The calm of Smedley's life at Yaddo ended in October of 1944, when President Roosevelt recalled General »Vinegar Joe« Stilwell, the U.S. commander of the China/Burma/India theater (C.B.I.), and Smedley's friend since her Hankou days in 1938. This extraordinary action would quickly draw Smedley into a storm over America's China policy.
In the summer of 1944 the war in the Pacific was far from over. In Burma the Japanese were advancing north from Rangoon, and in China they were in the midst of a major offensive, making significant gains inland from the southeastern China coast. In part, this new offensive was intended to stop the vigorous air war which had been conducted since 1942 by General Claire Chennault's »Flying Tigers«, operating from bases in southern China. By September of 1944 the Japanese were threatening Chennault's main base at Guilin, and this forced theater commander Stilwell to order the evacuation and destruction of the base. The success of the Japanese thrust also drove a political wedge between Stilwell and the Chinese head of state, Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang remained confident that he need only wait for the Americans to beat the Japanese; Stilwell blamed Chiang for his battlefield losses in Burma. Like Time's T. H. White and many other observers, Stilwell saw Chiang's Chongqing government as foundering in a sea of poor leadership, corruption, inflation, and secret police executions. Moreover, Chiang had refused Stil-well's urgent request that he transfer 200,000 of his crack troops to the southwest front, away from the northwest where they were blockading the Communists. Chiang had answered that Stilwell could save Guilin by bringing British and American troops up from Burma.
By the end of the summer, Stilwell's impatience with Chiang Kai-shek's »mishandling« of the war effort had reached a boiling point. In his communications with Roosevelt, Stilwell insisted that he should be given direct command of all Chinese troops, Guomindang and Communist alike. He also urged that the United States consider backing someone other than Chiang Kai-shek—or »Peanut«, as he called him privately—as head of state. Stilwell thought he could strengthen the war effort in northern China if he could treat the Communist and Nationalist armies as equals. He had been encouraged briefly when Chiang reluctantly consented to permit the »Dixie« mission of official U.S. military observers to the Communist capital of Yan'an.*
(*The Dixie military observer mission remained in Yan'an from July to November, 1944. It was led by the military attache to the embassy in Chongqing, Col. David Barrett, and was named Dixie because of the Guomindang and American view of the Communists as rebels and the song title »Is It True What They Say about Dixie?« For an overview, see E.J. Kahn, Jr., The China Hands: America's Foreign Service Officers and What Befell Them (New York, 1975), pp. 103-34, or Barrett's memoir, Dixie Mission: The United States Army Observer Group in Yenan, 1944 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1970).)
But then Chiang Kai-shek stiffened and by September, when Guilin had to be abandoned, Stilwell and Chiang were locked in a power struggle. On September 28, Chiang made a desperate move. He cabled Roosevelt an ultimatum: Stilwell must be recalled or he would resign as generalissimo and president of China (head of state).
The Japanese offensive of the summer of 1944 also broke up a bipartisan foreign-policy consensus in Washington. As the debate over China policy and U.S. support of Chiang Kai-shek grew hotter, it divided opinion among »old China hands« now working in the press and military, many of whom were Smedley's friends. Matters came to a head in late October of 1944, when Roosevelt finally decided to remove Stilwell as his C.B.I, theater commander and send Chiang a new ambassador, Patrick Hurley, who was ideologically more sympathetic to the Guomindang government.
In retrospect, F.D.R.'s motives seem clear enough. This was a presidential election year, and he did not want to give Republicans—especially powerful opinion-makers like Henry Luce—an opportunity to attack him for vacillating in his support of Chiang's government. He was also concerned about the possibility of a postwar power vacuum in China if Chiang's government should fall and China be consumed by civil war. He still hoped that a strong and united China would provide postwar stability in the Far East, and he wanted China to play the role of a great power in the Security Council of the new United Nations, which was to be established in San Francisco the next year. Thus against the advice of most China experts, both inside and outside the White House, Roosevelt felt that he had no choice but to sack Stilwell and send new representatives to Chongqing who could get along better with Chiang Kai-shek. At the same time, he urged his new ambassador, Patrick Hurley, to do what he could to prevent the outbreak of civil war in China and asked him to actively promote the idea of a coalition government in which the Communists would have a secondary role.
The press reaction to StilwelPs sacking, though overshadowed by the election as a news story, was strong and noticeably divided. The conservative Chicago Tribune and Scripps-Howard papers such as the New York Daily Mirror praised Roosevelt's decision; the New York Times, the New Republic, and PM decried it. The most interesting response came in Time magazine. The first part of its lead story of November 13 quoted from a dispatch filed by its Chongqing bureau chief, T. H. White, and was pro-Stilwell and critical of Chiang Kai-shek. But in the middle of the piece, the tone abruptly changed: Chiang was praised and the decision to sack Stilwell was applauded. This was the work of Time's foreign news editor, Whittaker Chambers. Time's publisher, Henry Luce, was of course a fervent supporter of Chiang Kai-shek. Thus when his Chongqing bureau chief loudly protested the contradictory editorial additions, Luce supported Chambers and eventually forced White's resignation.
These events took place in a new Cold War atmosphere in New York and Washington. With the war nearly over in Europe, the Soviet Union began to be seen as the new enemy and the Chinese Communists as its puppets; thus Chiang Kai-shek had to be supported as part of the effort to stop the spread of Communism in Europe and Asia. This was the reasoning of Whittaker Chambers and some of Smedley's old China friends, notably J. B. Powell and Walter Judd. Smedley had come home from China determined to be politically independent and open-minded. But having lived under Chiang Kai-shek and then under the Chinese Communist Party, she was convinced that the poor of China would be better off under the Chinese Communists than under Chiang. She refused to give up her belief that a Communist Party forged by an indigenous nationalist movement would act independently of Moscow. From her experience in the Indian and Chinese movements, she knew the strength of nationalism. She also refused to accept the view that communism and democracy were mutually exclusive.
