Thursday, January 10, 2013

Counterfactual History Perfected

The librarian from my law school and another friend teamed up to send me a copy of Barbara Tuchman's Practicing History for Christmas. Sadly, as things have not reached me in the past, it is the only gift I received from America for Christmas. Yankees don't like to waste money on things like FedEx and UPS. Lest this seem like a complaint, rather than an observation about a situation that has caused me a little sadness, let me say that I have not sent anything the other way. I will come in May on my sleigh.

Anyway, the Twelve Days of Christmas concluded yesterday. I went to Mass at Saint Theresa's Cathedral for the first time, as I had my Sunday free for a change. I brought Deborah, my girlfriend, who is a Christian, but she had never dabbled in the dark art of Mary-worship before. I think she was a bit surprised by all the sitting down and standing up. The thing that she remarked on was how powerful it was to have three hundred or so people all praying in unison. For me, the remarkable thing is that in a city of four million, I think this may be the only place for an "above ground" Catholic service--one at 6:30AM and one at 8:30AM, as well as an English service at 2PM in the basement of an adjoining building.

The family churches and underground places of worship must be everywhere, because China is home to an estimated 12 million Catholics, the majority of whom worship outside the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA). The State Administration for Religious Affairs states that there are 5.3 million Catholics belonging to the official Catholic Patriotic Association, which oversees 70 bishops, and approximately 6,000 churches nationwide.

The other thing that I did yesterday was finish my book. Barbara Tuchman's collection of essays is brilliant and most of them stand the test of time. The book is broken into three parts. In the first part she talks about the craft of being a historian. The second part is a collection of thirteen wonderful pieces that she calls, collectively, "The Yield." The final part is about learning from history. This final part also contains a not immodest, but fanciful proposal to eliminate the Presidency and replace it with a six-person Cabinet, where the chief member would get two votes. This seems to be the lesson that she gleaned from Watergate and all of the undeclared wars of the post-War era, which are certainly proof of the expanded power of the chief executive.

It is the middle section that has two essays pertaining to the Far East, which I would like to treat here, though. The first was published in April of 1936 when Tuchman was all of 24. She was writing for Foreign Affairs and her reflections about the Japanese boil down to two essential points. If I had to choose a sentence that encapsulates her thoughts it would be this:
More fundamentally troublesome to Japan's foreign relations than the disability or disinclination to use Occidental tactics in the practice of diplomacy [by which she means, in part, employing the art of compromise] is the combination of an inferiority and a persecution complex which she feels vis-a-vis the West.
In light of what is happening now, in this current time, I thought these words to be extremely prescient. Living as I do in the capital of the Manchurian occupation and with the clear distance provided by the almost eighty years that have passed since she wrote the essay, it is hard not to look with awe and disbelief at how Japan conceived of itself at that time--as a just nation protecting its reputation in the face of a world that misunderstood it. One wonders if buried in this essay is not a description of the root cause of all discontent between all peoples and all nations.

Before I go on, it is worth saying something about Tuchman herself. Tuchman was the daughter of the banker Maurice Wertheim. She was a first cousin of New York district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, a niece of Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and granddaughter of Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Woodrow Wilson's Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College in 1933. In other words, she was about as well-connected as they come. In no way did this diminish her scholarship. In the craft part, she insists strongly that historians of any worth must rely on primary sources and not the re-stated opinion of other historians. She seemed to scorn the field of sociology and had a love-hate relationship with Sigmund Freud...and all that followed from his efforts.

Anyway, in the course of her research she had de-classified a memorandum that Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had sent to FDR, but which never reached its intended recipient. In the chapter of this book, entitled If Mao Had Come to Washington also published in Foreign Affairs (but 35 years later in October of 1972), she participates in a wonderful intellectual exercise, where she imagines that there might of been no conflicts in Korea or Vietnam if this entreaty had not been held up by the pompous ass, Ambassador Patrick J. Hurley.

She describes in painstaking detail--having obtained a great deal of her primary material from John Service, a member of the Foreign Service, who was stationed in Chongqing--the terrible disregard of career diplomats, who suggested that the US ally itself with the ascendant Communists instead of arming Chiang Kai-shek. As we know, this was not the course taken. Those who advocated this position would later get caught up in the scourge of Joseph McCarthy.

This was the dispatch:

"Yenan Government wants [to] dispatch to America an unofficial rpt unofficial group to interpret and explain to American civilians and officials interested the present situation and problems of China. Next is strictly off record suggestion by same: Mao and Chou will be immediately available either singly or together for exploratory conference at Washington should President Roosevelt express desire to receive them at White House as leaders of a primary Chinese party."

Nixon went to China in the era of ping-pong to meet with Mao and Zhou Enlai, but it was not until then that this all came to light, thanks to Barbara Tuchman. A fascinating tale!

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