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

Chapter Twelve Cold War Declared

Chapter Twelve
Cold War Declared

Lattimore did not welcome the increasing hostility between Russia and the West. He thought opportunities for improving the life of the world's downtrodden decreased as unsettled political conditions interfered with economic development. He was convinced of the truth of the peasant saying "When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled." The minority peoples on the Sino-Soviet border, especially the Mongols, stood to lose by conflict between the great powers. As to China, its welfare could only be assured by Soviet-American cooperation in preventing civil war. In 1947 he thought that the United States could induce Chiang, and the Soviets Mao, to moderate their ambitions.

The failure of the Marshall mission to dampen the flames in China, signaled clearly in the report issued by the general January 8, grieved Lattimore. The worst characteristics of both the Kuomintang and the Communists seemed to be ascendant. But he gave Marshall credit for trying and approved Marshall's appointment as secretary of state. Marshall was a far-sighted statesman, and, in Lattimore's opinion, "He has never succumbed to either the tradition of contempt for the British or the tradition of implacable hate for the Russians which are characteristic of many of our professional Army and Navy men; but there is not the slightest danger that he will be taken into camp by either the Russians or the British."[1]

Lattimore did not approve of the call to arms that publicly signaled the breach between East and West: the Truman Doctrine speech of March 22. It was largely negative, phrasing George Kennan's containment thesis in military terms. In a dozen different ways Lattimore deplored any policy


that was merely anti-Soviet. In the Asia he knew, such a policy was bound to fail.

The Marshall Plan, in contrast, offered opportunities for the little nations on both sides of the East-West divide to benefit. Lattimore was horrified when Molotov was instructed to pull the Soviet and East European delegates out of the Paris conference to implement the Marshall Plan. This withdrawal left economic reconstruction to competing and hostile blocs (July 12).

Even worse was the demand of the colonial powers (especially France and the Netherlands) that the colonies over which they exercised a shaky sovereignty be integrated into European Economic Community plans. Their proposal, that each European country and its colonial possessions should be considered as one unit for the use of American credits,

implies an important modification of the United States policy of securing free circulation and unlimited competitive opportunity for the American dollar. Under it, most American dollars would not enter a colonial country directly. They would first enter an imperial country. There they would be taken up by banks and industries, which would then draw on the raw materials of the colonial possessions to revive European production and trade. Thus in the long run the colonial peoples would foot the bill for the revival of Europe. . . . [This proposal] implies confirming and stabilizing all the surviving institutions of colonial rule. (August 8)

But it was not possible to perpetuate colonial rule. Its time was past. As Lattimore foresaw, neither the glamorous French Foreign Legion nor the stolid Dutch conscripts were a match for the crusading nationalisms of Asia. Hence the diversion of aid to suppress colonial rebellion was intrinsically counterproductive.

Here the United States faced a dilemma. France's strategic location, and the rhetoric of the Truman Doctrine, affected the conditions under which Marshall Plan aid could be dispensed. The United States had to have France on board, and probably Holland too.

[Yet] by being too eager-beaver about the anti-Communist and stop-Russia aims of our policy (which in themselves are perfectly sound and statesmanlike aims), we have got ourselves stuck with the support of governments which are more and more undisguisedly governing not only against the Communists but against most of the people. . . . In Western Europe we still have a chance to support governments that govern with the people instead of against the people. . . .


But France, in Indochina, and Holland, in Indonesia, are trying to slug it out against the nationalism of their unwilling subjects. The colonial military expenditures of these two countries are dangerous rat-holes in the Marshall Plan for Western Europe. Through them, millions and even billions of the American dollars intended to restart the wheels of economic life in Europe may leak away in futile slaughter in Asia. (December 20)

The Indonesians eventually repelled Dutch attempts to reassert sovereignty and massacred a threatening Communist party. The French held out in Indochina until after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. By then the United States had sunk so much into France's war in Indochina that it could not break itself of the habit; unable to cut its losses, it kept wasting money and blood for two long decades. In 1947 nobody foresaw the consequences of this perversion of the Marshall Plan better than Lattimore did.