Before General StilwelPs recall, Smedley had already been upset and feeling personally wounded by the anti-Communist stands of her Hankou friend Freda Utley and her Hong Kong friend Emily Hahn. Hahn had attacked Smedley in the spring of 1944 in her book China to Me. Since Hahn was a good friend of T. V. Soong's and was the biographer of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, her political position could hardly have surprised Smedley. What did surprise her was the fact that Hahn made her a personal target. Claiming that the average American was »full of hooey« because »he thinks the Chinese guerrillas are the only soldiers doing any fighting in China«, Hahn argued that Agnes Smedley, Edgar Snow, and Evans Carlson were the »perpetrators« of this misconception. »I am not trying to run you down, Agnes Smedley, Ed Snow, and General [sic] Carlson, and the rest of you; I'm only trying to undo some of the harm you have unwittingly done to your friends.« Smedley concurred privately with Carlson's response that Hahn's book was »an abortion.«
The rift with Freda Utley hurt more, and again it involved Carlson. In China at War (1939), Utley had been the first on-the-scene observer to claim in print that the Chinese Communists were basically agrarian reformers. More recently, however, she had been making sharp anti-Communist statements—statements so sharp, in fact, that Carlson and Smedley wondered if she had become a paid publicist for the Guomindang.
Since his formation of an elite Marine battalion trained in the guerrilla tactics he had observed in northern China, Carlson had continued to make waves in the military. At Guadalcanal from August, 1942, to February of 1943, Carlson's Raiders had won the first victory against the Japanese in the South Pacific, losing only sixteen men while destroying Japanese installations and killing over eight hundred Japanese. Nevertheless, Carlson's superiors told him frankly that they were afraid of his unorthodox ideas and tactics, and in May of 1943 he was kicked »upstairs« to be executive officer of the Raider regiment and stripped of direct command of his battalion. He continued his fight to change practices within the military by supporting such projects as the writing of pamphlets »on the contribution of the Negro to our military efforts«. By 1944 he had stirred up enough controversy with his statements about China to be condemned by Luce and Hearst publications. He was one of the chief architects of American strategy in the battles of Tarawa and Saipan, where his arm was badly shattered as he attempted to remove a wounded soldier from the line of fire. (Because of his wound, he would be forced to retire from the Marines in 1945. He returned to the United States with the idea of running for the U.S. Senate from California.)
While Smedley and Carlson were being criticized from the right by supporters of Chiang Kai-shek, Smedley also received criticism from old friends on the left, such as Anna Louise Strong. Most such criticisms were still being made in private. Not until September of 1944, when the debate over Stilwell began to heat up in Washington, did Smedley drop her united-front position and respond publicly by sharpening her attacks on Chiang's government. On September 18 she wrote to Taylor:
Since writing you I went down to Woodstock to lecture. It was interesting. »Woodstock is an artists' colony, about 180 writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, and theater people live in the stretching mountains. They have small wooden cottages somewhat like mine at Ojai, and they go there in the spring and stay until the cold drives them out. But one needs a car to get about because they live in isolated places in the hills and valleys. I was the guest of Dr. Harold Rugg... a professor at Teachers College of Columbia University and a very interesting man. I had a young Chinese Army officer (Guomin-dang), an old friend from China with me, and we were both given a tremendous reception. Dr. Rugg arranged a private social party on Saturday evening (my lecture was on Sunday evening). He invited 15 but 45 came. They all brought their suppers in boxes and we sat on his lovely plateau-like lawn overlooking valleys and mountains and had a picnic supper. When it grew dark we went inside and a number of musicians played... After this, my Chinese friend and I sat in the circle of friends and answered questions... about conditions in China. 1 was afraid for this Chinese friend, for he has the unfortunate habit of speaking the bitter truth [about the reactionary Chinese government]. Once I stopped and asked the audience to remember that if they repeated a word he said, he could be arrested and sent back to China. I was particularly afraid because Mrs. Shotwell and her daughter were present. Prof. Shotwell is a historian—he is a Prof, at Columbia; and he's an advisor to our State Department and is in close contact with Chinese officials. So I directed my appeal to Mrs. Shotwell. Her husband, fortunately, was in Washington that weekend. Everyone promised — but I am a little worried still... Prof. Shotwell had tried to prevent me from saying anything against the Chinese government dictatorship because, he said, our government recognized it. He and a rich woman had originally arranged for me to speak in the town hall [at Woodstock]. When I refused to allow Shotwell or our State Department to abridge freedom of speech and press, they were furious. I refused [Prof. Shotwell's invitation] to go to Woodstock. Then some writers [Dr. Rugg] asked me to come to a meeting which they would call and in which I could say anything. So I went. To the amazement of the Shotwells and the rich woman, I had [a Chinese] Army officer in uniform with me—and he was far more critical of the Chinese govt, than I was. They were simply flabbergasted. After the meeting, Mrs. Shotwell tried to assure me and the officer that they believed absolutely in free speech, press, assembly, etc. I listened in silence and let her squirm. Even the rich woman came to my meeting and afterward came up and sadly shook hands with me. I congratulated her on her bravery in coming and she squirmed and asked if I wanted her to help take down the exhibits — for we had put up a [photo] exhibition. I told her that she need not help—as the Chinese Army officer would take them down; he was in charge of them.
If there was any group of individuals thoroughly familiar with Smedley's political views, it was the publishers and editors of the New Republic and the Nation. Smedley had established working relationships with both magazines at the time of her involvement in Friends of Freedom for India. With the aim of representing independent liberal views, which included strong anticolonialist positions, both magazines had published Smedley's stories during her early days in Germany. Over the years the editors had become acquainted with her independent anarchist-socialist leanings and had often seen her stand up to the American Communist Party, refusing to become anyone's tool. They had watched as she criticized the »feudal« personal attitude toward women taken by the Indian nationalists, even though she knew they would see it as a betrayal. Thus when Smedley returned to the United States in 1941 hostile to Soviet policy in Asia and critical of factionalism within the Chinese Communist Party, but still firm in her belief that the CCP offered a greater hope for democracy in China than Chiang's Guomindang government, they took her arguments seriously. And because of her understanding of the military situation in China—shared publicly by Carlson and Snow, and privately by Stilwell and other U.S. diplomats—her editors accepted the view that a long hard war remained to be fought by U.S. troops in China and that it was therefore in America's interest to support the Chinese ally who would be of greatest aid to our troops. The Communist-led guerrillas seemed, in the judgment of many American observers, to be the more effective fighters against the Japanese. And since Chiang had not yet implemented democracy in China but was only holding it out as a promise for the future, many suspected that he was cleverly manipulating the Americans for his own purposes. The rash of books and articles arguing the case for exclusive support of Chiang only served to confirm their suspicions.
