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The Stimson Doctrine, Then and Now

Henry L. Stimson in 1929 (Library of Congress)

Earlier this week, I found myself in Kyoto — home of the Protocol and other things — and thought of Henry L. Stimson.

The Colonel was the Donald Rumsfeld of the first half of the 20th century — a man who served two stints as secretary of war, far apart. The first was under Taft, from 1911 to 1913; the second was during World War II under FDR and Truman. In between, he was secretary of state, for Hoover.

He was also governor-general of the Philippines, under Coolidge. While in the neighborhood, he visited Kyoto several times, apparently, cherishing the city and its ancient sites. When it came time to bomb the hell out of Japan, he struck Kyoto from the target list.

Or so the story goes.

Stimson gave us the Stimson Doctrine in 1932 — after the Empire of Japan (as it happens) seized Manchuria. The doctrine holds that the United States will not recognize states that are created as a result of aggression. The United States applied this doctrine when the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic states in the 1940s, and we held to it all the way until the ’90s, when the Baltics were freed.

I wrote about this in a post last week, “Recognition and Non-.” President Trump had been asked whether Russian control of Crimea ought to be recognized, and he refused to answer. It is important to hold the line on Crimea, no matter how long it takes. If borders can be rearranged by force, the world is lawless, and more vulnerable than ever.

If I drank sake, I would lift a glass to the Colonel.

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