1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. John F. Cady Oral History Interview

John F. Cady Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
John F. Cady

Research analyst, Office of Strategic Services, 1943-45; U.S. Dept. of State officer, 1945-49, as chief of the South Asian section, Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs; and assigned as Foreign Service reservist to Consul General, Rangoon, 1945-46.

Athens, Ohio
July 31, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened September, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
John F. Cady


Athens, Ohio
July 31, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie


MCKINZIE: Perhaps, Professor Cady, you could start by talking about why you left an academic career to go into the Government in 1943.

CADY: I was teaching at Franklin College in Indiana when World War II started. As Dean of the college at the time with responsibilities as Armed Services Representative I discovered in time that the college had no plans whatever to do anything of consequence in connection with the developing war period. After seeing


my way through the first two years of this frustrating situation, I was invited to come to Washington to be a part of the newly organized Office of Strategic Services to serve as Burma analyst. My selection was due primarily to the fact that I had lived in Burma and had taught at the University of Rangoon for three years, from 1935 to '38. I was also studying certain aspects of colonial policy covering the prewar period, and I had published an article on the beginnings of French imperialism in Eastern Asia in the Journal of Modern Studies.

I accepted the Washington appointment with some hesitation, of course -- I didn't really know what kind of thing I was getting into. I actually found that the Research Analysis Branch of the OSS included a remarkably able group of men. Several of them had been former presidents


of the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association, and all of whom were dedicated scholars. I first worked under Norman Brown in the division that had to do with South and Eastern Asia, and then finally under Martin Wilbur, previously connected with Columbia University.

It was an extremely stimulating experience. Our job was to initiate studies relating to a part of the world that America knew very little about and in which we were becoming involved in both military activities and political responsibilities. My primary job was to examine all intelligence that came through about Burma, from Southeast Asia generally, and from adjacent India. We had to do a situation report about every week or two in attempts to interpret what incoming information


implied and what its significance appeared to be.

In addition, we were invited to initiate our own research projects. We had full access to the Library of Congress, and, in fact, to many other research resources in the Washington area, which were very extensive.

MCKINZIE: Were these topics dictated, Professor Cady, or were they topics which you might suggest yourself?

CADY: Most of the topics were ones that we ourselves initiated. You would entertain, of course, whatever requests came in. Since Americans were involved in warfare that took us into India, into China, and into Southeast Asia generally, we asked ourselves what kind of situations we could anticipate and what kind


of attitudes on the part of the area people we must expect to encounter. Our efforts were essential services for military intelligence, but G-2 became in time very jealous of the OSS R&A, and they gave us little cooperation or attention. As a matter of fact, the only way I could be sure of getting relevant information through to the Pentagon was to contact my lady friend who was in charge of Burma data and to carry over to her the particular documents I had in mind. She was very much interested because she had never been to Burma. We thus managed to cooperate on interpretive matters in spite of the prevailing bureaucratic barriers. I would say, incidentally, that the barriers developed not entirely from G-2, because the OSS generated its own boundaries as well.

Generally speaking, it was a very interesting


situation. There were lots of Washington people concerned about the Burma situation, on which I was working, and I became acquainted with practically all of them. We failed to make any contact at all with Naval Intelligence, mainly because it developed very little interest in Burma. The commendatory plaque that I was accorded at the end of my service with the OSS acknowledged my effort to promote cooperation between the various intelligence agencies of Government as being particularly commendatory.

Several of my basic research projects on Burma particularly were later declassified. Several of them became the basic data for later publications of mine. They covered British policies for the future of Burma, also problems of law and order, plus an analysis of the whole administration of the Burman Government. I


also examined Japanese wartime relations with the Burmese people. In certain portions of late 1944 and early '45, we had available for the OSS distribution copies of daily papers for every day of the month, often in English. These were contributions of a Special Intelligence operation of the OSS. I think the SI operation did a very good job; I think also that the SO (Special Operations) reports by comparison were pretty hopeless.

The Research Analysis Branch of OSS was asked at times to advise SO, and usually it was to discourage some of its more silly proposals. We also often found a lot of the SI material unusable, because the person who had collected it usually had no idea of the motivation of the people who gave it to him.

MCKINZIE: Professor Cady, at this time, 1944 and


1945, was there any anticipation of what later was called the "revolution of rising expectations" on the parts of people in those areas?

CADY: As far as Burmans were concerned, their rising expectations were first to get rid of the resident Indian coolie population, and to do that you would have to get rid of the British economic role. They still respected the British politically; but the Indian moneylenders and the imported Indian laborers, the Burmans could never accommodate. They also developed in time, some expectations that they might be able to industrialize their country and thus get out from under the status of simply being the producer of raw materials and foods for world purposes; but I don't think this was politically important during wartime. They had the Japanese on their necks and their impact was often extremely brutal. There were relatively


few Burmans who would go along with Dr. Ba Maw, whom the Japanese selected as leader of wartime Burma to assist the Japanese in winning the war. Eventually, most Burmans who cooperated initially against the British turned against the Japanese. I think their expectations were usually related to the immediate situation.

