Smedley left California in a buoyant mood, optimistic about her prospects and excited by what she had seen of wartime America. The contrast between conditions in 1934 and 1942 was striking. The war had brought women into the work force and produced nearly full employment for men. For ordinary people such as her relatives in San Diego, the standard of living was appreciably higher. Social changes that in 1934 she had seen as obtainable only by revolutionary means—racial integration, economic independence for women, and political enfranchisement of unions, for example—seemed to be taking place peacefully in 1942. In short, under Roosevelt the United States seemed to be realizing the domestic and foreign policy goals for which she and her friends had marched and campaigned since her days with the Call in 1919. In this new political context, Smedley thought she could be an effective advocate of American support for a united Chinese war effort against the Japanese.
As in 1928, when Smedley left Europe to take up the fight against colonialism in China, her mission as a propagandist in America was a self-appointed one. She saw herself as representing »progressive« elements in China, and by this she certainly meant the Communist leadership in Yan'an, especially such coalition-minded leaders as Zhou Enlai. But she made her own independent analysis of the Chinese situation; she was not, like Anna Louise Strong, a designated spokesperson. In Battle Hymn of China, the »progressives« she championed included Dr. Robert K. Lin, Guangxi warlord generals, and independent urban intellectuals, as well as the Communists. She hoped that civil war might be avoided in postwar China and thought that this was possible if the right kind of American influence were exercised on Chiang Kai-shek. Thus Smedley's top priority in 1942 was to get to New York, the media center of the nation, and establish herself as a writer and authority on China. Smedley's train to New York was packed with soldiers, and Smedley talked late into the night with as many of them as she could. En route to Chicago, she wrote to Aino Taylor:
My respect for the men of my country mounts daily. The soldiers are educated men on the whole and seem intelligent. They lack international information, but they are a fine lot of men and I'm proud. I like so many things about my countrymen—their informality. Everybody talks with everybody else, every one makes jokes about each other. A very respectable woman with me, one of the lousy rich Mellons, became my chum. She was about my own age and fine looking and before long she dropped all her high-nosed attitude and joined in with the soldiers. She and I just prowled about talking with them, arguing and debating about this and that, and we were soon joined by a serious, handsome WAAC woman about 30 years of age returning to her camp in Des Moines. A Negro girl joined us—the wife of a Negro soldier— so we were four. One night we started singing folk songs in a group and soon we had the whole lounge car, and groups of soldiers who came in, singing at the top of their voices. We sang our way right through the history of America. When we awoke one early morning passing through Wyoming we found snow lying in deep drifts and Cheyenne was completely covered. Farmers, as big as the side of a barn, got on the train in Nebraska. They were fully 6 ft. 6 in. tall and broad shouldered as oxes and wore checkered shirts. They looked worn out from labor. The soldiers looked like gentlemen of leisure in comparison.
Smedley's one stopover was in Chicago. She had promised Emily Hahn in Hong Kong that she would personally deliver a photograph of Emily's out-of-wedlock baby to Emily's mother in Winnetka. Especially now that Hong Kong had fallen to the Japanese and Emily Hahn's whereabouts was unknown, Smedley felt duty-bound to fulfill her promise. Two of Emily Hahn's sisters met Smedley at the station in Chicago and the three toured the city until evening, ending up at the Hahns' northern suburban home. Smedley was impressed by the family's efforts for the war. Some served on the State Civilian Defense Commission, some wrote articles for Harper's and The Atlantic. One of Emily's nephews was in the air corps, and the women were involved with the Red Cross and cooperative sewing bees. Smedley was warmly welcomed, despite the disturbing news of Emily.
Smedley was also impressed by the Chicago Sun Times, founded and financed by Marshall Field, pronouncing it the best newspaper she had ever seen: »Responsible, depressingly accurate; thorough; non-sensational; progressive; opposing all reaction, all Fascism in the country. Today's issue had a thorough report about Guadalcanal; and it runs the diary of their correspondent with the Marines in the Solomons... . But leaving Chicago for New York, my pullman is filled with businessmen who read the vicious Chicago Tribune. Tomorrow at 9:30 we reach New York. This is a different world and it seems like a dream«.
Smedley now believed that acceptance of a united front in China by middle-class America was the key to U.S. government policy. Like Margaret Sanger in her evolving tactics for promoting birth control, Smedley was willing to downplay ideology and concentrate on working toward an immediate goal. As for her own political position, she was still searching, and still repulsed by authoritarianism whether on the left or the right. Much more flexible politically than during her last visit to New York, in 1934, she hoped that the established media would accept her. But the memory of her dogmatic political statements from the 1930s, and her reputation as a foul-mouthed and »loose« woman, made that an impossibility. In a November letter to Taylor, she gave this account of her first appearance at the Overseas Press Club, in late October, soon after her arrival in New York:
There were three or four guests of honor and we had to stand up and take a bow... As I stood up, cries from the Far East [contingent] went up in various corners...