Earlier, in a November 13,1943, review for the Nation, Smedley had taken on Mme. Chiang Kai-shek, the figure who, by her speaking tours and cover-story publicity in Time-Life publications, best personified U.S. friendship with the Guomindang government. The author under review had called Mme. Chiang »the mother of every wounded soldier in China.« He went on to claim that Mme. Chiang had never been »captivated by the luxury and superficial brilliance of modern New York«, but dressed »like a simple and modest Chinese wife.« As a leader of the New Life Movement, she was said to live frugally and to »abjure those new-fangled frivolities which are quite out of keeping with their dignified Chinese traditions.« Smedley did not let such claims go unchallenged: »Mr. Tsui [the author] perhaps gets his Soong sisters mixed up. That description might apply to Madame Sun Yat-sen, but never to Madame Chiang. The paragraph was perhaps written before Madame Chiang's visit to this country with a retinue of relatives and retainers. Jade and diamonds, mink and sables, silks and satins, do not constitute frugal and plain living and are totally out of harmony with the bitter lives of the soldiers and common people of China«.
Madame Chiang struck back through Emily Hahn, who made a personal attack on Smedley in China to Me. As a biographer of Madame Chiang, Hahn's opinions mirrored those of high Guomindang officials in Washington. Madame Chiang's anger was confirmed privately to Smedley by Pearl Buck, who quoted her as saying that Smedley would never be allowed back into China.
In 1944, as the Luce publications intensified their »hard sell« of the Chiang government, the Nation and the New Republic, both independent journals, turned to Smedley as a person well qualified to refute distortions that Guomindang spokespersons might try to put forward as truth. By the fall of 1944, Smedley was more convinced than ever that what she called »reactionary forces« were lining up behind Chiang in a full-fledged propaganda war. Their goal, she thought, was to ensure that the United States gave full support to Chiang's government and cut off all support for the Communists. Further proof was the recruitment into Chiang's propaganda »camp« of the conservative businessman Arthur Kohlberg. On December 16, Smedley wrote in the Nation: »Many Americans are today campaigning for that dictatorship and [held] up everywhere as >friends< of China though they know little about that country. An American businessman [Kohlberg] made a three-month trip to China last year, was made a general in the Chinese army, and is now a sort of high advisor to the official Guomindang propaganda headquarters in New York«.
On October 22, the liberal New York newspaper PM published a background article on China by Smedley under the headline »Crises in China: Defeat and Disunity.« Smedley laid out the disintegrating military situation in China and urged that the Guomindang blockade of the Communists be lifted and their troops released to fight the Japanese. She also accused the Guomindang of sending propagandists to the United States to persuade Republicans, clergymen, and »reactionary« newspaper publishers to label any criticism of the Guomindang as interference in China's internal affairs or as »Red-inspired.« Smedley named Dr. Walter Judd and Clare Boothe Luce as examples of those who had »swallowed their line.«*
(*This piece, written on short notice, represented a regression in Smedley's writing style. Unlike her last book or her recent lectures, articles, and book reviews, it was a heavy, muckraking article filled with cliches and name-calling)
Two days later J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the F.B.I., sent the following memo to his Albany office:
It is respectfully requested that Agnes Smedley, of Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York, be placed on the regular Censorship Watch List, and submissions of all communications and telephone conversations to, from, or regarding her be forwarded to the Bureau.
Purpose: Agnes Smedley is recognized as one of the principal propagandists for the Soviets writing in the English language. Agnes Smedley is considered an authority on Communist activity in the Far East, and as the operations of the United States Army and Navy come closer to the Asiatic Mainland and the Japanese home islands, Communist activity in those areas will be of increasing importance to the Bureau.
With this memo, the F.B.I.'s investigation of Smedley intensified and the surveillance of her through the Yaddo secretary was stepped up. From reading her mail, an early discovery was correspondence with German Communists in exile in Mexico City.
Soon after her arrival in New York, Smedley had been asked by the German-American community to write articles and make broadcasts urging Germans (in Germany) to rise up and overthrow the Nazis, which she did. It was probably through this community that she made contact with the refugees in Mexico City. Among them was the celebrated Czech journalist and political commentator Egon Erwin Kisch, whom she had known in Shanghai. With others in Mexico City, Kisch had started a newspaper, Fries Deutschland, to serve the German expatriate community around the world. Smedley began subscribing to the paper, and it was this subscription that triggered closer examination of her mail by the F.B J. It was noted in her F.B.I, file that a »highly confidential source« (said to be at the Knopf publishing house) claimed that he had forwarded to Smedley a letter from Mexico City that ended with »best regards of [names blanked out by F.B.I.] all of whom are outstanding German Communists now refugees in Mexico.« From this and other »evidence«, F.B.I, headquarters in Washington concluded that »Mrs. [sic] Smedley had been for several years a notorious Communist expert on the Far East.« Thereafter all mail for Smedley from Mexico was to be examined by the Office of Censorship before delivery.
J. Edgar Hoover was in close contact with the anti-Communist right in Congress. By raising the status of the Smedley investigation he was responding to allegations like those of Congressman Gibson that Smedley was a Soviet agent. The point of his investigation was to find evidence of Smedley's ties to the Soviet Union (possibly through American or German Communists) as an agent, a spy, or both.
Smedley's F.B.I, file from late 1944 onward shows a heavy reliance on newspaper accounts to trace her speaking appearances, which were considered proof of her Communist sympathies. Agents apparently assumed that any coverage of Smedley by what they considered to be a Communist publication proved that the U.S. Communist Party, and therefore Moscow, had approved of what she had said. From all available evidence, no F.B.I, agent read any of her books at least until 1947; the bureau simply selected book reviews for summaries of their content. In choosing interviewees, the F.B.I, appears to have restricted their list in Smedley's case to »reliable witnesses« — by which they meant persons who were known to be anti-Communist. Evidence from persons of »unknown reliability« was of course suspect. In spite of the fact that Smedley's friends held diverse political, ideological, and religious positions, any continuing contact with Smedley automatically put them in the »unreliable« category. Finally, in the material released in 1984, neither the F.B.I, nor military intelligence reported on Smedley's talks to military groups or high military officers, even those who knew her well like Carlson and Stilwell. In short, from its outset the F.B.I, investigation was strikingly superficial and blatantly biased.
