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Chapter Five Adviser to Chiang
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Chapter Five
Adviser to Chiang

After Stalin signed the nonaggression pact with Japan on April 13, 1941, Chiang could no longer count on Soviet aid. He was forced to step up his efforts to get supplies from the United States. The Roosevelt administration, though, was torn by conflict over Asian policy. The president, Secretary of War Stimson, and some of the military wanted to support China in every way possible without precipitating war with Japan. Ambassador to Japan Grew, his chief assistant Eugene Dooman, and other pro-Japan officers wanted to avoid any appearance of a major commitment to China.

Even the strong China supporters, however, were uneasy about Chiang's reluctance to commit all his forces against the Japanese invaders and his determination to crush the Chinese Communists. Chiang did not pretend that the supplies he wanted were for use against the Japanese; as he told Ambassador Nelson Johnson in October 1940, "It is not the Japanese army which we fear, because our army is able to deal with it, but the defiant Communists. American economic assistance plus the aid of the American Air Force can stabilize our unsteady economic and social conditions, thus making it impossible for the Communists to carry out their schemes."[1]

Johnson and U.S. Naval Attaché James McHugh were not alarmed at Chiang's attitude. McHugh especially was a bitter opponent of the Chinese Communists, whom he blamed for most of China's problems. Against the advice of such figures as Edgar Snow and U.S. Marine Captain Evans Carlson (an old China hand), McHugh argued that the United States should stay clear of the Communists. Talk of giving Mao military aid was abhorrent to McHugh; such support would only weaken the Nationalists.[2] In the coming battles over aid, Lattimore sided with McHugh; Lattimore was


committed to the belief that all-out support of Chiang would "keep the Communists in a subordinate position."

These dashing opinions became highly salient with passage of the Lend-Lease Act by Congress on March 11, 1941. Roosevelt could now transfer war supplies by executive decision to nations whose defense he considered vital to the defense of the United States. No more dependence on bureaucratic inefficiency and infighting, no more roadblocks from the reactionaries in the State Department; the reins of this program were in the White House.

Though Congress's motive in passing Lend-Lease was primarily to aid the British, the Chinese saw its potentialities at once. T. V. Soong, Chiang's primary agent in Washington (Chinese Ambassador Hu Shih was a figurehead), immediately urged Roosevelt to send a special envoy to Chungking to survey China's needs.[3] Soong wanted Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's chief troubleshooter, but Roosevelt would not send him; instead, he made Hopkins overall Lend-Lease administrator. But the idea of a personal presidential envoy to China appealed to Roosevelt; special emissaries were prominent in his administrative style. This way he could bypass the notorious bureaucracy of the State Department, establish personal relationships with foreign leaders, and better control relations with China.[4]

Roosevelt sent as his envoy a brilliant and ambitious young White House economist, Lauchlin Currie. Sensing the developing importance of China, Currie welcomed the opportunity. He spent four weeks in February and March 1941 in Chungking, conferring with Chiang, Madame Chiang (who charmed him completely, as she did all high-level American visitors except General George Marshall), and James McHugh; he also talked to Ambassador Johnson, but Johnson was about to resign and took a jaundiced view of the whole process. Nevertheless, Currie's extensive report on his mission played up to Roosevelt's global ambitions. Chiang, he said, did not want to liberalize and broaden his regime. War between the Nationalists and Communists was possible, but Roosevelt could use the lever of Lend-Lease to push Chiang toward reform. Why not send a team of Americans to supervise aid, with technicians supplying know-how and a liberal political adviser to push Chiang in the proper direction? Chiang had in fact asked for a political adviser, though his motive was to use that adviser to bypass the embassy and get maximum possible aid. Currie also recommended that Roosevelt boost Chiang's stock in the United States by public statements of admiration and support.[5] Currie's scenario may have impressed Roosevelt, but its naïveté about Chinese politics has been force-fully analyzed by Michael Schaller:


[Currie] twisted the Chinese experience to fit his own vision of reform. As the New Deal had attacked the bastions of the old economic order, Americans could train Chinese Keynesians to smash the legacy of rural poverty and political oppression. Currie seemed completely unaware of the fundamental class and land struggle which underlay China's crisis. He possessed no sense of what forces the KMT represented, or why the Communists could successfully appeal to the peasantry. Moreover, to expect any political group in China to accept the indignity of subordinating themselves to foreign advisors was to totally misunderstand the direction of Chinese nationalism since the 1911 revolution.[6]

No understanding of China appeared in the White House of early 1941. Roosevelt gave quick approval to the dispatching of advisers to China, instructing Currie to come up with the name of a political adviser. Currie's first choice was George S. Messersmith, then ambassador to Cuba. Messersmith pleaded ill health and declined.[7] Currie was shortly visited by John M. Gaus, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin and formerly one of Currie's instructors at Harvard. Gaus, known as a recruiter of New Deal personnel, had obtained for Currie his job with the Roosevelt administration. When Gaus appeared in Currie's office, Currie immediately solicited him for the job as Chiang's adviser. Gaus also de-dined: he knew too little about China. But on the train down from Wisconsin Gaus had read and admired an Atlantic Monthly article by one Owen Lattimore. Why didn't Currie recruit Lattimore?[8]

