The White Men's Countries
Racial Identity in the United States-Australian Relationship, 1933-1953
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- 1 Old Friends and New Strangers
- 2 An Acrimonious Time: 1933–1940
- 3 A Two-front War: 1941–1945
- 4 The Commonality of Race
- 5 A Reddened Pacific: 1946–1949
- 6 The Pendulum of War: 1950–1953
- 7 The Aftermath of War
I would like to thank the numerous archivists at repositories ranging from New York to Melbourne who were instrumental in tracking down the numerous documents that made writing this work possible. Special thanks must also be extended to Oxford University Press where portions of Chapters Three and Four appeared as part of an article published in the June 2014 issue of Diplomatic History. Special thanks also to my former and current colleagues, too numerous to list individually, who provided much needed feedback and commentary throughout the writing process to help produce a much stronger work than I could have produced on my own.
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Old Friends and New Strangers
On Thursday, August 1, 1950, Australian Prime Minister Robert G. Menzies looked out over the assembled members of the United States House of Representatives from the speaker’s rostrum. Menzies had come to Washington to consult with President Harry Truman concerning the Western response to the Korean War, when once again American and Australian soldiers found themselves fighting beside one another against an Asian foe. Menzies also had come to remind Congress, and more importantly the American people, of the speed with which Australia had answered America’s call for aid in the dark, early days of the Korean War and of the long-standing ties between the two countries. Early in his speech, Menzies remarked with great earnestness, “The truth is that when we Australians think about the other people of the world we think of some as foreigners and some of them as not. I want to tell you that except in the jaundiced eyes of the law, Americans are not foreigners in Australia.”1 In this one statement Menzies articulated an oft accepted fact of the American and Australian relationship, that Americans and Australians were bound together inextricably by bonds of culture and shared experience and were somehow natural allies in facing the challenges of a changing Pacific. Few listening to the Australian Prime Minister would have thought otherwise given the recent past when the United States and Australia had worked ←1 | 2→together to defeat Imperial Japan during World War II. This then became the accepted narrative of the American—Australian alliance throughout the twentieth century in the popular mind: the United States and Australia, kith and kin, borne of similar historical processes, and tied closely together by war and culture. Few at the time raised the question of whether or not that was in fact the case. Was this always true, however? And if so, what provided the undergirding of such a stable relationship?
When historians have examined the alliance between Washington and Canberra few have scrutinized it beyond an economic or national security viewpoint. Often the relationship is seen as one driven by pragmatic issues of security and trade. Less attention has been paid to the important role that ideological factors played in fostering the growth of the relationship between Americans and Australians. Of particular importance was an ideology that placed racial identity at the center of their respective worldviews. A fuller understanding of the role racial identity played provides a valuable insight into the nature of this union and how it helped both nations manage an often fractious relationship during the middle part of the twentieth century and led to an increased, although still imperfect, understanding of the other by the early 1950s. This racial identity functioned on multiple layers on both sides with the respective governments drawing on established traditions of racial thinking among their populaces to provide a clear narrative to their efforts in maintaining order in a Pacific increasingly disorganized by the growth of non-white powers such as Imperial Japan and the People’s Republic of China.
This work examines the development of American—Australian relations between 1933 and 1953, a period of momentous change in a relationship that, until 1952, had never been formalized or codified by treaty. It shows that the relationship was greatly strengthened by two distinctive ideologies, in opposition to the traditional emphasis on economics or pragmatism. One was a shared racial ideology that helped lead both nations to come together during World War II and the early Cold War period. Second was a shared fear of communism and a subsequent commitment to stop the perceived spread of this ideology in Asia. It is notable that the use of racial language that was used against Japan in the 1940s by Americans and Australians made an easy transition to communist states in Asia after 1945 thus demonstrating that they both saw a close relationship between racial identity and the political structuring of the Pacific and East Asian regions.