Thus, by late 1944, both the left and the right on the China issue began to anticipate conspiracies, and both began to oversimplify the motivations of those holding the opposite point of view. Those supporting recognition of the Chinese Communists became the »puppets« or »stooges« of Moscow, and those supporting the Guomindang became the »running dogs« of big business, both Chinese and American.
Stilwell's removal from command was not publicly announced until after he had arrived in the United States. He was asked to give no public statements, an order he obeyed. Most likely Stilwell had anticipated this, for he had been careful to give his version of events to New York Times correspondent Brooks Atkinson and to T. H. White of Time-Life before he left China. In a piece for the October 30 edition of PM, headlined »Stilwell Scapegoat for Chiang's Defeat«, Smedley argued that Chiang was trying to deflect growing internal criticism of losses to the Japanese by blaming them on American policy in China. Noting that she knew Stilwell personally as a blunt military man, Smedley surmised that he had probably spoken too directly with Chiang about the military situation, as well as about corruption and other problems within the Guomindang government. She called his removal a victory not for Chiang but for the Japanese.
Smedley published another piece in PM on November 21 denouncing the cabinet shift within the Guomindang as meaningless, a »new hand with an old deck« that would do nothing to bring democratic reforms to China. Her final piece for PM, published on December 10, was entitled »Open Letter to Henry Luce Challenging Time-Life Articles on the China Situation.« During the first week in December, Life magazine had asked Smedley for her collection of photographs to illustrate an upcoming article. She had written a letter to Luce explaining that she would not turn over the photos to him until she was told in what context they were going to be used. After citing examples of what she claimed to be distorted editing, such as the published version of T. H. White's story on the sacking of Stilwell, Smedley said she feared her pictures might be used in a similar manner to support the Guomindang's cause. She accused Time-Life of following a »Guomindang line« by using materials provided by a Guomindang supporter and member of the staff, Mrs. Y. Y. Sung, after having them tidied up by an »American editor.« Although she did not name this editor, it is clear from the examples given that she meant Whittaker Chambers. She also spelled out her growing sense of conspiracy:
[Guomindang agents] began to feed a regular »Guomindang line« of propaganda to American reactionaries who have been willing to »front« for them. This activity has been accompanied by secret efforts to have Americans in many institutions of the country discharged because they have criticized Guomindang reaction. The regime which Time, Life, and Fortune have chosen to champion is crumbling. Not until the Japanese were actually knocking on its front door has this regime been willing to yield a step to the Chinese democratic forces—which include the Communists. It scorned even the democrats within its own ranks. It sent its agents to the United States to lie to and deceive the American public, and you opened your publications to them.
That America is in part responsible for the whole Chinese debacle goes without saying. Americans who for years wrote the truth about China were defamed as Reds, idealists, visionaries, and what not. I am one of those so-called »partisans« because I would not sit on the fence and pretend that Fate could protect us.
It [the Guomindang] would have fallen, had our moneyed interests not supported it in power.
Now the cry goes up that the Chinese Communists will dominate all China and fight the war, while American influence will wane. Let us thank God that some Chinese force remains intact to fight on in cooperation with us. American democrats will thank God that this new China, rising in the ashes of the old, will not sell their country to American and British industrialists and financiers.
Within the ranks of the Chinese Nationalist armies are hundreds of thousands of honest and democratic patriots. It is they who must pay for the sins of the [Guomindang] regime, and those who escape death in this debacle will find ways of uniting with other men like themselves, including the Communist armies, to continue the war and to build a democratic government.
That government will not be »totalitarian Communism«, as your Time article stated, for that is not and never has been the program or purpose of the Chinese Communists. If we try to destroy [a Communist] government in order that China may become a puppet state, as Greece and Italy are British puppets, we may cause decades of suffering and bloodshed, but we will merely end by becoming the most hated of imperialists.
On November 5, Evans Carlson wrote Smedley and praised her articles in PM: »It is good to have the spotlight turned on the true state of affairs inside China. Stilwell has done a magnificent job. I know of no other man who could have accomplished what he has in the face of all the obstacles out there. And while doing it he supported the highest ideals of American democracy and decency. What has happened to Walter Judd? That was a lousy statement he made about Stilwell's recall.« This letter also contained news that was probably painful for Smedley. Carlson had remarried. This was the first letter in which he spoke of his new, young wife, calling her a »grand companion.« Perhaps to soften the blow, he added: »I am eager for you two to know each other. She is a great admirer of yours, Agnes.« It was signed, »With love, as always, Evans«.
As public concern about U.S. China policy grew, Smedley appeared on »The People's Platform« over CBS radio on November 18 in a debate with John Gunther, J. B. Powell, and Vincent Sheean. She also spoke at several veterans' hospitals, and in December she sent Aino Taylor a picture of herself at Halloran Army Hospital on Staten Island.
On December 7, Smedley joined an organization she thought would be receptive to her message: the National Citizens' Political Action Committee, an off-shoot of the C.I.O. Political Action Committee.*
(*Although a forerunner in name of the P.A.C. in American politics since the 1970s, the National Citizens' P.A.C. was concerned with public education on political issues, not funneling funds to a particular candidate. In its heyday in the mid-1940s, however, the National Citizens' P.A.C. was used by Henry Wallace to attract liberal-minded intellectuals to his causes. See William O'Neill, A Better World, the Great Schism: Stalinism and the American Intellectuals (New York, 1982), pp. 143-45, and Joseph Gaer, The First Round: The Story of the C.I.O., Political Action Committee (New York, 1944).)
