Diane talks with Ruth Marcus, editor at the Washington Post. Her new book is "Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh and the Conservative Takeover."
The U.S. Navy sent a warship this week to an artificial chain of islands in the South China Sea. Several Asian nations and the United States dispute the legitimacy of these islands, built by China. This tension between major powers in the Pacific is highlighted in a new book by best-selling author Simon Winchester. The former Asian correspondent explores the unique geographical and historical forces that shape the Pacific Ocean. The book focuses on key moments since 1950 that Winchester says forever changed the world’s largest body of water. It’s a portrait of an ocean and the emerging challenges in a region where East meets West.
- Simon Winchester Author, "The Map That Changed The World," "Atlantic," and "The Professor and the Madman"
Read An Excerpt
From PACIFIC by Simon Winchester Copyright © 2015 by Simon Winchester. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Bestselling author, Simon Winchester, has worked as a geologist in Uganda, a foreign correspondent in India and China and been imprisoned in Argentina. His latest adventure is been writing about the Pacific Ocean, a region where he spent more than a third of his life. Simon Winchester joins me in the studio.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are, as always, welcome to be part of the discussion. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Simon Winchester, it's good to have you here.
MR. SIMON WINCHESTERWell, it's lovely to be back. Thank you so much.
REHMThank you. I must say I was interesting in China's statement that it will move from a one-child policy to a two-child policy. What was your reaction?
WINCHESTERWell, relief and I think that must be the opinion of most families and potential families in China because the situation that was occasioned by this ruthless application of the one-child policy meant because, particularly in rural areas, there was this disdain for girl children. There was an awful lot of infanticide so that there would be -- if there was going to be only one child, there would be a boy. And so we had these distressing stories.
WINCHESTERIn fact, I did a book on the Yangtze River and we saw many girl children, infants, dead, floating in Shanghai because of families having had a child and it being a girl and them being disappointed. So this caused an enormous imbalance, a demographic imbalance, with a huge number of young men and relatively fewer women and this consequently made the country -- I mean, it's one of these weird effects that the country becomes more sort of testosterone loaded and militaristic. The youth are much more aggressive as a cohort because so many more of them are men without mates.
WINCHESTERAnd it's extremely dangerous, particularly as China is now, and I daresay we'll be talking about this, in a more sort of nationalistic mood than she has been for a long while. So whether it has an overall effect in slowing the population growth is another matter. I mean, India is the big bad boy as far as population growth is concerned, but China's pretty, you know, awful in that regard. So this will help on all sorts of levels and it can't have come, as far as I'm concerned anyway, too quickly.
REHMExcept that how are they going to deal with the imbalance between men and women at this point?
WINCHESTERWell, I mean, it's very, very difficult and I mean, without being unnecessarily vulgar about it, it's -- I mean, the rates of prostitution, for instance, in China are horrendous. You go to cities like Shenzhen, these new industrial zones close to the border with Hong Kong, and there are just legions of prostitutes serving the men who have nowhere else to go and so the criminal elements that take charge of that industry. I mean, the social distress that's been caused by this policy are profound and they weren't thought out when the party leaders introduced the system 20 or 30 years ago.
WINCHESTERSo on all levels, it was a very bad plan.
REHMIt will be fascinating to see how that unfolds. This book titled, "Pacific" subtitled "Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires and the Coming Collision of the World's Super Powers" it's been called a biography of an ocean. How do you feel about that description?
WINCHESTERWell, I think it's reasonable. When I did an earlier book on the Atlantic Ocean, it was more proper, I think, to call it a biography because it looked at it essentially from its birth as a geological phenomenon hundreds of millions of years ago. This book, I'm quite deliberately -- because I was looking at the future of the Pacific, started it not at year dot, but at the first of January 1950, which is a date chosen by radio chemists, mainly, because when you have this date -- we now don't use B.C. and A.D. We use B.C.E, you know, before common era because we're not all Christians.
WINCHESTERBut scientists use the convention B.P., which is before present. So you talk about something like the Wisconsin ice age as having happened 10,000 B.P. But that prompts the question, well, when is present?
WINCHESTERI know it's strange. But present has been defined as the first of January, 1950.
REHMIsn't that interesting?