In China things were quite different from Europe. The dollar aid that Lattimore saw as helping to revive Europe would do no good in China, where Chiang's regime was rapidly losing the mandate of heaven. There was no alternative non-Communist group for the United States to support. The Chinese Communists were not so much winning as Chiang was throwing his control away. During 1947 and 1948 the reality of Nationalist rule was too painful for Lattimore to contemplate. The world-class leader whom he had once praised now presided over a regime whose weaknesses were lethal. Here is how things looked to one observer: "To tell the truth, never, in China or abroad, has there been a revolutionary party as decrepit and degenerate as [the Kuomintang] today; nor one as lacking spirit, lacking discipline, and even more, lacking standards of right and wrong. . . . This kind of party should long ago have been destroyed and swept away." Officers were indifferent to the condition of their men:

They so ignored such basic elements in their training as aiming, firing, reconnoitering and liaison that the soldiers' combat skills are so poor that they cannot fight. Nor did they provide the troops with adequate food, clothing or medical care, even embezzling supplies meant for the men. . . . the spirit of most commanders is broken and their morality is base. High-level officers [have] become complacent in their high posts, encumbered by family members, and acting like warlords. As a consequence, their revolutionary spirit is almost completely dissipated, and they are concerned only with preserving their military strength and resources. . . . But the chief reason, which cannot be denied, arose from the paralysis of the party: the membership, organizational structure


and method of leadership all created problems. Thus, the party became a lifeless shell; the government and military also lost their soul; with the result that the troops collapsed and society disintegrated. . .. And especially, [the troops] were ignorant of the need to protect and unite with the people, even unrestrainedly harassing them.[2]

Not a pretty picture—but it is not Lattimore's picture . Both quotations are drawn from Chiang Kai-shek's condemnation of his own regime , as found in the Taiwan archives during the 1970s by Lloyd Eastman. Eastman's 1981 article in China Quarterly was the first to explore what Chiang himself thought in the late 1940s about the reasons for the downfall of his regime. As reluctant testimony, this is of the highest order: Chiang lost China.

Stories of incompetence, corruption, low morale, and plundering by Nationalist soldiers were only beginning to filter out of China in 1947. Lattimore searched avidly for information that would justify his continuing hope that Chiang would be able to carry out the reforms that alone could stave off Communist conquest; such information was not there. His ONA articles during 1947 document his increasing disillusionment.

In January, Lattimore commented on the significance of recent student demonstrations against the Nationalist regime; Chinese students had always been harbingers of change. In February, Lattimore pointed out the great advantage Mao had because he was independent of foreign support, whereas the Chinese believed Chiang to be propped up by Americans. (There was a long statement of how the Russians had "lost" China in earlier years by too obviously supporting Chinese Communists, a theme that Lattimore had developed before and one that Harrison Salisbury brilliantly articulated in 1971.)[3] On March 1, Lattimore commented on discontent among Chinese air force officers, a group that should have had the highest morale.

Also in March, Lattimore emphasized Mao's skill at capturing the allegiance of peasants, a class that Chiang unfortunately neglected. On March 28, he noted that "of all the Communist movements in the world the Chinese Communist movement is the most independent of Moscow," a conclusion that most Americans would not accept for many years. On April 11, he noted with sadness the condition of Taiwan, where Nationalist forces massacred thousands of native Taiwanese who were protesting Kuomintang policies. He also deplored the situation of small businessmen, both Chinese and American, in Chiang's China: "if you want to get the deepest, most malodorous dirt on the corruption of the Kuomintang in China today, and want to be sure it is not from an ideologically tainted


source, you should go to an American businessman from one of the kinds of business that is getting the squeeze put on it." The plight of minorities was Lattimore's theme on March 24: Chiang "saw the wisdom" of a policy giving the Mongols and others a high degree of autonomy but was unable to carry it out because of powerful warlords.

An article published June 4 presents perhaps the best summary of what Lattimore believed Chiang was up to.

The seriousness of the civil war crisis in China is beyond all concealment. Indeed, the Chinese Government is not trying to hide it, but is hoping that Washington will be stampeded by the seriousness of the situation into renewed and large scale intervention. What would suit Nanking best of all would be to have the Americans again bring Kuomintang troops by air and sea into Manchuria, to circumvent the Communist-led forces which have cut the railways.

Nanking hopes for a dramatic move like this in the belief that it would provoke a crisis between America and Russia. The Kuomintang wants an American-Russian crisis because the civil war in China has become completely unjustifiable unless it can be re-dramatized as a "Spanish" war, with America backing one side and Russia the other.

This outcome was what Lattimore had warned Truman about in 1945.

Manchuria was again his subject on July 8, 1947. Southern Chinese carpetbaggers had totally failed to secure the support of Manchurians for the Chiang government. In August, Lattimore talked with Ch'en Chiak'ang, a Chinese Communist delegate to the World Youth Festival in Prague. Ch'en described how the Communists were subverting Nationalist troops sent north to conquer Manchuria.