Currie was reluctant at first. Lattimore had never been a government employee and had irritated the State Department by criticizing U.S. policy as too soft on Japan; also, neither Currie nor Roosevelt had ever met him. Nonetheless, Currie called Lattimore down from Baltimore for an interview and was impressed. He asked if anything Lattimore had ever written would be embarrassing; Lattimore mentioned an attack he had once made on Chinese Chief of Staff Ho Ying-ch'in, but Currie did not think this article important. Since the Treasury Department, and not the State Department, was the most important agency dealing with China, Currie arranged a briefing for Lattimore at Treasury, chaired by Harry Dexter White. (Lattimore later sneered at the investigative prowess of the witch-hunters, who never uncovered this connection with White.) White and his colleagues, satisfied that Lattimore understood the importance of economic factors in U.S. China policy, approved the appointment. On April 29, 1941, Currie wrote a memorandum headed "Political Adviser to Chiang Kai-shek": "Ever since our discussion on this matter I have been looking for the right man, as the position is of enormous importance."


He had found the right man. Lattimore had extensive language skills and experience in Asia, was not associated with any group or faction in China, and had "New Dealish political attitudes." Roosevelt would need to con-suit Lattimore before making the appointment, if only to add to Lattimore's prestige in China.[9]

Roosevelt responded to the memo by asking Currie to contact Johns Hopkins President Bowman and Rear Admiral Harry E. Yarnell, recently retired commander of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. Both were enthusiastic about Lattimore, Bowman noting Lattimore's leadership of Council on Foreign Relations meetings with effusive praise.[10]

Currie repeated the suggestion that Roosevelt personally interview Lattimore, as "it is most important that he be thought to possess your confidence." Roosevelt did so, apparently liked Lattimore, and on May 19 sent a casual note to Secretary of State Hull: "What do you think of having the Chinese Government appoint Owen Lattimore as political adviser? It sounds good to me."[11]

Hull despised the whole idea, seeing it as one more Roosevelt stratagem for bypassing State. Stanley Hornbeck, chief of the Far Eastern division and Hull's primary adviser on Asian matters, also abhorred such an appointment. Neither objected to Lattimore as a person, however, and Hull yielded to his superior with a restrained note on May 21. He said that since the Chinese government had had various American advisers in the past and since Lattimore was "well and pleasantly known by a number of my associates," there was no objection to the appointment. However, it should be clear that Lattimore would serve as a private American citizen, not as a government official.[12]

Then the wheels began to turn. Currie cabled Chiang on May 29 that the president "suggests for consideration Owen Lattimore . . . as a person admirably equipped for the post." Chiang wired approval June 1, stating that T. V. Soong, his liaison for Lend-Lease matters, would make arrangements. Soong and Lattimore met on June 3, when they agreed on a six-month tour of duty with a salary of $10,000 plus expenses. Soong confirmed this offer in a letter June 11, Lattimore formally accepted June 18, and the news began to spread on the Washington cocktail circuit.[13]

Neither party was sure who should make the announcement. Currie wrote Roosevelt on June 20, suggesting that Soong issue a statement emphasizing that Lattimore was going to China "on the nomination of President Roosevelt."[14] Roosevelt wrote "O.K." on Currie's proposed announcement.

But nothing was released for eight days. Hitler scuttled his pact with


Stalin and ordered the German army into the Soviet Union on June 22. This world-shaking event absorbed the Washington community for at least a week. Every factor in the world power equation had now changed. China was confronted with a complete cessation of Soviet aid and a complete dependence on the United States. Lattimore's mission was thought to be crucial.

On June 28, 1941, the Lattimore announcement was released in Washington and Chungking. Most American dailies carried the story the next day; the New York Times headline read, "Lattimore Named Adviser to Chiang. Appointment of Widely Known Writer on China Evokes Praise in Chungking. Held Token of Esteem. Author's Immediate Task Will Be to Facilitate Aid from United States." Chinese Ambassador Hu Shih complained later to the FBI that the whole thing had been clone clandestinely and that he had learned of the appointment from one of his subordinates, who met Currie at a party.[15]

Lattimore now had to resign as editor of Pacific Affairs , but E. C. Carter continued to take an interest in his doings and arranged several conferences for Lattimore with persons knowledgeable about China. One of them was Soviet Ambassador Constantine Oumansky, from whom Lattimore was anxious to learn about Russia's probable future course in Asia. A luncheon with Oumansky proved enlightening. The Soviet Union, said Oumansky, would continue to support Chiang Kai-shek just as it had in the past; all Soviet arms went to his Nationalist government. The Russians did not want any split in the shaky Chinese United Front; Japan had to be kept tied down. Lattimore remembered one cynical remark about the Generalissimo: "I suppose you know what kind of a son of a bitch you'll be working for?"