Now what do I think of that Club? Well, the speeches were interesting, but ... [if] kings and queens are more high-nosed, they achieve a lot. I believe commanders on the battlefield must feel most insignificant with men of my profession. Well-dressed, slick, hard-boiled, each one writing a book a month; and each one with a look on his face that says: »I'm so famous... «. As for myself, I sort of felt that my pants were falling down and I seemed to drag around the room in insignificance. It's amazing how an atmosphere can wipe one out. After the luncheon one of the »Far Eastern« correspondents came up, bent down knowingly and asked me: »Give me the low down—were you and Sir Archibald Clark Kerr lovers?«
He looked accusingly at me, and so help me Hannah, I felt that he had caught me stealing a penny from the church plate. This also shows the power of attack. It took me a few minutes to rally and say the rumor was untrue, but so fierce was the attack that I began to wrack my brain to determine if I had or had not had a love affair with the British Ambassador. Perhaps I had forgotten, I thought. But I'm really quite certain that I never did have...
After the meeting, I kissed the Far Eastern crowd and they kissed me, and the wives of some of the men I kissed remarked in astonishment: »Goodness me: I always expected to find you very ugly; but you're not so very«. So I learned that their husbands, whom I had kissed, had all told them that I was ugly.
Smedley had a total of four hundred dollars with her when she arrived in New York. She had already taken an advance against royalties on Battle Hymn of China, and—not surprisingly—her editor at Knopf wanted more cuts and rewriting, which meant more delays before she could draw any money from that source. In this pinch, Smedley did not try to find housing in Greenwich Village, rationalizing that she »did not want to get mixed up in all those small political cliques which make the Village their hang-out«. She found a forty-dollar-a-month studio apartment uptown in a »second or third rate« building somewhere between Central Park and Riverside Drive; the communal kitchen where she kept her food—primarily milk and cottage cheese—was down the hall, as was the shower. Her financial woes were increased by trouble with her teeth; she wrote to Taylor that she was hoping to sell an article soon in order to pay for new bridgework.
Among those who opened their doors to Smedley were her publishers, Alfred and Blanche Knopf. During her first months in New York, Blanche often invited Smedley to the Knopf home for cocktail parties where the rich and powerful mixed with famous artists and writers. It was at one of these parties that Smedley met Henry Luce. She wrote to Taylor on November 20:
Into this party strode Henry Luce, magnate, owner and publisher of Life, Time, and Fortune. Mrs. Knopf introduced him and he bowed here and there, but when she brought him to the couch where I sat in state, he shook hands and plunked himself by my side and there we sat marooned on the couch for an hour, talking. Then he got up, bowed, and left, after saying he wanted to see me again. Mrs. Knopf took me aside, and in a low impressive voice, told me that »Harry came only to see you«. For »Harry« is very romantic about China, and once his wife had been squelched in China by the British Ambassador when she tried to get all the dirt on me. Well, Luce is the only attractive man I've met so far, and I'd think this had he never even looked at me during the party. He's amazingly attractive; which is rather distressing when you consider that I so thoroughly disagree with all his ideas— if these ideas, which I hear on all sides, are true. He told me about his experiences in China and I sometimes had to laugh at him for being taken in. He's not used to having anyone laugh at him, for he's a millionaire. People just don't scoff at millionaires, you know.
So I'm getting a bad reputation for associating with the rich and powerful. However, everyone rich enough to do so calls Mrs. Knopf »Blanche« and they call Henry Luce »Harry«. If my book is a howling financial success and I can make enough noise by writing, I may one day be able to call them »Blanche« and »Harry«.
It was not surprising that Henry Luce and others in the New York publishing world would probe to see if Smedley could fit her political message into their world view. In 1942 New York was a center for ex-Communist intellectuals from around the world. One of Luce's principal intellectual advisers at Time-Life was Willi Schlamm, the former editor of the Communist daily newspaper in Vienna. Another of Luce's editors was the ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers, who became an informant for the F.B.I, in 1942 and was known to encourage other ex-Communists to bare their souls to him. Luce quickly discovered that Smedley shared his own attraction to intensely committed people: she had been a friend of ex-Communists Julian Gumperz and Freda Utley; she had her differences with members of the American Communist Party; she had been upset by the Stalinist purges and had been privately critical of Russian policies toward China. She had also been outspoken in her admiration of the progress made in the United States under Roosevelt's New Deal.
Henry Luce clearly thought of himself as a national policymaker, and the war in which America found itself was, in his view, a war for men's minds, an ideological contest. He had been born in China, the son of missionaries, and the establishment of a Christian China was part of his obsession. This fact, coupled with a century of U.S. missionary commitment in China and Chiang Kai-shek's conversion to Christianity, led both Luce and American Christian churches to assume a self-interested loyalty to the Guomindang. This in turn produced such extravagant praise for Chiang that he became a legendary hero almost overnight, and any criticism of him became inadmissible.
Luce and many ex-communists believed that the public was incapable of absorbing a complex picture of conflicting realities and therefore needed an elite to point out the right policy or the right man to support. When it came to raising funds for missions or choosing an ally in China, the public was not to be confused with any information about the potential weakness of Chiang or his government. This type of thinking led the Missionary Review of the World to proclaim after Chiang's conversion: »China now has the most enlightened, patriotic, and able ruler in her history«.
