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Chapter Four "China Will Win"
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Chapter Four
"China Will Win"

Lattimore returned to Johns Hopkins from Virginia Beach to find a welcome invitation. A letter from the prestigious Virginia Quarterly Review asked him to submit his thoughts on American responsibilities in the Far East for publication in spring 1940. It was an opportunity to speak his mind free of the multinational constraints imposed on Pacific Affairs . He eagerly set about composing his personal credo for American policy in Asia, which appeared as the lead article in the spring issue of the quarterly.[1] There were few surprises in the article. As expected, his number one antipathy was to Japanese aggression in Asia. "Japan has gone on an utterly unjustified rampage. . . . The average American has an uneasy conscience about the amount of help that America has been giving Japan by supplying the raw materials of war. He would like to see that stopped."[2] America's premier task should be to cut off supplies to Japan.

As to China, Lattimore held that Chiang Kai-shek was now determined to reclaim Chinese sovereignty, free of domination by any outside power. The United States should absolutely endorse this objective, since only U.S. support "would give the Chinese regular army and the Kuomintang the degree of help they need to maintain their ascendancy under Chiang Kai-shek. It would guarantee that the Chinese Communists remain in a secondary position, because it would strengthen those Chinese who are opposed to Communism—the very Chinese whom we are now helping Japan destroy." Lattimore admitted that the "detonative ideas" of Soviet Marxism were present in China but argued that they could be contained if we cut off support to Japan and aided Chiang.[3]

One unexpected thrust of Lattimore's advice was his insistence on preventing Soviet domination of China. As editor of Pacific Affairs he could


not display opposition to Soviet aims in Asia. Here, in a different forum, he directed his argument to precisely this point:

Above all, while we want to get Japan out of China, we do not want to let Russia in. Nor do we want to "drive Japan into the arms of Russia." . . . We are disturbed by the thought that Russia might get control of China. We are alarmed by the possibility that Russia and Japan might agree on a partition of China. . . . the savagery of the Japanese assault is doing more to spread Communism than the teaching of the Chinese Communists themselves or the influences of Russia. It supplies the pressure under which the detonative ideas can work. At the same time it destroys Chinese wealth of every kind—capital, trade, revenue from agricultural rent—thus weakening that side of Chinese society which is most antagonistic to Communism. The smug pseudo-neutrality of the great powers, among which America is the most important, has no weakening effect whatever on the Chinese Communists, but has a very destructive effect on the progressive middle classes who would naturally draw on the ideas and resources of the democracies if they were not shut out in this way.[4]

While the Virginia Quarterly article was in press, another quite different document emerged from the New York Office of the South Manchurian Railway Company (SMR), a sprawling conglomerate that Japan used for the exploitation of Manchuria. Dated February 15, 1940, the document, "The Institute of Pacific Relations: Trends and Personnel of the American and Pacific Councils," antedates by years other attacks on the IPR as pro-Communist. The author is not given, but from various syntactic infelicities one can assume that it was written by a Japanese employee of SMR. The document was never publicly released, but copies of it no doubt reached Japan's apologists in the U.S. The report uniformly interprets any anti-Japanese sentiment on the part of IPR personnel as pro-Communist. Thus, at the very time Lattimore was making vigorous policy recommendations for keeping the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists from dominating China, the Japanese railway people were beginning to attack him as pro-Communist. The SMR writer denied "the adverse press and radio reports from the Orient, such as those of the Japanese troops brutally raping, pillaging, and terrorizing the Chinese civilians—accounts at least exaggerated and often completely false." Nor had Japanese troops slapped or stripped British and American women.[5]

The IPR, according to the Japanese railway writer, was influenced by a number of "German Jewish refugees" on the research staff who were trying to tie Japan in with the "nazi structure." The article classified twenty-


five IPR staff members. Most of them were labeled anti-Japanese, hence pro-Russian, with E. C. Carter and Fred Field the worst and Lattimore coming in third.[6] At the end of the report the writer admitted that some IPR members were pro-Japanese and hence unobjectionable; they were identified as "Professors Treat, Fahs, Gowen and Schumpeter." "Schumpeter" was no doubt Elizabeth Boody, rather than her economist husband Joseph. When Elizabeth Schumpeter volunteered information about Lattimore to the FBI in 1945, she made the same analysis of his procommunism that the SMR report had made five years earlier.[7]