"It is quite simple," Chen said. "We isolate the officers. Then we assemble the men in mass meetings and invite anybody who feels like it to describe 'How I came to be in the army.' One story after another describes how the poor are dragged away from the villages by the Kuomintang while the landlords' sons escape service. Pretty soon they are all so sore that they come over to our side. Or, if they feel like it, we give them some money and food and tell them to go home—if they can escape the Kuomintang conscription gangs. It's wonderful advertising." (August 29)

By November 1, Lattimore could title one of his ONA articles "Aid to Kuomintang Is Blind Alley": "The fact that the Kuomintang just doesn't have what it takes is, incidentally, the answer to the threadbare argument


that we have to try and stop Russia with the Kuomintang. This is too much like arguing that, in order to stop Russia, we had better start equipping the Army with plenty of muzzle-loading, flint-lock, smooth-bore guns. Even a weak coalition government in China would be better for us than the Kuomintang."

But Lattimore's disenchantment with the Nationalist government was not as complete or as vigorous as that of observers who had been in China more recently. One such observer, Professor Nathaniel Peffer of Columbia University, was the featured speaker at a CFR discussion that Lattimore attended on March 5. Peffer "felt that for the first time in thirty-two years the situation in China showed no hopeful signs whatever. . . . The Kuomintang government is the rottenest and most corrupt that China had experienced in a thousand years. . .. The presence of American troops in China adds fuel to the fire of anti-American propaganda. Russia would like nothing better than that our forces remain indefinitely."[4]

Peffer was not plugging the Communists. It was very difficult to judge their character. "Compared with the Kuomintang political thugs and leeches, the Communist leaders, taken man for man, are physically, intellectually, and morally superior. On the other hand, their word is not to be trusted. In one breath they profess to be truly democratic, and then go on to proclaim their complete faith in Marxist ideology. They look for a dictatorship of the proletariat after passing through a necessary transitional period of semi-capitalism." Peffer saw no possible course for the United States but to pull out of China, completely and at once. Lattimore would not go that far. He "pointed out the danger that the vacuum left in China by American withdrawal may be filled by the Russians," but Peffer replied that we must take that obvious risk.[5]

In September 1947, General Albert C. Wedemeyer, who had just returned from a fact-finding mission to Asia, delivered his report to General Marshall and the public. Though a friend of Chiang, Wedemeyer was also an astute and careful observer. His remarks at the end of his mission, delivered to the Chinese State Council on August 24, were as stinging a condemnation of Kuomintang incompetence and corruption as were the conclusions coming privately from Chiang Kai-shek himself. Since Wedemeyer's remarks were public, they received a great deal of publicity; the Chinese pretended to be shocked. Chiang's supporters in the United States, still clinging to the wartime belief that Chiang was a great and effective leader, were appalled. Lattimore was not; Wedemeyer's testimony moved him closer to the Peffer position. In his first column after gaining access to Wedemeyer's report, Lattimore concluded:


We have yet to face the full consequences of our mistaken policy in China. It is not just that we have lost money on the Kuomintang. The Chinese Communists have been enormously toughened by their successful resistance to an American-backed Kuomintang. Their popular, non-Communist following has incalculably increased. They have won a prestige that it would be dangerous to underestimate, by defying the strongest country that has ever intervened in China, and getting away with it.

It is doubtful, however, whether our China policy planners have yet resigned themselves to the prospect of dosing out our disastrous deal at such a heavy loss. They are still likely to try throwing a little more good money after bad. (September 27)

Anxious as Lattimore was to avoid statements that could contribute to Soviet hostility, events in 1947 caused him to use harsh language. He did not like Soviet refusal to participate in the Marshall Plan, and on October 18, he castigated the Russians for preventing East Europeans dealing with the West: "These people are 'pro-Marshall Plan,' and the signs are that the Communists intend to keep them squashed with one hand while they build up a 'Molotov Plan' with the other."

On December 6, Lattimore discussed the growing American economic and political influence in Iran, on Russia's border. The Russians were complaining bitterly. Lattimore dismissed such claims. U.S. gains were the result of our superior economic aid, rather than, as the Russians said, "sinister economic imperialism." The Russians were simply jealous.

