East Is West?
There will soon be no earthly reason why travel should not be done on a simulator. And space travel, it appears, might quite possibly be better done by unmanned craft, until, paradoxically, when we have transported enough of the earth’s environmental conditions, the package-tourist may became persuaded that the planets are worth a visit.
As things are, instant visual and auditory participation in the horrors of a war in Vietnam or a flood in Pakistan have gone a long way toward killing both imagination and sympathy, as well as the itch to go and see for oneself. Does anyone still believe that travel broadens the mind or improves our understanding of other races, either as individuals or as national groups? Do even statesmen believe that their incarnate apparitions—face-to- white, black, brown, or yellow-face across a table—can do more to clarify an issue or evoke a response than a relayed and disembodied voice? They go because it is normal show business. They have to go somewhere else to be televised on location, and so feed a sham realism to an artificial public which is starving for the authentic.
For the rest of us, travel to comparatively distant parts is largely someone else’s problem in logistics—how to get the largest number of people in the smallest compass and the shortest time from A to Z. The idea persists that at the end of fathoms, or rather leagues, there will be something rich and strange; but the next generation perhaps will discover it, if at all, more readily next door.
At the end of a month of being fired back and forth among six Asian countries I have less confidence than ever in “getting to know one another” and “meeting other writers” (or politicians or shopkeepers or farmers or brothel-keepers or any other trade), especially through professional gatherings which have just that purpose. And I feel that ideological frontiers of all kinds are no more to be breached by personal probes at any level than a softly receding arras.
Writers who are content or able just to write, know this, and obviously the best travel writing, reportage or fiction, comes from sitting long enough in some exile to become assimilated—that is, from not traveling. However, writers do attend international gatherings, even ones very distant from their countries of origin, provided someone thinks it worthwhile to pay for them; and some of them are quite genuinely self-deceived about the benefits of making international contacts, both to the private individuals thus connected and to the atmosphere of opinion at home or at large. And even if they just go for the ride, herded together in the hard bird, they may genuinely believe that at the end an innocent eye, such as they must imagine themselves to possess—or why write?—will not be so bleary that it cannot see something significantly different which the world would sooner have in words than in photographs.
So one goes to the Far East from the comparatively Far West, still inwardly hopeful, sometimes half-convinced, that the differences one will actually be able to discern will be more striking and more meaningful and influential than the similarities.
Hong Kong, for British travelers, is a kind of lock between home and the East. Structurally it appears to consist of tall banks of slum apartment dwellings, in the morning extruding layers of bedding. At night the houses are strung with stagy illuminated signs in Chinese which give the effect of Christmas decorations across a main shopping street. It appears that the street lamps do not function but that Hong Kong relies on these sky-signs for street lighting. The English menus for Chinese eating read terribly—“Pig’s lights and swan’s toenails with fried water-beetle sauce” wouldn’t be far off the mark. But the food is generally delicious to eat. The harbor is full both of spare gray cruisers, as evilly up to date as they can be, and square-built colorful junks that are just as efficient in their way and have probably looked just as tattered since they were first put to sea. On a fine warm day it is pleasant to cross to the mainland from Kowloon by ferry and take the funicular to the highest peak. The ferry and its gangway swarm with men and women, all small, neat, and pretty, the men nearly all in spotless white shirts and thin tight black pants. This has a rather businesslike effect. So many people rushing to and fro between Kowloon and the mainland in efficient working garb suggests that they all have a lot to do in a hurry.
It may be that like other uniforms it levels poverty and affluence. In Japan, our next call, native dress is quite uncommon, much more than on my previous visit some ten years before. The Japanese have always been much cleverer at visually disguising their extremes. I remember being told that this had something to do with the refining fire which swept through the fragile slum buildings at fairly regular intervals. Thus, what with post-bombing devastation and rather low construction, not to challenge earthquakes unduly, Tokyo then seemed to be full of pleasant open spaces and the many gardens were more visible and usable. Now, through new techniques, they can build for height and permanence, so that Tokyo and Osaka are noisier than ever, pullulating with population, thriving and beastly. There is so much new construction going on, so many overpasses and underpasses extending themselves to infinity, that Tokyo looks like a derelict amusement park, which has just fallen to besieging hordes.