Lattimore, teaching and writing at Johns Hopkins, was blissfully unaware that the South Manchuria Railway was poised to assault him and the IPR. Nor was he aware that in the early months of 1940 he was inadvertently making of Freda Utley a bitter opponent. As noted above, when Lattimore met Utley in Moscow in 1936, she had been impressed by his willingness to stand up to Soviet experts on the Mongols, contrasting Lattimore's independence with Carter's sycophancy. Traveling to England later that year, Lattimore met Utley on a channel steamer, helping her and her infant son get ashore and through British customs. In early 1937, when Lattimore was in London and saw Utley several times, she was again grateful for his helpfulness. As she told the story, "They were very kind to me and my son. They sympathized with me for the loss of my husband. They deplored the mass arrests, imprisonments without trial, and other tyrannical features of Stalin's Russia."[8]

When Utley came to the United States in 1938, Lattimore arranged lectures for her in Baltimore, where she addressed the American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression. The friendly relations continued into 1940, when she settled permanently in the United States, staying for a while with the Lattimores in Baltimore. But the friendship began to sour in the same year, commencing with an incident during a dinner at a Washington restaurant. As Lattimore recalled in 1977:

She heard that through IPR I met the then-Soviet Ambassador in Washington. So she twisted my arm to telephone him and beg for an interview with him. So very reluctantly I did so. Oumansky was his name. I said, "Do you know Freda Utley?" and he said, "Yes, I do, and I don't want to have anything to do with her." "Well, she wants very much to be granted an interview with you." He said, "I will not have anything to do with that woman." He may even have said, "that bitch." From that moment she was convinced that I had sabotaged. her request, and if I had really wanted to I could have arranged it. And eventually, when she gave up all hope of getting her husband loose, she became


openly anti-Stalin, anti-Moscow, and anti-Soviet Union, and she became one of the active people feeding material to the China lobby.

Lattimore did not worry overly much about Utley's husband in 1940. Hitler was conquering Western Europe. The pace of events outran Pacific Affairs , even had Lattimore wanted to deal with the Asian consequences of the defeats of France and Holland. But he did deal with one controversy in an editorial comment about the Dutch colonies in the Pacific. How would the Netherlands deal with them at the end of the war? Lattimore supported freeing them entirely, a position offensive to Britain, France, and the Netherlands alike.[9]

Again he sought a channel for his ideas less constricted than Pacific Affairs , this time in Philip Jaffe's Amerasia . The thesis he argued in the August 1940 issue was simple: China would win against Japan and kick out the colonial powers from their Chinese concessions. This example would inspire the Indochinese to throw out the French, the Indonesians to throw out the Dutch, and the Indians and Malays to demand independence from the British.[10] There was nothing ideological about this prediction: it was simply the inevitable consequence of a Chinese victory.

Most Americans did not realize that these events would happen. As Lattimore pointed out, many of them wanted to forget what was happening in Asia and to leave Asia "to one side for the moment, until the situation in Europe has cleared up." To Lattimore, the Asian situation was reasonably clear no matter what happened in Europe, since Germany and Italy could not rescue Japan even if they were to defeat Britain. His blunt conclusion: "What America must decide is whether to back a Japan that is bound to lose, or a China that is bound to win."[11]

Lattimore had by now achieved scholarly stature sufficient to cause the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to seek his services. President Bowman of Johns Hopkins was again his sponsor. Lattimore was commissioned to prepare a memorandum for discussion by CRF's Territorial Group on the topic "Alternatives of United States Policy in the Western Pacific"; interested members of the CFR could read his memorandum and then discuss it at a meeting on October 5, 1940. Lattimore's five-page memorandum began by summarizing U.S. options in Asia:

There are four main alternatives for a policy of protecting and stabilizing American interests in the Western Pacific, with the minimum commitment of America to imperial or protective responsibilities.

1) Conciliation of Japan, and acceptance of a New Order in East Asia in which Japan will be dominant.


2) Stronger support of Britain and British interests . . . on the assumption that the British will eventually be able to return to the Far East with full power and prestige.