Lattimore was to leave from San Francisco July 8. Sadly, this time he had to leave Eleanor behind. His only public appearance in the U.S. before his departure was at a dinner meeting of the San Francisco IPR on July 7. His speech, according to the San Francisco Chronicle , "rang with faith and confidence in the China he is to serve." On his new superior, he went overboard: "Among the handful of great world leaders, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek is conspicuous for the fact that he is not only a great leader, but a leader who has steadily grown in strength and stature in the last four years, a growth commensurate with that of the country itself."[16]

Lattimore arrived in Chungking July 19 to take up residence in a house belonging to T. V. Soong, which had earlier housed Lauchlin Currie. It was a far cry from Mongol yurts in the Gobi. Chungking was not the


world's most livable city, but Lattimore's house had one big attraction: there was room for the Dilowa, his old friend from North China, to stay with him. The Dilowa was still working for the Nationalists; Lattimore said Chiang kept him as a hostage to ensure the good behavior of the Inner Mongolians.

Lattimore's reception in the Chinese capital was by all accounts warm and approving. Unlike previous emissaries he kept a low profile, which, according to McHugh, contrasted sharply with that of the flamboyant and dogmatic Manuel Fox, a Treasury representative in China. Lattimore, said McHugh, benefited from his "quiet and open-minded approach to his task."[17] Despite the general approval, there were detractors of the Lattimore appointment. One of them, a Chinese professor then in Kunming, wrote to various American friends that Lattimore was a tool of the leftish Amerasia group and of such unreliable intelligentsia as Lauchlin Currie.[18] However, this was a minority opinion.

Chiang began conferring with Lattimore immediately. They could talk without an interpreter, despite the Generalissimo's provincial accent. Chiang's first question was "What does Roosevelt think about the war in Russia?" Lattimore answered, "President Roosevelt thinks the Russians are going to come out on top," to which Chiang replied, "Good. All my generals are telling me that the Russians are all washed up, but I agree with President Roosevelt. The Russians are going to win."

Then Lattimore raised the question of his contacts. Whom should he see? "Call on all the embassies," Chiang said, "but call on the American embassy last or nearly last." Lattimore then asked whether he should take the initiative in calling on the Soviet embassy, to which Chiang replied, "Yes, of course. You must be in touch with them." Then came the sticky question of the Chinese Communists, who maintained a liaison office in Chungking. Should he call on them? "No, don't call on them. Let them call on you."

On July 21 "administration officials" in Washington told the United Press that one of Lattimore's major missions was to make a firmer peace between Chiang and the Communists so that American aid would not be used in a civil war. The New York Times carried this story the next clay. Sumner Welles, acting secretary of state, immediately denied it.[19] Welles was right. Lattimore had no such charge. He was there to advise Chiang, not to promote American policy.

One early report on Lattimore's mission came from McHugh in a letter to Currie dated July 22. Lattimore had made an excellent impression during a layover in Hong Kong and had handled "the flood of callers and


appeals which descended on him" very well. He was doing equally well in Chungking. Chiang had already spent half an hour alone with Lattimore. McHugh felt that Lattimore "has an opportunity to get in behind the scenes as no one before him whom I have known. He said he intended to see all who call, seek information wherever he can get it, but do as little talking as possible."[20]

Lattimore was true to his word. Richard Watts, in a perceptive story from Chungking appearing in the Baltimore Sun of August 24, 1941, noted the high level of speculation about Lattimore's mission, speculation fueled by Lattimore's reticence: "Since his arrival Mr. Lattimore has been exceedingly dose-mouthed, even to his newspaper friends of long standing, and has been interested in hearing views, rather than expressing any of his own." [21]

Lattimore's major utility for the Chiangs was his skill at drafting and revising Chiang's many appeals to Roosevelt. These appeals went to Currie, who had the president's ear; it soon appeared that the Lattimore-Currie channel to the White House was as useful as if Lattimore had himself been a presidential confidant. The cable-drafting session of July 31, a transcript of which showed up in Lattimore's FBI file, shows how the channel worked.

Generalissimo saw Mr. Owen Lattimore between 5:50 and 6:50 p.m. on July 31st, 1941. The following took place.

Generalissimo : I am deeply interested in the questions concerning Sinkiang, Manchuria and Mongolia and would like to discuss them with you again in the future. Meanwhile, I have something else to take up with you.
China has been engaged in four full years of war of resistance to Japanese aggression only to find that her position still remains one of isolation. Despite the fact that America has been generous in her expression of sympathy and friendship for her and has given her material assistance as have Britain and Soviet Russia, China enters the fifth year of war without an ally. What guarantee would there be when the war comes to an end that the other democracies would not keep holding her off at arms length and would not treat her on the basis of equality? This is something which has been troubling the minds of the Chinese people.
Simultaneously the Japanese and their puppets have been exploiting this anomalous situation by conducting an intensive propaganda to the effect that white


men are still treating China as a colony and would not hesitate to sacrifice her interests for the purpose of insuring their continual domination in the Far East. For their own prestige, the Japanese strongly emphasize that they are treated as equal members of the Axis Alliance, which had recognized their puppet regime. They warn that China despite her four years of war and still having not received similar treatment from the democracies, should look out. Such propaganda has caused much vexation to the Chinese masses although they have not yet given expression to their painful feelings. If not stopped, this would weaken the force of Chinese resistance. President Roosevelt is in a position to remedy the situation. I have two proposals in mind for his consideration.
One proposal is that the President suggest to Great Britain and Soviet Russia that they form an alliance with China. The other proposal is China's participation in the joint Pacific Defense Conference of America, Britain, Australia, and the Dutch East Indies, which has been going on for some time. . . . In the circumstances, if President Roosevelt doesn't take the initiative, neither of these proposals would materialize. . . . I would not have mentioned this matter to any other foreign friend.

