Friday, November 09, 2018

My son, the philosopher

My four-year-old, looking at a black and white picture of people:
Blackberries, strawberries, blueberries. They lost their colors. Without their colors, they're not yummy anymore.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Edward Paine on the legacy of the UNRRA--words

This comes from a history of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) Taiwan Regional Office that Edward Paine, Reports Officer and Economic Analyst for UNRRA, China Mission, was drafting after 1947. It's an undated typescript found in the George H. Kerr collection in the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum (GK-002-0006-045). It can also be found in Su, Yao-tsung (蘇瑤崇), ed., Collected Documents of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in Taiwan (Taipei: Taipei 228 Memorial Museum, 2006), pp. 342-344.*
UNRRA will not soon be forgotten by the world because it is erecting for itself an imperishable and gigantic monument in paper. This is no discredit to the Administration. In China, at least, words, paper words and vocal words, big words, little words, red words, pink words, honeyed words, bitter words, recriminatory words, damning words, words, words, words, constitute UNRRA almost wholly and completely. They are of the essence and there is no doubt but that a large number of them have been fragrant.

In assessing the value of these words one has to set up several categories. One category is for words which meant nothing to begin with. This is a large group. Then there are the words which meant something at the time but which in the long run, historically speaking, mean nothing. There are also the words which meant nothing to begin with but which have a historical, a research value and those, a very small number, which both have and will be valuable. [342||343]

Those words having to do with work accomplished by UNRRA will be, oddly enough, among the least important because an all-over view will undoubtedly show that relatively little has been accomplished. The most valuable words will be those to be gleaned from tons of documents which will indicate the reasons why UNRRA has not succeeded to a greater extent than it has. They will be those which are now being written in looking back over what has been done. They will be those words which as yet have not been written and which quite probably will not be written unless some person or organization cares to make an audit, an impersonal, unbiased audit of what has occurred and why.

Such an audit might raise an eyebrow over the fact that at least sixty percent of the correspondence between the Taiwan Region and China Office has concerned administrative details. The audit would probably discover that this Region is not unique, that at least sixty percent of the time and work of the whole China Mission has been so consumed and expended. This is understandable in the nature of UNRRA but it is probably equally true that some excellent lessons can be learned from a study of the records.

Such an audit might well take a hint from the tons of documents which have been collected in a hit or miss fashion because there was no clear-cut idea of what was desired in the way of information. Much of these data are valuable, or at least may become so to someone digging through the files for material for a MA or PhD and possibly to others. However, it would seem that it has been an awful price to pay for a few degrees; especially if, as has been irrationally true of UNRRA, other organizations ignore that material which is available and send special men into the field to re-collect the same thing.
Except for this latter fact, that UNRRA has often paid no attention to the material in its own files in HQ and has sent additional men out to duplicate the information when it was needed and, even worse, has often taken the opinions of outsiders not particularly [343||344] qualified especially if their information happened to come in the form of the printed word, in a newspaper, little criticism can justifiably be leveled at UNRRA’s methods of obtaining information.

Greater men than an organization such as UNRRA will ever attract would have had to have been given broad scope in planning in order to successfully anticipate and order collected all the many types of data which the Administration has required. Better people in general than UNRRA has found would have had to be hired to carry these orders out. Time would have had to be commanded to stand still, holding changing conditions in a state of suspended animation. This letter would have been hardly less possible than the other paramount requirement, that the basic concept under which UNRRA has been made to work in China, as an advisory rather than an operating agency, be changed.

This is not an apology for UNRRA’s word-mountain; it is not an excuse; it is an admission that more has been expended than value received and a general exposition of why this is a fact. It is an analysis in retrospect, a post-game rehash, it is, I’ll admit, a somewhat defensive question “Knowing only what was known when UNRRA was started, could you have done better?”. More important it is the posing of a vital query “Will you, in the future, profit by the example which is UNRRA, which is embodied almost entirely in words?”
*As Talk Taiwan notes, Kerr made use of this history in his chapter on "The UNRRA-CNRRA Story" in Formosa Betrayed. (Unfortunately, Talk Taiwan repeats the unsubstantiated story that Chiang Kai-shek bought the copyright to Formosa Betrayed after it was published.)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Kerr on his association with U.S. Military Intelligence

From the George H. Kerr Papers, Okinawa Prefectural Archives (GHK4A01006)


13 July 1986

G.H.Kerr’s Wartime and Postwar Association with the U.S. Military
Intelligence Services

It has sometimes been suggested that I served as a “spy” in pre-war
Taiwan. because of my later wartime employment as a [unintelligible] “Formosa Specialist” at Washington during World War II.

I was never that. After living and teaching in Taiwan from 1937 to 1940,
I returned to the United States to study Japanese History under Sir George Sansom, at Columbia University in New York. and was there on December 7, 1941.