This is probably romantic nostalgia. Ten years before I had fallen in love with the old “Old Japan”—the temples and the Buddhas at Nara and Kyoto; the coolies in the rice paddies keeping off some of the soaking monsoon-rain with their colored umbrellas; the beautiful, traditional manners of all classes which, even if they were hypocritical, were so well-done that they seemed humane and sympathetic. This time again the warm thick rain fell quite steadily as if that bottomless gray reservoir the sky were able to mete out exactly its copious unpleasantness. But it fell on us, in the clangorous modern thoroughfare, and that’s somehow different. Still, I don’t have to like the new Japan, megalopolitan and probably breeding a new megalomania, its noise, its hustle, its bullying rudeness, and its Expo-ism. It’s too like the West. Japan, on this snapshot visit, was at least interesting as a comment on the terribly rapid turnover of a modern traveler’s nostalgia.
Our next assignment was Taiwan, the Nationalist Republic of China, which still deserves to be called Formosa, the Beautiful. On the western side it is lush and sloppy green with rice paddies. It is claimed that 87 per cent of this is now farmed by owner-tillers. The eastern half is mountainous, often volcanic terrain of next to no agricultural use. That makes it quite an achievement if, as is claimed, the country is self-supporting in staple food (rice) and since 1966 has even been exporting some agricultural products and textiles.
Marble, one of Taiwan’s few natural resources, is also a major tourist attraction. And you can drive to Taroka, the “Marble Gorge,” which is at the eastern end of the cross-island highway; the highway runs along the edge of precipices above the Pacific and, tunnelling through great mountains, is quite an engineering feat. We, however, flew to see this spectacular in granite and marble, through the usual ten-tenths turgid cloud (in a nice, old-fashioned, two-engine plane; Chinese pilots are marvelous).
The “Gorge” is literally “marble halls,” down and down to a granite floor. When you stand on the little railed balconies which have been built, bulging out from the tunnelling road, for the purpose of viewing, the top is invisible. If you throw up little bits of paper, they will dip and hover and soar far above the swallow-holes and the caves, and the swallows which fly at eye-level far below the towering walls. Down below there are turbulent torrents gray with trituration. Here and there on the little dry floors or beaches between the torrents and among the laminated bases of the great organ-pipe rocks, the pebbles had been formed into Chinese characters. The American Sinologist Edward Seidensticker (whom the Chinese call Mr. Sticker) confirmed that these were the equivalent of “Johnny loves Janie,” to be seen on Western walls and pavements.
The natural terrain, violent by British standards which, as Aldous Huxley pointed out, remain Wordsworthian, is not irrelevant. All the territories we visited are potential disaster areas, and all these islands are built on jelly. Taiwan had two quakes in the week we were there. This, it seems, is average, and they are practically always slight, unlike those which Japan and Manila can experience. It may be fruitless to speculate whether a natural homeland given to unpredictable tantrums helps to resign its inhabitants to victimization by human forces or in part accounts for political fatalism. But commercially and touristically, all these countries know they have to play down their earthquakes, floods, and typhoons.
It might be that the tourist is actually safer nowadays in the new high-rises, designed, one assumes, to give with the shock. But you feel much more uncomfortable than during the London blitz. Rocked in the cradle of the deepest impulses of earth you return to helpless infancy. And it may teach you something about Western illusions about security. When you look out on the shellbacked hovels of the poor, you remember that he who is down need fear no fall.
The quake in Taipei awakened me from a dream of spying in which, though terrified, I was enjoying a sense of perfect mastery. The lamps had switched themselves on and were swinging. When I looked outside, I found that a vast slow storm, which sometimes stamped an enraged foot on a huge cracker, was going on. Mostly it was a thick gray soup which, unending and infinitely slowly, moved across the space of heavens, heaving and flashing once an hour. The dream, the quake, and the storm, as one looks back, all blend into one ecology; human and natural, of unpredictable violence.