An understanding of the ideology of the American—Australian relationship is crucial to gain a more complete picture of why the American—Australian ←2 | 3→alliance developed the way that it did. As historian Michael Hunt argued, “Ideologies are important because they constitute the framework in which policymakers deal with specific issues and in which the attentive public understands those issues.”2 Racial identity thus became the way for both Washington and Canberra to articulate their attempts to make sense of the chaos brought about by World War II and its aftermath. Further strengthening the argument for using ideology as a prism to examine diplomatic relations between states, sociologist Clifford Geertz argued, “Ideology bridges the emotional gap between things as the way they are and as one would have them be, thus inspiring the performance of roles that might otherwise be abandoned in despair or apathy,” thereby helping to explain the role of racial ideology as a way for both individuals and communities to understand and order the chaotic nature of societal relationships which is crucial in understanding why race figured so prominently in the American—Australian relationship.3
Race itself is a troublesome term for the historian. The meaning is nebulous and transitory depending on the context of time and place. Because of this it is important to define as much as possible what is meant when the word race is utilized. Political scientist Srdjan Vucetic’s idea of racialized identity whereby race as a concept exists as an instrument of ordering social and political worlds and the process of creating differences by attributing social and political differences to ideas about the body is useful in this context. Thus, race for Americans and Australians was seen as a biological conception but was inherently a cultural ideal and one designed to explain the workings of the world that surrounded them in all aspects of life: political, economic, social, and cultural.4 To this end, for much of the early and middle part of the twentieth century, Americans and Australians saw racial identity as a primary explanation for their actions and the actions of others.
The twenty-year period examined here became in the historical memory of Americans and Australians the whole of the relationship between the two countries. Put another way, before World War II and the ensuing Cold War, Australia was for many Americans every bit as much a fairy tale land as was Frank L. Baum’s Oz. For Australians, their knowledge and interactions with the United States came largely through American cinema. But because of World War II, Americans and Australians found themselves thrust together into a partnership that supposedly functioned smoothly and became central to both nation’s foreign policies and military planning. There is truth in that as the period between 1933 and 1953 was the crucial moment in shaping the friendship between both parties. However, an examination of America’s ←3 | 4→interactions with Australia demonstrates the long, sometimes sporadic, often volatile, interactions that occurred between the two peoples that more often was the norm, and not the exception.
From their beginnings, the United States and Australia were linked together as the very founding of the first led to the creation of the second. The American victory in the American Revolution meant that an important outlet for the excess population in Great Britain had been shut off. The founding of the New South Wales colony in 1788, to serve as the new dumping ground for this excess population, was thus directly influenced by the events in North America seven years earlier. In the late decades of the eighteenth century and early decades of the nineteenth century, American whaling vessels plying the Pacific made stops along both the western and southern shores of Australia to restock supplies and trade, marking the first sporadic interactions between Americans and Australians. But even by this point in both nations’ development, the idea of racial identity had become a lodestone for understanding the nature of living in what can be termed frontier societies. The idea of “white” and “black” became the accepted binary for both peoples, although the definition of “white” would undergo greater changes in the United States during the 1800s than in Australia.5
The first sustained contact between the two occurred in the mid-nineteenth century with the discovery of large gold deposits, first in California and then across southeastern Australia. Both Americans and Australians made the trek across the Pacific in a mad dash to make their fortunes. While the overall numbers of Australians entering America and Americans entering into Australia were small, this brief period of interaction was important for two lasting legacies, in particular in Australia: the first stirrings of Australian nationalism and the introduction on a large scale of Chinese laborers into Australia. By December 1854, gold miners, known colloquially as diggers, working the fields around Ballarat, Victoria, had formed the Reform League to protest what they perceived as government corruption associated with the monthly license fees each miner had to pay to work a small claim. As the year drew to a close, 1,000 members of the Reform League assembled at the small town of Eureka in what the Victoria state government saw as a potential revolution, one that was violently suppressed by the dispatch of state troops from Melbourne. Australian historians and politicians at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries saw this “Eureka Rebellion” as the first step towards the establishment of a separate Australian identity.6←4 | 5→
Equally important was the introduction of nearly 40,000 Chinese laborers because of the gold rush. Many of them were single men who had come hoping to earn some small amount of money to return back to China with. Instead they often became the targets of violence, much of it grounded in a wide spread anti-Asian sentiment prevalent among the Anglo-Saxon world at the time.7 This episode would become the springboard for the creation of what would become known as the “White Australia” policy, an official policy of restricting immigration in order to maintain an Anglo-Saxon homogeneous population. Most Americans are familiar with the history of Jim Crow and many were cognizant of the apartheid system of South Africa, but were not familiar with White Australia, which operated in a somewhat different manner from the other two. A booklet prepared for Australian soldiers serving outside of the country during World War II contained this explanation of the White Australia policy, “To the principle of ‘White Australia’ all political parties in the Commonwealth subscribe, for the economic reason that the white man’s standard of living would be endangered by the introduction of colored labor. Thus, the flow of English-speaking investor-settlers is especially encouraged.”8 This was a sentiment many in the United States would have agreed with at the time. It is also important to note the emphasis not just on race but on ethnicity as well. Southern and Eastern Europeans were often discouraged from immigrating to Australia because they were not considered “white.”