Few Americans had lived for any length of time on Formosa (as tea merchants, missionaries and consular officers) and very few had travelled about the
island as extensively as I had done. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Washington
began to search for informants. I was at once offered a position in the Military Intelligence Division, G.H.Q. and there was given the “Formosa Desk” in the
Japan-Manchuria Branch. Eventually I prepared the non-military portions of
the Strategic Survey of Taiwan (Formosa). It was my duty to assemble all
possibly useful information concerning the Island.

When Admiral Nimitze [sic] proposed to drive across the Pacific, take Taiwan and occupy the Fukien coastal region, cu[tt]ing off Japan’s lines of supply and communication to the southern front, I was commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve
and directed to set up a “Formosa Research Unit” in the U.S. Naval School for
Military Government and Administration (at Columbia University). There we
prepared, and the Navy published some ten Handbooks for the Island
of Taiwan (Formosa)
. When the “Nimitz Plan” was abandoned in October, 1944,
the Formosa Research Unit was disbanded. After a brief interval with the
Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI, Washington), I was sent to the American
Embassy in Chunking, China, as an Assistant Naval Attaché, and in October, 1945,
went to Taiwan as a member of an American Military Advisory Group to witness the formal surrender of Japanese forces on Taiwan and the Nationalist Chinese
assumption of authority in the island.

These papers are a small small sampling of the materials used in the Naval School
for Military Government.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Two new books in the former native speaker's library

Yesterday we took a trip to Lowell, Massachusetts to visit some historical sites there (my father would have been proud...). We went to the National Streetcar Museum and took a ride on an old streetcar (mainly for my son's sake). Then we walked over to the Boott Cotton Mills museum that's part of the Lowell National Historical Park. I bought two books at the museum bookstore:

  • Bruce Watson, Bread & Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream (Penguin, 2005)
  • Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (Vintage: 2014)
I want to start with Watson because I'm particularly interested in the involvement of the immigrant workers ("from some fifty-one nations") in the 1912 strike at the textile mills in Lawrence, MA. Hopefully I'll get around to reading them sometime! 

Saturday, August 04, 2018

New year's resolutions for 2018-19 academic year

I posted some new academic year's resolutions a couple of Septembers ago, imitating something I had done 10 years before that.

One thing that is different this time than from two years ago is that now I have deleted most of my social media accounts. As this person has written, it's a big change. Although it has generally been a positive experience, sometimes I feel like the guy in this video:

(I'm sure everyone has already seen this, but I don't know because I'm not on social media.)

Anyway, since I gave up Facebook and Twitter, I was able to read more. I finished reading Johanna Meskill's 1979 book, A Chinese Pioneer Family: The Lins of Wu-feng, Taiwan, 1729-1895. I enjoyed it, but I was surprised at how little has been written about the book--I could find only one review on Amazon and only seven published scholarly book reviews. (Actually, I guess that's a pretty good number. And the book has been cited 128 times, according to Google Scholar.) The reviewers generally liked the book, though some of them pointed out problems in interpretation or missing sources that would have added to or modified her conclusions. Several of the reviewers hoped for a "sequel" to the book, though it apparently never came (and I don't know that Meskill intended to write one).

I have also been reading Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis. It's interesting as an interdisciplinary study of the interactions of climate and imperialistic politics in late nineteenth-century droughts. I've gotten a bit bogged down in the climate science part, though. Hopefully I'll be able to say something intelligent about it in my interdisciplinary writing course this fall, though.

As far as my new's year resolutions go, I want to do more writing. I'm currently looking at a conference paper I wrote about 13 years ago and trying to figure out how I can revise it for publication. We'll see how that goes. George Kerr is also lurking somewhere in the background.

I also want to keep up to date on my grading and responding to student work. I'm not the worst at doing this, but I'm probably not the best, either. Some changes in our domestic situation might make it more possible for me to stay on track, but we'll see.

Think I'll keep my resolutions down to these two for the time being. Maybe I'll update this closer to the beginning of the fall semester...

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Work on GHK introduction, a flashback, and reflections on teaching writing