WINCHESTERWell, I think it's interesting. It would bore your listeners by explaining why, but very briefly it's all to do with carbon 14 dating that before 1950, the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14 allowed us to do the dating after 1950 because of nuclear testing in the Pacific as it happens. Huge amounts of additional carbon 14 were thrown up into the atmosphere, which rendered all the calculations wildly inaccurate. So you had to introduce algorithms and things.
WINCHESTERAnd finally, you know, when the atomic testing stopped in the 1960s, things began to return to normal. But effectively before 1950, the world was pure and after 1950, it became impure. And as the impurities came from the Pacific, it seemed reasonable to me that that should be the starting point of the book, of the biography, if you like.
REHMAnd you talk about the ten moments since 1950 that have changed everything.
WINCHESTERWell, the ten, in my view. I mean, I had to -- I made a list of 200 or 300 things and winnowed them down to these ten and it'll be up to the critics to see whether they think I did a good job. And I tried to have a fairly wide selection of events and arrange them in chronological order and each one, I hope, presages or betokens a trend in the Pacific that, in the end, when you look at them all, paints a sort of pointerless portrait of what I think the Pacific is in the future.
REHMOf course, you've already mentioned nuclear testing, but what about Mt. Pinatubo?
WINCHESTERWell, that's an extraordinary event. I mean, I was there and I had all sorts of adventures when this enormous Philippine volcano erupted at the end of 1991, '92, but the knock-on effect of this was completely unexpected. It completely devastated the two huge American bases, Subic Bay Naval Base in the western Philippines and Clark Air Base on the island of Luzon. And Dick Cheney, who was then Secretary of Defense, decided because they were buried in many feet of volcanic ash from Pinatubo to close them down.
WINCHESTERAnd this effectively left a vacuum, a power vacuum in the South China Sea, which was off to the west of the Philippines and it was a vacuum which the Chinese Navy were only too happy to fill with the consequences that we're seeing today of the Chinese occupying these little uninhabited coral reefs and building air strips and docks and all sorts of things on them causing the Americans enormous distress.
REHMSo a natural event affects massively a change in politics.
WINCHESTERYou're absolutely right, but who know? Who imagined such a thing would ever happen? I mean, I think the American government that both Subic and Clark would be there forever. Well, they're not. They're not there anymore and there are very few American military personnel. There used to be aircraft carriers and B-52s and all sorts of good stuff, but now that's all had to retreat to Guam and Japan and America, as it were, polices the far western Pacific from there, but not very well. And the Chinese are expanding rapidly.
REHMAmong those ten events, you cite the transistor radio.
WINCHESTERI think that was hugely important. 1955, August the 8th, in stores -- first of all, oddly enough, in Canada, in Edmonton, in Winnipeg and Vancouver, appeared this little box, a radio set. Up to that moment, radio sets were pieces of furniture, you know, covered with walnut and you put the aspidistra on top of it and you tuned it in. I took time to warm up and then all of a sudden, this device appeared in the shops. And you could take it out into the garden and have a beer while you're listening to the baseball game.
WINCHESTERIt was portable and it was invented by the Japanese and by a company whose name was in tiny little letters on the dial and that was the Sony Corporation. And that lead to the huge expansion in trade from the western Pacific, first of all, from Japan, then Korea and then China of electronic goods. So it was...
REHMAnd one more item from your list of ten, the 1972 sabotage of a British ocean liner.
WINCHESTERThe Queen Elizabeth, which was sold initially, berthed in Florida briefly and unhappily and then bought by a Chinese shipping magnate, towed to Hong Kong where unexpectedly fires broke out on the seven decks simultaneously. They said it was an accident, but I think we all agree it was sabotage. It sank and it seemed to me -- and it lies there still. It seems to me a symbol of the withdrawal of empire, of European empires from the Pacific.
WINCHESTERThe British, of course, we left Hong Kong. The Americans, from Vienna and the French from most of the Pacific. And it allowed the Pacific, for the first time for 200 years, to stand on its own two feet. So I see the sinking and fire of the Queen Elizabeth as symbolic in that sense.
REHMHow many people lost their lives in that event?
WINCHESTERNone. I think one chap broke his leg when he was jumping out of the boat and into a fire tender. But no, it was a pretty swift and obviously engineered insurance job.
REHMSimon Winchester, his new book titled simply "Pacific." We'll take your calls, your comments as we continue with our conversation after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Simon Winchester has written several New York Times bestselling books, including "The Map That Changed The World," "Atlantic," and "The Professor and the Madman." His new book is titled, "Pacific." And in it, Simon Winchester, you say the Pacific is the ocean of the future. How so?