3) Cooperation with Russia, intended to create a new balance of power in the Far East. . . .

4) Acceptance of a New Order in East Asia, to be based on the assumption that China must be completely and genuinely independent of both Japan and America, with China dominant on the mainland and Japan dominant on the seas of the Western Pacific.[12]

One knows without further reading which alternative Lattimore prefers. The first alternative would be popularly known as appeasement; there was nothing wrong with this approach on moral grounds, but it just would not work. China would be demoralized, Japan would be certain to expand into Southeast Asia, and the policy "would not create a dependable barrier against Russia."

The second policy might have had some virtues if British victory in Europe could be assumed, but it was not certain. Even if Britain won and eventually reclaimed most of its Asian empire, the United States would still be saddled with burdensome commitments in the Pacific.

The third alternative, cooperation with Russia, was just not practical. It would have a very bad public reception in the United States, and Russia was so "morbidly suspicious of American motives" that we could never negotiate suitable areas of influence. Soviet ideology was not the barrier; rather, geopolitical realities intervened.

Dismantling the other three arguments brought up "clear American commitment to the establishment of a fully and genuinely independent China." The questions Lattimore raised about this policy were (1) would it risk war with Japan? and (2) would it be stable in the postwar world? On the first question, Lattimore seriously underestimated the power of Japan. He acknowledged that all-out commitment to China might trigger a declaration of war by Japan but predicted that we could withdraw our fleet to Hawaii and rapidly strangle Japan by a total economic blockade. Major advantages of this policy would be stiffening Chinese determination to fight Japan and improving Chinese morale. It was a theme he would hammer at until Pearl Harbor settled the matter.

But would Chinese hegemony in Asia be stable? He thought it would be stable if China won without having to call in Soviet troops to help. China would have to keep "warily out of political commitments to Russia, while at the same time making business deals, on business terms, with


the nations which have the most free capital to export—notably America."

Presumably the CFR elders approved Lattimore's geopolitics: they asked him to lead similar discussions twelve more times in the 1940-48 period. In his 1984 history of the CFR, Robert D. Schulzinger concluded that "Lattimore's memoranda for the Territorial Group were remarkable principally for their anti-Soviet outlook. . . . Lattimore loved China, despised Russia, but only mildly disapproved of Japan."[13] Schulzinger is correct about Lattimore's attitude toward China, but Lattimore was less hostile toward Russia and more hostile toward Japan than Schulzinger's reading of the CFR minutes contends.

In the December 1940 Pacific Affairs Lattimore reviewed Motylev's Pacific Nexus of the Second Imperialist War . The number of copies of this book printed by the Soviets (twenty thousand) and Motylev's scathing analysis of British and American "imperialist" motives indicated to Lattimore that the book was designed for internal Soviet consumption rather than as propaganda abroad. Nonetheless, Lattimore found the book significant because of its clear hostility to Japan: "It does not in the slightest degree prepare the public for a Soviet 'deal' at the expense of China."[14]

The New York Times noted Lattimore's review in an editorial of December 11, 1940. Motylev's book, said the Times writer, was welcome: "At a time when it is increasingly clear that the war in Europe and the war in Asia are at bottom a single war, China's capacity for continued resistance to Japanese ambitions is becoming more and more important." Pro-Chinese opinion from Russia was as happy an omen to the Times as it was to Lattimore.

The "China will win" theme had constant exposure in Lattimore's increasingly frequent speeches: at a Public Affairs Forum in Baltimore, January 21, 1941; at a meeting of American Military Engineers on the Johns Hopkins campus later that month; at a large gathering of the Washington Committee for Aid to China on February 11. The Washington speech, however, contained an infelicitous remark. Lattimore said that the U.S., "although pledged to become the arsenal of democracy, has in fact been the arsenal of aggression."[15] To the extent that the U.S. had shipped oil and scrap iron to Japan, he was quite right. Conservatives would later claim that the phrase proved Lattimore subversive.