A couple days ago I finally completed a draft of my introduction to a forthcoming new edition of Formosa Betrayed and sent it to the editors for their input. I'm sure it will go through some (probably many) changes before it sees publication, but that's OK with me. I was writing an email to a friend just now and mentioned the project and one of its earlier incarnations:
You probably don’t remember your comments on this blog post from 2010 (, but what I’m working on now grew out of what I was working on back then—8 years ago! I always like to mention these kinds of things to my writing students—my 9-year dissertation, this thing, etc.—to remind them of how long the writing process can sometimes be.
I can date the interest in Kerr back a couple of years further than that, when I wrote in this post almost 11 years ago:
I found out that Tunghai's History Dept. library had these books [a 3-volume set of facsimiles of Kerr's writings and correspondence], so I borrowed them today. Talk about fascinating stuff to curl up with on a cold winter night. There are all sorts of interesting topics that come up in the letters--discussions with (and about) Thomas Liao (a Taiwan independence activist-in-exile who eventually returned to Taiwan in a propaganda coup for the KMT), letters in response to Formosa Betrayed and concerning the trouble he was having publishing a history of Taiwan to 1945, discussions regarding the assassination attempt on Chiang Ching-kuo in 1970 and its aftermath... Just a lot to keep a curious reader busy. 
"Keep a curious reader [and writer] busy." As I said to my friend, it's always interesting to get students' reactions to the idea that a writing project (or writing projects) can take years, or even decades. Kerr's work on Taiwan is itself an example of that, from working on earlier versions of Formosa Betrayed back in the late 1940s, to getting it published finally in 1965, and working on the other "Formosa" texts (one of which never saw publication) into the 1970s and 80s.

I would like to give students a taste of how those kinds of long-term writing projects happen, and I guess I do do that, to some extent. In my business writing class, for instance, they work with one topic for most of the semester and base their final project on that topic, as well. But it's an acquired taste for some students who might not be able to develop the kind of passion for a topic that it takes to sustain interest over a longer period of time (even 14 weeks can be a long time if you're not interested in what you're working on!). And I also have to realize that neither I nor Kerr (or probably anyone else) have fully focused on that one project over all of those years. Kerr wrote about Okinawa, as well, for instance. And we all get distracted over time. (At least I hope "we all" do--I hope it's not just me!) Would it be necessary/helpful to try to build that "distraction" into the syllabus, as well? Could that be done in a 14-week course? Maybe I'll try...

Friday, December 29, 2017

George Kerr on why he left his Vice Consul position

In Chapter 7 of Formosa Betrayed, George Kerr writes about two reports he sent to the US Embassy in Nanking:
Late in the year I sent along to the Embassy and the Department a secret coded supplementary report upon prominent personalities about town, and certain evident conflicts within the Taipei Government. My report evoked a telegraphic request for more detail, but this was construed to be a rebuke; I had committed an unpardonable bureaucratic sin by raising an issue which called attention to ourselves. 
My second semi-annual report for 1946 on social, political and economic conditions was endorsed, coded, and forwarded through Nanking, to Washington. It carried a warning that tensions within Formosa were near the breaking point, a violent crisis might be upon us at any time. The document was given a number and entered into our secret record book.
Later on, he writes that when he was in Nanking writing a "State paper" to be translated and given to Chiang Kai-shek, he made use of the December report "which had been endorsed and forwarded to the Embassy. But in the Embassy files I found also a brief, secret, unnumbered follow-up dispatch from Taipei which said in effect that the Embassy should not take my December predictions of impending crisis too seriously."

In an October 27, 1974 letter, Kerr expands more on this note and gives also some more context for why he left his position as Vice Consul. It is well-known that Consul Ralph Blake and Kerr did not see eye to eye on how to respond to the crisis in Taiwan. It's also commonly known that the KMT didn't want Kerr to stay on in his position. Hsiao-ting Lin,for instance, writes, "Chiang Kai-shek's officials acridly blamed George Kerr ... for instigating the islanders' rebellion against the Chinese rule, leading to Kerr's disgraceful recall." Kerr suggests, however, that it was he who made the final decision to leave:
In late 1946 I prepared a long Memorandum predicting a crisis at any moment, naming names and citing incidents. It was endorsed by Blake and forwarded to Nanking and Washington. But then Blake flew off to Nanking, leaving me in charge, where he urged that I be pulled out. When the crisis did occur, and I went to Nanking to report to Stuart, I was given access to the files in order to prepare the Memorandum which appears—severely censored to remove all references to Formosan appeals to the USA—in the White Paper. In the files I found an unnumbered Memo from Blake to the Embassy, sent along immediately after the endorsed December Memo, in which he strongly denigrated my report (which he had endorsed). When Stuart and Butterworth asked me to return to Formosa, I drew their attention to it, and on resigning the Service, pointed out that no man of integrity would serve under Blake under those circumstances. Blake knew that if he needed it, he could summon up that unnumbered Memo, but since it was not entered into our register of numbered, secret despatches, it could remain lost forever. (emphasis added)
Kerr suggests that despite his conflict with Blake, Ambassador Stuart and Counselor to the Embassy Butterworth still wanted Kerr to stay on in Taiwan.

(The memo Kerr refers to here appears to be different from the memo Blake attached to a later report, cited by Richard Bush, in which he criticizes Kerr's style of writing.)

Source: Letter to Jonathan Mirsky, available in the Okinawa Prefectural Archives.