Whether the Chinese mainland intends to “liberate” Formosa or whether Chiang still intends to “liberate” the mainland, the native Formosans weren’t, and aren’t, being consulted one way or the other.
Theoretically, all the leaders not only of these politically emergent volcanic islands in the South China seas, but of the Korean peninsula, know they have two long and wandering frontiers—the one to be held against international Communism, the other against their own have-nots. That means that they have to make national democracy, according to their own idea of it, look as if it will pay—one day, if not tomorrow. Like all nations at war, they talk a good deal about democracy, much more about democracy than about freedom, and they do not really equate them. Freedom is for the nation rather than for the individual. There are opposition parties, but that does not necessarily mean that anti-governmental views are adequately represented. In Korea, for one example, parliament meets for only one hundred days annually—and many of these are occupied in free-for-alls which must express dissatisfaction with “democratic” means, it is true, but which also hold up democratic business. In all of the countries there are security restrictions, including censorship of newspapers and private correspondence.
Of all the leaders, Chiang is probably in the most equivocal position. The others are at home, but obviously Chiang wouldn’t be ruling Formosa if the U.S. fleet hadn’t occupied the Formosa Strait in 1958. And, as with the Philippines and Korea, economic growth, necessary to make free nationhood pay, depends to a great extent on foreign investment. There is a movement, both political and economic, toward “Asia for the Asians”—in inevitable practice, toward the economic hegemony of the old oppressor Japan or, so it appears, out of the frying pan into the fire. Free nationhood therefore looks somewhat chimerical.
Some of these reflections have trickled through (in triple interpretation) from the Generalissimo himself who received us in the Presidential palace, a curly pagoda building of imperial type, way up in misty mountains which are lush and green. Its view is marred by some unpleasant factory-type structures which turned out to be the administrative offices. A hot geyser comes somewhat incongruously out of this businesslike scene—maybe it supplies the palace with inconstant hot water.
Chiang is now a Chinese sage, a bald, old, silky parchment grin with a little beard and a dignifield gown. Madam is black-haired as ever (this seems to be a gift of nature, not of cosmetics, to many mature Oriental women) and looks about thirty-five, or ageless. They are referred to as the First Couple; this is now a semi-official title. I said earlier “in triple interpretation” because it must all have been formulated first, and probably on some standard occasion, before being turned from Chinese into English, and finally passed through my part-prejudiced, part-skeptical understanding.
I am not casting aspersions on the Generalissimo’s personal integrity, I mean that it is irrelevant. I mean that international meetings, individual and public—and this goes for writers’ congresses too—tend to be ritual performances. No doubt there are some international gatherings, scientific, occasionally political, which advance their common themes and purposes, and their common interests, though even here, we are told, the serious business is done over the drinks. But writers, internationally, are not a strictly professional body, they have no one common theme or purpose and, unlike scientists or technicians or other trade unions, they haven’t a socially vital product which they can withhold. And even if they had, even if anyone cared, a moratorium on words is the last thing you’d get a closed shop on. Writers tend to be in the Hobbesian state of nature—internecine. That doesn’t mean they won’t make use of one another if they can. Congresses, if practical at all, are more like the market than the forum, and the further afield they spread the more their delegates are concerned with selling their own national products. This is reflected in their themes which are commonly slightly different ways of filling in a general form—“The writer as . . .”—pushed about in relation to one or another aspect of society. Nevertheless, the literary discussions seldom take place at this ground level, they are usually very highminded—right up in the Ivory Tower.
What about freedom? Isn’t freedom of expression the necessary tool of the writer’s trade? Don’t writers discuss? Don’t they vociferate? Don’t they try to turn all the Iron Curtains which bar them from their suffering fellow writers into a Wailing Wall? Not generally in the literary sessions per se. Yet this is surely where the real problem of all writers, how to write freely, should be heard. In the business sessions delegates from either side of the ideological frontier get up and say a set piece. It is all like a Medieval Disputation, without the summing-up and conclusion.