Freda Utley tried to bring Smedley into her circle of professional ex-Communists when Smedley approached her to renew the friendship they had had in Hankou in 1938. But after seeing Utley in New York, Smedley had her doubts. In two letters to Taylor she wrote:
Last week I was at the home of the English woman writer, Freda Utley, who once married a Russian who was put to death by the Soviets. Never in my life have I seen a woman in whose heart and mind every hope on earth has been slain as has hers. She used to be a leading British Communist; now [she is] a black-minded cynic. She believes in nothing at all.... [According to her] the Russians fight out of fear; the Americans and British and Chinese are merely bringing Fascism to life.
Two nights ago I was at a Greenwich Village evening party [at Freda Utley's home]. One distinguished-looking elderly man [there] had once been a high functionary of the American Communist Party but [had] resigned because of the purges in the Soviet Union. He kept saying to me: »Agnes (I had never seen the fellow before in my life), you and I will never live through such glorious days as in the past, will we?« The man seemed to think we were buddies who had grown old and disillusioned, and was dreadfully disappointed because I refused to take my place by his disillusioned side. Freda, who is cynical and disillusioned, kept saying of me: »Oh, she feels just the same as we do, but will not admit it«. They had it all down pat.
Alfred Kazin, who worked for Time during this period, noted that one was always meeting ex-Communists in New York whose contempt of the masses amounted to an intellectual style. Freda Utley certainly fit this description. This was the same kind of intellectual arrogance toward »the masses« that had caused Smedley to be hostile and defensive toward New York Communists twenty-four years earlier. In 1942 she found that not only ex-Communists but active Communists had not changed much in this regard. She told Taylor: »A few evenings ago I went to a woman's apartment and found a group of Communists gathered. With withering scorn they condemned everyone else to perdition—as 'half-baked liberals, corny illiterates, Fascists'—and they said Hemingway must be crushed... . They say everybody is running to them now to get knowledge and wisdom and they are dispensing it to the worthy. I decided that I am not worthy to associate with the American Communists; and I shall not seek their company nor tolerate it in the future« (December 24).
At a time when Smedley herself was searching for an ideological home, others in the publishing world besides Luce were trying to figure out just what her political position actually was. The editors of Reader's Digest, for example, explored the question for months. On November 20 Smedley wrote Taylor:
I went by train about an hour or two up the Hudson to a place called Chappaqua, near which [Reader's Digest] has its hang-out. There Mr. Wallace, owner of the R.D., and one Palmer, the new editor, met me by car and took me to lunch for three hours in a little house furnished, as they said, like the »parlor« of a Justice of the Peace where shotgun marriages are performed. That man Palmer is known as a pro-Fascist connected [to] some of the Bund-ists now in jail. He is a big hulking man who sometimes smiled, but more often reminded me of British soldiers in Libya who do not advance until they have poked sticks in the sand to detect land mines. So Palmer approached me with stick in hand, sticking it cautiously about lest he strike a mine that might blow him up. He is very anti-Negro, very much one for Aryan race purity. His anti-color prejudice extends to the Chinese and all Asiatics, and he asked me to just please tell him if I thought the Atlantic Charter should be applied to China, and if that meant Chinese could enter this country, and if it meant we would have to go in and build up China after the war and feed all those 400,000,000 people. He used the words »yellow peril«. The man does not seem to realize that Chinese have always worked for a living, and I told him that if it had not been for our sale of war materials to Japan, they would need no help at all from us. Well, since a few hundred dollars per article was sticking out [toward] me, I tried to turn the subject to reality and talk of things I knew. I assured him that I was no authority on loans and investments, and that my voice is not quite decisive in our State Department. Wallace asked me to write one article to start with, on Japanese treatment of the Chinese.
By this time, Smedley was living on money borrowed from a loan company. On January 13 she told Taylor that after several rewritings, Reader's Digest was still not satisfied:
They [said they] did not know when, where, or if they could publish the article at all. It [might be] too shocking to American readers. The editors of that magazine said to me: »Tell us about Japanese rape. We like to hear about rape«. So I wrote about that, among other things, in my article. However, I did not make rape attractive, as so many people like to think about it. I showed how Japanese soldiers, fifteen or so in a bunch, rape a woman until she goes insane or dies, then often kill her in disgust afterwards. And I told how Chinese women, left pregnant by Japanese, kill the babies at birth.
Smedley's dream of financial stability and acceptance as a writer slipped away as article after article was returned for toning down and revision. In February, she reluctantly borrowed the money to have three teeth removed and a bridge put in. Though sliding further into debt, she steadfastly refused to be edited: she would not avoid criticizing Chiang Kai-shek, or try to make the war in China seem more palatable for middle-class readers. She stuck by her convictions: only if the public had the harsh facts could it understand what was at stake in China.