WINCHESTERWell, I suppose my basic thesis is that the Mediterranean was the inland sea of the classical world. I think we probably agree with that. And the Atlantic Ocean, the inland sea of today's world. It's helped immigration or emigration across that helped create America and the countries of the American continents. Now, after manifest destiny brought all of us -- Europeans and other immigrants -- to the West Coast of this country, we face the other great civilizations of the East -- Japanese, the Koreans, the Chinese, Indonesians and all the rest of them. So the world has, as it were, come full circle. And I think the dealings across the Pacific are going to determine how the world generally operates in the nest -- for the rest of its existence, I think.
WINCHESTERSo that's the basic thesis of the book. And, indeed, that's the subtitle for the English and Australian editions of this book, "The Ocean of the Future." The American edition puts this monumental subtitle...
REHMYes. The subtitle...
WINCHESTER...which is almost as long as the book itself. But that, I'm assured, is more to do with Google searches. In other words, if you type in the words surfing or brutal dictators, they hope that my book will come up.
REHMOh, for heaven's...
WINCHESTERI am not responsible for that subtitle.
REHMYeah. I have you. I have you. The idea, however, that the Pacific Ocean separates the two great superpowers and how they will interact across that ocean is really fundamental here.
WINCHESTERIt is the key. And we're seeing this. I mean, this week, which is extraordinary -- I mean, I bless the Chinese Navy for giving me a publicity leg up.
REHMI should say.
WINCHESTERBut I mean this -- it's an extraordinary situation. And this patchwork of islands -- new islands that have been created in the South China Sea, which is aggravating the Pentagon, is all part of a very carefully worked out strategy by the Chinese Navy, all down to a man called Liu Huaqing (sp?) who, generally speaking, we don't know about. He died -- he was an admiral, died about four years ago. He actually was the commander of Chinese forces in the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, even though he was a naval officer. But a very, very clever and you might say wily man. And it was him that said, well, let's, first of all, build all these platforms and bases and docks in the South China Sea. But we've got a bigger intention than that.
WINCHESTERThe Chinese, under his tutelage, have developed the policy of what they call three-island chains.
REHMCreating these islands.
WINCHESTERWell, creating physically the islands in the South China Sea. But creating imaginary, protective chains of islands out into the outer Pacific. The first one -- the first island chain runs from Japan to Indonesia. The second island chain runs from Kamchatka to Australia. And the third from the Aleutian Islands to Hawaii and New Zealand.
WINCHESTERAnd the Chinese say that by 2049, which is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples' Republic, they will feel free to exercise their naval vessels -- and their gigantic navy is being developed right out as far as Hawaii. That is causing the Pentagon collywobbles in the extreme. They think -- the idea of seeing a huge Chinese aircraft carrier off Pearl Harbor, exercising, is something that cannot stand.
WINCHESTERBut I say -- and I hope I say in this book -- why not? I mean, so long as they're not going to war with us. They're simply saying, we want naval equivalence. You Americans have run the Pacific as your sort of private lake since the end of the Second World War. Well, we're big and important too and we have pride. We think it's perfectly reasonable that our ships should police the Pacific waters as well. The Pentagon says otherwise. I'm not certain how that's going to play out but it's very dangerous.
REHMNow, it's fascinating, because we started this conversation talking about the imbalance of male-female in China, because of its one-child policy. And you mentioned the built up testosterone, which could lead to more militaristic activity. So that why shouldn't the U.S. be suspicious, considering this attitude, this changing dynamic that's going on within the population and the government itself?
WINCHESTERI think it's a very reasonable question and a very reasonable fear, except for one thing, and that is Chinese history. I mean, China -- obviously excepting Tibet from this argument -- but China has never really been an expansionist power. I mean, Chinese imperialism didn't extend eastward across the Pacific in the way, if you like, that Russian imperialism did. After all, they had Alaska and they were settling in California. Chinese had never done such a thing. Yes, they've had their sort of satrapies in Indochina, in Laos and Vietnam and Cambodia. But, generally speaking, the middle kingdom -- which is how they regard themselves -- has been content to remain more or less within its own borders.