The Taipei Conference, which I visited as an observer, had the portmanteau title, “Problems Facing the Asian Writer,” and was thus no exception. In the literary sessions, freedom, the writer’s tool, seemed to be no problem. Various small national literatures tried to sell themselves—for instance, in the poetry session, though the chairman protested, prepared papers sang the preferential claims of national poetic arts. The reason for all this is not difficult to detect. Writers and writers’ centers, for the most part, are committed verbally to freedom of expression, and in the new nations they often, with sincere idealism, seek some universal definition of freedom that could be applied in practice. But just because there are these new emergent centers, the congresses expand nearer and nearer to the cold-war line. The national governments, on the one hand, are by no means committed to any universal, or anything but a nationalist definition of freedom; on the other, they will put up money for the congresses, aided by their businessmen.
Dining and wining are a natural framework of congresses. For the uneasy liberal conscience, especially one aware that it has come at least in part for the ride, they provide another problem. Oriental hospitality is notoriously lavish and munificent. Hence when they casually present you with an expensive piece of jewelry you must distinguish the act both from any suggestion that you are thought worth buying, and from the general habit of bribery and corruption with which they live far more gracefully than we post-Reformation hypocrites.
In the East, too, the climate and the languages add special problems. Both make it difficult to get around on your own and see for yourself. In the dingy Turkish-bath heat and the swarming streets of Taipei and later Seoul, I used my two feet as much as possible. The inhabitants, while jostling, or charging full out with heavy bicycles along the sidewalks, were always polite, and looked less surprised than incredulous. They have little reason to suppose that Americans or Europeans have feet, for they hardly ever see them except inside air-conditioned cars.
Considering their horrible weather conditions, these Eastern airlines, internal and foreign, are extremely good, public relations less so. Between Osaka and Tokyo, having left for Seoul in the usual three-dimensional thunderstorm, we were told that a crash had closed the Tokyo runways. Later, on a Malaysian flight to Manila, through the fuming tempest, a voice, brightly soothing like a nurse’s in a terminal case, assured us that there was no cause for alarm, MAL had the very latest in planes (Boeing 707) and we were in constant radio contact with the airport.
As we flew on to Seoul, the cloud opened briefly and the brown and green patchy map of Korea could be seen. From the tallest of several tall hotels built in the center of Seoul you can see out over a mass of curly roofs so low that they appear to have flattened the houses beneath them, and over the everlasting ruin of new building, as far as a circular backdrop of volcanoes, large, conical, and misty.
The first lot of press and cameramen at the airport set the style for many later exchanges. Their English has not been well taught, so that questions are framed less by informational requirements than by linguistic scope, and invite minimal replies. Example: “You are very famous, Miss Nott?” Answer: “Yes.”
With the Koreans, like the Japanese, giggling is a reflex, so that you cannot tell if they have distinguished between leg-pulling and seriousness: Example: “Which are the good novelists in England, Miss Nott?” Answer: “None.” But on reflection: “Me.” All industriously and indiscriminately scribbled down.
It may have been something more than a language-block which accounted for two bits of misreporting: Question: “Are you very much troubled about Red infiltration from North Korea, Miss Nott?” Answer: “No, but much concerned that it is the only subject for conversation.” My answer appeared next day—“Miss Nott said she was very much troubled about Red infiltration into South Korea.” The official school curriculum in South Korea includes “moral education, special activities, and anti-Communism.” Rather like Wonderland’s “reeling and fainting coils.”
Before we arrived there had been some signs of illiberalism. A poet had been disciplined and jailed for a satirical poem which reflected on the government. Also some South Korean intellectuals had been spirited away from West to East Germany and so (in a roundabout way) home. Before the Congress, a Western representative inspected, and reported, No writers in jail. This struck some of us as a quick lick round before rich Auntie arrived. I have implied that the literary themes often seem odd or irrelevant. The Korean theme—“Humor as a Means of International Understanding”—could have seemed evasive.
