US Park Service Propaganda
CASE FILE 002
TOPIC: History of Ulysses S. Grant in Asia
ORGANIZATION: US National Park Service (NPS)
INCIDENT: 1879 Diplomatic Tension between Manchu Empire and Japan.
LOCATION: Peking and Tokyo.
The US National Park Service (NPS) published an article titled "Ulysses S. Grant: International Arbitrator" on 30 APR 2020. The article made several assertions that is not supported by the documentation and is heavily biased by omitting crucial contextual information. The fallacious claims, bias by omission, and misleading context, ironically mirror the outline of a CCP based Sorellian narrative of the events and is not supported by the evidence.
The NPS article attempts to paint a picture that Japan invaded Loo Choo Islands with no legal basis or pretext; the Manchu ("Chinese") rejected this action, but the article never explains why. Next, the Chinese approached Grant to intervene. Grant accepted and worked diligently at negotiating against the Japanese control of the island chain but unfortunately died. The talks fell apart as a direct result, leading eventually (and inexplicably) to Pearl Harbor almost 70 years later.
The article's most significant flaw is the omission of the context and accurate history of Grant's very minimal involvement in the Loo Choo Island affair. The NPS article spins a web of misinformation that creates a deceptively inaccurate narrative which, unfortunately, would dupe the casual reader into believing a narrative utterly devoid of factual basis.
This false narrative falls somewhere between gross generalization with negligent omissions on the one hand to a purposeful disinformation piece supporting a hostile foreign government's propaganda on the other. If the article is disinformation, then it will be for a politically oriented organization to review.
Suppose, however, the article was merely poorly sourced, written, or fabricated. In that case, the Historical Detective Agency (HDA) can use this as an opportunity to examine the claims of the article, find evidence, then present the reader with the facts on the case. Unmasking poor standards in research, analysis, and historical writing is what the HDA "lives for".
The main assertions by the US Park Service in the article are:
1. Ulysses S. Grant was actively involved in arbitration between the Manchu Empire (the article refers to it as "China") and Japan.
2. The Japanese refused to negotiate and entered negotiations with "China" only upon Grant's meeting with and convincing the Japanese Emperor Meiji.
3. The discussions broke down after the death of Grant.
4. The Japanese "struck first" and attacked the Loo Choo islands (currently Okinawa) and infer it was an "independent kingdom".
5. The act of "striking first" by Japan was the beginning of Japanese Imperialism and led to World War II.
6. The Loo Choo Islands were an independent nation.
Grant was actively involved in the arbitration of the dispute.
According to the NPS article, "Prince Kung and Li asked him to help mediate an ongoing dispute with over a group of islands claimed by both countries. Grant agreed to do what he could to resolve the conflict." "He worked hard to serve as an effective mediator, but his stay in was limited, and the peace negotiations were unsuccessful." (NPS Article)
Facts on Claim #1:
The claim is misleading and implies that Grant agreed to assist the "Chinese" (Manchu) and was an active arbitrator in the dispute.
Grant was a civilian tourist at the time, and on multiple occasions, re-iterated that he neither was willing nor legally able to arbitrate disputes. Viceroy Yi initially brought up the subject to Grant to test his opinion on it. When Grant stated he had no genuine opinion, but wanted to promote peaceful resolutions, this was interpreted by the Manchu leadership as useful. According to John Russel Young, the Prince became very emotional and animated at a later meeting between Grant and Prince Kung.
During the meeting with Prince Kung on June 8, 1879, Grant was very clear that he only agreed to pass on a message to the Japanese to "promote peace" and if such action would help avoid war. He was also unambiguous that he believed the Japanese would have their own reasons, and he would hear those out as well. He inquired to Prince Kung what his government wanted as an endstate from arbitration, and the Prince noted a return to the status quo but modified it by expressing that no tribute should be given to Japan, only China.
Replying to Prince Kung's repeated requests, Grant replied, "I told the Viceroy that anything I could do in the interest of peace was my duty and my pleasure. I can conceive of no higher office for any man. But I am not in office. I am merely a private citizen, journeying about like others, with no share in the government and no powers." (Simon. p 152) Prince Kung continued to press Grant, and Grant again had to clarify his position "As I said before, my position here and my position at home are not such as to give any assurance that my good offices would be of any value. Here I am a traveler, seeing sights, and looking at new manners and customs. At home I am simply a private citizen, with no voice in the councils of the government and no right to speak for the government." (Ibid. p 154). ". . . if I can in conversation with the Japanese authorities do anything that will be a service to the cause of peace, you may depend upon my god offices. But as I have said, I have no knowledge on the subject and no idea what opinion I may entertain when I have studied it." (Ibid. p. 156).