WINCHESTERAnd if you'll remember from the 14 -- what was it -- 1425, when Admiral Zheng He went -- Chinese admiral, he was a Muslim and he was a eunuch, went to Mogadishu -- got as far as the Horn of Africa -- and brought back for the emperor a giraffe, which so terrified the emperor. He said, if that kind of animal lives out in the wider world, I don't want any of you guys going out and just banned all external shipping.
WINCHESTERI mean, if you had a boat, you were executed. So the Chinese were not an expansionist people. And I don't think -- I don't believe I'm being naïve in saying this now, despite the testosterone buildup -- I don't believe they're going to expand themselves in the same imperial way that we, the British, did and the French have and, I might say, the Americans have. I think all they want is equivalence and respect of their right to be in the Pacific, the same way that the Americans have been in the Pacific since the end of World War II.
REHMBut doesn't that same desire for equivalence challenge the dynamics that have existed up until now?
WINCHESTERWell, exactly. And the way the Americans come to this, if you go for a briefing at Pearl Harbor or Camp Smith, where everything is run from in Hawaii, they will show you photographs of Seoul in 1945 and Seoul in 2015 -- pictures of Peking or Shanghai, let's say in 1945 and in 2015. Ruin on the first instance, skyscrapers, neon, prosperity. That has all come about, say the U.S. Navy, because the U.S. Navy has kept the trade sea lanes, shipping lanes open. It's because of America's benign influence in the Pacific Ocean that the Pacific has become so prosperous. And I wonder if that is true. And whether, if the Chinese takeover, the policing of the shipping lanes -- whether that will continue to be true. I mean that's the big question.
WINCHESTERThe Americans think, the Pacific is prosperous because of us. We've kept things stable. The Chinese say, well, you haven't kept things stable. You've invaded, you've pillaged, you've ruined, you've destroyed, you've despoiled the environment, you've distained the people. We won't do that. Well, we'll see. But it's a very tense situation.
REHMHow does North Korea fit into this larger picture?
WINCHESTERI think, as a wretched nuisance rather than the strategic problem. I mean, the fact that they have nuclear weapons is obviously very dangerous. But eventual reunification of the Koreas -- which is going to happen one day -- is going to cause astonishing economic and social problems in that part. I mean, it was bad enough when Germany reunited. But you can imagine the cost which is going to face the South Korean government, if they have to bring North Korea back into the fold.
WINCHESTERThe irony, I think, is though that North Korea was created by an American with a wonderful name. He was called Charles Hartwell Bonesteel III. And he was sitting in an office in the Pentagon on the 14th of August, 1945, with Dean Rusk, who was also a young colonel, who'll you remember as John Kennedy's secretary of state.
REHMWas secretary of state.
WINCHESTERAnd they were in the outer office of George Marshall, the chief of staff, listening to Emperor Hirohito on the shortwave radio broadcasting that he was surrendering. And so Bonesteel said to Rusk, well, the Japanese problem is over. The problem to deal with now is the Soviets who are sweeping -- having joined the war only a week previously -- through Satelin (sp?) Island, through Manchuria, threatening Japan, coming into Korea. We've got to stop them. Where are we going to stop them? And Bonesteel pulled out, from the 1944 March issue of the National Geographic, a map. You remember how they used to have maps in the Geographic?
WINCHESTERPulled it open, the map of Japan and the northern Pacific. And he said, isn't it odd that San Francisco and Seoul -- the traditional capital of Korea, which was of course at that time a Japanese colony -- are on almost exactly the same latitude, 37.40°N. We want to keep Seoul, so why don't we ask the Russians to stop at, let's say the 38th parallel? They took it in to George Marshall and he said the 38th parallel sounds a good ways. Told the State Department. They signaled Moscow. And Moscow said, you know, our tanks keep getting stuck in the mud and our troops are tired marching through Manchuria. We'll stop at the 38th parallel and you Americans can take charge of everything south.
WINCHESTERAnd the consequence of that was two completely new countries -- North Korea and South Korea were created. All on the work of a pencil line drawn by Charles Hartwell Bonesteel III.
REHMAnd on that note, let's open the phones. 800-433-8850. First, to Mike in Los Angeles, Calif. You're on the air.
MIKEHey, good morning, Simon. I'm a big fan of all of your books.
WINCHESTERThank you, Mike.