Both John Updike and I referred to Candide and the way the jokes were aimed at Pangloss and the complacency which smooths over the real horrors and oppression of “the best of all possible worlds.” I added that humor was often an offensive weapon and more often than not subversive in intention. This came out as: “Miss Nott said that humor was an excellent means of international understanding.” I may remark that a typescript was provided.
They censor your letters. Odd for a Congress naturally devoted to freedom of expression and communication, which they so greatly welcomed. Hardly anyone I talked to received a letter during the whole fortnight.
We met many of the ministers including the President, Chung Hee Park and his Prime Minister. They are quiet, self-contained men with bronze masks. Park led the military junta which took over in 1961 and professed its intention of handing control back to the civilians as soon as possible. They are already all in mufti. Park believes in democracy, at least as an end-product. He struck me as sincere, not least in the sense that he sincerely believes he is the best man for the job and that the constitutional rule which would have limited him to two terms will be rightly waived to allow him a third. And of course there is justice as well as honesty in his public statements that the Western democracies enjoyed an industrial development which paid for their liberalism. However, to some this looks like an elliptical definition of democracy.
Park is something of a philosopher-statesman. The country’s future, he proclaims, depends greatly on the moral regeneration of the individual Korean. It is not certain which individuals he is referring to. He harps constantly on the corruption of the two previous regimes from which he took over. The individual, it seems, must not only take mature responsibility for himself, he must help to weed out corruption. But one can hardly doubt that some individuals are more corrupt than others because they have more opportunities for being so; and it is widely believed that some of these are still to be found in Park’s own government.
Koreans, according to Park, come hard to maturity, especially political maturity. The student revolution of April 1960 was well-intentioned but the students made a mess of it. Park often suggests that they should realize that politics are really for their elders and betters, so we have to guess by what route they should arrive at maturity. Like others elsewhere, the President complains that the young generation is exceptionally lawless.
I believe that he is personally austere, and dedicated to his job and the endless hard work it involves. But these are the characteristics of successful leadership whether democratic or despotic. As usual along the anti-Communist front line, it is difficult to see how he could pay his way to liberal democracy unaided. The South Korean economy is booming, largely on foreign capital, at present mostly American, whose investment is profitable because of what the comfortable official jargon describes as the “low wage structure,” and a certain privileged position in labor disputes.
The visible frontier between poverty and wealth is sharper in Korea than anything I have seen. Seoul is admittedly about as big as Paris. Still, you wonder why, floods and roadblocks discounted, it always takes the best part of an hour to get to a private luncheon or dinner party. The answer is that the luxury hotels are up to their ankles in the mud and muddle of slums and slum clearance. You drive through a vast agglomeration of these pagoda-hovels—two compartments for living and sleeping for a whole family, with candles and water tanks. Eventually after some very adequate by-passes on the outskirts, your large comfortable car, with a short almost vertical take-off, comes to rest—one might almost say to roost—by one among a number of the peaceful, beautiful, civilized abodes and gardens of the affluent and the tycoons.
In Seoul there are five million people “surly with traffic,” as Ezra Pound put it. On most occasions police escorts got us through, riding motorcycles with flashing red lights at about 60 miles per hour—“no hands,” because they were using these members to scatter the populace right and left. In ordinary civil disorder, they were less conspicuous. Once when the skies suddenly fell, we were trapped for about four hours with about two thousand others in the biggest traffic jam in the world. Yellow flood water rose to two or three feet and spurted out of the drains. The only moving cars drove on the sidewalks. The few pedestrians hid in lengths of enormous drainpipe about to be laid, no doubt for similar emergencies. Perhaps the police themselves were also trapped, or hiding in the pipes.
When looking out of my window one midnight, I was struck by the prolonged, inexplicable silence that had fallen suddenly. Nothing stirred. It turned out that this was the curfew. Out at dinner a few nights later, as it got toward twelve, I said it was time we were moving. Our host, who owns much of Korean industry and lives in a magnificent house set in a landscaped garden with lovely floodlit waterfalls, said: “I am above the law.” However, we thought he might be below it, and made him drive us home.
