdrawn without having secured any stoppage of the Chinese boycott. (p. 233.)
The argument was that the British Government (together with the American Government and the Governments of the other Powers interested) was prepared to fight in defence of the Inter-national Settlement at Shanghai; that, in view of this readiness to fight, the Japanese gave way; that they would also have given way if Great Britain had shown a similar willingness to fight in regard to Manchuria; and that the British Government was prepared to fight in the one case and not in the other because in the first British property, territory and subjects were affected, while in the second it was only a question of enforcing the Covenant of the League of Nations. In short, the Shanghai episode is taken as evidence that the British Government’s policy in regard to the Manchurian crisis was determined, not by any practical difficulties or considerations, still less by any views it may have entertained about the merits of the dispute, but simply by a refusal to act in accordance
with the Covenant, implying a rejection of the principles upon which the Covenant was based. As Lord Cecil put it:
It seemed to establish that the British Government would risk nothing to preserve peace in a quarrel which, as they believed, did not affect British interests-that is to say, British subjects or British territory. Not only was force not used to restrain the aggressor, but the reason given for not using it reduced League action to fatuity or worse. The whole object of the members of the League should have been to stop the aggression, not because it was a threat to the territory of this or that Power, but because it endangered the peace of the world. That is the very essence of the League system (p. 332).