Grant again had to correct Viceroy Li's misconceptions during their meeting on June 12-14th, when, at Prince Kung's direction, Li presented Grant with the Manchurian Empires' position on the Loo Choo Islands. The crux of Li's presentation was that the Loo Choo rulers paid Satsuma "protection money" and never to a central Japanese government (Ibid. p. 165). Although Li eventually admitted that he understood the Meiji government's absorbing the various Daimyos domains into a central system upon the transition to a Constitutional Monarchy, Li didn't accept the process. The objection is ironic given that that the Manchu government itself struggled to do similar in its "Self Strengthening" campaign.
"The Viceroy and Prince Kung overrated his power, but not his wish, to preserve peace, and especially to prevent such a deplorable thing as war between China and Japan. When he reached Japan he would confer with Mr. Bingham and see how the matter stood. He would study the Japanese case as carefully as he proposed study the Chinese case. He would, if possible confer with the Japanese authorities. What his opinion would be when he heard both sides he could not anticipate." (Ibid. p. 167)
Conclusion on Claim #1:
Bias by severe omission. Misleading contextualization. Intentional distortion. Grant did NOT accept the cause of the Chinese and agreed to act as arbitrator on their behalf.
The NPS inference is directly refuted by the multiple transcripts of Grant's repeated refusal and clarification of his actual position. Further, after arriving in Japan and learning their side, Grant agreed that Japan had a right to the island chain. He made a small suggestion that the Japanese could instead demonstrate friendship and generosity by allowing the Manchus a small navigable channel for their shipping that would allow access to the Pacific trade routes and "save face" simultaneously, however, he re-emphasized this was entirely up to the two parties to negotiate as he was a private citizen only.
The Japanese refused to negotiate and entered negotiations with "China" only upon Grant's meeting with and convincing the Japanese Emperor Meiji.
"The Japanese would not directly deal with the Chinese to settle the fate of the Loo Choo Islands. Upon meeting Grant, however, the Japanese Emperor Meiji formed a respect for him and agreed to privately discuss the matter. Grant argued that "war between and would be a grave misfortune," and that "arbitration between nations...satisfies the conscience of the world and must commend itself more and more as a means of adjusting disputes." (NPS)
Facts on Claim #2:
The claim is misleading in that it omits the critical contextualization regarding the nature of the Loo Choo islands, as well as previous and subsequent diplomatic communication between the Manchu and Japanese Empires regarding the Loo Choo Islands. Further, it attributes a direct causation between Grants fictitious "arguing" with the Emperor Meiji and Japan's actions that followed.
After arriving in Japan and educating himself more on the relevant facts, he spoke with Emperor Meiji, and rather than argue with him as the NPS article falsely claims, stated, "I have of late informed myself more fully of the subject than before. As in the case of all controversies – there are two sides – and what I have learned in Japan, is far different from what I was told in China . . . I can see how impossible it is for Japan to recede from her position." (Simon. p203-204)
The phrase in the NPS article that Emperor Meiji "agreed to privately discuss the matter" after meeting Grant is completely refuted in the transcripts which demonstrated that the Emperor said nothing on the matter. The transcripts record Emperor Meiji said only the following two sentences in response to Grant's observations: "As regarding Loo Choo, Ito etc. are authorized to talk with you and will do so shortly." and "Expressed his hope for the most peaceful and harmonious relations with China." (Ibid. p. 203, 204) Nowhere did the Emperor Meiji change his existing position or actions based upon Grant's discussion, nor did Grant ask him to.
The characterization that Grant "argued" is further refuted in reading the transcripts, and besmirches Grant's character and demeanor as well as the historical records.
Conclusion on Claim #2:
Misleading contextualization. Intentional distortion.
The records clearly demonstrate that the allegations made in the NPS article are false. Allegations that Grant convinced the Emperor Meiji to privately discuss the matter with the "Chinese" after "arguing" with him are complete fabrications.
The discussions broke down after the death of Grant.
