Now in Actual Work

As Threatened, er, Promised

Or, Not Pervasive, but maybe Persuasive or Practical?

So here’s what I’ve come up with as an op-ed proposal. It lacks a strong policy argument, but hopefully uses that perspective trick to good effect.

For the forgetful, here’s the prompt again:

a proposal for a New York Times opinion piece which applies a major finding from your research to a current public policy problem. … it must describe a full op-ed that you might write, and explain its relevance to current events.

Any and all thoughts heartily welcomed.


“Not so Fast, We’ve Been Here Before”: An Op-Ed Proposal

In 1841, an ex-President and former Secretary of State declared his support for British forces in the “Opium War,” Britain’s war with China over Chinese trade restrictions and closed markets. Though many commentators, then and now, cited the opium trade as the casus belli, John Quincy Adams told a Boston audience that the motive went deeper : “The cause of the war is the Ko-tow! – the arrogant and insupportable pretensions of China, that she will hold commercial intercourse with the rest of mankind, not upon terms of equal reciprocity, but upon the insulting and degrading forms of the relation between lord and vassal.” In Adams’s view, the political despotism of China’s government found its worst expression in illiberal trade policies; and that these restrictions on foreign merchants, Americans prominently among them, justified war.

More recently, another Secretary of State gave a speech calling for all nations to recognize a basic “freedom to connect” to the internet. Made in light of Google’s decision to stop censoring search results in China, Secretary Hillary Clinton’s remarks were a pointed rebuke of Chinese policy. Condemning government censorship of the internet, Secretary Clinton argued that “from an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring political speech and commercial speech.” By linking political and economic liberty together, and critiquing China on both fronts, Clinton’s remarks strongly echo Adams’s speech of almost 170 years before.

This op-ed will argue that U.S. officials would do well to understand the deep historical resonance of American calls for economic and political liberty in China. Though Chinese censorship is indefensible, an awareness of how American calls for reform in China themselves spring from complicated roots in national economic interest and Western imperialism can only improve Sino-American relations.

Image cite: The Suss-Man (gone for the weekend), “Project 366 – 78/366 Diplomacy,” Flickr, CC License

Archival Follies, Our Glorious National Heritage

Antebellum America Salutes the British Empire!

One Fingered, Naturally


In April 1841, whilst conducting the East India squadron to Chinese waters to safeguard American merchants against from harm during the First Opium War, Commodore Lawrence Kearny received some interesting supplementary orders:


It is understood that the citizens of the U. States who were made prisoners by the British forces during the late troubles in Canada [e.g. the Rebellion of 1837], and subsequently banished to distant parts of the Globe, are at liberty to return to their native land, but have no means of conveyance – Therefore, should the Constellation or Boston fall in with any of those persons, it is the desire of the department that a free passage to the United States should be offered them.”

~George E. Badger to Lawrence Kearney, Navy Department, 23 April 1841

In other words, Kearny – and any and all other Navy captains – was to give Americans who had been transported to Australia, and similar, as punishment for participation in a rebellion a free ride back to the good old U.S. of A.

Maybe not quite as egregious as if Saudi Arabia started playing taxi for GTMO detainees – but certainly in the same ballpark of diplomatic subtlety.

The early 1840s were not great years for Anglo-American relations, needless to say.

1.) “Squadron” was the somewhat grandiose title the Navy applied to the grouping of the 42-year old frigate Constellation and the sloop-of-war Boston under one command.

Theske Slijkerman, “Irritatie,” Flickr, CC License

Our Glorious National Heritage, The Past is a Foreign...Something

The Engine of American Diplomacy

Or, Choo-Choo! Goes the Tariff Negotiation


One of the clichés of East-West relations in the early modern era was the attempt to use representations of Western technology – especially maps and model machines – to awe non-Westerners into submission. Perhaps hoping for a repeat of Columbus’s trick with the lunar eclipse, Euro-American statesmen and diplomats apparently thought that the mere suggestion of the advanced state of Western civilization would be enough to persuade proud sovereigns to open ports, lower tariffs, and alienate land for the benefit of the major Atlantic-basin powers.

Needless to say, things rarely went down that way. In developed parts of Asia – and especially in China – these attempts repeatedly failed. The most famous of these faceplants was probably Great Britain’s 1793 embassy to China, led by Lord Macartney. The Chinese emperor declared the fancy clockwork the Brits brought – lugged across the world at great expense, and costing many man-hours to assemble – as “good enough to amuse children.” Bafflingly, the stopped cogs and wheels the Brits brought as gifts failed to make the gates to the Middle Kingdom fly off their hinges.

However, this failure – as in so many other instances of cross-cultural contact – did not impede others from flattering through imitation.
Continue reading “The Engine of American Diplomacy”