Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Yap Flap

A tiny island group in the western Pacific was a big deal 100 years ago.

"Once We Couldn't Find Yap with a Magnifying Glass" by Homer Stinson in Dayton Daily News, April, 1921

Chances are that most of my non-Filipino readers couldn't find Yap on a map, either. (It's a cluster of four islands in the Carolines at 9°32′N 138°07′E, if you must know.) Pertinent to our discussion today, Wikipedia reports that:

Yap was a major German naval communications center before the First World War and an important international hub for cable telegraphy, with spokes branching out to Guam, Shanghai, Rabaul, Naura and Manado (Sulawesi's North coast). It was occupied by Japanese troops in September 1914, and passed to the Japanese Empire under the Versailles Treaty in 1919 as a mandated territory under League of Nations supervision.
"He Wanted Only One Thing..." by John T. McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, ca. April 23, 1921
The U.S. and Japan had fought on the same side in World War I, but their pre-war military and economic rivalry in the Pacific was quickly rekindled afterward. U.S. commercial concerns worried that they would be frozen out of commercial rights at the island; and as a cable communications hub, Yap played an vital role in the American administration of the Philippines as a colonial possession.

Meanwhile, the month-old Harding administration had just made official U.S. rejection of the League of Nations and with it the Treaty of Versailles, so McCutcheon's Uncle Sam ought to have considered himself lucky that he got a table in that restaurant at all, to say nothing of trying to order a la carte.

"Yapping" by Daniel Fitzpatrick in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April, 1921

"Jingoes" was the name for self-styled patriots vocally pushing for war, in this case over that little Pacific island group. You would think that so soon after armistice was declared in The Great War, people on all sides would have a healthy aversion to war talk... and you would be right.

"Suppose We Close the Window..." by Haydon Jones in New York Evening Post, April, 1921

So, at the risk of dredging up some hateful images of Asian/Pacific islanders, who were those American Jingoes, and what were they drawing?

"The Lengthening Shadow" by Wm. S. Warren in Chicago Tribune, April, 1921
Judging from this cartoon, as well as John McCutcheon's above and a Carey Orr cartoon I had posted last month, the isolationist editors at the Chicago Tribune were nevertheless content to rile up their readers against the "Yellow Peril." This is hardly an original image (see Homer Stinson's cartoon here), but it is one that would come up again and again over the next 24 years.

I believe that this cartoonist was William S. Warren, described in a news report of his death as having been an editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, Buffalo Evening News, and Philadelphia Public Ledger. He retired from newspaper cartooning in 1939 to draw children's books, and, according to the October 20, 1968 Long Beach, CA Independent Press Telegram, committed suicide at age 86. 
"Don't Overlook This Frog" by Orville P. Williams in New York Journal, ca. April 2, 1921

Anti-Asian hysteria at Hearst newspapers goes back long before U.S. entry into World War I; we've shared some cartoon doozies from Harry Murphy, for example (and spared you some others). If the tune in Orville Williams's cartoon is as catchy as it looks, small wonder that it is completely unfamiliar today. There is a similar quotation attributed to Mark Twain, although I can't vouch for his reputation as a singer.

"The Importance of Yap Island..." by J.N. "Ding" Darling in New York Tribune, April 28, 1921
Well, as I hope you already knew, the U.S. did not go to war with Japan over the isle of Yap; even in World War II, the U.S. bombed the island, but did not attempt to occupy it. A 1922 treaty between the U.S. and Japan guaranteed American commercial rights on the island, and it returned to its status as someplace most Americans could not locate on a map.

The tedious business of drawing crowds is a topic that comes up often in cartoonist circles (Jeff Parker brought it up this week with a Facebook memory of a 2014 "Dustin" Sunday cartoon set in a busy airport). Perhaps the task was easier in a day when everyone wore hats, but this cartoon is still pretty impressive work.

It does depend on one's being able to draw hats.


  1. The "similar quotation attributed to Mark Twain" might be from Twain, or it might just be an old adage. The mostly likely place Twain would have written it is probably in his 1865 short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", but I don't find anything like it there.

    The earliest I've found the phrase is 1882, in the Jun/29 edition of the Emporia Kansa Weekly Times. In 1896 William Jennings Bryan used it in a speech, attributing it to his father-in-law (as reported in the Jul/16/1896 Washington Times).

    The earliest attribution of it to Twain that I've found is in a 1914 book "A Complete Course in Canning". This is four years after Twain's death.

    By the time of the ad you've linked to, 1927, the expression had been used in several advertising campaigns. The earliest I found was 1895.