Category Archives: 1915

100 Years Ago: April 1915 – Russell claims Filipinos are lazy, barbaric; asks US President to sell Philippines to Japan

Main Points:

  • Russell wrote the President of the United States through the Secretary of State, stating that he wanted to write him privately but thought it best to send the letter to also be published in newspapers.
  • Russell’s letter reveals a level of political involvement that went far beyond Zionism and direct political involvement in the affairs of government.
  • Russell’s stated opinions about the Philippines reveals personal prejudices which are pro-American, anti-Filipino and pro-Japanese. He shows himself to be a “White-Man’s-Burden” Eurocentric racist.
  • A history of Russell’s opinions related to the Philippines reveal inconsistency and contradictions, but also clarify the real meaning of the expression, “End of the Gentile Times.”

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[photo above is from more recent context, unrelated to C.T.Russell]

The relevant statements in question were printed in the April 1915 Watch Tower magazine, pages 101-102. Here are some long excerpts, including most of the original article, with our own highlighted sections for emphasis using bold, color and underlining which was not found in the original text. We will interrupt the quotation to include editorial comments, which will be evident through the use of brackets and other formatting changes, when we are directly commenting on the text of the Watch Tower articles:

[Begin quotation from April 1915 Watch Tower]

SELL THE PHILIPPINES TO JAPAN

Two years ago, on our return from the Orient, we sent the below letter of suggestion to the Government with copies of it to the newspapers, some of which published the letter, which read as follows:–

Brooklyn, May 26, 1913.

Honorable Wm. J. Bryan,

Secretary of State, U.S.A.

Dear Sir:–I am addressing you, and through you the Honorable President of this Nation, and the Honorable Members of its Congress, upon a subject which I believe to be of prime importance to our Nation and to the world. I would have preferred to make this communication a private one, but believe that its object will be much better served if it be known at home and abroad that the suggestion comes from a native citizen, a minister and ambassador of Christ, rather than if the same suggestion were to emanate from some Official of our Government or from a politician.

[Editor: Russell’s claim that he preferred to make the communication private seems meaningless when it was simultaneously sent to newspapers for widespread publishing.]

THE WORLD’S PEACE ENDANGERED

. . . Japan’s need for room for her overflow population has already led her to grasp Korea, and it is no secret that she longs for possession of the Philippine Islands . . . .  Many broad-minded Americans have suggested that the United States has no desire to acquire colonies in an imperial sense, and that, therefore, the Philippine Islands should be surrendered to the Filipinos. The only objection urged against this move is that the Filipinos are not as yet sufficiently advanced in civilization to properly govern themselves. And those most intimate with the situation have not the slightest doubt that if the United States withdrew from the Philippines, the Japanese Government would immediately take control, and shortly the Philippine Islands would be inundated with Japanese–undoubtedly much to their benefit, as the latter people are more thrifty and prudent and energetic than the Filipinos.

[Russell objects to allowing the Filipinos to govern themselves because they are “not sufficiently advanced in civilization.” This is an exact reflection of the imperialist ideas of President McKinley which were also expressed in an idea called “The White Man’s Burden.” In fact, the Wikipedia article explains corrrectly that Rudyard Kipling’s original poem by that name was published in 1899 with the subtitle, The United States and the Philippine Islands.  The Wikipedia article includes: “At face value it appears to be a rhetorical command to white men to colonize and rule other nations for the benefit of those people . . . . the phrase “white man’s burden” as justifying imperialism as a noble enterprise. Because of its theme and title, it has become emblematic both of Eurocentric racism and of Western aspirations to dominate the developing world.” Russell was very clearly a racist.]

SOME RADICAL SUGGESTIONS

I suggest that the United States Government select from amongst the Philippine Islands one island suitable as a naval base, and tender to Japan the opportunity to take over the Philippine Islands at precisely the same they have cost the United States. . . . .

. . . Surely wisdom should dictate to both Nations that, in the interest of peace, cause for friction should be as far as possible eliminated. I believe that no more fair, no more just, no more honorable method for adjudicating this matter can be found than that we are suggesting–the sale of the Islands at cost to the Japanese.

Japan would give the Filipinos a splendid government— better, I believe, than would any other nation under the sun except our own Government. No one can visit the Philippines without feeling pride for what America has done for that people–and done in so unselfish and noble a manner, as an elder brother amongst the nations helping a younger brother. Under no circumstances would I favor turning the Philippines over to the domination of a barbaric people. The Japanese are not barbarians, but highly civilized.

[Russell is indirectly admitting that, in his own mind, “highly civilized” is a term he reserves for nations who were known for success at selfishly taking land and resources from others by force of war. That is an implicit part of his equation that calls the victors “civilized” and the victims “barbaric.” He has already admitted that Japan would look for excuses to take the islands by force if the USA wouldn’t sell it to them. He then, in fact, goes on to speak of war as a necessity immediately after the above.]

