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.)

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