After reading Hunter's Open Thread for Night Owls post, last night, I began thinking about the goals of immigrantphobes and isolationists like William Gheen.
What are the prospects for a country that closes its borders, restricts immigration, contact and trade with outsiders, and promotes ethnic or cultural homogeneity?
If modern history is any guide, not very appealing.
At the turn of the 20th Century, prospects for Korea were, finally, looking up a little. The defeat of China by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War had left the kingdom nominally independent, though actually more or less a vassal state of Japan.
The Japanese, however, were not as interested in occupying the peninsula so much as keeping it out of Chinese hands and influence. To that end, they poured resources into the country, encouraging development and technological progress of the sort that had allowed the Meiji emperor, Mutsuhito, to modernize Japan's armed forces and industrial base. The Japanese believed that a modern, developed Korea would serve as a bulwark against Chinese expansion.
From the end of the war, through the period of direct Japanese control beginning in 1910, up to the end of World War II, the city of Pyongyang, called Heijō by the Japanese, developed rapidly, growing from a city of 40,000 to over 250,000 by 1938. It was the industrial powerhouse of the peninsula, while the southern part of the country remained a sleepy, agricultural backwater.
After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the North, under Soviet control, became Provisional North Korea, soon officially organized as the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea we know today. In 1950, the army of the North, backed by the Soviet Union and the relatively new People's Republic of China, invaded the South, with the goal of capturing the traditional capital of Seoul and unifying the country under communist rule. That effort was stalemated, due to intervention on the side of the South by the United States, leading to the current divided peninsula.
Following the Soviet and Chinese models, North Korea closed its borders and severely limited trade and contact with the non-communist world. Its citizens were not to be exposed to decadent, foreign influences, even those of its cousins in the South.
Now, sixty years on, North Korea is a failed agricultural backwater, unable to feed itself, the epitome of a failed state. Nothing better illustrates the difference between the two Koreas than this night satellite image of the peninsula from GlobalSecurity.org:
Similar contrasts between open and closed societies can be found in other postwar pairs--the Germanies and the Chinas (Shanghai and Taiwan being considered, for purpose of discussion, as a single, "open" country; I know they were not one country).
This isn't an essay on the evils of communism or the blessings of unbridled capitalism and trade, merely a cautionary tale about closed societies. I certainly don't subscribe to P.J. O'Rouke's theory that the way to prevent conflict between countries is to plant McDonalds in every one.
We have an obligation to our citizens to be cautious about the effects of development and trade, but, overall, people in open societies tend to live longer, healthier, happier lives than those who do not. With increased security and satisfaction, people in open societies tend to have fewer children, always a plus for a planet overburdened with our ever-hungry selves.
This country's history of welcoming immigrants, embracing new ideas and diverse views, has been the source of our growth and strength for over two centuries, and this openness is essential to our survival and continuing prosperity in the future.
So, when you hear the sputterings of xenophobes who would slam our doors and minds to the new, the foreign, the other, ask them which side of the DMZ they would prefer to live on.