In April 1941 Lattimore reached his widest audience with a three-pronged geopolitical analysis. For the foreign policy elite of the CFR he discussed


the possibility that Japan would propose a nonaggression pact to the Soviet Union. Such a proposal, he thought, might be made, and he was persuaded that the Soviets might accept. If so, the U.S. had to respond with vastly increased aid to Chiang.[16]

His second audience was the readership of Foreign Affairs , in which he published an article analyzing the failure of Japan to bring sufficient force against China to deal a knockout blow. It was then, he thought, too late for Japan to mobilize the great resources required to defeat China. Nevertheless, we could take no chances: Chiang still needed all the support we could send him.[17] A New York Times editorialist endorsed Lattimore's article on March 20.

But Lattimore still had more to say, and in the April 1941 issue of Asia he looked into the future of Asia with a prescience sufficient to wipe out any debits accumulated elsewhere. He emphasized that the Chinese were bitter about U.S. ambivalence toward Japanese aggression and about our neglect of Asia to concentrate on Europe. Years later the Asia-first wing of the Republican party would excoriate Lattimore for many imagined transgressions, but in April 1941 he could hardly have put the Asia-first case better.

It is quite true that we shall not have an easy time with an Asia headed toward emancipation. We shall not have an easy time in any case. We shall have the worst time of all if we simply try to defer making up our minds about Asia until we set Europe straight. A time in which Europe desperately needs to set itself straight is not a time in which Asia will consent to be smothered. . . . Already there is evidence of demoralization in China—even to the point of talk about civil war. What we do not sufficiently understand is that this is largely because of the bitterness of Chinese disappointment in the democracies. The most potent friends of the Anglo-American kind of democracy have been the most deeply shocked by our rallying cry—"This way to the lifeboats. White men first!" Their voice is that of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, who has said that, if China goes down, it will not be for lack of Chinese courage, but because China has been strangled by a noose fashioned of "British appeasement, American profiteering, and French fear."

If we are to have chaos in China, then, it will be of our own making. . . . Apart from the fact that this chaos would spread all over Asia, civil war in China would mean, in the end, the triumph of the Chinese Communists. This would be a magnificent irony, seeing that unless they are forced into a civil war the Chinese Communists are bound to remain a minority. They themselves could not start a civil war with any hope of success, for that would turn a great part of the army against them, and


many of the peasants. If, on the other hand, a civil war should be forced on them, while they themselves continue to demand a united front and a clear victory over Japan, most patriots would rally to them, including many moderates who would in no other circumstances follow Communist leadership. . . . It would be a tragic folly, and the culminating folly of two decades, if American vacillation and failure to support the patriots in China—the hard-pressed guardians of the American stake in evolutionary democratic progress—should let loose defeatism, civil war and revolution.[18]

The Chinese civil war in 1946-48 was indeed such a tragic folly. It was won by exactly the forces Lattimore predicted would win, and for his reasons.

The CFR, having heard on April 3 Lattimore's warning of the possibility of a Soviet-Japanese pact, called him back to lead another discussion after such a pact was signed on April 13. His memorandum this time, dated May 6, 1941, was far more elaborate than his earlier document and was designed as background for understanding relations between Moscow, Tokyo, Chungking, and Yenan. Emphasizing the tenuous connections between Moscow and Yenan, Lattimore lay the groundwork for his later prediction that a Communist-led China would not be subservient to Moscow.

The Chinese Communists, although members of the Comintern, differ from all other Communist parties in their relations to the Comintern. . . . The territory they control, the population they administer, and the war in which they are engaged force on the Chinese Communists all kinds of decisions which they must make on their own responsibility. It can easily be understood that in minor decisions of detail it would be absurd to refer to distant Moscow; but even in major decisions of policy the Chinese Communists must often have to work first from the merits of the case, doing whatever they can later to square their decision with the "general line" of the Comintern. . . . It is therefore probably not an exaggeration to say that the Chinese Communists have perhaps more influence on the Comintern than the Comintern has on them . If this is true, it is so significant that its importance can hardly be overemphasized. (Lattimore's italics)[19]

Lattimore therefore concluded that since Moscow-Yenan ties were weak and since Stalin did not fully trust Mao, the Russians would continue to support Chiang as the only Chinese leader capable of holding his country together against the Japanese. His essential point: "To preserve satisfactory relations between the Russians and the non-Communist, right-wing


Government of Chiang Kai-shek, it is worth making very serious efforts to improve American relations with Russia." Lattimore's line was finally adopted—after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor.