Mr. Lattimore : Does the American Ambassador know anything about it?

Generalissimo : No, he does not know it. I wish you to convey this to President Roosevelt direct either by wire or by airmail.

Mr. Lattimore : I will do so as you wish. . . .

Madame : It is better for Mr. Lattimore to wire to President Roosevelt because it will take nearly three weeks or one month to airmail a letter by dipper.

Generalissimo : (having agreed to Madame's proposal) Please make a draft and let me read it over.

Mr. Lattimore : (on parting) Am I right to say that should both proposals prove unacceptable the Generalissimo would be prepared to hear a third one?

Generalissimo : Do not refer to a third proposal, but merely confine yourself to one of the two proposals I have mentioned.[22]


Here we see Chiang's intent in asking for an American adviser. He did not just want more aid; he wanted equality for China. Could even Franklin Roosevelt have delivered it?

Acting on these instructions, Lattimore drafted a cable to Currie. The first draft included Chiang's negative comments about British and Russian treatment of China, but on reflection Lattimore suggested that these comments be omitted.[23] Chiang agreed, and the cable was dispatched August 2. Currie forwarded it to Roosevelt and summarized it for Acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles, suggesting that the White House merely "acknowledge receipt and say that the President has the matter under advisement." [24] However, the proposals were not acceptable to the Americans. Roosevelt knew that Churchill thought China unworthy of Great Power status equal to Britain, Russia, and the United States and would never agree to such a British-Chinese-Soviet pact. Roosevelt also knew that China leaked like a sieve and that the Pacific allies would not allow Chinese representatives to participate in their defense plans. But Lattimore had done his best.

McHugh wrote Currie another long letter on August 3 after a luncheon meeting with Lattimore, Manuel Fox of Treasury, and Captain Joseph Alsop, aide to General Chennault. McHugh was now even more impressed with Lattimore's discretion and diplomacy. Lattimore, for his part, was impressed with the Generalissimo, whom he believed to be sincere. Mayling (Madame Chiang) had warmed up to Lattimore, and Lattimore "had been present with some of Chiang's inner circle when really confidential matters were being discussed." The way in which Lattimore dealt with the rumor that he had been commissioned to mediate between the government and the Communists also impressed McHugh. Lattimore "emphasized that there is an essential difference between the way Japan looks upon China and the way the United States views China. Japan takes the point of view that she is entitled to dictate and regulate the internal affairs of China. The U.S. on the contrary emphasize that they wish to aid China, but do not consider China's internal politics to be their business. Naturally, however, it is easier to aid a united country than one which is split and we would therefore like to see the differences between the Communists and the Government adjusted." [25]

Despite Lattimore's belief that he was not under surveillance, Chiang's secret police head, Tai Li, described by American observers as a combination of Heinrich Himmler and L. P. Beria, kept a watch on him. In the 1950s Tai Li's files were searched for evidence that Lattimore had been secretly conspiring with the Chinese Communists and sending messages


to Moscow. No such evidence was found.[26] Lattimore had, on Chiang's orders, talked to Chou En-lai and had sent secret messages to Currie via Madame Chiang, who held the code. But Lattimore was extremely security conscious. Not until Chiang died did Lattimore even begin to write about what had passed between them or about the reports he had made to Chiang.

On August 12, 1941, Lattimore was guest of honor at a dinner party given by the Chinese People's Foreign Relations Association. In a brief ceremonial speech he sounded all the pro-China and pro-Chiang themes he had consistently held for several years. His address, "America and the Future of China," was printed in the September issue of Amerasia . It was also widely distributed by the Chinese propaganda ministry; E. C. Carter, in New York, hailed this approbation as evidence that Lattimore had "made good with the Generalissimo." [27]

Lattimore's reception by the Chinese thoroughly irritated the new American ambassador, Clarence Gauss, who was the top-ranking American foreign service officer in Chungking. Gauss normally declined social invitations from the Generalissimo but yielded to his staff and agreed to attend a reception hosted by the Sino-American Association on the birthday of Confucius. To Gauss's dismay, Lattimore was also a guest of honor at this reception, and Gauss had to stand with Lattimore while H. H. K'ung, finance minister and a descendant of Confucius, made obeisance at the altar of his ancestor. McHugh duly reported this incident to Currie, along with an additional instance in which Lattimore was honored by being seated at the ambassadorial table at a large tea given by the Generalissimo. Both gestures had infuriated Gauss, "but neither was in any way the doing of Owen. He is being given the greatest respect by all hands in the Government and I think it speaks highly for the tact and ability he has displayed. If they violate the dictates of protocol by ranking him with Ambassadors, it is no fault of his. 1 have never seen it accorded to any other foreigner."[28]

Life in wartime Chungking was not all teas and banquets. August 1941 was a month of relatively good weather, and the Japanese took advantage of it to bomb the Chinese capital unmercifully. Lattimore spent many days in air-raid dugouts. These experiences underground were more informative than most of his above-ground interviews. As he recalled these sessions in 1977:

I used to go to a dugout of a high political figure. It was a deluxe dugout, very safe, and other high figures would come. I was the only foreigner present, the conversation was entirely in Chinese, and in the


dark people forgot there was a foreigner present, much less an American. They were sure, as Chiang was sure, that Japan was not going to go against Russia, but would turn against the European empires in Southeast Asia, and this would bring in America. They didn't precisely foresee Pearl Harbor, but they thought America would be in before the end. And they were already talking about the long-term future, with Japan defeated and the colonial countries weakened. The most powerful country on the scene is going to be the United States, and anything that's not nailed down tight the Americans are going to get away with. Now, how do we prepare to confront and deal with postwar American imperialism? And not once in any of these conversations did I hear any talk about long-range defence against Soviet imperialism.

When not conferring with Chinese officials, sitting in air-raid shelters, or attending banquets and teas, Lattimore worked on various projects Chiang set for him. Several of these projects dealt with China's unruly frontier provinces. Lattimore wrote an extensive paper recommending ways for Chiang to consolidate his hold on Manchuria after the war. He thought the Generalissimo should select young Manchurians who hated their Japanese occupiers, bring them to Nationalist centers, train them in administration, and promote them in the Kuomintang hierarchy. After the war they could represent the government as authentic Manchurians, not as carpetbaggers from South China.[29] The proposal was rejected, though, as the pressure in the Kuomintang to give jobs to henchmen and relatives of existing party officials was too great. At the end of the war Chiang was represented in Manchuria by southern troops who lacked familiarity with the territory they were occupying and wanted nothing more than to be demobilized and go home. As Lattimore explained, the way was thus left open for the Communists to say to the Manchurian Chinese, "Why should Chinese be ruled by outsiders? We Communists are Manchurian born and bred. How about an alliance?"

When Chiang later analyzed the failures of Nationalist armies in the civil war, he gave no hint of understanding Lattimore's earlier advice. Corruption and military incompetence were his themes: "It cannot be denied that the spirit of most commanders is broken and their morality is base," he declared in June 1947.[30] This was no doubt true; it was also true that Nationalist efforts were hampered by the lack of indigenous leadership in the occupying armies.

Lattimore was very conscious that the recommendations he forwarded to Currie for bolstering Chinese morale (such as Chiang's request for a Sino-British-Russian alliance or Chinese participation in Far East military


councils) were not acted on. As a geopolitician he understood that Roosevelt had good reasons for neglecting them, but he kept trying. On August 25 he cabled Currie suggesting that "it would have excellent effect" if Currie were to attend Allied discussions about to take place in Moscow, traveling via Chungking "in order to coordinate aid to China and Soviet."[31] Roosevelt discussed this suggestion with Currie, but again the answer was evasion.

Currie and Lattimore both wanted China to have a larger share of Lend-Lease armaments. They won a battle in September: diversion of a group of bombers from Britain to China. Currie's description to Lattimore of how he "put the fear of the Lord" into British Lend-Lease officials reveals an infighter of great skill. The British, he told Lattimore, "regard me as Public Enemy Number One. However, I do have some friends among them and I intend to do my best to get them to adopt a better attitude toward China."[32]

Both Lattimore and Currie fought the Europe-first versus Asia-first battle with all the resources at their command. Of course, they lost most of the time. Lattimore, in Chungking, had to keep the Chinese "on board" despite Washington decisions. In a note to Madame Chiang on October 13, 1941, he acknowledged, "The majority view in Washington is that Hitler must first be defeated via the Atlantic and Europe, and after that it will be relatively easy to deal with the Far East. Neither Currie nor I agree with this view; but so long as it is the predominant view in Washington circles, it must affect the policy which the President is aisle to follow." [33]

During the last two weeks of October 1941 Chiang and Mayling were to tour battlefronts and hence be away from Chungking. During this period Chiang dispatched Lattimore to Yunnan to learn the situation there and to evaluate the management of the Burma Road. Yunnan's capital, Kunming, was the Chinese terminus for truck traffic still reaching China from the south. The Japanese seemed about to attack Yunnan. The governor of Yunnan, Lung Yun, was not Han Chinese but from a local mountain tribe and was not firmly under Chiang's control.

Lattimore was in Kunming October 14 through 30; he interviewed extensively, keeping detailed notes of what he learned. Much of it was technical, but one ninety-minute interview with Lung Yun impressed Lattimore immensely. It was toward the end of Lattimore's stay, and while earlier interviews had been perfunctory, with Lung Yun evading Lattimore's questions, on October 30 Lung opened up. This interview was private; Lattimore recorded, "He evidently decided that I was all right." Lung, worried about the possibility of a Japanese invasion, asked Latti-


more to intercede with Chiang for more supplies to Yunnan. Lung also wanted Lattimore to pry out of Chiang some acknowledgment of the heroic work Yunnanese people had done building the Burma Road; the Nationalist government had never mentioned their great sacrifices, which included thousands who gave their lives in the construction. But the most interesting aspect of the conversation was Lung's questioning Lattimore about Russia. He "kept asking questions about the war there. I mentioned casually Stalin's not being a Russian, & his ears pricked up. What, then? I said he came from a 'small minority mountain tribe & that one reason for his early rise in the communist party was because Lenin had picked him to draft a nationalities policy.' Lung tickled to death." [34]

