When this commentary was published in Oct. 1951, the Iranian delegation was in the U.S. to arbitrate the oil dispute with Britain. They made a deep impression on sociologist and writer Horace R. Cayton, Jr. (1903-1970), then the United Nations correspondent for the black newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier.
Cayton was wowed by Iran’s David & Goliath diplomatic techniques, and viewed them as a potential template for black and African nationalists. He explored these parallels in several of his columns for the Courier.
This column, Great Britain’s ‘Loss of Face’ In Iran Could Inspire African Move, makes no mention of either Iran or Africa, and barely references England. Its ending also feels anti-climactic. Most likely, the concluding paragraphs were inadvertently omitted when it went to print, leaving this piece apparently incomplete.
For more of Cayton’s Iran writings, see his Nov. 1951 column Why Can’t the Black People of the World Play It Smart Like The Iranians Did?.
Great Britain’s ‘Loss of Face’ In Iran
Could Inspire African Move
by HORACE CAYTON
[October 13, 1951 — The Pittsburgh Courier]
SAVING face is an important matter in international politics. Perhaps the term originated with the Chinese, I don’t know. But the general definition is, I believe, that a person loses face if he is publicly in a position which will cause him to lose rank or prestige.
Saving face is important in cases where one group is superordinate to another group, whether in a particular locality or in world politics. It is important for the superordinate group to give the illusion that they are invincible. It is important for the subordinate group to show that the people on top are just plain humans. They can do that by causing the group to lose face.
Here is how it works. For many decades white Europeans were the rulers of the world. Indeed they had ruled the world for so long that the dark peoples were convinced that the rule of the white man was inevitable, perhaps God-ordained. Under these conditions it was not only the might of the white European nations which kept dark peoples of the world enchained but the psychological factor of believing that that was the way it was, had been and would remain.
* * *
THEN AN important incident in world history took place. In 1905 in the war between Russia and Japan the former country sent out a mighty fleet with which they hoped to crush Japan once and for all. But the Japanese refused to be bluffed by the myth of white supremacy and not only beat the Russian Navy but nearly destroyed it. [The Battle of Tsushima in May 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War]
News of the defeat of the Russian Navy by a non-white country—by a yellow race—swept through the world. At that moment the prestige of not only the Russian people but all white Europeans suffered a defeat. Russia, white European rulers in general, lost face. If the Japanese could do it then other peoples, black, brown and yellow, could, in time, accomplish the same thing.
What happened in 1905 happened on even a larger scale during the second world war. Again Japan was the instrument history employed to cause white Europeans to lose face. The very fact that the Japanese were able to defeat England in its march through Asia was evidence enough that white was not invincible. [The Battle of Singapore aka The Fall of Singapore, February 15, 1942]
But that was not enough. The Japanese, as the English had so often before, decided to humiliate the conquered English by making them lose face publicly. English officers and enlisted men were forced to take off their uniforms and run through mud publicly so that the Japanese could show the natives that the proud English were mere frightened men.
After witnessing such a spectacle no oriental would again think of an Englishman as a superman. To them he would always be, just what Mrs. Divine once said in describing Father Divine, “He ain’t nothing but a natural man.” The English lost face in the Orient which could never be regained even when they finally did defeat the Japanese.
* * *
THERE IS a parallel to what happened in Asia and what is now happening in the Middle East. For years England has held a powerful colonial grip on many countries to that section of the world. She has been able to maintain her control not only through force of arms, but because she has methods and resources they use to great prestige as the powerful country that could not be defeated.