Preferred Citation: Newman, Robert P. Owen Lattimore and the "Loss" of China. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

Chapter Seven Owi, San Francisco

Chapter Seven
Owi, San Francisco

In late December 1942 Lattimore arrived in San Francisco to direct the Pacific bureau of the Office of War Information. OWI's objective was to further the war effort by broadcasting news and commentary encouraging our allies and discouraging our enemies. In the Pacific, Japan was the only enemy.

By the time Lattimore arrived, the San Francisco office consisted of some five hundred writers, broadcasters, analysts, and support personnel. Overall policy was made in Washington, where the Department of State and Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) collaborated on comprehensive directives, one for Atlantic operations, another for the Pacific. Lattimore was responsible for applying these directives through the seven section chiefs: Japanese, Korean, Philippine, Chinese, Indonesian, Malay, and Southeast Asian. Lattimore held daily staff conferences, and according to Charlotte Riznik, his office manager, presided over them with "a light hand."[1]

Each of the sections had its own peculiar problems. The Japanese section was the most important: OWI wanted to break Japanese morale and stimulate disaffection from the Tojo regime. The "Joint Anglo-American Plan for Psychological Warfare for Japan," promulgated on March 16, 1943, by the JCS, devotes three pages to how these objectives were to be accomplished. Section (c) of the Japanese directive lists these goals: "(1) to create amongst the people of Japan a feeling of distrust of their present regime by calling attention to its usurpation of power and its departure from 'Imperial Way.' (2) to create fanatical opposition by individuals and by secret groups. Note to (1) and (2): This theme is as delicate as it is important and requires very careful handling by methods to be determined in advance. All attacks upon the Imperial family must be avoided."[2]


Finding personnel to handle such delicate themes was difficult. Obviously, the whole Japanese program needed educated, Japanese-speaking writers and broadcasters who were completely loyal to the United States. But in the wartime hysteria of 1942 all persons of Japanese ancestry living in California had been evacuated to detention centers. The commander of U.S. forces on the West Coast would not allow a single Japanese to reside in San Francisco, no matter what the needs of the OWI. Consequently, all the Japanese-language programs had to be prepared east of the Rockies and flown to San Francisco for broadcast.

When Lattimore took over, the head of the Japanese desk was Clay Osborne, a journalist described by American Mercury in 1939 as "born in Indian territory and raised in the Oregon backwoods. He now lives and writes in Gardena, California."[3] That is about all we know of Osborne's background; libraries are singularly lacking in any trace of his career. He probably achieved his most important status with the OWI job. Lattimore's FBI file has extensive material about Osborne, but it is heavily censored. The FBI files show that Osborne had been a Japanophile before the war and that he despised his new boss. It is impossible to tell from the available records what caused this hostility, but Osborne gradually became determined to dislodge Lattimore from the directorship of Pacific operations.

Accordingly, Osborne began to accumulate documents that he thought would show that Lattimore was violating directives from Washington, placing sycophants in OWI posts, slanting broadcasts to show the Soviet Union in a favorable light, and so forth. These documents included the secret policy directives from Washington, which Osborne thought Lattimore covertly rewrote; local directives authored by Lattimore; transcripts of dozens of OWI broadcasts; clippings of newspaper columns by isolationists and archconservative writers such as David Lawrence, George Rothwell Brown, and various Hearst columnists attacking OWI; complete programming schedules for two full days of OWI broadcasts; and extensive personal notes Osborne himself made explaining how Lattimore was deviating from the "master plan."[4]

In March or April 1943 Osborne went to the FBI office in San Francisco with his story of Lattimore's subversion. The agents were not sympathetic. Next he tried the Office of Naval Intelligence. Since the ONI people were regularly consulting with Lattimore and admired him, they were even less impressed with Osborne's charges. Bruised, Osborne began to believe that the whole U.S. government was honeycombed with Communist conspirators; obviously, he would need more and better evidence


to break through the conspiracy. He continued collecting what he felt to be incriminating documents in his office.