Lattimore cabled his impressions of the Yunnan danger to Currie immediately. He also held a rare news conference: the New York Times of November 4, 1941, reported his opinion that Lung Yun would cooperate in repelling a Japanese attack.[35]

Ironically, the November issue of Asia carried Paul Wohl's article about Haushofer's praise of Lattimore as America's "geopolitical masterhand" and the source of the "ice-cold strategy of the Anglo-Americans."[36] Whatever label might have been appropriately applied to the Roosevelt administration's improvisations, "ice-cold" was hardly the one, and Lattimore was not calling the shots.

Chiang, however, began to feel that the Lattimore-Currie channel was about as effective as he was likely to get, and he entrusted that channel with increasingly important messages. On November 11 Chiang sent a new request through Lattimore, one that a U.S. Treasury representative had refused to send. The request was for economic support and had the usual warning that "economic collapse would affect whole country simultaneously and might be sudden and overwhelming." Lattimore was sympathetic; when Chiang approached him, he cabled Currie immediately.[37] Action took a while, but Lattimore and Currie did expend considerable effort on this request.

Lattimore absorbed a vast amount of information during the fall of 1941. One of the topics on which he became well informed was the Communist problem. Among his informants was Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Yu-pin, with whom Lattimore talked on October 13. Yu-pin believed that the Communists were a big problem in China but not an insuperable one. Chiang should defer dealing with them until after the war because a victorious China would have no trouble with them, and they would then have no appeal to the Chinese masses. Therefore, the bishop opposed Chiang's talk of open attacks on the Communists: "If they are not at-


tacked, they themselves cannot resort to arms because the whole nation would turn against them."[38] With much of this analysis Lattimore agreed. Whoever started a civil war would indeed incur the wrath of the whole nation.

On November 11, Chang Han-fu, editor of the Communist newspaper in Chungking, called on Lattimore. In the course of a long and revealing session Lattimore brought up the demand of the Communists not only to organize a legal political party but to maintain their own army. How could they justify this demand? Chang replied, "This is a practical question of democracy. At present, when they have arms, they are frequently attacked & individuals arrested. What would happen to them if they had no army & still advocated the things they at present advocate, which are far short of communism? They would not fear to surrender their arms if the govt were actually practicing the modest degree of democracy which is all that they themselves are advocating. I did not pursue this question, as it only leads to the old 'you first' argument."[39]

As anticipated by Chiang, Chou En-lai and Lattimore met about a dozen times in 1941. Some of these were casual conversations at parties, but some were intense discussions in private. Lattimore found Chou to be every bit as discreet and diplomatic as his reputation painted him, yet blunt on matters that did not require secrecy. Surprisingly, only one report of a meeting with Chou, that of November 24, 1941, remains in Lattimore's files. Most of what they discussed concerned the details of Nationalist-Communist relations, but toward the end Chou came to grips with China's future.

He said the great need in China is for a little visible progress in democratization. Said the Gimo naturally thinks in military terms of discipline & authority. Does not bend easily to the give & take, "bargaining" aspect of the democratic process. At the same time, he wants democracy, wants to start China toward democracy. Trouble is, it is easy to be in favor of a future democracy, because the phrases and concepts are simple & admirable. . . . Asked him what I should say to Gimo as representing Chou's idea of a program. He said, politically: a few steps in democratization. Not too much, not too fast. The Communists do not expect democracy in a week, but they feel there must be enough actual progress forward so that the mass of the people have the sense of moving forward. Militarily: use the Lease-Lend program to bring in not only arms but arsenal material. Get fuller arsenal production, at same time build up a mechanized force for an effective, heavy counteroffensive against Japs. Communists are quite content to have all this done by Government, as they have been quite content to


have all Soviet supplies sent solely to Govt. The Govt will then obviously have nothing to fear from them.[40]

By November 1941 Lattimore's utility to the Generalissimo and May-ling had been clearly established. Mayling took him on long walks and consulted him on many matters, including a worldwide radio broadcast she was to make. She asked Lattimore to draft an appropriate text pleading China's case to other nations. He did so, and she thanked him for a "useful" script that "contain[ed] many excellent ideas."[41]

Lattimore had signed on for only six months; in November Chiang asked him to accept a year's extension of his contract. Lattimore agreed, provided he could take home leave for three months to get treatment for dysentery. Chiang thought this leave appropriate, especially since Lattimore could talk up China's cause while in the United States more effectively than anyone else could. As originally planned, Lattimore was to fly to Baltimore in mid-January 1942, then return to China in mid-April with his wife and son. Lattimore cabled this plan to Currie November 14.[42]

Departing from his usual practice of responding to requests from his chief but not volunteering advice, Lattimore on November 13 suggested to Madame Chiang that the cable being prepared for Currie include this statement: "YUNNAN SITUATION AM CONVINCED IF UNITED STATES ATTITUDE UNEQUIVOCAL JAPAN WILL NOT INVADE Stop IF ATTITUDE HESITANT INVASION MAY BE PRECIPITATED Stop IF BARGAINING ATTEMPTED AND CONCESSIONS LIKE OIL OFFERED THREAT WILL BE RENEWED WHEN AND WHERE MOST FAVORABLE TO JAPAN ." [43] The Chiangs agreed to this addition.