MIKEI'm a geologist, earthquake engineer. "Krakatoa," I thought, was fascinating, both of the rise of scientific recordings and what the fall of the Dutch imperialism. Is "Pacific" somewhat of a follow-up to that in terms of the combination of geology and, you know, geopolitical movements. "A Crack in the Edge of the World," by the way, was awesome also. So, big fan. I'm just curious, is this the next logical book after "Krakatoa"? And...
WINCHESTERWell, a very interesting question. And I talk a great deal about the ring of fire and the discovery of hydrothermal vents and the black smokers and the mineral wealth, which is now being discovered on the floor of the Pacific, which is now being -- by an Australian company -- mined off Tonga and off Papua New Guinea.
WINCHESTERBut in terms of the political consequences -- and you very kindly mentioned the fall of the Dutch as a consequence, a knock-on effect of Krakatoa's eruption -- there is, as Diane was mentioning 20 minutes or so ago, the extraordinary knock-on effect, unexpected, of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1992, which drove the Americans out of their bases in the Philippines, which left a military vacuum, as it were, in the South China Sea, which the Chinese have been only too happy to fill, with the consequences we've just been talking about. So the unexpected consequences of geology, yes, do play a part in this book.
REHMThanks for calling, Mike. To Richard in Wichita, Kan. You're on the air.
RICHARD(unintelligible) the fact that Japan was an isolationist power also until the late 1800s, and then became quite expansionist as they became an industrial power. I could see the same happening with China. Can you see any way that the nations of the western Pacific could defend themselves against China -- have any hope of defending themselves against an expansionist China, given that those nations are all very vulnerable geographically. They're all island nations or thin coastal nations and they all are separated from the possibility of an alliance by their diverse culture and languages.
WINCHESTERWell, a very interesting question and that is what occupies the Pentagon. Particularly, there's this remarkable man who retired from the Pentagon only a couple of years ago, at age 93, Andrew Marshall his name was -- known as Yoda because of his somewhat curious appearance -- who ran this office with such a bland name, the Office of Net Assessment. And he had run it -- he'd been appointed by Richard Nixon. So he'd been in that office in the Pentagon for 40 years, pondering such questions as you've just raised. And it is very interesting. If China becomes expansionist, how does the West deal with it? And the military dimensions of that I go into in some detail.
WINCHESTERAnd there's one particular, specific thing, for instance, which the Americans are worried about, and that's a killer -- a carrier killer missile, which the Chinese have developed specifically to deal with American aircraft carriers. And we first saw it in the big parade in Beijing about six weeks ago. Everyone's getting rather alarmed.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So the question would be, how likely would they be to use such a missile?
WINCHESTERMy own view is, unlikely. But, I mean, the caller, it's very reasonable that he should mention the Japanese, who became -- there was this spasm of bad behavior in the 1930s, which led to the rise of General Tojo and the terrible imperialistic moves that the Japanese took in the 1930s against China, first of all, of course, and then across the islands of the South Pacific, which led to the Pearl Harbor and the various confrontations.
WINCHESTERWould the Chinese ever do such a thing? They insist that, if you look at the historical record, they never have and never will. So why are they building these frightening new missiles? Why are they ordering four new aircraft carriers? Why are they beefing up their navy and their air force and training their pilots to do all manner of things? And they say, well, we're just doing the same as the Americans did and we mean no harm. Well, we'll see. But certainly, in the Pentagon, they think they do.
REHMTo Johnson City, Tenn., Bradley, welcome. You're on the air.
BRADLEYFirst time caller, Diane, and thank you very much for taking the call.
BRADLEYYeah. I was just kind of curious, because maybe the previous caller had already asked the same question in a different form. But how exactly did the Chinese, the Koreans, the Singaporeans going to feel about the Chinese taking over these shipping lanes, as their power expands and the United States pulls back to Guam and maybe even farther back to, say, Hawaii. And I can take the question off the air. Thank you.
WINCHESTERWell, one specific thing needs to be said, which is, although I said earlier that the Subic Bay Naval Base was closed. Then the Philippine government reopened it. And they're not negotiating with the Americans to permit the 7th Fleet to start using it again. So that is part of the argument. We've seen this destroyer, which came from Yokosuka (sp?) in Japan, the U.S.S. Lassen, with her attendant ships, patrolling in the South China Sea, which has caused all the argy-bargy of the last few days. But if the Americans are going to put big capital ships into a forward base at Subic, as they used to do before the 1992 eruption, then we're going to see more and more challenges.