Korea was another area where Soviet machinations were not to Lattimore's liking. The Russians were trying to bar any pro-Western Koreans from voting in the upcoming all-Korea elections. Lattimore agreed with Lieutenant General John R. Hodge, commander of American forces in Korea: the Russians were pretending that only communism was democratic (October 25). However, Lattimore did not believe that we could have our way completely in Korea. To make an American satellite of that unhappy land would obviously menace Russian security; Korea was too close to Vladivostok. Compromise was needed.

Lattimore also commented extensively on Japan during 1947. MacArthur, he believed, was doing a fine job. Politically, MacArthur was reining in the "war group," and there had been "amazingly little political turbulence." Economically, the results had not been as impressive, but this was understandable: political control was relatively easy to implement; economics were more complicated (May 3 and 7).

In hindsight, Lattimore's observations about the state of the world in


1947 are hard to fault. He was still somewhat optimistic about what could be accomplished by the judicious use of American power, and he relinquished his faith in Chiang painfully and reluctantly. But the fact of cold war he now acknowledged.

Lattimore wanted to visit the Mongolian People's Republic in 1947. He had only been there one—in 1944 with Henry Wallace. Since the United States did not recognize the MPR and direct communications were not available, he had to send his request via the Soviet ambassador in Washington. His letter of February 11 to Marshal Choibalsan, the Mongolian premier, reviewed his interest in Mongol scholarship, reminded the premier of the friendly reception accorded him in 1944, and asked to study there from June to September. His cover letter to Ambassador Novikov presented an alternate plan: if the MPR did not welcome him, he would like to visit the Buryat-Mongol or Kazakh republics of the Soviet Union. Neither of these letters was answered.[6]

As weeks went by and no answer came from Choibalsan or the Russians, Lattimore decided that since he could not visit a border state in Asia, he would try Europe. Czechoslovakia would be appropriate; a group from Putney School, where his son David was enrolled, planned to attend the World Youth Festival in Prague during July and August. It could be a family outing.

Czechoslovakia was still a free state in 1947. Visas were easy to get, and there were no restrictions on the movement of foreigners. The Lat-timores were able to circulate freely, talk to Czech Asian specialists, and spend a day touring with Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk. Lattimore found Czech minority problems fascinating and the people friendly. His geopolitical observations were less than prescient; he thought the East European countries under Soviet control would be able to work together to moderate Soviet rule, and he did not anticipate the Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. At the time of his visit, Communists (40 percent of the electorate) and non-Communists were working together effectively. Lattimore expected this cooperation to continue (August 2).

Three years later, when the inquisition peaked, the anti-Communist fanatic J. B. Matthews found in David Lattimore's attendance at the World Youth Festival, held under Czech Communist auspices, proof of his father's "Communist connections." The Prague gathering, said Matthews, had been a "raucous anti-American, pro-Soviet affair." David Lattimore and other Putney participants had not found it that way, though there was a vigorous exchange of opinions among those present. Matthews held the older Lattimore responsible for the sins of the younger, noting that


young David "has no independent income, and must, therefore, have gone to the Communist meeting with his parents' consent and at their expense. His conduct as a minor was both legally and morally a matter of his parents' responsibility."[7] A dozen copies of this attack on the Lattimores are still in Matthews's Lattimore file.

The Lattimores went to England after the Czech trip; Owen attended the IPR conference held that year at Stratford-On-Avon. He described this conference in an ONA column of October 4, noting that there were few Asians in attendance, the only sizable delegation being from Kuo-mintang China. This absence brought a reflection on IPR's history: "Once criticized for having anything to do with such a subversive crowd as the Kuomintang, it is now criticized by others because only the Kuomintang Chinese are represented in it, not the Chinese Communists." Lattimore deplored French and Dutch refusal to allow Indochinese and Indonesians to attend. The British had made their peace with Indians and Pakistanis, several of whom were then active in IPR.

While Lattimore was pursuing these professional interests, the domestic cold war steadily intensified. HUAC started on a major program of investigating Communists in government, unions, media, science, the armed services, and Hollywood. The new Republican leadership of the House promised full support and an expanded budget.