Outside the city communications are good, with efficient highways and fast trains. Rice paddies, mud with bundles of sharp green, dominate the land. The after-image of these soaking plains is of a large white sheep up to its flanks in the mud. This turns out to be a human being, often, a woman in native dress, apparently arrested forever in a bending posture over his/her labor. Irrigation, we are told, is proceeding rapidly, though I didn’t actually spot any.
The South Korean economy suffered badly from the split, as most of the technical resources were in the North. But led by Park, the South Koreans are fond of comparing their “technological miracle” with that achieved by the West Germans after the war. Reunification, which dominates Park’s thoughts if not his immediate plans, is perhaps more now a matter of symbolism and security than economics.
There are obvious resemblances to the Berlin Wall. At Panmunjom, we hung our noses into North Korea. It is a lovely and almost gracious part of the country, a great, rich undulating green in a ring of black shadow-hills where little neat pillared buildings look like temples and are in fact guardhouses. When it was pointed out, you could see a wavy line of yellow markers which was the center of no-man’s-land. From the little temples, we were inspected by the North Koreans through their binoculars. I expect that these calls by visiting parties, remote and sad though they are, bring some diversion into extremely dull lives. The temptation to pick somebody off some time must be almost irresistible. There is no doubt that the UN troops on the southern side, some of whom have another year of duty, are bored to anguish.
The best view is from the top of Freedom House which is reached by means of a long iron structure, called Freedom Bridge, over a big river. Before crossing we were lectured by a young officer on the history of the war and also on the wickedness of the regime that confronted us. We signed a document indemnifying the UN forces in case we were blown up, but we were momentarily encouraged by a note that read, “The road you are about to cross has never been known to be mined.” It looked to me as if it had been blown up only the day before.
Within Freedom House, a rather jaunty structure with a gaily-colored pagoda tower, there was a committee room with a long table placed exactly along the dividing line between North and South. It is now hardly used, not anyway by the Armistice Commission. But it is kept in beautiful condition and the table has a long line of national flags, also along the armistice line. One reason why they can’t make use of the room is that the North Koreans started the habit of bringing along a flag which was just a little taller than that of the United Nations, who must have retaliated; no doubt this not only palled but threatened to become unmanageable.
It is a source of pride, according to the newspapers, that President Park has played an important role in recent conferences of the Southeast Asian nations and in support of their pro-South Vietnam front. In Manila, the Philippine newspapers too were particularly pleased with President Marcos’s leading role. Both Presidents would like to establish an Asiatic hegemony, though the wish is unrealistic because if they could relinquish American aid they would then have to rely on Japan. President Park’s “leading role” has led to a “normalization” treaty with the Japanese, the age-long oppressors of his country, which is quite unpopular, especially with the rebellious students whom, as I noted earlier, President Park does not like.
President Marcos of the Philippines has many similar problems. His country, however, is not geographically divided. On the other hand, the cold-war frontier meanders through it. The opposition Huks combine professional banditry with Communist guerrilla activity. This mountainous, volcanic land is thick with woods and bandits. I caused some inexplicable embarrassment by refusing a helicopter lift, kindly offered by Madam Marcos, to a private swimming beach about a hundred miles from Manila, and traveling by private minibus instead, so I could see the country. Habitations seemed to be sparse along this main coast road. Dusk and woodland thickened at the end of the journey and from the hilly ground there were practically no lights to be seen. The barrios when you come to them have an extempore appearance, accidental collections of shacks with a candlelit illumination. That low candlepower may account for the deserted look of the after-dark landscape. Swarms of children scatter in the car’s headlights.
I found I had been provided not only with a driver but with a man with a gun. They were awfully tactful and merely drove me mad by having the radio on full blast the whole time. This, they confessed, when they revealed the next day that I had been a dangerous nuisance, had been to keep up their own spirits. They had every minute expected a hold-up. In ordinary decency I returned by helicopter.