She had seen unions as a force for political education ever since 1920, when she had won union support in her efforts to stop the deportation of Indian nationals. And in China, she had witnessed the power of student movements to stir the conscience of a nation. Now, in December of 1944, she urged the students at Skidmore College to join the National Citizens' Political Action Committee to fight what she called »a new brand of imperialism.« On December 7, after her appearance there, the Skidmore News printed some of her comments:
Our great newspapers and magazines, such as the Luce publications, began to propagate a new brand of imperialism, saying this is the »American Century«, that America will determine the future fate of the world. The question—a life and death question—for us is: are we going to become a politically enlightened people who understand every issue of our country and of the world? [Or are] we going to go on, as in the past, leaving politics in the hands of the professional politicians, who, in most cases, are representatives of the great industrial barons of our country? Are we going to be, as before the war, mortally afraid of every new idea that might disturb the groove in which our minds run? Are we going to approach the mighty people's resistance movements in Europe and Asia as if they were a menace to our pocket-books, even when most of our pocketbooks are flat? Are we going to be afraid to listen or sit in the presence of a progressive American lest we catch Communism? We possess the political democratic machinery with which to become a torch in the world's darkness. But will we prepare ourselves to use it? — Halt, think! You are your brother's keeper!
Smedley also used her Skidmore appearance to lead a petition drive protesting the British killing of Greek Resistance fighters. It gathered three hundred signatures, and the F.B.I, noted that it was sent to the president, the State Department, and several major newspapers.
If Smedley and many of her old friends from China disagreed over China policy, they still seemed united on India. In November, Smedley, Lin Yutang, and Pearl Buck's husband Richard Walsh had published articles in Voice of India in support of Indian independence. The issue was dedicated to Jawaharlal Nehru on his fifty-fifth birthday and urged the British to release him from jail.*
(* Without an immediate commitment from the British to Indian independence, Nehru, Gandhi, and other nationalist leaders refused to cooperate in the British war effort and were therefore jailed from August, 1942, to May, 1945.)
In her article Smedley compared Nehru to Thomas Jefferson and used quotes from Katherine Anne Porter and Elizabeth Ames to demonstrate the anti-British feeling that the treatment of Nehru had aroused in America. She also pointed out that Nehru's book Toward Freedom had been translated into Chinese and published serially in the New Fourth Army's monthly magazine. The Chinese, too, she noted, were watching to see if India would be granted independence.
Smedley's visibility after the publication of Battle Hymn of China led a curious young student from India, then studying at M.I.T., to seek her out during the fall of 1944. He was Ram Chattopadhyaya, the nephew of Virendranath Chattopadhyaya and the son of Kamaladevi. In a 1977 interview Ram said he and Smedley met a number of times. In New York, they went to the theater or concerts; in Boston, he would join her for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. They talked much about Ram's uncle, Chatto. Smedley told him that the period during which she lived with his uncle had been the most formative of her life. Chatto, she said, had been her teacher. Ram also said that Edgar Snow had explained to Smedley the circumstances of his uncle's death after Snow returned from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1944 or 1945. Chatto had disappeared in 1938, during the time of Stalin's purges. In 1941, his Russian wife was informed only of his death. According to Ram, Snow told Smedley he had heard that Chatto had died in a labor camp. Ram helped to arrange a meeting for Smedley with Nehru's sister, the future ambassador, Madame Pandit. He said Smedley had been extremely emotional on this occasion and had nearly cried as she said how honored she was to meet the sister of such a great man as Nehru. Ram himself lost touch with Smedley sometime after 1946. He added that what he remembered most clearly was her fiercely anti-British attitude.
The beginning of 1945 saw Congress voting by a narrow margin (207 to 186) to give permanent status to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. That committee had recently recommended the dismissal of approximately 3,800 government employees, a list that was narrowed down to 36 by F.B.I, investigation. This was the atmosphere in which Smedley continued to speak. An F.B.I, agent noted that at a Rotary Club in Saratoga Springs on January 4, she defended Stilwell and attacked the Guomindang. She told the group that Stilwell had been dismissed because he had sought to supervise the distribution and use of lend-lease money given to the Guomindang. Smedley said that this money, meant for use in the fight against the Japanese, was being used instead to fight the Communists or was being eaten up by large-scale corruption. During a ten-day lecture swing in late January, Smedley continued her attack on the Guomindang government. She urged the United States to support the establishment of a coalition government that included the Communists and what she called progressive democrats, primarily Chinese intellectuals of the type represented by Dr. Sun Fo. The New York Times covered her talk at Vassar College.
The event that best illustrates the growing split among the »old China hands« in early 1945 was a radio debate in which Smedley joined Walter Judd, Lin Yutang, and Harrison Forman of the New York Herald Tribune on NBC's »America's Town Meeting.« Less than two years earlier, Smedley had privately praised Judd for delivering »the best and most learned speech [on China] to be made in Congress so far«. Now she found herself in direct conflict with both Judd and Lin Yutang. She wrote to Taylor on February 27:
You were right, I nearly had a fight [on the air] with Lin Yutang. Before the program began I asked him why he didn't come right out and tell the public that he represents the Military Affairs Commission of the Chinese govt., and that he got a big fat check in American dollars from a Chinese govt, bank for his trip, etc. Lin turned pale yellow and screamed at me with all hands and legs flying in the air: »I'll sue you! I'll sue you! I'll sue you!« he screamed. He has not done so yet...
Well, I was on the verge of laughing a belly laugh when I finished Judd's famous letter [in which he mentions Guomindang] generals with venereal disease... I wish you could have seen Judd's face after I read the letter. That is not even one-tenth of the letter. A magazine took it from me afterwards and it will be published. Judd will never write another letter until the day he dies, I think.*
Afterwards, as I was leaving the Hall, Judd stopped me on the street to shake hands and say goodbye. Shaking hands, I said: »What a liar you are, Walter Judd—for a missionary, you did well at that.« Then the fight began. He and I stood there debating everything all over again. Crowds coming from the hall stopped and closed in and before long the street was packed. Then the crowd began to take part, and I went to the reception next door. The crowd had Judd well in hand when I looked back. Lin left by some back door and refused even to come to the reception. But the bitch Emily Hahn came, and of course we [did] not speak.