WINCHESTERAnd what will the Chinese do? Well, you may remember that there was this business over the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by Japan and China, and that about a year ago, the Chinese imposed what's called an ADIZ, which is an Aviation Defense Identification Zone, and said that any aircraft passing over the Senkaku Islands had to report into Peking or Beijing. The Americans said, oh, no, we're not, and they flew two B-52s through it. The Chinese did nothing. And I think the Chinese will do nothing in the South China Sea for the time being.
REHMSimon Winchester, all about his new book titled, "Pacific." Short break. More of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Simon Winchester, a very, very popular writer of several New York Times bestselling books, including "The Map That Changed The World," "Atlantic," and "The Professor and the Madman." Speaking of "The Map That Changed The World," here's an email from Charlie in Tupelo, Miss.
REHMHe says, "The West has lived in the shadow of Rome for 2,000 years as the culture of the world's powers concentrated in post-Roman government, philosophy and religion. What I find most interesting at this point in history is the social structures of the East will begin to transform how we all live our lives. As the Pacific Rim grows in strength, this time will be marked as the end of an epoch for humanity as we move into a world not governed by the West, but instead live under the influence of the East."
WINCHESTERI love your listeners. I mean, good gosh, what...
REHMAren't they wonderful?
WINCHESTER...a wonderful, wonderful thing to say.
REHMAren't they wonderful?
WINCHESTERAnd he's absolutely right of course. I mean, this, when you think about it, is -- the Pacific is where the two great civilizations eventually meet up, you know. We all were created in Ethiopia and then we -- one group moved north and went eastward across the Mesopotamia and then the Indus Valley, and then Peking Man and Java Man, all that lot. And then the other branch went leftwards and went up into the Balkans and Europe. Stopped there by the ocean.
WINCHESTEREventually, after Christopher Columbus and company moved off west, came to what was the Americas. And then the impressive Manifest Destiny and Lewis and Clark and all those good people went to the farther waters and stood on the shores of the Pacific, and for the first time could see across the Pacific if it wasn't 10,600 miles wide, the other great civilization. And then after Balboa and Magellan who crossed it in, what, 1529, although he was murdered in the Philippines, the two civilizations met. And they've been mingling, if you like, for the last 400 years.
WINCHESTERBut then the big question, as this gentleman posts so brilliantly, are we after having lived under this sort of cultural impressive Rome for 2,000 years, now are going to start being under the impressive, the other branch of civilization? Are we going to adhere to the tenants of Confucius and, you know, the way and Sunsu (sp?) and all those people.
REHMWhat would that mean?
WINCHESTERWell, it would mean many things on a very trivial level. Not trivial at all, but it would mean that we'd be respectful of elders. Families would live together. The nuclear and multi-generational family would become a much more important component. And I think greed and consumerism and all the things that are hallmarks of Western society, and, yes, which are infecting Eastern societies too. I mean, you see the shopping centers that have grown up in Shanghai...
WINCHESTER...and Beijing and Tokyo. But I think nonetheless there is a calmer, wiser effect in the peoples of the East, which I would like to see slowly but surely take charge in the world more generally.
REHMExcept for the Japanese occurring in World War II.
WINCHESTERYes, you're right. I have to be somewhat sensitive here. My wife is Japanese, and indeed a former NPR producer. And she reminds me constantly that, yes, there was this spasm of appallingly bad behavior from 1930 to 1945, but generally Japanese society, I mean, the time of the samurai, the show guns, before the West came in 1857, Admiral Perry, Japan was a self-sufficient, isolated, more or less self-sufficient, and generally a peaceable company with no particular imperial ambitions. And then the West came and we saw what the West had done, and to occupying islands in the South Seas and occupying -- I mean, the very idea of imperialism shocked the Japanese until they thought, well, we can do that too.
WINCHESTERAnd our way of life should perhaps be extended into Asia, so let's be imperialists too.
REHMThe only issue I would take with Charlie in Tupelo goes back to the creation of the transistor radio, in the sense that we are all, as you said, now more interconnected so that what I see coming out of this moving together is a kind of hybrid of East and West. Perhaps some of the vigor, the capitalism, even the destructiveness of West matched with the peace and the calm of the East.