Osborne found his smoking gun on October 13, 1943. The Chinese government broadcast a speech by Sun Fo, president of the legislature in Chungking, in which Sun gave the standard Chinese line on postwar Japan: "Unless a republic replaces imperialism in Japan in the postwar period another world conflict is inevitable. Japanese imperialism, if not totally destroyed once and for all during the present war, would form a permanent menace to the safety of China and Korea. The Mikado must go."[5]

Since the directive on China called for rebroadcast of important statements by Chinese government officials, Lattimore ordered Sun Fo's statement to be put on the air in all languages except Japanese and Korean. He did not see this as a violation of the Japan directive forbidding attacks on the emperor, since the Sun Fo statement was a Chinese rather than American position and was not available to Japanese listeners. Osborne saw it otherwise; this was "an attack on the Imperial family," forbidden by OWI directives. Osborne was now positive that Lattimore was a Communist, working to subvert American interests in Asia.

Sometime in the fall of 1943 George E. Taylor, an Asian specialist in the Washington OWI office, visited San Francisco. Osborne knew Taylor, thought Taylor to be hostile toward Lattimore, and unburdened himself of his suspicions. A decade later, Taylor reported that Osborne had "so seriously taken [the Lattimore matter] to heart and was so emotionally overcome that he ended up crying on Taylor's shoulder." Osborne's emotional state grew steadily worse. In 1954, when Justice Department attorneys interviewed him in a mental hospital, they concluded that he could not be allowed before a jury.[6]

In November, shortly after the Taylor visit, Osborne decided he could not stand working under Lattimore any longer. He assembled his documents and engaged an army friend (whose name he never revealed) to provide a military vehicle to haul his documents from the OWI office to his apartment. This done, he resigned from the OWI without revealing his real reasons.[7] Lattimore had no knowledge of Osborne's theft or of its purpose.

In early 1944 Osborne's wife, thinking her husband weak for not taking further action and having no faith in the San Francisco FBI agents, took the documents to the Los Angeles FBI office. The agents there were equally unimpressed with Osborne's case against Lattimore and were instead upset with the theft. Instead of impaling Lattimore, Osborne's wife got Os-


borne in trouble. The Los Angeles FBI referred Osborne's theft to Washington, but in the last year of the war the Department of Justice had no time to take a former OWI employee to court. In a memo dated August 24, 1944, Assistant Attorney General Tom C. Clark advised that "prosecution was not warranted and that further investigation was not requested."[8]

Osborne's determination to bring Lattimore to justice was not lessened by his second rebuff at the hands of the FBI. He dung to his outrage and his documents until the inquisition burst on the scene six years later. Even then he was odd man out; others who had worked for Lattimore praised both his leadership and his fidelity to government directives.[9]

The Chinese operations of OWI were complicated because there were three Chinas: the National government in Chungking, the Japanese puppet state under Wang Ching-wei, and the Communist would-be government in Yenan. Broadcasts to China had to take them all into account. The Nationalists had to be encouraged and praised, the Japanese subjects had to be reassured that the Allies would not neglect their interests when the war was over, and the Communists had to be nudged to continue cooperation with Chungking not only to fight Japanese armies in 1943 but also because the JCS assumed the Allies would mount an invasion of the Japanese homeland from bases in Communist-controlled areas. Lattimore, whose admiration of Chiang Kai-shek remained strong, had no trouble maintaining good relations with Chinese Nationalist officials. His rapport with Yui Ming, head of the Chinese News Service in San Francisco, was excellent. Yui Ming was invited to attend OWI policy meetings and expressed pleasure that someone with Lattimore's understanding of China was in charge of OWI.[10] Hollington Tong, still Chinese minister of information, regarded Lattimore's tenure as head of the Pacific OWI operation as productive of cordial, mutual understanding, and in April 1944 he found Lattimore's successor far less satisfactory.[11]

Despite these cordial relations with the Chinese government, Lattimore was careful to avoid hiring Chinese who might be on the Kuomintang payroll. He wanted fully independent Chinese. After some hiring and firing, he thought he had them. Then in late spring 1943 he heard that Chew Sih Hong, one of the two Chinese language specialists working under his jurisdiction in the New York office, had been declared ineligible for employment because of suspicion of Communist leanings. Lattimore did not know the source of the information about Hong; a Civil Service Commission document released in 1980 reveals that the accuser was in the Washington office of the Chinese News Service.[12]

Hong was a brilliant linguist. The U.S. army had hired him in 1942 to


teach Chinese to 224 American officers who were preparing m work with Chinese troops; Hong got rave reviews. But he was also president of the China Daily News in New York, a paper not under Kuomintang control; Hong's accuser said it followed the Communist line.

