Togo in America (1911)

From Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East, by Jonathan Clements. Available now in the UK and soon in the US.

______

The Americans were even more overwhelming in their reaction, leaving Togo taken aback at their enthusiasm and their energy. The pushy welcome began on the night that the Lusitania docked, when Togo found a midnight reception committee determined to whisk him onto land before dawn. Soon after, he faced a gesticulating, yelling wall of journalists and photographers, from whom his American minders selected a lucky foursome to take his picture. Togo stood to attention and stared grumpily into the cameras, only to discover that the paparazzi wanted him in a multiplicity of poses and aspects. He seemed particularly galled by the constant strobing of camera flashes. One single image, it seemed was not enough, and Togo suffered an excruciating fifteen minutes of man-handling and exhortations, until Chandler Hale, the Third Assistant Secretary of State, came to his rescue.

‘I have been beaten by the zeal of those cameramen,’ quipped Togo. ‘It is rather easier to fight the world squadrons than meeting those men.’

Faced with his customary silence, the American press filled in the blanks for themselves, with ruminations on the loneliness of command in the mysterious East, or patronising conjecture about what Togo might have said, had he been in a position to utter more than a few phrases. He was taken on a train to Washington, by a welcoming committee that plainly assumed he had never seen a train before, and whose excited fishing for compliments on American railways he found rudely obtuse.

The New York World concentrated on Togo’s encounter with local telephone exchange workers, whose place of work he visited on his way to the railway station. Dismissed as ‘Hello Girls’ in the early 20th century, switchboard operators were subject of contemporary gossip – a woman on the other end of a phone line, ready, in a certain sense, to do one’s bidding, and hence something of an erotic frisson. They were also habitually condescended to as bimbos, hence the World’s scoffing at the New York switchboard operators’ failure to remember to greet Togo with the correct cheer, which, the reporter assured his readers, was Banzai: ‘Ten Thousand Years’.

Other American crowds were soon educated by their press as to the expected form of address, and Togo was greeted with wild cries of Banzai everywhere he went. This verbal assault did not even escape him when riding in a government limousine, since on one occasion he found himself in an impromptu race with a car full of hysterical (and possibly drunken) flappers, who yelled Banzai at him and waved their handkerchiefs while the Admiral looked on in surprised amusement. At no point did Togo risk shaming his hosts by pointing out the unwelcome truth, which was that Banzai at the time was a military salute more appropriate to the gruff, tough army, whereas the more cultured Navy tended to salute with calls of Hoga: ‘Respectful Congratulations’.

The attention was clearly getting to Togo, as was the press’s constant demand that he say something, no matter how ill-informed or unfelt.

‘I have been frequently asked what I thought of America,’ he said with a rare scolding tone. ‘But isn’t it asking me too much? I have landed here only this morning, and I have nothing to tell.”

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