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Liveblogging World War II: March 1, 1943

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Life Magazine: Madame Chiang Calls Upon the US to Join China--in War and Peace:

One can hope that the founding fathers of the Republic were present last week in some ghostly fashion, when Madame Chiang Kai-shek stepped onto the rostrum of the House of Representatives and began her extraordinary speech (see photo). The Fathers would, perhaps, have been somewhat dazzled to see this beautiful woman, clad in black and ornamented with flawless jade, enter that rugged arena where Americans have wrangled over their domestic affairs for 154 years. But, for that matter, so was everybody else. When the slim and graceful "Missimo" appeared a gasp went around the galleries and people leaned forward to have a better look.

Yet the Fathers, if present, quickly discovered that this was no glamor-queen come to charm the Congress away from its legislative duties. On the contrary. Here was a voice from Asia, speaking a cultiral English (with a slight trace of Georgia accent she acquired in her girlhood) and propounding the very principles that the Fathers had been at such pains to develop. For instance, there was not the least doubt in the Missimo's mind whom she was addressing. She was not talking to a radio audience, large though her audience was. She was not talking merely to a legislative body, august though that body certainly is. And, while she had plenty to say to the Administration, she knew that the Executive is not the sovereign of this land. As she herself put it, "In speaking to Congress I am literally speaking to the American people."

But most of all, the Fathers, who were always very conscious of America's role in the making of human liberty, would have been gratified to hear this citizen of Asia describe that role so fearlessly. "America," she said, "is not only the caldron of democracy but the incubator of democratic principles. At some of the places I have visited I met the crews of your air bases. There I found first-generation Germans, Italians, Frenchmen, Poles, Czechoslovakians and other nationals. Some of them had accents so thick that, if such a thing were possible, one could not cut them with a butter knife. But there they were - all Americans . . . No suspicion or rivalry existed between them. This increased my belief and faith that devotion to common principles eliminates differences in race and that identity of ideals is the strongest possible solvent of racial dissimilarities."

Thomas Jefferson could hardly have excelled the clarity of that expression.

Within the Velvet Words

Madame Chiang's speech was feminine and charming. She paid gracious tribute to our boys in Asia. And she graciously disregarded a number of distasteful policies which the U.S. has in the past inflicted on her country. "The 160 years of traditional friendship between our two great peoples, China and America, which has never been marred by misunderstandings, is unsurpassed in the annals of the world." Yet the Missimo did not travel all the way across the Pacific to flatter us. Within her velvet words she had some hard things to say. And she said them - subtly, but also fearlessly.

These hard things grouped themselves around two major points. The first, delivered with great passion, was that Japan is a more dangerous enemy than Hitler. The second, never fully stated but inescapable in the tone of her voice, was to the effect that American policy toward China has been periously inadequate.

The first point, of course, involves decisions in military strategy with which Madame did not attempt to deal. But she made the case against Japan clear and strong. "There has been," she said "a tendency to belittle the strength of our opponents. When Japan thrust total war on China in 1937, military experts of every nation did not give China a ghost of a chance. But, when Japan failed to bring China cringing to her knees as she vaunted, the world took solace in this phenomenon by declaring that they had overestimated Japan's military might. Nevertheless, when the greedy flames of war inexorably spread in the Pacific following the perfidious attack on Pearl Harbor, Malaya, and lands in and around the China Sea, and one after another of these places fell, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. Doubts and fears lifted their ugly heads and the world began to think that the Japanese were . . . supermen . . .

"Again, now the prevailing opinion seems to consider the defeat of the Japanese as of relative unimportance and that Hitler is our first concern. This is not borne out by actual facts, nor is it to the interests of the United Nations as a whole to allow Japan to continue, not only as a vital potential threat, but as a waiting sword of Damocles" - here the Missimo was completely overwhelmed by applause - "ready to descend at a moment's notice . . .

"Let us not forget that Japan in her occupied areas today has greater resources at her command than Germany.

"Let us not forget that the longer Japan is left in undisputed possession of these resources, the stronger she must become. Each passing day takes more toll in lives of both Americans and Chinese . . .

"Let us not forget that during the first four and a half years of total agression China has borne Japan's sadistic fury unaided and alone."

The Time for Action

The Missimo's second point, that American policy is failing China, was not always obvious. You had to listen for it. For example, she was at great pains to describe the boredom of American troops in Asia who "have to stand the monotony of waiting - just waiting." This inaction she contrasted deftly with the attitude of our ancestors. "You, as representatives of the American people, have before you the glorious opportunity of carrying on the pioneer work of your ancestors, beyond the frontiers of physical and geographical limitations . . . You have today before you the immeasurably greater opportunity to implement [their] ideals and to bring about the liberation of man's spirit in every part of the world." But, as yet, America has not begun to do this. "The victories won by the U.S. Navy at Midway and the Coral Sea are doubtless steps in the right direction" - but, "they are merely steps . . . " What we need now is more of "the magnificent fight that was waged at Guadacanal during the past six months."

With a sure instinct for American politics, Madame drove this point home by placing the final responsibility on Congress. "When the 77th Congress declared war against Japan, Germany and Italy, Congress, for the moment, had done its work. It now remains for you, the present representatives of the American people, to point the way to win the war. . . " And in this connection the Missimo advocated a daring - and characteristic - doctrine. "It is not enough . . . to proclaim our ideals or even to be convinced that we have them . . . There are times when we should throw all we cherish into our effort to fulfill these ideals even at the risk of failure. . . . From five and a half years of experience we in China are convinced that it is the better part of wisdom, not to accept failure ignominisously, but to risk it gloriously . . . Man's mettle is tested both in adversity and in success. Twice is this true of the soul of a nation."

We Must Have Vision

Madame Chiang knows all too well the disastrous effects upon China of the American policy, during the thirties, of appeasing Japan. Her own people have been killed and maimed by the scrap iron that we shipped to Japan in those days. But she made no point of this sad fact. Her point was that now, at last, we must act like Americans - which is to say, we must act. However important Hitler may be, somehow or other we must join China's fight. For the fact is that the U.S. will need China in the future just as much as China needs the U.S. now. If we let China go by default now, as we have in the past, the creation of "a sane and progressive world society" becomes a hopeless dream. It is only if we can succeed in saving China, that we can hope for a worldwide realization of those mutual ideals, which Madame so aptly symbolizes in her own exquisite person. That, above all, is what we need China for.

"We of this generation," said the Missimo, speaking, it almost seemed, for Americans as well as Chinese, "who are privileged to help make a better world for ourselves and for prosperity should remember that, while we must not be visionary, we must have vision: so that peace should not be punitive in spirit and should not be provincial or nationalistic or even continental in concept, but universal in scope and humanitarian in action."