Town Hall says they have never had a more exciting meeting. The 2,000 people in the hall were packed [in]. Every seat was taken, then the platform [was] jammed with extra chairs, and [there were] crowds in the wings. They had to close the doors at 8 p.m. to keep out more crowds. I had friends in the audience who got so excited that one woman simply could not follow the arguments at times. Another could not come to the reception afterwards because she got a violent headache and had to go home to bed. You who only hear, cannot see the audience. Hundreds of Chinese were there, including the Ambassador and his gangster wife... But not one Chinese democrat dared stand up and even ask a question. There were some there, including two secret members of the Chinese Democratic League in Chungking [Chongqing]. A friend of mine sat near two Chinese. Everytime I spoke they slid forward anxiously, and if I drubbed Judd or Lin, they slid back easily and smiled. It was like that all over the theater. The crowd straining forward and backward and around and about. When I read Judd's letter about venereal disease a yelp started to go up, but Denny, the master of ceremonies, ran from one side of the stage to the other, waving his arms to the crowds not to laugh. The audience was busting.
(* The infamous letter to which Smedley referred is from Dr. Walter Judd to another missionary, Logan Roots, in Hankou. The letter is dated Fenzhou, Shanxi province, January 14, 1938. As a medical missionary Judd commented at length on the conditions and politics of Guomindang troops as the Japanese were defeating them in Shanxi province. In the letter Judd favorably compared the Communist-led Eighth Route Army with the conduct of Guomindang troops and those of local warlord Yan Xishan. The full text is to be found in Smedley papers, Box I, item 55; Roots presumably passed the letter on to Smedley, who was staying in his home at the time of its receipt)
The F.B.I, sent two agents to cover the radio debate. They noted that Smedley accused the Chinese secret police of activities in the United States, but that one of their »reliable« informants had told them Smedley had »no foundation for the above allegations«. The infamous letter to which Smedley referred is from Dr. Walter Judd to another missionary, Logan Roots, in Hankou. The letter is dated Fenzhou, Shanxi province, January 14, 1938. As a medical missionary Judd commented at length on the conditions and politics of Guomindang troops as the Japanese were defeating them in Shanxi province. In the letter Judd favorably compared the Communist-led Eighth Route Army with the conduct of Guomindang troops and those of local warlord Yan Xishan. The full text is to be found in Smedley papers, Box I, item 55; Roots presumably passed the letter on to Smedley, who was staying in his home at the time of its receipt. Apparently, from the files released, it did not interest the F.B.I, that the U.S. army still valued Smedley's information on military matters in China. As she wrote Taylor on February 27, she continued to make periodic trips to the army's special training school at Harvard, where she gave seminars to the graduate student officers. Talks such as these were not included in her file.
In addition to the public pressures on her, Smedley had been coping with the personal grief of Elizabeth Ames, whose sister had finally died in December. She also had to manage her own ambiguous feelings over the slow death from cancer of her sister, Myrtle Finney. In two letters to Taylor, she wrote:
I don't know how I can drag my roots out of Yaddo. The woman who runs it is deeply attached to me. I've sort of taken the place of her sister, who was paralyzed and unable to speak for two years and who died last winter. So I'm bound in some obscure way because Elizabeth needs someone near her. She's a strange, reserved woman, disliked by most people. She insists that I make Yaddo my home. I do—but I've a hankering for Ojai.
Life has been depressing for me at times. My sister died about two weeks ago—of cancer. She kept calling for me, but you know what it costs to go and come from California. My disagreement with her made the situation all the more depressing and I became sick. I tried to telephone her but she was unconscious. While she was still conscious I wrote to her almost daily. She did not know she had cancer or that she was dying, so I wrote accordingly, planning to have her come east next winter to see the play which I hope will be ready for the stage by that time. She had agreed to come. Then she died.
I'm working on my new book [on Zhu De] but the going is slow and painful. I keep trying to write a biography but it always turns out a novel. Then I start all over again.
Carlson is in the Pacific, but his Saipan wound has maimed him for life and he writes me that he will be forced to leave the service for good and return home. Why can't Ojai have him speak? [His] address [is] Escondido, Calif.
During the spring of 1945, Smedley once again set out on an extensive lecture tour to earn money. When it was over, she wrote Taylor: »I'm worn out, but I've earned a lump of money to do me for a year of writing« (June 1).
The F.B.I., continuing its investigation of Smedley, discovered from its newspaper morgue that she had been arrested on espionage charges in 1918. But apparently its agents never saw or requested the Justice Department's back files on the case, for they never noted any of its details. A check also was run on Wang Yong, the Chinese actress helping with background information for Smedley's play. F.B.I, agents who attended Smedley's lectures often described the composition of her audiences. For example, in their report on her speech at the Community Church in Boston on March 10, 1945, an attendance was noted of 450 people, 30 of whom were Chinese and »about 20 per cent« of whom were Negro. In attendance also was a professor [unnamed] from Cornell who had lived in Japan before the war. According to their files, he had contacted the F.B.I, after the speech because of his concern about the activities of Guomindang secret police agents among Chinese students in the United States. Describing them as Chinese »Gestapo«, he relayed the information that two such agents were known to be at Harvard watching Chinese students there. He suggested that they interview Smedley on the subject and said that from talking to her and attending one of her lectures he was sure she was not a Communist. He described her as intelligent and said she stuck to factual material in her presentation. He also advised the F.B.I, to ask General Stilwell about Smedley, saying that he would vouch for her. There is no evidence in the F.B.I, files that Stilwell was ever interviewed by any intelligence agency on the subject of Smedley.
The F.B.I, did, however, pay attention when Nationalist China lobbyist Alfred Kohlberg made a hostile reference to Smedley in a letter to the editor of the New York Herald Tribune. The agent reported:
»Kohlberg stated that inadequate and distorted as Miss Smedley's version of Guomindang-Communist differences is, her letter is of real value. It indicates the line of thought of certain groups with regard to the postwar dismemberment of China«. Kohlberg's letter is evidence that he had now made Smedley a target in a propaganda battle, with the F.B.I. watching.