For the remainder of the 1800s, the pattern of exchange between Americans and Australians stayed minimal as both nations faced momentous internal changes that would help to define their future interactions with one another. It would not be until the dawn of the twentieth century that America and Australia once again came into contact, contact that would from the early 1900s on be more sustained than the previous 100 years. This era of rediscovery on the parts of both peoples and nations was in many ways accidental in that the United States and Australia did not consciously seek each other out but rather came to find each other by way of their growing fear over the rise of the first major non-Western power to pose a substantial challenge to Western, and hence “white,” hegemony in the Pacific region and East Asia, Japan.
Japan’s rapid industrialization from the 1860s on caught many in the West by surprise. The greatest surprise, though, came with Japan’s victory over Russia in the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War, culminating in the victory of the Japanese navy at the Battle of Tsushima Straits. This event signaled the ←5 | 6→beginning of serious concerns in the minds of both American and Australian leaders. For the United States, the rise of Japan introduced a new competitor into the Pacific, an area where Americans had only recently laid claim to their first imperial holdings in the form of the Philippines and Guam. Japan’s ascent also posed a challenge to the United States’ economic interests in mainland China as well as representing a direct challenge to a Pacific ordered on the ideals of race, with Anglo-Saxons standing atop the hierarchy. This combination of fears, some new and some long standing, led to the development in 1907 of Plan Orange, the first major comprehensive military plan by the U.S. Army detailing the possible outbreak of war with Japan in the Pacific.9
In December 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the dispatch of two battleship squadrons from naval bases along the Atlantic to carry out a circumnavigation of the globe. In August and September 1908, the Great White Fleet, as it became known, made ports of call in Sydney, Melbourne, and Albany, Australia. Large and enthusiastic crowds of Australians poured out to see the American ships. Both Americans and Australians perceived that the presence of the American fleet was a not too subtle message to Japan that American power could be projected anywhere into the Pacific. For Australians, the visit of the Great White Fleet served as evidence, in their minds, that their Anglo-Saxon cousins would not abandon them to the possible predations of a non-White power.10 The visit of the American fleet left such an impression on the Australian mind that even twenty-seven years later, Australian observers commented on the event such as when Australian Minister for External Affairs George Pearce discussed it with American Consul General Jay Pierrepont Moffat during an October 1935 conversation. Pearce related how, “Popular songs were being sung, ‘We have a big brother in America.’ From one end of Australia to the other the visit of the Fleet was regarded as a demonstration of white solidarity against the yellow races.”11 From this point and until 1945, Japan became the central threat to the racial structure of the Pacific for both Americans and Australians.
But it would not be in the Pacific, or against the Japanese, that Americans and Australians first found themselves thrust together on the battlefield. The first occasion where large numbers of Americans and Australians had the best possibility to encounter one another was in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I fighting against Imperial Germany. The memories of this period for both nations revolve around the doughboys and the diggers sharing the horrors and burdens of the trenches and their deep respect for the fighting ←6 | 7→ability of the other. The most significant interaction between Americans and Australians, though, occurred not in the trenches but rather in the halls of Versailles during the Paris Peace Conference.
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- Publication date
- 2020 (March)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. X, 194 pp.