WINCHESTERI entirely agree with you. I think the hybrid, I mean, I think that's the perfect word. But for too long we have, as a Western society, disdained those attributes and have regarded the people of the Pacific effectively as somehow inferior to us. And in the closing, in the epilogue of this book, I talk about a remarkable Polynesian sailing boat, called the Hokulea, which is going around the world at this moment. It was built in Hawaii, and the people that are manning it and woman-ing it, because it's a 50/50 crew, men and women, are navigating across the world without instruments at all.
WINCHESTERNo wristwatches, no sextons, no compasses, certainly no GPS. And using simply the stars and the pattern of seabird flight and the clouds and the feel of the waves. It may sound silly, but they started this in 1976 to relearn the old skills of the Polynesians. And they're now going around the world. They're in the Indian Ocean at the moment. They're just north of Marishes (sp?) . They have a website, The Polynesian Voyaging Society. They're going -- they're deciding whether to go right and through the Red Sea or left around Cape Agulhas and Cape of Good Hope. They're coming to the Atlantic Ocean in this little craft. They intend to sail up the Potomac to see the Hawaiian president before he steps down, and then go down the East coast of South America through the Straits of Magellan and back to their homeland in Hawaii.
WINCHESTERAnd the thing, as we start to become more and more interested in this craft, because people in the West are doing so, and are amazed by it, I think we're beginning to respect one aspect of Pacific life, Polynesian tradition, which were almost totally wiped out, and saying, my gosh, these people, we perhaps shouldn't have disdained them. We shouldn't have despoiled their countryside. We shouldn't have polluted their waters with nuclear testing. We shouldn't have colonized them. We should've respected them. And I think that's one of the things that we're slowly and surely beginning to learn about the Pacific, that it is a place from which we can learn much, which is fragile and precious and we need to respect.
REHMAll right. To Ocala, Fla. Paul, you're on the air.
PAULYes, Mr. Winchester, I was calling to inquire as to your thoughts on Chinese government taking military action against cargo ships, and whether or not the United States might start having to have military escorts through the South China Sea.
WINCHESTERI don't think that is going to happen. I think they'll be shooting themselves in the foot. I mean, an enormous of trade in and out of the Chinese ports on the East coast passes through the South China Sea. I think that their view of the sea lanes is as the American view is. They should be kept entirely free. That trade which comes up from Malaysia and goes up past Hainan Island and up to ports like Tianjin and Shanghai is as important for the future of China as it is important for the outside world. They're not going to touch it. If they do, there will be a swift and unpleasant response from the Americans. But I don't think that's going to happen.
REHMAnd an email from Steve in Waldorf, Md. "There's been talk off and on of Vietnam inviting the U.S. to base out of Cameron Bay. What are the author's views?"
WINCHESTERWell, I do mention it, and indeed they are, the Pentagon is stationing four literal combat vessels in Singapore. They're building new facilities outside Perth and Australia. And they are negotiating with the Vietnamese for Cameron Bay, which is so ironic, because of course Cameron was where much of the Vietnam War was prosecuted from. But as I mentioned earlier, they're also negotiating to get some access to Subic Bay in the Philippines. So they are building a sort of ring of steel around Western China. But it's expensive and how much the American public -- tax paying public will bear for that considering the responsibilities the Americans seem to have in Syria and Afghanistan still, this is all to do with the pivot away from the sort of wearying and costly business in the Eastern Mediterranean.
WINCHESTERI think strategically our interests should shift to the Pacific. But should they be shifted in a military sense as well? Well, I don't know. And it depends what the Chinese do. It's a big dilemma. And as I mentioned Andrew Marshall earlier, that's what a lot of very clever people have been thinking of for a very long time.
REHMWhere is Australia in all this?
WINCHESTERWell, it's hugely important. And oddly enough, no disrespect to my wonderful editor, Henry Farris, there was some argument about whether I put too much Australia into this book. And because Henry thought that perhaps Americans didn't find Australia as fascinating as I did. I find whether she is truly part of the Pacific community to be a fascinating story, or whether she is still at the beck and call of London. Is she an outpost of the British in the Pacific, or is she her own country?
WINCHESTERWell, one in four Australians comes from non-European stock now. There has been a fair amount of immigration. But unfortunately there's a sort of hiccup approach. You get a new prime minister like Paul Abbott who mercifully in my view has just left, who absolutely did not want much Asian immigration, and treats Asian migrants very badly, putting in these horrible resettlement camps in islands far away from the Pacific and far away from Australia. I think to be a part of the Pacific community, it has to open its doors much more liberally and become a true Pacific country and shake off its sort of old, sort of imperial effect, which it used to have. And I think it's doing that. So hugely important part of the Pacific.