Chiang now spent a great deal of time with Lattimore, discussing his plans and fears extensively so Lattimore would be prepared to put the best face on China's needs in Washington. Lattimore's notes on dinner at the Chiangs' on November 14 reveal clearly how these two saw the war. Both agreed that unless Hitler achieved a major breakthrough in the Middle East and stabilized the Russian front, Japan could not count on any help from her Axis partners. To Chiang, the lack of German support meant it was time for the United States to declare war on Japan and "break" her; it would then be easy "to move to the counteroffensive against Germany." Lattimore then sounded a note of caution:

Told him that I entirely agreed with him as to the feasibility & advisability of finishing off Japan now, but warned him that neither London nor Washington yet ready to admit this. The European orientation still prevails. . . .

He said: If they stick to that, they'll eventually lose the war. I said,


They're still sticking to it, very tenaciously . . . you forget India. It is because of India that the British will never allow the war to be ended in Asia first. And very influential people in Washington will back the British in this very tenaciously.

He said: But there is no trouble in India now. The question is not pressing. (I think he was testing me.)

I said: That's not it. The victory of China . . . would be the liberation of China from semi-colonialism, & that would start a great tide of liberation in the colonial world (chieh-fang ti ta ch'ao liu). He threw back his head & laughed. Madame backed me strongly. . . .

Told me he is preparing a speech which will analyze & urge the defeat of Japan first and promptly. Will send me an advance copy for suggestions.[44]

The Lattimore-Chiang-Mayling seminar on the state of the world convened again on November 16, 17, 24, 26, 27, 29, and on into December. Lattimore's notes and Madame Chiang's correspondence show continuing mutual respect and complete candor. On November 16, Chiang, looking ahead to the postwar period, asked Lattimore to come back to China about every six months.[45] Lattimore was agreeable. He had come m like Chiang. For all Chiang's faults, Lattimore believed him to have China's best interests at heart, and he was not a dictator. The uneasy coalition over which he presided made that impossible. Lattimore stated repeatedly that Chiang could not have been authoritarian in the usual sense since he did not have the power m issue orders as he thought best. Chiang, said Lattimore, always had to ask when making a decision, "What orders will my generals accept from me?"

On November 21 Lattimore's timetable for home leave changed. The Generalissimo wanted him to take leave immediately, returning correspondingly earlier. Accordingly, Lattimore cabled Currie, "In order return before spring developments, Generalissimo suggested I make trip now, returning end January. Please change reservation to clipper nearest December 10, Hongkong. Ask wife get ready."[46]

Shortly after Lattimore's travel plans were made, Madame Chiang wrote one of her many intimate and friendly letters to Currie. One paragraph of her letter of November 29, 1941, was noteworthy: "Mr. Lattimore will tell you everything that has been going on. He works very closely with us, and I am so glad that it was he whom the President chose. He is a man with whom one can feel perfectly relaxed, and in these days of strain and stress that is the only type of person whom we personally can bear to


have near us. His enthusiasm in his work and happy spirit is also a good tonic." [47]

Unfortunately, Lattimore was not able to tell Currie everything that was going on, at least not yet. There was no December 10 dipper from Hong Kong.

Japanese-American relations had been tense for years. American opposition to Japanese expansionism had grown steadily, and in July 1941, as a result of the Japanese takeover of southern Vietnam, the United States, acting with Great Britain, imposed an embargo on trade with Japan, shutting off much of their supply of oil. The oil embargo was particularly damaging to the Japanese navy and convinced the Japanese military that war with the United States and its allies was inevitable. Oil supplies could be had from the Dutch Indies, but attacking them would provoke war with the United States.[48]

In Washington, Secretary of War Stimson, hostile toward Japan, argued for maintaining the embargo; he was joined by pro-China officials in the State Department. American military leaders, especially Chief of Staff George Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark, knew the United States was not prepared for war; they wanted to postpone any further move against Japan until early 1942.

During October and November 1941 the Japanese pressed Washington for a relaxation of the embargo. They talked peace and equal opportunity in Asia, but they were willing to yield none of their territorial gains to secure this relaxation. On November 16 Japanese Ambassador Nomura presented Secretary of State Hull with a proposal that glossed over long-term problems but sought to restore oil supplies for Japan. This proposal was firmly rejected by the Roosevelt administration. Since American cryptologists had broken the Japanese codes and knew that Japan had scheduled further military moves, Americans had no faith in Japanese proposals to decrease the number of troops they had stationed in Vietnam or to make peace with China. Hull thought the Japanese demanded "virtually a surrender."