"After Grant's death in 1885, negotiations between and broke down and fully occupied the Loo Choo Islands..." (NPS)
Facts on Claim #3:
The claim attempts to falsely assign Grant an active participation in negotiations. At no time was Grant active in the official negotiations, which he stated, were rightfully to be conducted by the official US representatives in the matter. Grant continually emphasized he was a common citizen, voicing his hope for a peaceful resolution and a process that excluded European interests as they wanted to exacerbate the frictions between Japan and Manchu for their own ends. Grant felt the Japanese and Manchu could negotiate together without outside "assistance" as they were "one race" as he characterized it, with a common history and culture. Once Grant departed Japan, there is no record of his continuing to engage on the matter in any letters, telegrams, or diary entries. Grant was focused upon returning to the US of the upcoming Presidential Republican primary, his Army of Tennessee reunion, financial matters, and sadly, his declining health and financial situation.
Even on the issue of "peaceful resolution" of the diplomatic dispute, which was Grant's only reason for agreeing to Prince Kung and Minister Yi's scheme, one is hard-pressed to see how the negotiations "failed" when Japan and the Manchu Empire never went to war over the Loo Choo Island issue, nor was the tension ever so great as to threaten armed conflict.
Eventually, the Peking government forgot the Loo Choo problem as there were pressing matters with the French, Russians, and Germans taking over similar "Tributary" states (Annam, Burma, parts of Siam, and Sinkian), as well as portions of Manchu occupied territory on the mainland.
The Manchu Empire did go to war with the Japanese Empire, but it was not over the Loo Choo Islands, and it was almost a decade after Grant left Japan. The issue that caused war concerned an actual Manchu tributary state, Chosen/Korea. The Manchu's, in that case, advised the Koreans to negotiate directly with the Japanese as if they were an independent Kingdom. Simultaneously, the Manchu ambassadors convinced the Western colonial powers to sign multiple support and trade treaties with the "Hermit Kingdom" to pit one foreign power against another and maintain a hold on the reigns of palace power in Seoul.
Ironically it was the interventions of European and Western powers into the negotiation process during the Korean issues that potentially led to the war. The Loo Choo diplomatic issue was marked by the lack of conflict between the two nations over the issue.
Conclusion on Claim #3:
Bias by severe omission. Misleading contextualization. Intentional distortion.
One is hard pressed to understand what the US National Park Service defines as "failure" when there was no war.
Grant clearly was not engaged in negotiations, nor did he recommend it. The subject faded as Grant left Japan, so "failure" attributed to his death is unsupportable. The definition of "failure" of the talks when Grant died is also unsupported as the issue had long since faded. The only "failure" one can could infer from the NPS article is that the Manchu's did not get the Loo Choo Island Chain, a position held by the CCP propagandists today.
Again, assigning any type of agency to Grant of the negotiation process, especially to the extent that it depended upon his active participation that ended with his demise is an outright fabrication.
The Japanese "struck first" and attacked the Loo Choo islands (currently Okinawa) and infer it was an "independent kingdom." "Japan had struck the first blow by occupying the Loo Choo Islands in 1874." (NPS)
Facts on Claim #4:
Again, the statement is misleading. In 1874, there was no "first blow." The year of the Satsuma invasion was over 200 years earlier, in 1607. The Manchurian Empire was only aware of the island's actual disposition when the Japanese envoys went to Peking to demand compensation for Formosan natives massacring Loo Choo shipwrecked sailors. Since 1607, the Japanese had already completely administered the northern Loo Choo Islands. In the early 1870s, There was no longer a need for the trade subterfuge as Japan was fully open and could freely engage in sugar other commodity trade anywhere. The Meiji government then began converting the southern free trade zone into a modern central-based national system. Similar conversions removing ruling Daimyos were occurring all over Japan. At that point, the Loo Choo was no different, and soon the Loo Choo Han was known as Okinawa Ken.
In 1866, a medal was made for the Paris Exhibition (1867) showing the Satsuma-Ryukyu Domain and the Shimadzu family's administration over both. In the US, as early as the 1850's the public knew the Loo Choo islands were a protectorate of Japan, as evidenced in the Butte California newspaper.
Misleading, gross omission of contextual facts.
There was no "first blow" as Japan already had administrative control of the islands for 200 years, and due to reorganization due to modernization and consolidation, stopped the Tribute to the Manchu's that was economic based.
The act of "striking first" by Japan was the beginning of Japanese Imperialism and led to World War II.