In the morning the guards lounging about on the chaises longues on the verandah where they had sat up all night to watch over us, told me that everyone hates the Americans but everyone loves President Marcos who means, like President Park, to stay in the leadership of his wild, steamy, stormy land, convinced no doubt of the importance of continuity when democracy is inevitably unstable.
Ferdinand E. Marcos, a more glamorous figure than President Park, was a noted guerrilla fighter and leader in World War II, during which he was severely tortured by the Japanese, and multi-decorated for his exploits at Bataan which, according to General MacArthur, helped to turn the tide against Japan. Among many talents he is perfectly trilingual, a brilliant lawyer, and a crack shot. All three, particularly the last, have had something to do with his status as a folk hero, which originated in his youth when he was framed for the assassination of the family’s leading political rival—there was practically no one else who under the circumstances could have scored that particular bull. However the future President, still a law student, was able to argue his way out of the death-sentence in a speech which has become a classic of Philippine law, and to make hay of the suborned witnesses in English, Spanish, and Ilocano. But his family lost its entire fortune in his defense. Since then, to the press, he has always been “Number One.” “Number Two,” more likely “Number One A,” is his handsome, attractive, stylish, and shrewd “First Lady,” Imelda Marcos. She is immensely publicity-conscious and certainly her husband’s best political asset. President Nixon, received not long before we were, said, in toasting the First Lady, that in an election he’d sooner have her on his side. Indefatigably she tours the barrio-hustings and sings to the people as well as haranguing them.
Like President Park, Marcos is committed to the two fronts, against Communism and against poverty. Economically they both started not just from nil but from a severely minus position, devastated both by war and by Japanese oppression, age-old in the case of the Koreans, but traumatic enough in either. Moreover, both have yet to achieve self-sufficiency in food which means, among other things, reform of a near feudal system of land tenure. Marcos has a scheme of government aid and self-help to farmers which meets with fanatical resistance from landowners who inherit another tradition of oppression from the Spanish religious occupation of the 16th century.
One of the most deeply-rooted traditions both countries share is corruption. Marcos is said to have a strong interest in legal reform. His own early experiences have no doubt convinced him that a really credible and visible justice is the essential foundation of a liberal democracy. Not surprisingly, Marcos shares Park’s strongly moralizing attitude and tone, lashing his fellow countrymen for venality and lack of public spirit. One cannot know how much good this does—corruption may have been affected by all the other causes which make men natural outlaws, but it is also part of Oriental culture. People feel they have a natural right to be rewarded not only for doing their duty, but for refraining from crime.
The professed goal of both Presidents is a liberal democracy, and there seems no doubt that they believe that their ethical exhortations will help to achieve it and perhaps as well their other common goals of independent nationhood and a respected voice among the nations. Is any of this realistic? Or if illusory, is it also willful self-deception?
These are general questions which an old-fashioned liberal has to ask. These two small nations might give him an answer about the future viability of liberalism which would also be retrospective; they might give him an idea whether liberalism was ever anything more than a phase, a historical accident.
Marcos believes he can provide a bridge between East and West. Certainly, for good or bad, the Philippines has been more influenced by the West than Korea. At the beginning of the century, American missionaries of self-help (the Thomasite movement) laid the foundations of the superior literacy and education on which many Filipinos pride themselves. All their Presidents so far have been nurtured in this tradition. Though careful to asseverate his anti-Communism, Marcos has already felt himself strong enough to envisage some sort of coexistence with mainland China and with the USSR.
We left Manila after a small quake and in one of those slow, stamping storms which make one dirty gray flashing tide of sea and sky. The last call was at Ceylon where because of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s move to align with North Korea, mainland China, et al. the liberal literary elements had already begun to disperse for what must be a rapidly diminishing number of niches.
But both Colombo and Kandy looked—at least when we were there a year ago—as they must have looked for the last hundred and fifty years. And at the end of a long journey, it gave one a beautiful, nostalgic, reactionary feeling to live, if only for a few days, beside the Indian Ocean and to be able to consign politics and economics to tropical blazes.