The special reports that we undertook to produce carried us frequently to the Library of Congress and also into many other areas of Washington. I can mention, in particular, what Swedish Olaf Janse did -- his desk was next to mine -- in connection with our tenuous connections with Ho Chi Minh which were developed in early '45. Janse's documentation came from somewhere in Washington, but his sources were never fully revealed. His data indicated, for example, that the United States had contingency plans at one time for


making a landing on the Tonkin coast via the Philippines. The objective would be to move up the Red River Valley and make conjunction with the armies of Chiang Kai-shek in China. Chiang was personally interested in this project as was the Dong Minh Hoi, both of which helped to organize and promote the region.

Ho Chi Minh and his Vietnam group were actually recruited by the U.S. OSS and introduced into the area of Northern Tonkin because the French in Indo China refused to respond to American requests for information having to do with the numbers and location of Japanese troops in that area. This Paris refusal to cooperate angered Franklin Roosevelt very much. Our early connection with Ho Chi Minh was distinctly military and not political. When Ho finally arrived in Hanoi, immediately following the


surrender of the Japanese, the first American to greet him was an OSS agent who shook his hand and thanked him for collaborating effectively and loyally.

The proposed American landing plans were never carried through despite the detailed preparation by Olaf Janse of profiles covering every potential landing beach in the Tonkin area. His detailed photographs came largely from submarine pictures, taken at daybreak, all along the Tonkin coast. In other words, full landing preparations were made, and the amount of futile effort that went into this project was most extraordinary. I saw the pictures myself, and someday I hope that scholars can get access to them.

We also, in the OSS, studied closely the developing situations in Malaysia and in Thailand.


The emerging free Thai movement eventually collaborated with the OSS. We had such agents right in Bangkok, and they periodically broadcasted to Washington agencies via Ceylon. We also had information coming into Washington, to my desk in particular, on everything that had to do with Burma, as was the case for virtually all countries of Southeast Asia.

These projects were all highly classified, and only a few of them were declassified post-war. Theoretically, all of them should be, but very few of them have surfaced to date. Toward the end of the war, one of the most important things that developed was the formulation of specific Japanese policy proposals with respect to postwar Southeast Asia. It was obvious that the Japanese, when they saw that they probably couldn't win the war, were undertaking


to try to turn colonial Southeast Asian peoples against the U.S. and against the Allies generally. This shift changed their propaganda complexion quite a bit. The Japanese realized very little success in this endeavor, except for a few individuals such as Dr. Ba Maw of Burma. For a time Sukarno in Indonesia was similarly suspected of being pro-Japanese and with some reason. Various Filipino leaders also collaborated with the Japanese more than they had any nationalist excuse for doing.

I was transferred over to the State Department in the spring of '45 (early April) after phasing out my final OSS study covering postwar British policy for Burma. I was enlisted into the new Southeast Asia Policy Division that the State Department was developing. Lauriston Sharp of Cornell was one of my colleagues;


Abbot Low Moffat, was our chief, although he knew nothing about Southeast Asia. He was a capable administrator, and his brother was a Foreign Service officer, which helped prompt his appointment, I presume. We had the services of Siam expert, Kenneth Landon, who shifted later to a faculty post at American University. We also enjoyed the aid of Rupert Emerson of Harvard and of Raymond Kennedy of Yale, who was destined to be killed in Indonesia. It was, on the whole, a highly competent group, all of whom worked very hard.

MCKINZIE: Was Arthur Schlesinger a member of this group?

CADY: Arthur Schlesinger served mainly in the OSS as rewrite person for all of our project reports. I became not too well acquainted with him personally, but certainly I got


intimately acquainted with his rewrites, which were sometimes pretty rigorous. What was included in our newly-formed State Department Policy Division for Southeast Asia was a group of non Foreign Service officers who were essentially academic. and who were interested in selected countries and peoples rather than in the totality of American policy. Our point of view differed frequently from that of our European counterparts. For example, anything that had to do with explaining the Indonesia situation had to be cleared with the Dutch desk in the Western European group. Anything that had to do with French Indo China we had to clear with the French desk officer; the same had to be done with the British desk in regard to Burma or Malaya. Except for Thailand (Siam) and for the Philippines, which is our own business, there


was little possibility of our formulating any independent policy as far as the Southeast Asian Division was concerned. The net result was that for the better part of a full year after the ending of the war, State Department policy personnel operated in a continuing deadlock. The Southeast Asia Division recommended certain policies with the European Division people normally opposing them. H. Freeman Matthews, a formally polite and very competent person, was the one that I dealt with repeatedly on the Burma issue. He and Abbot Moffat at times came to the point of such sharp disagreement that they were scarcely on speaking terms, so that I was asked repeatedly to deliver Moffat's controversial proposals to Matthews. We would make a proposal, take it to Matthews or to another European policy officer, who would often sit on it for some


three weeks time. Then he would send