During the fall of 1942, Preston Schoyer's novel The Foreigners came out. Smedley proclaimed it to be a »very good thing on China but in which I appear ... as tough and bitter as they make them«. Toughness and stridency were indeed the dominant traits that Smedley communicated in public. But this image of toughness, though frightening to publishers, was attractive to military men and government officials, both British and American, who were involved in the war effort. They were continually coming up to visit her in New York or inviting her to Washington. Most of them had been in China or were about to be sent there. Typical was Joseph Barnes, a department head for the Office of War Information. He and Smedley met regularly on a personal basis, working closely together and trading information: »He [Barnes] gave a dinner party for me, with five other people and his wife. It was an evening spent in political discussion and debate and I learned all the latest from China. He also gave me a big bundle of documents«. Clearly, important people on the East Coast were deciding that Smedley had pertinent military information and could be effective in conveying the need to support whoever in China was fighting the Japanese. For these reasons it was suggested to the new Canadian ambassador to Chongqing, General Victor Odium, that he see Smedley. On March 17 or 18, she wrote to Taylor:
Last night I went to dinner with General Victor Odium, the new Canadian Minister to China. We then went to his apartment and stayed there until midnight, walking the floor, waving our arms at each other, and talking about war, Fascism, liberalism, Communism, etc. He's a very naive simple-minded man who will be lost in China in the hands of kid-gloved politicians. Yet he has the mind of a common man still—he sees behind much deception and intrigue and I liked him immensely. We had a fine time together and I sometimes laughed myself sick at him or with him. For instance, he told me that Americans all say that Canadians are so very colorless and so dreadfully proper. The Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, for instance, is straight-laced, colorless, and always recalls a man from a diplomatic post if he belches by accident. General Odium wrote him yesterday and told him for God's sake to become a little colorful for the sake of the Four Freedoms; but, he says, Mackenzie King may fire him for making the suggestion. Then, the General and I were discussing the Nazi-Soviet battlefront, and he was trying to demonstrate military tactics by using a wrestling match as an example. To do this, he got up, stood before me, and threw himself in the position of a wrestler grappling with an opponent... . While he talked I screamed with laughter at the prospect of wrestling with a General. I told him that it's a fine idea; that I've never yet seen a Senator cry, an elephant fly, nor have I yet wrestled with a General. Lord Chesterfield, I told him, once remarked that the pursuit of knowledge is like wrestling with a beautiful woman. Had we two not been alone, had there been a third person present, I would actually have wrestled with General Odium. But since we were alone and he is a Canadian, I feared he might think me too colorful. So I merely proposed that he write Mackenzie King and tell him that he has been wrestling with a woman in pursuit of knowledge, and having a colorful time.
Smedley also contacted organizations sending medical aid to China. She found an acquaintance from Hong Kong, Dr. J. Heng Liu, working as head of the American Bureau of the Chongqing government's Department of Medical Supplies, and she was asked to give a report to the directors of the United China Relief, a Rockefeller-backed organization headed by Henry Luce.
Pearl Buck and her publisher husband, Richard Walsh, also offered to open doors for Smedley. The two women had more in common than they realized: they did not know that at different times each had had an affair with Xu Zhimo, the romantic poet from Shanghai who had died in a plane crash in 1931. Buck asked Smedley if she would accept a few speaking engagements if Buck arranged them for her—an offer Smedley readily accepted. Smedley was impressed by Buck's energy and courage and was particularly excited by a speech in which Buck criticized the racism inherent in parts of the missionary movement in China. Buck and Walsh reintroduced Smedley to an old Shanghai acquaintance and intellectual adversary, Lin Yutang. Smedley was impressed by the way the war had changed Lin. He seemed more confident, more sophisticated, and fiercely patriotic; she was happily surprised to find that he bitterly opposed the limitation of the Atlantic Charter to white nations.
Smedley had introductions of her own to offer. One of her Scotch-English friends from Hong Kong was David MacDougall, who had been wounded and captured by the Japanese and had then escaped. By January of 1943 the British government had sent him to Washington to manage propaganda in favor of Britain's colonial policy. He came up to New York several times to visit Smedley and invited her down to Washington to visit him. Smedley introduced him to Pearl Buck in New York in February, and the three argued about British policy in India. On February 7, Agnes wrote to Aino:
But when [MacDougall] told me that he thought Jawaharlal Nehru should be imprisoned, he and I nearly engaged in physical combat. I told him that he is disgracing himself; that he is a young man, a liberal, and that he belongs to the new world, not to the old. I told him frankly that I for one refused to surrender him to the old world; that he must help us defeat colonialism; that he must help us free Nehru and other Congress [Party] leaders in India and stop shipping Indian Quislings around this country to do propaganda for British rule in India. Pearl Buck and Dick Walsh and the C.I.O. leader [unknown] all supported my view. We told David that we want Lord Halifax shipped out of this country and Sir Archibald Clark Kerr brought here; ... David thought Pearl Buck »a danger« before he met her. But after he met her, he saw as I did that she was a lovely, simple, direct woman, utterly without guile or subterfuge. She is the best that America has produced—intelligent, idealistic, honest, uncomplicated in mind and attitude; and very, very frank...