". . .fully occupied the Loo Choo Islands, foreshadowing a growing imperialism that would start them on the path towards World War II." (NPS)
Facts on Claim #5:
The US and eventually Grant were supportive of Japan's claim to the Islands. It was not until after WWI that the US and Japan, on an official level, began to come into an adversarial relationship. Until that time, the US-supported Japan's annexation of Korea (1910), welcomed Japanese participation alongside American military forces in the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900), and were allies with Japan in WWI.
The Boxer Rebellion, World War I, the Siberian Expedition, etc. were all benchmarks along the way that the Western powers hailed as examples of a modern nation fully engaged in the global order.
The gross exaggeration using Post Hoc, Propter Hoc (Failing to show causality except that one event occurred before the other). that Japan's incorporation of the Loo Choo islands into a modern nation state led to World War II is ludicrous. The same fallacious logic for example, if applied to the US would draw a line between the Louisiana Purchase and the Vietnam War. There is no evidence to support the assertion by the National Park Service, which again seems to mirror CCP propaganda more than reasoned scholarship.
Gross example of using the logical fallacy of Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.
There is no causality between consolidating feudal administrative states into a centralized federal system and the frictions that led the US to engage Japan in World War II. Unless one makes the same claim that the Louisianna Purchase led to the Vietnam War using the same lack of proof and therefore the same logical fallacy,
Unless the NPS author(s) have more evidence, there is little to connect Loo Choo's consolidation to World War II except in fantastical CCP propaganda.
International law, as well as opinion, at the time, recognized that the Loo Choo Islands were a dependency of Japan since the early Tokugawa period. The Satsuma clans Diamyo (medieval governor) administered the northern Islands directly since 1608 but left a semi-autonomous state in the southern islands to carry on a very lucrative trade with the Manchu Empire in sugar, which the Satsuma clan held the sole monopoly on. If Satsuma had fully absorbed the Loo Choo into the Japanese empire at that time, the Satsuma han would have lost access to the valuable sugar trade. Keeping half of the island under Japanese administration and the other half as a free trade zone covertly administered to circumvent Japanese quarantine laws was financially and politically beneficial for the Satsuma clan administrators. Keeping the administration secret from the Manchu trade envoys was key to the ruse as well. Thus it was with some surprise when the Manchurian Empire in the 1870s received complaints from the newly re-organized national-based Japanese government approaching Peking for restitution on behalf of the islands' residents.
International law at the time was leaning towards eradicating "dual allegiances" among smaller kingdoms and local powers. Asia had multiple examples of rulers who paid tribute to numerous stronger or equal nations. Many nations saw the Tribute system (Kung) as a mechanism to access trade with the Manchu Empire by providing local products (Fang Wu).
Even the European powers at various times gave Kung to the Manchus, and none of them saw it as a legal basis for submission in political matters, only a means of establishing diplomatic and trade relations.
1. Author: Unknown. "Ulysses S. Grant: International Arbitrator."
Date Published: April 30, 2020.
2. Author: Unknown "A Guide to the United States' History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Lew Chew (Loochoo)"
Date Published: Unknown (accessed 11 APR 2021)
3. Hindley, Meridith. "The Odyseey of Ulysses S. Grant." Humanities, the Magazine of the National Endowment of the Humanities. May/June 2014, Volume 35, Number 3,
4. Hsu, Immanuel C.Y. The Rise of Modern China, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
5. Purves, John Michael. "Early Modern and Modern Okinawa" The Ryukyu-Okinawa history and culture website ArticleURL: http://ryukyu-okinawa.net/pages/early-modern_ryukyu.html
Date Published: 1995-2019
6. Schirokauer, Conrad. Modern China and Japan A Brief History. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.
7. Simon, John Y., ed. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant Volume 29: October 1, 1879 – September 30, 1880. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant Volume 29 contains the transcripts of the meetings of Grant with Prince Kung, Viceroy Li Hung Chang, Emperor Meiji. Additional information of other American foreign service personnel during Grant's visit to the region and the period and activities mentioned in the NPS article can be found within this volume.
8. Smith, George. Ten Weeks in Japan, London: Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts, 1861
9. Stevens, Durhan White. Letter from Mr. Stevens to Mr. Evarts May 13, 1879. Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1879, Document 315 (No. 291. Mr. Stevens to Mr. Evarts. May 13 1879)
Date Published: May 13, 1879
10. Butte Record. Bidwell, Butte County (Cal.), Vol 1, No. 3. Date Published: November 26, 1853
Additional source documents from the US State Departments Office of the Historian were researched to find relevant support material for the official US position during the period under examination.