My discourse in Washington on the 25th, “Peace Desirable, War a Necessity,” was evidently misunderstood by some of my peace friends. While I claimed that nations have never been able to avoid war, and that they never will be able to wholly avoid it until the inauguration of Messiah’s Kingdom, . . . NOW seems to be the psychological moment, and, as stated at first, it seems best that these suggestions should come from an ambassador of Christ, rather than from a politician . . .. I call for its endorsement by peace societies and all who believe that war should be only a last resort. Faithfully yours,

A servant of the Lord Jesus Christ,

(Signed) C. T. RUSSELL.

[Russell’s “call for its endorsement by peace societies” is a call for the precursors of the “League of Nations” and the “United Nations” to give support to him. At the time, of course, Russell was considered not just “a faithful and discreet slave” but “THE” faithful and discreet slave. He alone held that title, and yet this is an example of his supposed “discretion.” Although the Watch Tower has consistently avoided discussing the episode in its history when the League of Nations was looked at with “wonder” and “awe” in 1919, it should not have come as much of a surprise considering these sentiments in 1915. In the near future, we plan to provide a short article on this particular part of Watch Tower history, when the Watch Tower looked at the League of Nations as if it were a political reflection of the Kingdom of God on earth.]

We learn a lot about Russell’s thinking that is not discussed in current Watch Tower publications. Whatever Charles Taze Russell thought it meant to be “no part of the world” and “to keep oneself without spot from the world,” it would not likely be recognizable to Jehovah’s Witnesses today.

RUSSELL CONTRADICTS HIMSELF

Russell’s ideas are not completely consistent with his ideas on the subject of the Philippines just a few years earlier when the United States was at war against the Spanish domination of the Philippines, beginning in 1898. Note how Russell falls into the trap of nationalism and prejudice in the same article, below, in which he speaks out against it. The following from the Watch Tower, July 1, 1898 page 195-197:

AS THE war with Spain progresses, it becomes more and more evident that “The Great Republic” [United States] is very thoroughly hated by her sisters in the family of Christian Nations so called. . . . Great Britain alone manifests sympathy: . . . Even the other republics of the world–France, Mexico and all those of Central and South America are jealous of their big sister.

The appeal to race prejudice and race pride has much to do with this condition of things and is most unwise. . . . And it is the same on both sides of the question: if one boasts of race superiority and valor, so does the other. And the more these selfish channels of thought are opened, the deeper the hatreds engendered and the more dangerous the possible results.

. . . Of course, when the time comes for Spain to sue for peace, she will probably be instigated by the pope to relinquish Cuba and close the war on condition that the United States abandon all claim on the Philippines. It is doubtless to threaten a prolongation of the war there, and thus to make the United States the more willing to relinquish the islands, that the Cadiz squadron has sailed eastward. Moreover, it is realized that the soldiers carried by this fleet will be needed to put down the Philippine rebels. The latter are the more intelligent of the natives who are rebelling as much against the tyranny of Romanism as against the oppression and cruelty of Spain. It is our opinion that the Lord wills to break the power of Papacy there, and hence that he will not permit Spanish misrule to be continued.

[We interrupt the article here, momentarily, to note that Russell feels he knows the Lord’s will and believes that this war in 1898 might even be the start of the universal anarchy still predicted for the year 1914. But he is covering his bases, something he will start to do much more often between 1906 and 1914. He doesn’t ever seem to completely lose his confidence in the year 1914, although he will despair over high probability of its failure starting around November 1913, and right up through the summer of 1914.]

To what extent the present war may be a waking up of all the world to an era of war which will impoverish all nations, and sicken all their peoples and prepare the way for the universal anarchy with which this age shall end, we know not; but such an outcome will not surprise us. If so, it will seem like the time mentioned in Joel 3:9-14. See the conclusion of the S.S. Lesson on Elijah, page 192.

[What follows is Russell’s explanation of how this could still be an expected part of God’s purposeful intervention in world affairs which should not be considered inconsistent with Russell’s predictions for 1914 when the times of the Gentile nations will truly end. After all, Russell will argue below, didn’t God intervene to make sure that America became such a great light of the nations amidst the darkness? What’s most odd about this argument is that Russell is actually claiming more providential intervention by God during the times of the Gentiles than the Watch Tower publications have ever claimed for the time since 1914 when the times of the nations have run out. In other words, NOW, since 1914 should be the only logical time since “607 BCE” when God actually would and should be constantly intervening because the nations have supposedly lost their “lease on power.” Yet, since 1914, they have seemed more powerful, with less interruption of their affairs. This is a huge inconsistency in the Watch Tower’s teaching about 1914. Here, Russell shows that he believes the end of the Gentile Times is an expression referring to the anarchy and chaos that will mark the end of this age, “The Gentile Times.”]