German strategists began to note the advice coming from Lattimore. Paul Wohl translated the comment on Lattimore by Major General Professor Karl Haushofer, Germany's master strategist and Hitler's mentor, as carried in Haushofer's Zeitschrift für Geopolitik : "We consider Lattimore as the spiritual guide of America's trans-Pacific cultural policy and geopolitically as the most remarkable personality of highest political and scientific caliber opposing the old world."[20] Wohl's translation is not idiomatic, but Lattimore's talents were dearly appreciated in the Third Reich.

There is no evidence in any of Lattimore's writings prior to the summer of 1941 that he was a danger to American internal security. But there was a trap that ensnared him nonetheless: guilt by association. The first notice the FBI took of Lattimore was based on his association with a group that three years later was declared subversive. Serial 1 of the FBI headquarters file on Lattimore, dated May 16, 1941, at Baltimore, Maryland, tells the tale:


The following name is submitted for consideration for Custodial Detention in case of a national emergency.

Address—210 Chancery Road
Nationalistic Tendency—Communist
Citizenship Status—Unknown


OWEN LATTIMORE is Vice-Chairman of the Maryland Civil Liberties Committee according to correspondence which among other things criticized the FBI and the Dies Committee and on other literature obtained in the Enoch Pratt Library, Maryland Room, Verticle [sic ] File, under the title, "Maryland Civil Liberties Committee, Baltimore, Maryland."


The Baltimore Field Division is presently conducting active and vigorous investigation of the above named individual.[21]

Unlike most FBI documents, this one does not give the author or the addressee.


Baltimore FBI agents worked on the Lattimore investigation for ten days in June and July. We do not know whether they concluded that the Maryland Civil Liberties Committee was harmless or whether Lattimore was to be included on the Custodial Detention list because of his membership. On September 3, 1941, when the Baltimore agents reported to FBI headquarters, Lattimore was off the hook—not because the investigation found nothing against him, but because he was no longer in FBI jurisdiction. Serial 3 of that date disclosed where he had his office and quoted an unnamed informant as saying "that he would trust subject with his life and knows that everyone in Baltimore felt the same about the subject" and that he was "shocked at the idea that the subject was even remotely considered as a person involved in subversive activities." The report went on to state that Lattimore's credit rating was good; that all his previous addresses in Baltimore were checked; that he was listed in the city directory; that the Supervisor of Elections had no record relative to the subject (this was important to the FBI; a suspected subversive might have registered as a Communist or Socialist); and that neither the Baltimore City Police nor the Maryland State Police had records on Lattimore. However, there were newspaper stories, one of which announced that Lattimore had arrived in Chungking to become special adviser to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. This article ended the investigation:

Due to the fact that the subject is now located in China, it is believed no further investigation is necessary and it is requested that his name be dropped from the Custodial Detention List.


Closed? The Lattimore FBI file would grow to 38,900 pages.

However, one segment of Lattimore's life was closed in 1941. The June issue of Pacific Affairs was his last. He did not know of the sea change impending in his life when in April he wrote his editorial for the June issue, but it served well as a valedictory. "After Four Years" took twelve and a half pages and covered much the same ground as his CFR-Foreign Affairs-Asia trilogy. He included his standard castigation of the Western democracies for appeasing the Fascists and hanging on to their empires, but with some new phraseology. "In short, the problem of empire could be casuistically presented, up to September, 1939 as no more than a problem in opening up to imperial rule a few more areas in a world already committed to the principle of empire. This could be quite simply done by issuing licenses to be imperial to three more master-races. 'We shall grow,


but you will not be diminished,' said the fascist rulers to the democracies. With the outbreak of war between the established master-races and the claimant master-races all this was changed."[23]

The "master-races" terminology was incendiary. It was seized on by later detractors such as Irving Kristol, quoted contrary to context, and used to show that Lattimore, by opposing imperialism, was following the Communist party line and was against Britain's struggle with Germany.[24] Nowhere did Lattimore ever oppose the Allied war effort, during the Hitler-Stalin pact or after Hitler tossed it aside. All he was saying by this colorful "master-races" language was that the Allies had to give up their colonies and support self-determination in Asia.


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