history of catastrophically murderous and stupid warfare that the
United States can memorialize on Memorial Day dates back to Day 1 and
earlier, begins with the genocide of the native inhabitants of the land,
the invasions of Canada, etc., and from that day to this too many
deadly escapades to list.
But one way in which the U.S. government gets itself into major crusades of mass killing is by hearing what it wants to hear. It even goes to the extent of allowing top U.S. government officials, sometimes briefly out the revolving door of public "service," to work in the pay and service of foreign nations pushing war propaganda on the U.S. public.
James Bradley's new book is called The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in China. It's well worth a read. For years leading up to World War II, the China Lobby in the United States persuaded the U.S. public, and many top U.S. officials, that the Chinese people all wanted to become Christian, that Chaing Kai-shek was their beloved democratic leader rather than the faltering fascist he was, that Mao Zedong was an insignificant nobody headed nowhere, that the United States could fund Chaing Kai-shek and he would use the funding to fight the Japanese, as opposed to using it to fight Mao, and that the United States could impose a crippling embargo on Japan without any Japanese military response.
For years leading up to at least the brink of World War III, the Israel Lobby in the United States has persuaded the United States that Israel is a democracy rather than an Apartheid state with rights based on religious identity. The United States, which has just derailed plans at the United Nations for a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free Middle East, and done so at the behest of nuclear Israel, has been following Israel's catastrophic lead in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the rest of the region, chasing the mirage of a democratic law-abiding Israel that is no more real than that of the Christian-Americanized China that eventually had the U.S. identifying the little island of Taiwan as "the real China."
The mirage that contributed to the "new Pearl Harbor" of 911, in other words, is not entirely unlike the mirage that contributed to Pearl Harbor itself. The U.S. thinking of China as an extension of the United States, while knowing nothing about China and actually forbidding anyone Chinese from entering the country, did more harm to the world than imagining Israel as the 51st state has yet accomplished. Give it time.
Bradley's new book, in the early sections, covers more quickly some of the same ground as his remarkable The Imperial Cruise, still very much worth reading -- including the U.S. militarization of Japan and Theodore Roosevelt's encouragement of Japanese imperialism. The new book covers, better than I've seen anywhere else, the history of how many of the wealthiest individuals and institutions of the East Coast United States in the 19th century got their money -- including Franklin Delano Roosevelt's grandfather's money -- by illegally selling opium in China. The opium trade led to the opium wars and to the British and U.S. attacks on and occupation of pieces of China, making use of early versions of what the U.S. now calls in most nations on earth "Status of Forces Agreements."
The U.S. flooded China with drug dealers, traders of other commodities, and Christian missionaries, the latter far less successful than the others, converting very few people. A leading missionary admitted that in 10 years he had converted 10 Chinese people to Christianity. With an eye on Chinese and Southeast Asian trade, the United States built the Panama Canal and took over the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. With an eye on keeping Russia away from profitable Pacific trade, President Theodore Roosevelt supported Japanese expansion into Korea and China, and negotiated "peace" between Japan and Russia while secretly consulting with Japan every step of the way. (Another echo of the Palestinian "peace process" in which the U.S. is on Israel's side and "neutral.") T.R. was given a Nobel Peace Prize for the deed, about which award presumably not a single Korean or Chinese person was consulted. When Woodrow Wilson refused to meet with non-white Hoh Chi Minh in Paris, he also took part in handing over to Japan the colonies previously claimed by Germany in China, enraging the Chinese, including Mao. The seeds of future wars are small but perfectly discernable.
The U.S. government slant would soon shift from Japan to China. The image of the noble and Christian Chinese peasant was driven by people like the Trinity (later Duke) and Vanderbilt educated Charlie Soong, his daughters Ailing, Chingling, and Mayling, and son Tse-ven (T.V.), as well as Mayling's husband Chaing Kai-shek, Henry Luce who started Time magazine after being born in a missionary colony in China, and Pearl Buck who wrote The Good Earth after the same type of childhood. TV Soong hired retired U.S. Army Air Corps colonel John Jouett and by 1932 had access to all the expertise of the U.S. Army Air Corps and had nine instructors, a flight surgeon, four mechanics, and a secretary, all U.S. Air Corps trained but now working for Soong in China. It was just the start of U.S. military assistance to China that made less news in the United States than it did in Japan.
In 1938, with Japan attacking Chinese cities, and Chaing barely fighting back, Chaing instructed his chief propagandist Hollington Tong, a former Columbia University journalism student, to send agents to the United States to recruit U.S. missionaries and give them evidence of Japanese atrocities, to hire Frank Price (Mayling's favorite missionary), and to recruit U.S. reporters and authors to write favorable articles and books. Frank Price and his brother Harry Price had been born in China, without ever encountering the China of the Chinese. The Price brothers set up shop in New York City, where few had any idea they were working for the Soong-Chaing gang. Mayling and Tong assigned them to persuade Americans that the key to peace in China was an embargo on Japan. They created the American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression. "The public never knew," writes Bradley, "that the Manhattan missionaries diligently working on East Fortieth Street to save the Noble Peasants were paid China Lobby agents engaged in what were possibly illegal and treasonous acts."
I take Bradley's point to be not that Chinese peasants are not necessarily noble, and not that Japan wasn't guilty of aggression, but that the propaganda campaign convinced most Americans that Japan would not attack the United States if the United States cut off oil and metal to Japan -- which was false in the view of informed observers and would be proved false in the course of events.
Former Secretary of State and future Secretary of War Henry Stimson became chair of the committee, which quickly added former heads of Harvard, Union Theological Seminary, the Church Peace Union, the World Alliance for International Friendship, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, the Associate Boards of Christian Colleges in China, etc. Stimson and gang were paid by China to claim Japan would never attack the United States if embargoed -- a claim dismissed by those in the know in the State Department and White House, but a claim made at a time when the United States had virtually no real communication with Japan.
The public's desire to stop arming Japan's assaults on China seems admirable to me and resonates with my desire that the U.S. stop arming Saudi Arabia's assault on Yemen, to take one example of dozens. But talking could have preceded an embargo. Setting aside the racist and religious filters in order to see the reality on the ground in China would have helped. Refraining from the threatening moves of the U.S. Navy, moving ships to Hawaii and building airstrips on Pacific Islands could have helped. The anti-war choices were far wider than economic antagonization of Japan and non-communicative insults to Japanese honor.
But by February 1940, Bradley writes, 75% of Americans supported embargoing Japan. And most Americans, of course, did not want war. They had bought the China Lobby's propaganda.
FDR and his Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau set up front companies and loans to Chaing, going behind the back of Secretary of State Cordell Hull. FDR, it seems, was not just catering to the China Lobby but truly believed its story -- at least up to a point. His own mother, who had lived in a U.S. bit of China as a child with her opium-pushing father, was honorary chairwoman of both the China Aid Council and the American Committee for Chinese War Orphans. FDR's wife was honorary chairwoman of Pearl Buck's China Emergency Relief Committee. Two thousand U.S. labor unions backed an embargo on Japan. The first economic advisor to a U.S. president, Lauchlin Currie, worked for both FDR and the Bank of China simultaneously. Syndicated columnist and Roosevelt relative Joe Alsop cashed checks from TV Soong as an "advisor" even while performing his service as "objective journalist." "No British, Russian, French, or Japanese diplomat," writes Bradley, "would have believed that Chaing could become a New Deal liberal." But FDR seems to have believed it. He communicated with Chaing and Mayling secretly, going around his own State Department.