Saturday, February 27, 2010

Some notes about publication history of George H. Kerr's Formosa Betrayed

During winter vacation, we took a brief trip to Okinawa. The main purpose was to take a quick dip into the George H. Kerr collection at the Okinawa Prefectural Archives. For a while I've been wondering about the publication of Kerr's Formosa Betrayed--particularly any difficulties he might have had getting the book published--and the book's fate after publication by Houghton Mifflin in 1966. Since Kerr's book was highly critical of the KMT and its governing of Taiwan--and highly critical of how the US handled the issue of what to do with Taiwan after WWII--I suspected that he would have had difficulty getting it published at the least, and might have been branded a traitor, since criticism of Chiang Kai-shek by a public figure like Kerr was close to treason (against the US as well as the ROC) during the early years of the Cold War. (See Ross Y. Koen's The China Lobby in American Politics (NY: Octagon Books, 1974) for why this was so.)

So, armed with information on the Kerr collection that Dr. Jenkins, who catalogued the collection, helpfully provided me with, I went in search of some answers to my questions.

One question I had was about why Kerr didn't publish the book until 1965. According to an article on the website of the World United Formosans for Independence, Kerr and Edward Paine (who worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in Taiwan) collaborated on a book in the late 1940s about what they had seen in Taiwan:
At the time Mr. Kerr had accepted an advance from a prominent American publishing house but later changed his mind and returned the advance. Supposedly, Mr. Kerr felt that he could do more for Taiwan by working with his high-ranking friends in the State Department rather than publishing the book which would embarrass the State Department. Mr. Paine consequently left angrily and went separate ways from Mr. Kerr.

In 1964 Mr. Kerr, reportedly, in his teaching capacity, was in need of publication and requested Mr. Paine's permission to use the materials he had assembled. Although it was no longer the most opportune time for the book, Mr. Paine gave his consent to Mr. Kerr. The book, Formosan [sic] Betrayed, was finally published in 1965.
A letter from Kerr to Linda Glick of Houghton Mifflin, dated 5 July 1965, might shed some more light on what was going on at that time, however. Kerr is responding in the letter to a suggestion by John King Fairbank that proofs of FB be sent to Washington for checking. In the letter, Kerr writes that
in 1947-48 I prepared an account of the Formosan affair for the Institute of Pacific Relations which Little, Brown & Co. were proposing to bring out. A prolonged silence followed which I was not able to penetrate until I discovered that the MS had been sent to the State Department and was there, of course, objected to, for I advocated intervention before Chiang K-S should move to Formosa and entrench himself. By 1950 it was too late; McCarthy was rising, and by the time I had retrieved my MS (not without difficulty) it was not possible to get a hearing.
If Kerr is referring here to the book that he and Paine worked on, then this letter gives a bit more context to the question of why it wasn't published soon after 2-28. It should also be noted that Kerr's anti-Chiang stance got him into trouble during the McCarthy era. He was investigated by the FBI while at Stanford and eventually lost his job there.

Kerr also discusses the issue of timing in his response to an author's questionnaire sent to him by Houghton Mifflin (undated, probably May 1965):
After watching events on post-war Formosa in 1945-1947 which culminated in the massacre of Formosan leaders seeking American help, and watching the loss of Formosan trust in American leadership after that affair, I began to prepare an account of what led to the 1947 crisis at Taipei. But 1950 was not the time to publish; the friends of Chiang Kai-shek were in full cry, the Mc Carthy Era was upon us. I put the MS away, working at it intermittantly [sic] and keeping notes through the early 1950's. In 1958 I brought it up to date, but it was still not the right time to try to place such a controversial subject before the public. I became involved in other projects, producing meanwhile a history of the Ryukyu Islands.
He goes on to write that in 1963, he began to receive "many requests for information concerning the postwar era--events in which I was directly involved. I was at last convinced that this painful and controversial subject should become a public record."

Another reason is also hinted at in the author's questionnaire response. Discussing possible promotional activities, he writes that he has reservations about going on TV and radio or giving lectures because "I find the Formosa Question difficult to handle. I am too emotionally involved, perhaps, to make a sufficiently objective presentation. I suppose if the book gets a fair reception I'll relax a bit about it, but the so highly organized pro-Nationalist propaganda net-work can bring terrible pressure to bear. At the moment I'm not sure I want to get involved on the air." It's possible that Kerr's emotional involvement also made it difficult to write about the events he experienced. In a review of the book, Douglas Mendel wrote that in 1963 Kerr had told him, "It is too painful to me to write up my old notes."

So, while 1965 might not have been the ideal time to publish Formosa Betrayed, it appears that there were several reasons for the delay.

More later on the post-publication fate of the book...


Anonymous said...

Wow! Your research is getting very detailed and seems even to be getting at an important particle of world history, even, in your looking at Kerr's work. Does the topic of his study ripple outward, then--to the "Red Scare" as we called it (and as we fought it) in the U.S.?

Better copy your blog writing and paste it into your diss! :-) --ERG

Jonathan Benda said...

Yeah--Kerr was one of the less famous (in the US, anyway) victims of the McCarthy era. I haven't really seen his name come up in books about that period. Evidently the director of the program where Kerr was teaching was strongly pro-Chiang, so that director was eager to get rid of Kerr.

As for doing any pasting... ummm...

Anonymous said...

"Patch writing"? An Elbowic dissertation collage? "Freepasting"? There's got to be some rhetoric that can justify it, man! ;-) --ERG

Jonathan Benda said...

Well, it's actually more of a side project at this point--not that closely related. (Like I don't have enough to do already!)