Anticipating trouble with the Hong appointment, on June 15, 1943, Lattimore wrote his friend Joseph Barnes, head of the New York OWI office, explaining why Hong and another employee, Dr. K. C. Chi, should be kept on. The letter explained in great detail how Chinese living in the U.S. were subject to competing claims on their loyalty. The Japanese puppet, Wang Ching-wei, was a veteran of Chinese politics and knew how m exert pressure on the many Chinese whose families still lived in areas controlled by the Japanese. The Nationalists in Chungking operated a vigorous overseas bureau that kept tabs on every Chinese community in America: "Thus there is a very intense conflict going on every day in every Chinatown in America between the Wang Ching-wei agents and those of the Kuomintang."

But there were also unaffiliated Chinese, and Lattimore insisted that OWI employees should come from this group, assuring loyalty to OWI rather than to Wang or Chiang. There were some Chinese Communists in the United States, and OWI needed to avoid hiring them also. Lattimore knew that old Dr. Chi, who had been a wealthy landlord in Shansi Province, was not a Communist, and Dr. Chi vouched for Chew Sih Hong; this assurance was sufficient for Lattimore. "There will be no difficulty with either man, no irresponsible playing with Chinese politics, and no leakage to any faction." Two months after Lattimore wrote Barnes, the Civil Service Commission sent an investigator to San Francisco to interview Lattimore about Hong and Chi. After a two-hour conversation in which Lattimore provided greater detail about the politics of Chinese communities in the United States, the investigator reported that "he would go along with Lattimore and in favor of Mr. Hong's retention in the service."[13]

This recommendation did not satisfy the Civil Service Commission, which requested that Admiral Richard P. McCullough, head of OWI security, and Frank March and E. Newton Steely of the security staff interview Lattimore again to decide whether the outcome of the San Francisco interview was correct. Lattimore was scheduled to visit New York on August 31, 1943; the three OWI officials then went over the Hong and Chi cases with him. They emerged with a divided verdict: McCullough and Marsh supported Lattimore; Steely opposed him.[14] Hong continued in his post at OWI.

The demands for security investigations during the war were so great


that extensive backlogs developed; many investigations took place months after an official assumed his post. This was the case with Lattimore himself. The Federal Works Agency (FWA) was charged with checking out high-level civilian appointments but didn't get around to Lattimore until he had served five months in the OWI. Finally, in May 1943, an FWA representative interviewed him.

FWA did not possess the FBI report of May 1941 in which the Baltimore FBI office recommended that Lattimore be put on the Custodial Detention list because of his membership in the Maryland Civil Liberties Committee; nor did the agency possess the later report that canceled this recommendation. FWA did possess a Dies Committee (House Un-American Activities Committee) report showing that in 1940 Lattimore had been a member of the Maryland Association for Democratic Rights, which, according to Dies, was a Communist front. The investigator interviewed Lattimore and demanded an explanation.

Lattimore acknowledged the membership but protested that the very respectable Baltimoreans who had invited him to join were anything but Communists and had appealed to him on the grounds that the organization supported China and opposed the sale of war matérial to Japan. There was nothing Communist about the organization or about him. He then cited his support of aid to Britain and of Lend-Lease and his opposition to the Communist-inspired American Peace Mobilization during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact. When asked about his attitude toward the Chinese Communists, "He advised that he tolerated but did not approve of the Chinese Communists who supported China against Japanese aggression, explaining that his toleration was based solely on the purpose of unifying China against the enemy." [15]

The rest of the FWA file was sweetness and light. Five prominent individuals (names withheld by the FBI) who were interviewed about Lattimore reported favorably. Investigation of his employment with the IPR and Johns Hopkins University "developed no derogatory data." Finally the FWA went to the Chinese embassy to inquire about Lattimore's service with Chiang. There an official, again name withheld, reported "subject was well considered by the Chinese Government and had performed his duties in a satisfactory manner. ——— was reported to have commented that CHIANG would be happy to utilize subject's services again." [16] Lattimore was cleared.

