1907: Gentleman Prefer Blondes…?

By 1907, it had become clear just how the earlier Russo-Japanese War had changed the game. Russia’s defeat (just a few months after Anton Chekhov succumbed to tuberculosis) influenced, though it did not cause, the limited revolution of 1905, itself a forerunner to the sweeping revolution of 1917.

The war also delayed the second Hague Convention from 1904 to 1907. A proposal by the Russian Tsar had resulted in the first, more successful international peace conference in 1899. Both conventions, however, must be remembered more for what they aimed at then where they landed. From wikipedia:

A major effort in both the conferences was to create a binding international court for compulsory arbitration to settle international disputes, which was considered necessary to replace the institution of war.

It goes without saying that the international court went uncreated at this time, and a third Hague convention, scheduled for 1914, never took place.

As of 1905, the institution of war had put Japan on a new footing, and pride in the unexpected victory contributed to Japanese immigrants in San Francisco protesting forcefully when their children were placed in a segregated Asian school after the 1906 Great Quake. Their voices had to contend with a veritable clamor of xenophobic sentiment, implicit in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Motivated by U.S. foreign policy interests and not human rights – Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) would continue to uphold the legitimacy of “separate but equal” until overturned by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 – President Roosevelt’s own efforts to persuade the San Francisco school board to accept Japanese students into public schools were unsuccessful until he agreed to ensure the suspension of Japanese immigration. In order to save face, the Japanese government in turn agreed not to grant passports to aspiring immigrants on any ground except family reunification – leading to the rise of so-called “picture brides,” something of a precursor in itself to Facebook, Match.com and the like.

The accord, formalized but never signed into law, would be known as the Gentleman’s Agreement.

Image: Japanese “picture” brides circa 1907.


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