When I saw her in their town apartment, I saw how very beautiful she can be. Last night I received a note from Pearl Buck—one such as must endear her to the hearts of others as it does to mine. She wrote, amongst many other things, »I feel that I know you now—and I like you so much«. She told me that both she and Mr. Walsh will be at my lecture on »The Fighting Chinese« on the 24th of March.
Because of the war, a spirit of bipartisanship prevailed in foreign policy. Former political opponents now agreed that since Japan was proving a much more formidable enemy than expected, an international effort was needed to preserve a united front in China. And with Germany poised to invade Britain, Russia was desperately needed as an ally against Nazi Germany, no matter what conservatives or liberals thought of Stalin's purges of the 1930s. The mood of the time was reflected at a November 7, 1942, meeting at Madison Square Garden commemorating the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.*
- *Smedley did not attend this meeting, but she did attend similar smaller affairs at which she renewed an acquaintance with the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Maxim Litvinov, and his British wife, Ivy, whom Smedley had met in Moscow in 1934. Maxim Litvinov (1876-1951), a Polish Jew, was one of the founding members of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party who had joined Lenin in breaking off in 1903 and forming the Bolshevik Party. After the Soviet Union was established in 1917, Litvinov was deputy people's commissar of foreign affairs from 1921 to 1930, when he became commissar. It was Litvinov who had negotiated U.S. recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933. Thereafter he was the principal spokesman for the policy of collective security by which the Soviet Union sought cooperation with Great Britain and France against Nazi Germany. In 1933-34, the Litvinovs made a point of getting to know and help Westerners who turned up in Moscow. They seemed less mechanical in the application of theory than many other Russlan officials. Anna Louise Strong, for example, considered them quite successful in bridging cultural differences. Not surprisingly, Maxim Litvinov had been dismissed from office in May, 1939, on the eve of the Hitter-Stalin Pact. After the German attack and the Soviet U.S. alliance, he was reinstated and was named ambassador to Washington in 1941. It was in this wartime context that Smedley saw the Litvinovs in New York and once in Washington. In mid-1943, Litvinov was recalled as U.S.-Soviet relations hardened again. No further direct contact between Smedley and Soviet officials is documented after the Litvinovs returned to Moscow (Strong and Keyssar, Rigbt in Her Soul: The Life of Anna L. Strong [New York, 19831, pp. 205, 233-34; Henry Roberts, "Maxim Litvinov," in Gordon Craig and Felix Gilbert, eds., The Diplomats [Princeton, 1953], pp. 344-77; for Smedley's contact, see Smedley to Taylor, June 1, 1943).
- (* Smedley's closest friend was Josephine Bennett, whom she had last seen in Paris in 1934 on her way back to the United States from Russia. Mary Knoblauch, once on the editorial board of the Birth Control Review, now widowed and in her seventies, was living comfortably and independently in New York on an inheritance from her side of the family; she enjoyed entertaining writers and academics at her Wyoming Apartments flat. Also widowed and in her seventies, Emma Goldman's old friend Ellen Kennan was still teaching Latin in New York and living in the Village. After renewing their friendship, Smedley and Kennan frequented the theater together (Smedley to Taylor, December 12, 1942).
With no end to German expansion in sight, it was not only Communists and fellow travelers who made up the audience of 25,000. Speakers included Vice-President Henry Wallace; the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Joseph E. Davis; and a general representing Chief of Staff General George Marshall. And loudspeakers transmitted to the crowd a radio message of support for our Russian allies from General Dwight D. Eisenhower in Africa.
Smedley was well aware that the world political situation in 1942 was different from what it had been in 1920. Although she resisted at every stage, her political naivete had gradually been stripped away over the years. Her recognition of the realities behind political rhetoric had steadily widened, as if in concentric circles. Yet at the core she remained the same person, and thus in 1942 she turned to the old group of independent, idealistic, liberal and leftist friends she had made before 1920— people she knew could understand her political odyssey. Foremost among these were women with whom she had worked in Greenwich Village and in Germany in the birth control movement: Thorberg Brundin, Josephine Bennett, Mary Knoblauch, and Ellen Kennan. Smedley's personal and social life in 1942 revolved around these women. With the possible exception of a poet who was teaching English at New York University, Smedley apparently had no sexual relationships with men. She was now in her early fifties, and her sexual needs appear to have diminished. To Taylor, she referred to sex with disdain, always distinguishing it from friendship and love. From current plays and movies about the war, she complained, one might conclude that »capitalism has given the American people nothing to live and die for except sex«, and she criticized publishers and moviemakers for teaching youth that »love solves all problems, while in reality love should merely enrich lives«. In contrast to Yan'an, where she had fought against excessive puritanism, now in the U.S. she found herself reacting to what she thought was another extreme — an obsession with sex.
