The American press coverage of Sanger's visa controversy recounted her past defiance of the law, including her recent arrest at Town Hall in New York on 13 November 1921. An editorial in the New York Times (20 February 1922) argued that Japan's refusal to admit Sanger was a "gesture of conciliation" toward the U.S. on the heels of the Washington disarmament conference, in that Japan did not want to extend a welcome to a subversive who has "fallen under the displeasure of authority, ecclesiastical and political, in her own country." The following editorial from the Los Angeles Times sympathizes with the Japanese Government's position in banning a woman whose cause remains illegal in her own country.
The Missionary Idea
It is difficult to work up any enthusiasm for Mrs. Margaret Sanger's self-imposed mission to visit Japan and preach the subtleties of birth control to the Nipponese ladies, no matter what our views on the question either for ourselves or for Japan.
It impresses one as being a rather gross piece of impertinence, which can scarcely be justified, especially as the lady's own country is by no means converted to such views. Moreover, it is a domestic question which the Japanese have been studying and debating on their own account and are fully versed in the numerous arguments thereon and it would be quite as impertinently reasonable for a self-appointed Japanese missionary to come over here and advise us upon the size of our families and our sexual duties.
And it isn't so very long ago that President Roosevelt was doing a little missionary work in France in the other direction. He warned France against "race suicide" and admonished her women to have more babies, just as he advocated large families in this country.[A] And it is quite on the cards that the Japanese consider Roosevelt a better authority than Margaret Sanger, no matter what France happened to think about it.
The Japanese have politely informed Mrs. Sanger that they object to her mission. And we entirely sympathize with their attitude. Only on a pressing invitation could her visit in such a cause be excusable.
There is a slightly better excuse for Pussyfoot Johnson's missionary work in England, because there is a large prohibition party in England which indorses it in the first place, and the fact that his own country has adopted prohibition also furnishes a reasonable basis of argument. Moreover, Pussyfoot Johnson has a large organization to back him in this country which lends him an authority which inspires a certain amount of respect. But, even so, a large majority can be found in England to consider Mr. Johnson an international impertinence, which the United States itself would have resented and ridiculed from otherwhere.
But as regards Mrs. Sanger, there appears to be no organization in Japan which has extended her an affectionate invitation to "come over and help us." There is no large and important organization in this country indorsing her views, but, on the contrary, her doctrine is still officially banned over here,[B] and even those who share her ideas do not necessarily regard the lady as persona grata as an international or even as a national representative.
The missionary idea is a very delicate question in any case, on any subject. When the cause is one in which one's own country passionately believes for the good of the world at large there is a soupcon of justification for the intense missionary once in a while. But when, as in the case of birth control, the subject is so intimately domestic, so embarrassingly controversial, and actually legally banned in the country to which the missionary belongs, it seems obvious that, for some time to come, missionary work should be strictly confined to one's own country.
Mrs. Sanger's present position is that Japan doesn't want her and precious few of her own countrymen indorse her, yet she is passionately intent upon making upon making this undiplomatic trip to Japan to the embarrassment of all concerned. And she is asking the whole of the United States to be affronted because Japan doesn't approve of her and her impertinent mission.
For the sake of international amity, for the sake of the reputation of the United States, for the sake of your own good manners stay at home, Margaret.
A. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the better-known proponents of "race suicide," which linked declining birthrates among the white middle-class to the dilution of white stock and characterized middle-class white women who used contraceptives as selfish and decadent. The father of six children, Roosevelt recommended that unless families produced at least four children, the "whole race will disappear in a very few generations." (Theodore Roosevelt, "A Premium on Race Suicide," Outlook 105 [27 September 1913]: 264 and "Race Decadence," Outlook 97 [8 April 1911]: 763-69.)
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B. The editors refer here to the 1873 Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, known popularly as the "Comstock Act" in honor of vice crusader Anthony Comstock, which banned obscene material from the U.S. mails, specifically mentioning articles for the prevention of conception and abortion. These prohibitions were codified in Section 211, 245 and 312 of the United States Criminal Code, and Section 305 of the Tariff Law. Though it was illegal to mail birth control information due to the act, oral communication and the actual use of contraceptives was legal, depending on state laws.
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