The National Industrial Conference Board, aping the Chamber of Commerce, commissioned a report on communism in the Department of State, to be written by labor specialist and former Marxist Benjamin Stolberg. This report was released in February 1947 and circulated to newspapers. Lattimore was prominently featured as "the most important adviser to the State Department on Far Eastern Policy." William Loeb (later publisher of the Manchester, New Hampshire, Union-Leader ) sent a copy to the FBI; they were not impressed.[8] Unlike Father Cronin, who had written the Chamber's pamphlets after considerable research, Stolberg did practically none. He gleaned most of his material from Alfred Kohlberg's writings and the Reader's Digest . The FBI was aware that Stolberg had a credibility problem: Jerome Davis, prominent teacher and labor leader, had won a substantial libel settlement from Stolberg and the Saturday Evening Post .[9] Apparently the National Industrial Conference Board pamphlet aroused little interest. Lattimore never heard of it until his FBI file was released in 1980.

He had heard of Executive Order 9835, however. This was Truman's order, issued March 12, 1947, establishing a loyalty program for federal


employees. Lattimore was not a federal employee, but EO 9835 was aimed at some of his friends. The publicity given to heretical opinions was escalating. HUAC hearings, the alarmist Reader's Digest , Hurley's charges against the China hands, the continued sniping at the Amerasia people by Hearst, Scripps Howard, and McCormick Patterson newspapers, plus the massive Catholic attack on Russia—all made it clear that heresy was about to become an offense for which an employee could be fired.

And there was still Kohlberg, whose crusade against the IPR continued unabated. His 1944 letter to Edward Carter demanding a housecleaning in the IPR had been rejected by the trustees, and in 1945 the institute issued a formal response. Kohlberg's next move was to ask the IPR for its mailing list, so he could distribute his charges to the membership. This request was refused. Kohlberg then went to court to force the IPR to provide him its membership list. The IPR finally agreed to hold a general membership meeting on his charges and allowed him to solicit proxies for that meeting. The meeting was held on April 22, 1947. Kohlberg's call for an outside investigation was defeated 1,163-66.[10]

One outcome of the Kohlberg ruckus was concern in the State Department about whether foreign service officers could afford to belong to the IPR and whether IPR publications were reliable sources of information. Consequently, in the summer of 1947 State Department Special Agent Daniel H. Clare, Jr., was assigned to investigate the IPR and Amerasia , which Kohlberg asserted was its twin sister.

Clare worked on the IPR-Amerasia investigation "intermittently" from August 15 to September 10, when he submitted his report. Apparently he did little more than summarize Kohlberg's writings, adding a few errors of his own. Kohlberg's study of IPR publications was attached as an appendix to Clare's report. The FBI, which first saw the Clare report in April 1950, noted, "There are many inaccuracies in the report."[11]

Clare ranked IPR personnel according to their presumed influence. Lattimore appeared fourth in his discussion but was introduced in these words: "By far the brightest star of the big four of the Institute of Pacific Relations is Owen Lattimore, familiar of former President Roosevelt, confidant of State Department higher echelons, and 'subtle evangelist' of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In 1941, Mr. Lattimore was appointed by President Roosevelt as an advisor to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and at that time he was characterized by the former President as 'an expert's expert.' "[12]

Clare did some digging on his own. He apparently interviewed Louis Budenz, who "is aware that he [Lattimore] is a sympathizer, but is unable


to recall at this time any incidents which definitely indicate that he was a member of the Party." Max Eastman was also quoted on Lattimore, but not from an interview; Clare picked up the "subtle evangelist" phrase from Eastman's Reader's Digest article. Most of the rest of Clare's material derived from Kohlberg.[13]

Since Clare's superiors had a special interest in diplomats, a major section of his report deals with persons who had served the State Department in some way. There are thirteen of them, and again Clare saves the most important for last: "These associations, however, shrink to insignificance in comparison with the ties between the Institute of Pacific Relations and John Carter Vincent. On May 21, 1947, an editorial in the New York World-Telegram flatly charged: 'The policies of this branch (Office of Far Eastern Affairs) have been consistently pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese Communist. The clique headed by John Carter Vincent reflects the views of the Institute of Pacific Relations. A complete break with this propaganda organization is required.' "[14]

Vincent was under attack at the time by Senator Styles Bridges. Vincent's promotion to career minister and his nomination as minister to Switzerland were argued in the Senate from May until his confirmation July 23. Bridges, Kohlberg, and Clare lost this battle too. It remained for John Foster Dulles finally to force Vincent out six years later.[15]

Lattimore was disturbed by the struggle over Vincent. From the Wallace mission he knew Vincent to be a superb diplomat, loyal and discreet to a fault. And Vincent was anything but pro-Communist. Thank God, Lattimore thought, he wasn't subject to the calumnies thrown at sinologues on the public payroll.


Chapter Twelve Cold War Declared

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