Running into old friends and being teased about her past love life made Smedley uneasy and even embarrassed. In another letter to Taylor she wrote:
Speaking of men, a fellow came to town and telephoned me and told me romantically to meet him »in the same room in the Public Library where we used to meet«. I remembered the fellow but could not remember having met him in any room anywhere. I agreed to lunch with him and asked him to meet me by the lions in front of the library. We met and the years had not been unkind to him. But when he kept touching my shoulder I remembered, unfortunately, that I bad met him in a room now and then. This repelled me so much that I nearly insulted him and I hated the ground he walked on. He kept telling me sadly that I had changed so terribly much. Yes, I said, three times over, for one changes entirely every seven years. ... I really think the man's a moron. He talks like a broken phonograph record, and once or twice I said to him: »You were saying that same thing a quarter century ago«. He replied: »There isn't anything else to do but repeat«. Afterwards this rat went to a man I know and told him that he and I had once been lovers. The man gave me a strange smile when the fellow's name was mentioned, then asked me if the statement were true. I told him it perhaps was; that I had been such a sap that anything would have been possible; but that I found him the most dreadful bore I have ever met. The friend stopped smiling at that.
What a rotten life I must have led while a girl. If only I could meet one man whom I could be proud of, and say: »I slept with him!« But I have to creep off in some corner by myself and contemplate such things in shame. Shaw was right to say that sex is the most transitory and unreliable of human passions. Only if linked with the deepest friendship and affection can it be tolerated.
In January of 1943, at a formal banquet in support of Indian independence, her sense of deja vu was overwhelming. Even the toastmaster, Roger Baldwin, was an old lover. Smedley sat at the head table, but it was Pearl Buck, not Smedley, who was chosen as the main speaker. She understood why. It was the same old sexual-political problem that had plagued her throughout her marriage to Chatto. She told Taylor:
I sat at the speaker's table with about thirteen others that night... So I met all the leading Indians in the city, and there was not a man of them but that knew that I had lived with an Indian for years. So they sort of took possession of me as one of themselves! Funny, isn't it? All Asia believes not only in wives, but in concubines, or sub-wives, of which I was one. Roger Baldwin was toastmaster at the dinner, and he came [formally] dressed and was as handsome as the day. We stood in the big reception hall and went through a regular rite which we have repeated in Germany, Moscow, China, and various other cities in the U.S.A. He saw me, uttered a glad cry, held out his arms and embraced and kissed me, then continued to hold on and chatter dear nothings. We finally separated and he introduced me to his watchful wife. I told her that Roger and I act like this on every continent but immediately separate and forget each other until we meet again; then we repeat the process and say »good-bye«, just like that.
The next night Smedley was expected at a fund-raising banquet for the birth control movement, but after the nostalgic trauma of the Indian affair she decided not to attend. Still, though deeply embarrassed by the abundant reminders of her youthful »energy«, she could respond playfully when confronted with the evidence. She wrote, again to Taylor: »In Washington I met an old friend, a Swiss journalist, who was jolly as ever... He asked me to live in his flat when I return, but I laughed at him and told him that I'm a re-conditioned old maid« (February 27).
Although she continued to delight in bawdy stories and language, Smedley now thought of sex as potentially corrupting. In praising a 1943 play about Thomas Jefferson, she commented to Taylor: »Even the liberal drama critics say the play was without 'color and intimacy' by which they mean scenes of sex passion which have corrupted America. They cannot conceive of intellectual passion as colorful, intimate, and magnificent. To me, the play was more magnificently colorful and inspiring than anything I've seen on stage« (January 30).
Smedley was trying to get back in touch with her country, and she found books, movies, and plays a convenient way to feel its pulse. By October, Lewis Gannett, a critic at the New York Herald Tribune and a longtime admirer of Smedley's, had become an acquaintance. When he suggested that a play based on her experiences in China would be timely, Smedley, who always loved the theater, was enthusiastic about the idea and decided it would be her next project.
But Smedley drew most of her conclusions about the political climate in the United States in the winter of 1942-43 from personal contacts and friendships. In this respect, two persons were particularly important for her assessment of the possible acceptance of U.S. support for a united-front government in China: Republican Congressman Dr. Walter Judd, a former medical missionary to China; and J. B. Powell, the editor of Shanghai's China Weekly Review in the 1930s. Convinced of their personal integrity, Smedley trusted that their »Old China Hand« camaraderie and common anticolonial and antiracist positions would allow them to work together effectively to publicize the situation in China. Both men were respected political conservatives, and Smedley's desire to work with them reflected a new realism on her part. For Smedley, the only hope for China's rural poor lay with U.S. support for a united-front government, and she saw the involvement of »old hands« like Judd and Powell as the key to winning bipartisan acceptance in the United States.