Despite the demands of administering the Pacific bureau of OWI, Lattimore continued to write and publish. The April 1943 Foreign Affairs carried his article "Yunnan, Pivot of Southeast Asia," which argued that


China would not dominate Southeast Asia after the war unless she felt hemmed in by a restored European colonialism. In June, Lattimore submitted a memorandum, "Mongolia and the Peace Settlement," to the Council on Foreign Relations. The main thrust of this article was that Russia would not try to annex Inner Mongolia.[17]

The National Broadcasting Corporation also sought Lattimore's services as commentator on a radio series entitled "The Pacific Story." Mrs. Inez Richardson of Stanford University and Jennings Peirce of the NBC studio in Hollywood conceived and produced the series. Scripts were written by Arnold Marquis on the basis of research done by Eleanor Lattimore. The first "Pacific Story" broadcast aired from Los Angeles July 11, 1943; the Lattimores continued with the series for thirteen weeks. Lattimore had been reluctant to assume the task of preparing a weekly commentary in addition to his other activities, and since NBC felt that his radio voice "lacked warmth," the series was turned over to a succession of different commentators after the Lattimores' contract expired.[18]

This brief foray into broadcast journalism convinced Lattimore that the written word was still his best medium. In 1943 he published his seventh book, America and Asia , notable for heaping even more praise on Chiang than had his previous publications. The Generalissimo was "a world statesman, of real genius."[19] Even before America and Asia was off the press, Lattimore and his wife were beginning The Making of Modern China , a brief history of the Kuomintang. Published a year later, this work too includes lavish praise of Chiang. Russian reviews were scathing, dismissing Lattimore as a "learned lackey of imperialism."[20]

Even though he was no longer on the Generalissimo's payroll, Lattimore kept in touch with his Chinese patrons during his residence in San Francisco. After she recovered her health, Madame Chiang toured the United States, speaking of the needs of the Pacific war and dramatizing China's great sacrifices. Lattimore wrote to her several times. On March 30, 1943, he sent her recordings of all her American speeches to that date. He told her, "These statements of yours have been of unique value. Traveling around the country you must of course be aware of the great impact they have had on the way Americans think about China; but perhaps you have not yet realized how wide the range of your speeches has been. Our office has been translating them into all the languages that are spoken from Korea to Australia and from Honolulu to Burma; thus your words have been steadily at work spreading the consciousness throughout Asia and the Pacific that China is not only one of the United Nations but is setting the moral standard and the standard of political thought in Asia."[21]


A month later Lattimore wrote Madame urging her to visit Canada before she went home. Canadian pressure, he said, had influenced Britain's belated renunciation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. If Madame were to stimulate Canada's interest in the Pacific war, this interest would increase pressure on Britain to cooperate more fully with China.[22] Madame Chiang took this advice, speaking to the Canadian Parliament June 16.

Despite referring to the Generalissimo as a "coalition statesman of genius," Lattimore began to worry that Chiang was now appearing to ease off China's prosecution of war against Japan, counting on American forces to win in the Pacific and saving his strength to fight the Communists.[23] He put these worries in a confidential letter to Currie July 20, adding a comparison of Nationalist and Communist policies:

Dangers of the situation . In China, the Communists are officially regarded as "the extremist party," and the information filtered through to the Generalissimo is intended to maintain this view. It should be frankly recognized that in the China of today the Kuomintang are much more nearly totalitarian than the Communists. Since the Communists are in opposition, one of the things they oppose is the totalitarian tendency of the Kuomintang. This makes them in fact the party of moderation . (Lattimore's italics)

The problem of American policy . While it would obviously be inadvisable for America to appear as the protector of a foreign Communist party, it would also be incautious for American policy to appear to sanction the use of force for removing from politics, in an allied country, a party which is more moderate in its political program than the party in power.
Perhaps it might be advisable for the State Department to seek an opportunity for a statement comparable to one which was made in the case of India in 1942. In the Indian case, a statement was made that the American troops in India were to hold themselves entirely aloof from and neutral to Indian questions.[24]

This was Lattimore's first clear acknowledgment of a major worry about the Generalissimo and of his belief that the United States should not intervene in a Chinese civil war, whatever the stature of the Kuomintang leader.