Of one thing we may be sure: the affairs of this world while nominally left to the “gentiles” until the end of “Gentile Times,”* the end of their lease of power, are nevertheless subject to a divine surveillance, to the intent that naught shall be permitted that our God is not abundantly able to overrule for good. Divine providence has already been manifested on behalf of America and doubtless will continue to supervise her course. Who that is God-fearing and possessed of a knowledge of history can doubt that this land was kept hidden until due time; that it was purposely made an asylum for liberty-loving people and for the oppressed of all nations? Who can doubt that its unparalleled history thus far has been a lesson to the whole world–“Liberty enlightening the world?” Who can doubt that thus the Almighty has been gradually forcing open the fetters of Church and State, of superstition and ignorance, and emancipating the peoples of Europe?

It was the influence of liberty and its blessings in America that led to the French Revolution–the French people being too ignorant, and too much under the influence of Romanism, to be able to appreciate and use the boon of liberty wisely. The same object lesson (America) has had a great influence upon Great Britain and Germany and upon the peoples of other countries in proportion to their intelligence and freedom from papal bondage.

As the reforms of Europe have been granted inch by inch by its monarchical aristocracy, under the glare of Liberty’s torch (America), it is but natural that they very generally feel a hostility; “because the darkness hateth the light,” as ever. There are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking America is loved and appreciated only by the middle classes of Europe, and these chiefly in Protestant countries.

Nor should it surprise us if God has still some further work for America to do in pulling down the strongholds of error and waking up the mighty men and men of war. To some extent the torch of liberty may be a torch of war and destruction. This may sound strange to those who mistakenly have supposed that God is to be credited with all the peace and arbitration movements and Satan to be credited with all the moves toward war and violence.

[Back here in 1898, during the Spanish-American war, Russell is defending America’s involvement. God is to be credited with waking America up to the value of war! This is something he repeated again in 1913 in the speech he mentioned to in the letter to the President about selling the Philippines to Japan. That speech in Washington was named “Peace Desirable, War a Necessity.” ]

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO

Russell’s inconsistencies show up on the same page where he printed the “SELL THE PHILIPPINES TO JAPAN” letter in April 1915. Just above that letter, the Watch Tower on page 101, said:

We have exhorted the brethren to strict neutrality so far as the combatants are concerned, whatever might be their natural inclination through accident of birth or association. . . . Let us more and more seek to take the Bible view of the great Armageddon, of which we are now having the prelude. . . . We are seeing fruits which have been ripening for forty years.

Christendom–Christ’s Kingdom–has not yet been established. It awaits the Lord’s time and the manifestation of His power and great glory in its establishment. These are kingdoms of this world, actuated by the principles of selfishness and deceived by Satan, “the god of this world.”

The Battle of Armageddon, to which this war is leading, will be a great contest between right and wrong, and will signify the complete and everlasting overthrow of the wrong, and the permanent establishment of Messiah’s righteous Kingdom for the blessing of the world. All these things are probably easier to be seen from this side of the ocean than by the dear friends who are nearer to, and more directly influenced by, the war and their national, personal interests. . .

Meantime, another danger to the Lord’s consecrated people lies along the lines of worldly-mindedness–neglecting the things of the Kingdom in favor of the things of this present life. Our Adversary is still alert. We, also, must be alert as children of the Light, children of the Day, soldiers of the Cross.

Except for the positive use of the word Christendom, and the idea that Armageddon was already beginning with the war in 1914, those words sound correct from the Watch Tower’s current perspective of neutrality. But it’s followed immediately by one of the least neutral examples of political involvement, a letter to the President, recommending the creation of a US naval base and subsequent sale of a “barbaric” nation to another “more civilized” nation.

It’s almost as if Russell is requesting that the European brethren should remain neutral, while “clearer heads” on Russell’s side of the Atlantic should be free to promote the national interests of America and Japan.

Russell is able to mix speech about Satan being the God of this system with speech about how God has been intervening with this system because war is sometimes God’s way of promoting the American torch of liberty. And it’s OK that the torch of liberty is sometimes a torch of war and destruction.

One might wonder, then, why Russell thought it so important to concern himself with American interests while telling the rest of his readers that such concerns appeared to fall under the idea of “neglecting the things of the Kingdom in favor of the things of this present life.” He expects the Gentile Times to be a time when the nations are in control, with some minimal intervention by God, but that as soon as this age of “Gentile Times” has ended, it would be synonymous with chaos and anarchy. In the meantime, however, Russell can hypocritically promote idea that he can think of as “God’s will” if it is in the best interests of America.