In early November the Swedish ship Gripsholm had reached the United States carrying correspondents who had been prisoners of the Japanese. Among them was J. B. Powell. Powell had been brutally tortured by the Japanese; all that remained of his feet were stumps. Smedley was a frequent visitor at his bedside in New York and spent New Year's Day of 1943 at the hospital with him. She could not get it out of her mind that she too was on the Japanese political-enemies list and would have met the same fate had she remained in Hong Kong. Powell had been given a contract by Macmillan for a book. In addition, Chiang Kai-shek and the National Press Club in Washington had sent Powell $10,000 and $8,000, respectively. Powell was genuinely moved. He weighed only 109 pounds and was still too weak to face a writing project, but his inability to get anything done was depressing him. Smedley's visits were a tonic for his morale, since her presence always seemed to stimulate a political argument they could both enjoy.*
(* On that New Year's Day, Mrs. Powell couldn't resist asking »if her husband's friendship with me [Smedley] had been platonic. I tried to remember, but I could not exactly recall; and he was too polite to insist that it had been« (letter to Taylor, January 3, 1943); Smedley's »lack of memory« was for effect—she never had had an affair with J. B. Powell. The International Concession area of Shanghai had been occupied by the Japanese immediately after Pearl Harbor in 1941; Powell was among the first Americans arrested.)
When the debate was about to go too far, Smedley would ask, »Well, what can I get you?« — her signal that it was time for her to leave.
Smedley finished her final draft of Battle Hymn of China on January 4, 1943, and delivered it to her editor at Knopf, who told her she could expect a May publication date. Her arguments with Powell on the possibilities for a united-front government in China had depressed her and she now anticipated that her book would be »blown out of the water« by Powell's book because hers »would be considered too controversial«. She continued to search for some common ground between them. Later that spring she thought she had found it. On March 25, Smedley sent a taxi, nurse, and wheelchair to pick up Powell, his wife, and his son at the hospital and take them to a Broadway theater to meet Smedley, Thorberg Brundin, and Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Gannett. Powell had not seen a play in the United States since 1921, and Smedley thought he might like this one, The Patriots by Sidney Kingsley. The play's hero was Thomas Jefferson, and it focused on the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the struggle between Hamilton and Jefferson. The performance concluded with the audience standing to sing the »Star-Spangled Banner«. Powell himself insisted on standing, with the aid of crutches. Hearing Smedley sing along with wholehearted gusto, he couldn't resist the teasing remark, »I didn't think you knew that song«.* (* Smedley had, in fact, been genuinely moved by The Patriots. She had already seen it once, in January, and in Washington in February had gone to the Lirary of Congress to see the writings of Jefferson for herself (Smedley to Tayler, February 17, 1943).)
Smedley had arranged for the theater to donate the seats for the Powell family as well as to set up a private party backstage with sandwiches and wine as a tribute to his bravery.
Throughout the spring of 1943 Smedley praised to friends the stance on China being taken by Republican Congressman Walter Judd and urged them to read his speeches in the Congressional Record. The two now were in contact with one another. As she wrote to Taylor on April 24, Judd had helped arrange for her to speak at the National Press Club in Washington on April 20, where »the audience was small but intelligent and interesting and there was considerable discussion afterwards, with Representative Judd and other officials taking part«. Reporting on her other recent activities, she continued: »I had a four-hour conference with the Surgeon General's office on the Chinese Army medical system, and since returning home have made an extensive report and sent it off this morning. Then I spent a morning in conference with the Cultural Division of the State Department. Had two cocktail parties and three dinners and argued my way through one crowd after another. General Magruder, of the Office of Strategic Services, gave a cocktail party for me. I learned that Generals do not read books; that they live luxuriously; that they are good cocktail party hosts and charming personally, but totally out of focus and out of step with the times«.
Since early winter, Smedley's many discussions with Powell, Judd, and various generals had caused her distress about the opinions being expressed in the business and military communities. She had written to Taylor on January 27:
Mr. Powell told me other serious things he has heard. Many big business and Army men think there should be peace with Japan ... [because], they say, China may go Communist, and together with the Soviet Union »menace« the world. They consider Japan a bulwark against Communism and they also say that Japan was America's best customer before the war began. There is one thing they all forget: that it is Japan who would decide all things; and American businessmen would have to go crawling up to Japanese boots, asking for the right to sell a few piddling things; that is, if Japan is victorious. In any case, the world is in a hell of a state, and America is the least prepared of all nations to think in terms of a new and socialist world.
Smedley had also been worried for months about Chiang Kai-shek's increasingly effective China lobby. She had written to Taylor on February 7: »It was interesting and more than depressing to talk with [a friend in the Office of War Information] about internal conditions in China today. Madame Chiang Kai-shek remains in a hospital in New York here, and she brought a whole regiment of men with her, it seems, and all of them are busily engaged in trying to drive out of official and newspaper positions every American in this country who speaks favorably of the democratic forces inside China. They work through Henry Luce, millionaire and powerful owner of Life, Time, and Fortune, and head of China Relief«.
By early 1943, informed observers had concluded that the Guomin-dang could not escape a major domestic challenge after the war. Few were sure of the outcome. George Atcheson, a U.S. diplomat who had twenty years of experience in China, reported in May of 1943 that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Pearl Buck wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt: »It is a peculiar and interesting situation. It cannot of course last. I fear an outbreak from the people immediately after the war, or at least as soon as the people can recuperate sufficiently to make it«.Smedley had, in fact, been genuinely moved by The Patriots. She had already seen it once, in January, and in Washington in February had gone to the Library of Congress to see the writings of Jefferson for herself (Smedley to Taylor, February 27, 1943).