REHMBut what is its current relationship with China?
WINCHESTERWell, tentative. It's mainly a trade relationship with gigantic amounts of Australian minerals go. It has been described as an enormous quarry for both the Japanese and the Chinese economies. But that's not sufficient really to build a relationship on. And so there is more and more -- I mean, the previous prime minister before Abbott spoke fluent -- spoke Chinese. And he -- this is Kevin Rudd, didn't last very long, but during this prime minister-ship, the relationship became much more warm. Now it's reduced to trade alone. But I think it's hugely important.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It would seem, however, that the culture of Australia and the culture of, say, China versus the culture of Australia, the UK and the U.S. seems so much more aligned than Australia and China.
WINCHESTERYes, but, I mean, it was pointed out to me the other day, that the governor of South Australia, for instance, where Adelaide is, is now Vietnamese. And the people like this dreadful woman, Pauline Hanson, who was the voice of the wowser-ish white Australia policy five years ago has been somewhat silenced. Asian communities are growing. The default language of the Sydney Stock Exchange...
WINCHESTER...was Cantonese. So Asian influence within Australia is growing a pace, and the Western influence is slowly diminishing.
REHMHere's an email from Allison, who says, "How do you think the U.S. relationship with China will change because of climate change, our respective responses and the transition in energy sources?"
WINCHESTERVery interesting question. I mean, Admiral Locklear, who was the Pacific commander in Camp Smith in Honolulu, and therefore commanded all American forces, said that the most pressing strategic concern in the Pacific AOR, the area of responsibility, which extends all the way to India from San Diego, was not North Korea, was not China. It was climate change. It was the vast number of hugely powerful storms that are developing.
WINCHESTERI mean, ever since the big one, Cyclone Tracy and Darwin in 1974, through to Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines two years ago, to Patricia, which was a mighty storm in Mexico just last week, these storms and the rising sea levels and the certification of the ocean are causing changes which are much more profound economically and indeed politically dangerous than the irritations caused by North Korea, and even the problems caused by China.
REHMDo you think China will move to take more rapid action in regard to climate change than even the U.S.?
WINCHESTERI think so. And they can do it by (unintelligible). They don't have to worry about...
REHMGo through a Congress.
WINCHESTER...democracy. They can do it or...
WINCHESTER...get out of town. So they've -- I forget what the goal figure is, but Xi Jinping announced that China will reduce its emissions by X percent. And it will happen. I have no doubt about it at all. And in fact (unintelligible) that don't abide by the rules will be -- well, goodness knows, but bad things will happen to them.
REHMBut how will they replace their coal consumption?
WINCHESTERWell, by other means. I mean, there's...
WINCHESTER...you look at any railway train now in China, it is loaded with the propeller blades for a wind based generation system. And the winds that sweep down the Tibetan Plateau are almighty. They don't care if they have hundreds of square miles of ugliness, the kind of thing that Walter Cronkite would not countenance of Nantucket. If they want to build it and generate wind, they will do so.
WINCHESTERThey will. And diverting rivers, I mean, diverting much of the Yangtze's flow up to the Yellow River a thousand miles north, I mean, they can do it, and they will. I mean, the astonishing ability of the Chinese too. To create massive infrastructure projects in no time at all is hugely impressive.
REHMOne last questions, in terms of depth, how deep is the Pacific compared to the Atlantic?
WINCHESTERFar deeper. The Mindanao Trench is about seven and a half miles deep. We could fit all the other oceans in to the Pacific handily. It is a mighty ocean, 64 million square miles, and the deepest on the plant.
REHMSimon Winchester, a fabulous and fascinating book.
REHMIt's titled simply "Pacific." Thank you for being here.
WINCHESTERDiane, thank you very much.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
In 2015 journalist and author Evan Thomas set out to get inside the troubled mind of President Richard Nixon. Using dozens of interviews and what was then newly released archival material, he paints a portrait of the complex man he calls “fantastically contradictory.”
What makes dogs so unique? Animal psychologist Clive Wynne says their capacity to love.
From Diane's archives: A 2002 interview with Fred Rogers, and a 2017 interview with Tom Hanks, the actor who masterfully brings him to life in the new film, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"