Lattimore made his final wartime appearance before the CFR Territorial Group December 14, 1943. His title was "Russia and China in the Far East." Most of his presentation was a repeat of the theme that Soviet minority policies had been very effective, much more so than China's, and that people in the border areas "are bound to do Russia's propaganda


for her, by saying that things were better under Russian influence." In fact, were a plebiscite to be held in Outer Mongolia (as it later was), the people "would vote 100% to keep free of Chinese control." Lattimore did not gloat over this Soviet prowess; he pointed out ways in which the Chinese government could counter it.[25]

Returning to San Francisco from his New York appearance, Lattimore stopped off in Chicago to talk to Kenneth Colegrove, an Asian scholar at Northwestern University to whom Lattimore offered the job as head of the Japan desk vacated by Clay Osborne. Lattimore did not remember this meeting with Colegrove, but Colegrove claimed in 1951 to recall it in great detail: "I was opposed to liquidating Dutch imperialism in Indonesia after the war. Then I mentioned something about the Chinese Communists, and this surprised me a great deal to have Lattimore, whom I thought by this time had lost some of his control, claim that he had more information on China than I had, which was, of course, true. He went so far as to say that Chinese Communists under Mao Tse-tung were real democrats and that they were really agrarian reformers and had no connection with Soviet Russia." Colegrove also said that Lattimore advocated the murder of the Japanese emperor and his family.[26]

Lattimore never believed that the Chinese Communists were "real" democrats, or that they had no connection with Russia, or that the Japanese emperor and his family should be murdered. Colegrove, when the inquisition came, made similar damaging statements about other prominent scholars; to a man, they called him a liar.[27] It is clear why Colegrove was not hired as head of OWI's Japan desk: Lattimore could never have tolerated anyone who approved of Dutch rule in Indonesia.

After more than a year in San Francisco, Lattimore was becoming restless, as was Eleanor. They missed their Baltimore home, and Lattimore wanted to be free to comment publicly on postwar policy. In March 1944 he asked to be relieved of the Pacific job. Elmer Davis agreed if Lattimore would remain on call for consultation and special assignments.

Lattimore had hardly gotten unpacked in Baltimore when Davis frustrated his plans. Davis thought the OWI broadcasts had been very effective and wanted to see if army and navy commands actually fighting the war would set up mini-OWIs in their field headquarters. Lattimore was handed this mission and by mid-March was flying to Honolulu and Australia to spread the OWI gospel to two of America's crustiest military moguls: Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur. The success of this mission was in doubt. The military had long believed the Japanese would rather die than surrender and were thus immune to pro-


paganda. There was also resistance to civilian ideas and "Roosevelt agencies."

Nevertheless, Lattimore convinced Nimitz that a mini-OWI in his field headquarters was at least worth a try. As he told it,

That left me with my mission to General MacArthur half-successful in advance, since an Army theater of command would only with reluctance turn down facilities already accepted by a Navy theater of command. Moreover I took with me to Australia, as prospective head of OWI operations under General MacArthur, an American newspaper-man who had previously, as an editor of a paper in Manila, enjoyed the General's confidence. Nothing was really left except to assure the General that the OWI man under him would be paid by Washington and supplied with materials by Washington, but would do nothing except under the General's control and orders. The General then embarked on a fascinating discourse, and after an hour or so I left, mission completed.[28]

So Lattimore headed home once more, hopeful that he would finally be able to reenter private life.


Chapter Seven Owi, San Francisco

Preferred Citation: Newman, Robert P. Owen Lattimore and the "Loss" of China. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.