On March 22, 1943, Time published an eyewitness account, by Theodore White, of the terrible Henan famine of 1942-43. According to White, however, they had not published the whole outraged account he had submitted. He had reported on the »stupidity and inefficiency of the relief effort, the continued collection of taxes from starving peasants by local officials, [and] the bland equanimity of Chongqing because officially all taxes had been remitted«. He had mentioned corruption and profiteering and had said he was convinced that the loyalty of the peasants of Henan had been »hollowed to nothingness by the extortions of their government«, which was of course Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang regime. None of these charges appeared in the Time story. They had been cut out by Whittaker Chambers, who had taken over as editor of the foreign news section. In 1952, in his book Witness, Chambers acknowledged that during this period he was »writing or rewriting a fourth to a third« of the magazine's foreign news section and that he was doing so to make an ideological point: »I reversed the magazine's news policy toward Russia, making it clear on the basis of the weekly news that Russia was not a friend, but an enemy who was actively using W.W. II. to prepare W.W. III. With the same weekly insistence, I pointed out that China was the key to world politics and that to lose China to Communism was to risk losing W.W. III«. Chambers, of course, had never been to China.
On March 25, Smedley wrote to Taylor that she had signed up with a lecture agency in order to earn some much-needed cash:
Lecture agencies have a system of calling organizations to send representatives ... to hear short speeches by lecturers. I felt like a horse being paraded out for possible buyers to look over. Perhaps in time I'll get used to this. There were 100—150 representatives of clubs and other organizations present, each writing busily while the speakers did their stunts. I took an episode of the China war, which they seemed to like.... I've told the head of the agency that I want schools and universities, serious clubs, and Army training camps, but there is almost no money in it. They pay a flat $10 a day only, whereas clubs pay from $100—400 a lecture. But I'd like to speak before Army camps now and then.
By this time, the only articles Smedley was able to place were book reviews in the Progressive. For its May 10 issue she wrote a short but hard-hitting piece entitled »The Mind of China's Ruling Class«, in which she reviewed Chiang Kai-shek's All We Are and All We Have and Mme. Chiang's We Chinese Women. Smedley warned that attempting to use another government strictly for America's own purposes might backfire and implied that it was naive to think that the other party wouldn't play the same game: »In a way, it is up to us to become truly democratic and to realize the freedoms for which we say we are fighting. If we wage this war as merely an alliance of political forces, some of them fascist or semi-fascist, and if we continue to support British imperialist policies in India, we cannot expect China to do more than protect itself against us, utilizing this war as we do for our own selfish aims«.
This piece developed a theme from Smedley's first review for the Progressive, on March 29, of Jack Belden's Retreat with Stilwell. Belden had ended his book with Stilwell's confession that »the Japs ran us out of Burma. We were licked«. What Belden witnessed and reported, Smedley restated in even blunter terms: the outcome in Burma was the inevitable result of the white man's imperialist sins. The Burmese so hated the white man, Belden reported, that when the Japanese came, Burmese civilians had themselves tattooed with an ancient symbol of revolt and then went gunning for any white man they could find. Smedley also noted that »someone« was trying to prevent Belden's book from being distributed to American soldiers because it was critical of Chiang's troops.
By the early spring of 1943 Smedley realized that it was probably financial suicide to step up her criticism of Chiang Kai-shek. She tried not to be discouraged. As she wrote to Taylor on March 17, she took heart from another American who had fought against racial discrimination:
I went to see Helen Hayes in Harriet the other night. It's a play of Harriet Beecher Stowe's life, of the way she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin and the uproar it caused before and during the Civil War. The play was disconnected, not well constructed, but there was a lot of humor throughout. I decided that I love many Americans, for the whole Beecher family is shown—a dozen brothers and sisters at least—all fighting over one problem or another at the top of their voices. Some were anti-slave, some pro-slave, and one of the sisters was one of the first suffragists. ... I loved it. No milk and water, but conviction. And finally we see the anti-slave Beechers with guns in their hands, fighting the Kentuckians who crossed the Ohio River and tried to capture escaped slaves. The Beechers took up their guns and fired. They melted up lead and made bullets in their own kitchen. Lord, I love anyone who would do that. Harriet, then lukewarm and seeking escape from reality, tried to prevent them and screamed at her father, a famous preacher, to stop them from fighting. The old gray-haired man shouted: »If they do, I'll disown the lot of 'em«.
Well, I've sent my article for the [Saturday Evening] Post to my agent, but both he and I know it will scare the Post to death; and it is going to be rejected, of that we are both certain. So place no hopes on seeing that article in the Post. I've broken my heart and head trying to emasculate it, and failed. But after seeing Jefferson and Harriet Beecher Stowe plays, I've decided to fight as they fought, and take defeat as it comes; and it is coming.