Marshall and Stark still insisted that more time was needed, that conflict with Japan had to be postponed. Accordingly, Hull began work on a modus vivendi proposal, with suggestions from Roosevelt, the military, Treasury, and his own diplomats. By November 22 tentative drafts of this proposal were shown to representatives of Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, and China. This proposal was to remain in effect for three months, during which time the two parties would continue seeking "a peaceful


settlement covering the entire Pacific area" on the basis of a longer attached document calling for fundamental changes in Japanese activities. The modus vivendi itself only required Japan to cancel further military advances and to withdraw its troops from southern Vietnam; the problem of Japanese troops in China was not addressed. In return the United States would release Japanese accounts and allow limited exports to Japan of food, drugs, and other supplies, including a monthly allotment of oil for civilian use only.[49]

When Chinese Ambassador Hu Shih heard the proposal, he was apoplectic. This offer was appeasement; it left Japan free to continue her operations in China and to continue threatening the Burma Road to China from bases in Vietnam. It would supply Japan with oil. Hu Shih informed his government that the American proposal would be disastrous for Chinese interests.

On November 25 Chiang Kai-shek's full wrath descended on Washington. Chiang used every channel available to express his outrage at the modus vivendi proposal. Hu Shih bore a vigorous cablegram of protest, and T. V. Soong carried an even stronger version to Secretary of the Navy Knox and Secretary of War Stimson. But probably the most powerful message came through the Lattimore-Currie channel:

After discussing with the Generalissimo the Chinese Ambassador's conference with the Secretary of State, I feel you should urgently advise the President of the Generalissimo's very strong reaction. I have never seen him really agitated before. Loosening of economic pressure or unfreezing would dangerously increase Japan's military advantage in China. . . . Any Modus Vivendi now arrived at with Japan would be disastrous to Chinese belief in America. . . . Japan and Chinese defeatists would instantly exploit the resulting disillusionment and urge oriental solidarity against occidental treachery. It is doubtful whether either past assistance or increasing aid could compensate for the feeling of being deserted at this hour. The Generalissimo has deep confidence in the President's fidelity to his consistent policy but I must warn you that even the Generalissimo questions his ability to hold the situation together if the Chinese national trust in America is undermined by reports of Japan's escaping military defeat by diplomatic victory.[50]

Hull reeled before this avalanche, but there was more to come. At 12:55 A.M. November 26, a cable arrived from Churchill. Normally skeptical of Chinese motives and capabilities, Churchill now told Roosevelt that he knew negotiations with the Japanese were for the United States to handle, but in regard to the modus vivendi proposal he protested, "There


is only one point that disquiets us. What about Chiang Kai-shek? Is he not having a very thin diet? Our anxiety is about China. If they collapse, our joint dangers would enormously increase. We are sure that the regard of the United States for the Chinese cause will govern your action. We feel that the Japanese are most unsure of themselves." [51]

On November 26, as Hull deliberated, he knew there was a slim chance the Japanese would accept the proposal. Intercepted Japanese messages to Nomura revealed that if no Japanese agreement were signed by November 29, "things are automatically going to happen." Hull thought it unlikely that such a rigorous Japanese timetable would be cast aside for the meager provisions of the modus vivendi. Consequently, Hull decided to throw the whole thing out. On November 26 he wrote the president, "I desire very earnestly to recommend that at this time I call in the Japanese Ambassadors and hand them a copy of the comprehensive basic proposal for a general peaceful settlement, and at the same time withhold the modus vivendi proposal." [52]

Roosevelt promptly agreed. The outcome was the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Was Lattimore's cable instrumental in Hull's decision? Hull does not say so in his memoirs. Charles Callin Tansill and Percy Greaves emphasize the impact of the Lattimore cable, and perhaps they are right.[53] But the weight of a protest from Winston Churchill must have been greater than an alarm from Chiang's personal adviser.

Would the modus vivendi proposal have caused the Japanese to call off the Pearl Harbor attack? In Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath John Toland cites a postwar conversation in which Tojo allegedly told General Kenryo Sato that "if he [Tojo] had received the original Roosevelt modus vivendi , the course of history would probably have changed." [54]

Toland does not press the point. A more crusading historian in 1950 was quite willing to press several points, blaming Lattimore and Currie for the outbreak of war:

United States Senate
June 28, 1950

Senator Bourke Hickenlooper
Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.

Dear Bourke:

During the present anti-Communist fight, from time to time matters are brought to my attention which I feel should be brought to the attention of the Senate and the country. . . .


I presently have in my files considerable information dealing with the activities of Owen Lattimore prior to Pearl Harbor. As you know, a tentative modus vivendi had been worked out between the United States and Japan prior to Pearl Harbor. At that time, Laughlin Currie was the President's advisor. Laughlin Currie has been named by Elizabeth Bentley as part of her spy ring. The Pearl Harbor Hearings indicate that Currie got in touch with Owen Lattimore, who was in China at that time, and who thereupon cooperated with Currie in bringing all possible pressure to bear upon the Administration to suppress any peace agreement with Japan. Lattimore's wire is reproduced in the Pearl Harbor Hearings in full.

In 1948 when Currie was accused by Bentley as being a Communist spy, he was represented by Dean Acheson when he appeared before the committee. This was while Acheson was temporarily out of the State Department. Complete documentation is available for any one of the Senators who care to handle this subject.
With kindest regards, I am

Sincerely yours,

Joe McCarthy

P.S. This letter is being sent to five Republican Senators.[55]


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