On May 10, 1945, the F.B.I, first asked Whittaker Chambers, the senior Time-Life editor and former Communist, what he knew about Agnes Smedley. The file reads:
Chambers recalled that sometime during 1936, he learned that Agnes Smedley, well-known writer and author of Battle Hymn of China  and other works, was in New York and he told J. Peters (former treasurer of the Hungarian Communist newspaper) he would like to meet her. [Smedley was in China in 1936.] Peters said to meet Smedley in an Automat somewhere in the east '70s... Smedley had said upon meeting him, »I thought I was going to meet Edwards [an alias of Gerhart Eisler]...
Chambers was asked whether he had any evidence of Communist affiliation of Smedley and he pointed out that he did not have any actual evidence but that everyone knows she is a Communist. He stated, »there is absolutely no question about it«.
[Chambers] recalled that Peters had close contact with her and that she always »hung around« the ninth floor of the [U.S. Communist Party's] headquarters.
According to the file, Chambers concluded by telling a story he thought he had heard from Earl Browder: that »Smedley's Chinese husband«, a Communist, had been arrested and then killed by the Guomindang in Nanjing. The Chambers interview about Smedley came six months after she had used strong language to criticize publicly the editing of China stories in Time magazine. At about the same time, on June 6, the journalist Mark Gayn was arrested by the F.B.I, as one of six principal suspects in the Amerasia espionage case. The F.B.I, had found Smedley's name in Gayn's address book and noted also that he had given Smedley's book a positive review.
In the summer of 1945, Yaddo was still operating on a wartime footing; food supplies, especially meat, were still difficult to get, and the number of guests in residence was only slightly larger than it had been the previous two summers.*
(* Besides Carson McCullers, the group at Yaddo included the writers Haru (Ayako) Ishigaki, Eleanor Clark, Howard Doughty, Jr., Kappo Phelan, Ruth Domino, Leonard Ehrlich, and Agnes Smedley; the composers Klance Blazek and Alexei Haieff; and the painters Hobson Pittman, Ester Rolick, and Eitaro Ishigaki (Virginia Spencer Carr, The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers [New York, 1975], pp. 257-58).)
Smedley had first met one of them, the painter Eitaro Ishigaki, through the sculptor Gertrude Boyle in Greenwich Village in 1918. Ayako, Eitaro's wife, had come to the United States in the 1920s as the daughter of a Japanese diplomat. In 1928 she met Eitaro in Greenwich Village and refused to return to Japan with her family. The two were married and in the 1930s became a part of a small group of antimilitarist Japanese exiles who after 1941 worked in various capacities for the U.S. government. To allay any possible fears and misunderstanding by the citizens of Saratoga Springs, the press release given by Yaddo to the local newspaper made the Ishigakis' loyalty perfectly clear: »Mr. and Mrs. Ishigaki are loyal Japanese now in the employ of our government. He is in the War Department and she is in the Office of War Information«. The Ishigakis' loyal friendship with Smedley over the next few years would eventually lead to their deportation.
Smedley received two important Chinese visitors during the summer of 1945. Dong Biwu's weekend visit in August with his interpreter put Smedley back in direct contact with the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party for the first time since she had seen Zhou Enlai in Chongqing in 1940.
Dong Biwu (1886—1975) was one of the greybeards of the Chinese Communist revolutionary leadership. Along with Mao Zedong and eight others, he was a founder of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. He had early been an associate of Sun Yat-sen, and during the period of Communist-Guomindang alliance (1924—27) he had become a leading Guomindang activist. (For example, he had played a key role as political officer in the successful Northern Expedition led by Chiang Kai-shek in 1926.) After Chiang's sudden bloody purge of Communists in 1927, Dong escaped to Japan disguised as a sailor. Forced by Japanese security police to flee again, he made his way to Moscow. Four years later he returned to China to join the leadership of the Communist Party at the Jiangxi Soviet in Ruijin. Dong first met Smedley as part of the negotiating team that flew into Xi'an with Zhou Enlai at the time of Chiang Kai-shek's kidnapping in December of 1936. He was also in Yan'an when Smedley was there in 1937, and the two had seen each other most recently in Chongqing, when Smedley had passed through in 1940.
On March 26, 1945, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government had announced that it would send a ten-man delegation, including one Communist, to the inaugural meeting of the United Nations in June and July in San Francisco. The Communists wanted to send Zhou Enlai, but the leader of the delegation, Foreign Minister T. V. Soong, insisted on Dong, whom he had known in Wuhan in 1926—27. At the San Francisco conference, Dong and his two aides remained inconspicuous, and afterward they toured the United States for about four months. At several press conferences, Dong called for a unified, democratic government and the avoidance of civil war in China, while at the same time decrying the corruption of the Nationalist government. Oddly enough, official Washington took little interest in Dong's visit—which is regrettable, since it turned out to be the last visit to the United States by a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party until the late 1970s.
Smedley was exuberant in her welcome. She spent many hours walking in the woods of Yaddo with Dong, talking at length about Chinese politics, and Dong gave her some of the materials for her Zhu De biography that she had requested in letters to China. It was a very informative visit for Smedley, but so quiet that it was barely remembered by other Yaddo residents years later, when the F.B.I, gave it serious attention.
Dong Biwu arrived in Yaddo on August 7, just one day after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and he doubtless discussed its implications during his visit. Smedley thought possession of the bomb would change the balance of power in Asia and worldwide, in part by making the fate of anticolonialist movements more dependent than ever on U.S. policy. For the Communists in China, she believed, it meant that the Soviet Union could no longer be effective as a neutralizing force if the United States chose to back the Nationalists in a civil war. She was convinced that if the civil war were allowed to run its course without Soviet or U.S. interference, the Chinese Communists would prevail. But she feared that the United States, as sole possessor of the bomb, would find the temptation to meddle in China too great.
The September, 1945, Chicago Round Table conference on the future direction of U.S. policy toward China proved even more explosive than Smedley's debate the previous February with Walter Judd and Lin Yutang. It convinced her that public advocacy of a middle position had finally become impossible and that it was time to »choose sides.« Discussion papers written for the Round Table by Max Eastman, J. B. Powell, Tillman Durdin, Dr. Walter Judd, Edgar Snow, and Smedley had been distributed prior to the meeting. Writing before Dong Biwu's visit, Smedley had argued that when the war was over, Chiang Kai-shek would not be able to use »war necessity« as an excuse for delaying the implementation of a democratic constitution and elections. She predicted that when the lend-lease money dried up, Chiang would no longer be able to buy the cooperation of the coalition of military forces that was propping up his government. Durdin's piece focused on the recent Sino-Soviet Treaty negotiated by T. V. Soong and Stalin, in which the two sides agreed that the Chinese Communists were to receive no material assistance from the Soviet Union. Snow's piece »Must China Go Red?« was written earlier, before the dropping of the atomic bomb or the Sino-Soviet treaty. It argued that leaders in both Britain and the United States ought to recognize legitimate Soviet security interests visa-vis China, because they had »frankly staked their future in history on making a success of keeping the peace by sharing world power with the Soviet Union«.
Before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many in the United States had been willing to concede the necessity of sharing world power with Russia. Now, however, some influential voices began to call for the United States to challenge the Soviet Union more aggressively for moral rather than political reasons. One of those voices belonged to Smedley's old friend J. B. Powell, who co-authored a paper with Max Eastman attacking the Chinese Communist Party. Claiming that the Guomindang »commands the loyalty of an immense majority of the Chinese everywhere«, Powell and Eastman argued that all Communist actions in China had been »executed under orders from the Kremlin«.
Dr. Walter Judd was much more subtle in his anti-Communist conclusions. Like Smedley, he was committed to the use of American influence to prevent European powers from reasserting colonial authority in Asia. He conceded that the real strength of the Chinese Communist Party was based on the democratic practices followed within the party itself, but he questioned whether either the CCP or the Guomindang, as a ruling party, would ever treat its opposition democratically. He then asserted that it had been the Communists who had refused to put their troops under American command, and that Chiang had always been loyal to the United States. He also claimed Chiang had told him that he had not wiped out the Communists because he was a Christian, not a barbarian. The thrust of Judd's final argument was basically religious and paternalistic in tone: the United States owed Chiang loyalty because he was a Christian convert who had stood by the United States in spite of hardship at home and criticism from abroad, even from America. He argued:
But if after [the Chinese people] have held the line so valiantly they are let down and our commitments are not fulfilled, then there is no place they can go next time except to the Communists and a world class war, or to Japan and the world race war. If we fail this time, we will have two-thirds of the people in the world who are colored against the one-third who are white. We can win all the battles, but we will still lose the war because they can outwork and undereat the white man, they will out-suffer him, they will outwait him, and they will outbreed him.
Are the Chinese, the most numerous and incomparably the strongest of the colored peoples, to stay on the side of the democracies, or are they to be driven in despair to the other side? The answer to that is still in our own hands. We must understand what we are up against, grit our teeth and stay at it until we get not just the defeat of Japan, but a victory which really frees China and assures all Asia of ultimate freedom as its people work and struggle and grow to full nationhood and independence.
In a letter to Taylor written on September 7, shortly after the debate, Smedley described her own sense of betrayal:
Well, the U. of Chicago Round Table went off, but the real fight between Powell and me went on the evening and morning before the broadcast. Powell seems to be financed now by some powerful Fascist organization, and 1 suspect the National Manufacturers Assn. He's been lecturing before chambers of commerce and businessmen's clubs against Russia, and against every force that opposes the Guomindang dictatorship in China. They seem to have egged him on in grand style, so that he has now come out as a savage reactionary agitating for war against Russia unless Russia bows and goes [down] on her knees to American finance capital.
In the six-hour discussion with three U. of Chicago men the evening before, in which Powell and 1 locked horns, Powell accused me of having been present and participating in the murder of two American missionaries who, he said, were murdered by the New Fourth Army »to celebrate a Russian national holiday.« You know, I was so appalled that I could not even think, let alone speak. Prof. MacNair took Powell on and silenced him with facts, and I finally asked Powell if knowing me for years as he had, he really believed such an atrocious story. He said he »believed I knew more about the matter than I would admit.« Then I replied: »Before your god and in the name of your god, you lie.« And he fell silent.
That ghastly meeting went on from 6:30 to 12:30 p.m. Finally MacNair said to Powell (MacNair paced the floor), »You belong to two different worlds.« And one of the other men echoed him.
No one knows why Powell has swung over to the reaction. He used to be a liberal—opposed to the Chinese Communists, indeed, yet always willing to protect free speech and press and never to allow his magazine to be used for vilification. He once fired a man for publishing a vicious article against me. Now he makes vicious charges himself.
My friends tell me that I did an excellent job on the radio. I hardly remember what I said, for I did not sleep the night before because of Powell's change and his atrocious charges. Anyway, we are no longer friends. We are enemies.
The F.B.I, agent who monitored the Round Table Discussion over the radio drew the unfounded conclusion that Smedley »upheld Russia's intentions in the Far East«.
In the New Republic for November 26, 1945, Smedley reviewed Powell's book, My Twenty-Five Years in China. In a head-on attack, she accused him of having become a spokesman for American business interests in China. Although she praised him for having taken an early stand against Japanese imperialism and for behaving honorably and courageously during his imprisonment, she suggested that he had experienced China »through the eyes of a foreigner living in a treaty port... History had passed him by.« Smedley accused him of twisting facts to appeal to »American chauvinism«, citing as one example his statement that no Chinese who had attended an American university in the United States or China had ever become a Communist. And she identified several other distortions by Powell that especially bothered her: that Communists within the Nationalist army were solely responsible for attacks on foreigners in 1927 in Nanjing; that Chiang Kai-shek had nothing to do with the massacre of 5,000 Chinese workers and students in Shanghai in 1927; that Mao Zedong and Zhu De were both »trained in Moscow under Trotsky and Radek"; and, finally, that during the Xi'an Incident, Mao, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, and other Communists had gone to Xi'an »to confer with her.« Although he had not named her, Powell had referred to Smedley in his book as the »American woman leftis... utilized by the Reds« who was part of an international plot to kidnap Chiang Kai-shek.
Powell, Judd, and Smedley had more in common than they would have liked to admit, but they felt forced to choose sides. Each took a »leap of faith« in support of the faction he or she thought could best lead the people of China. And as they became locked into defending their respective faiths, they lost sight of their common fight against poverty, racism, colonialism, and injustice and began to see each other as adversaries. Once friends, they became bitter enemies on the field of Cold War politics.