John S. Service Oral History Interview, Chap IX-XI

Oral History Interview with
John S. Service

Political adviser to the Commander in Chief of American forces in the China-Burma-India Theater, 1943-45; executive officer to the political adviser to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in the Far East, 1945-46; First Secretary of the American Legation, Wellington, New Zealand, 1946-48.

Berkeley, California
Oct. 10 | Oct. 19, 1977
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (Rosemary Levenson interviewer)

Chapters IX, X, and XI

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional John S. Service Chapters]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview donated to the Harry S. Truman Library. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word, although some editing was done.

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

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between the Regents of the University of California and John S. Service, dated March 7, 1980.

No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University of California. Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, and should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal agreement with John S. Service requires that he be notified of the request and allowed thirty days in which to grant or deny permission.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

John S. Service, "State Department Duty in China, The McCarthy Era, and After, 1933-1977," an oral history conducted 1977-1978 by Rosemary Levenson, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1981.

Opened March, 1980
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional John S. Service Chapters]

Oral History Interview with
John S. Service

Berkeley, California
October 10, 1977
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (Rosemary Levenson interviewer)

Chapters IX through XI



[Interview 9: October 10, 1977]

Washington, Home Leave, and a Surprise Reassignment to Chungking

J. SERVICE: In 1942, I was the first political officer back from China after Pearl Harbor. This time, in '44, I was the first person back to Washington who'd been in Yenan. So it was the same thing, only double in spades.

I was in much more demand for these debriefing sessions. I had, of course, far more to say. I'd observed far more. It was a frantic business of running around and talking to Currie and more talks with people like [Drew] Pearson, other newspaper people, a lot of them sent to me by the Department. IPR [Institute of Pacific Relations] session again, a much larger one, a crowded one of course.

I was called to Hopkins' office, had about forty minutes with Hopkins, in a little tiny office in the White House, barely enough room on the floor for me to stretch out this map (Showing the extent of Communist controlled areas of China. See Appendix I for a chronology of events, April 1941-March 1950). He said, as I cite in the [Amerasia] monograph, at the end that, "Well, very interesting, and probably what you say is mostly true," or "Most of what you say is true." "But, after all, they call themselves Communists. Besides, the only Chinese that Americans know is Chiang Kai-shek." That was the end of the conversation.

I tried feebly to do as I had done with Hamilton on an earlier talk, to say something about taking a positive role, informing the public, and so on. I said that when word gets out what the Communists are really like, the attitude toward them is going to change. But, Hopkins wasn't really very much interested. Very close to H.H. Kung apparently --


LEVENSON: How did you feel about our China policy at this point?

J. SERVICE: I was discouraged, but it seemed so completely absurd that I don't think I really took it in. You know, "This can't be," was my reaction.

He asked me about Hurley as ambassador, and I said it would be a disaster. He said, "Why?" I said, "He's in the Kuomintang pocket, working against Stilwell." But Hurley was appointed.

I saw Stilwell over at the Pentagon. He was sitting in the next office to "Hap" Arnold, five stars. Joe was four stars.

I gave him my October 10 memo which I'd never had a chance to get to him before (Esherick, op. cit. pp. 161-166). He said something about hoping that my having worked for him wasn't going to have any harmful effects on me. There weren't any consultations about China policy. All those hopes were finished.

The Department's plan was to send me to Moscow. Somebody had decided that it would be a good idea to have someone in Moscow that knew something about China. I was to be the first "China" man sent there. Davies was going to stay in China. Wedemeyer liked Davies and they were getting along fine.

I came back out here [California] for Christmas, and just before New Year's, there was a phone call from John Carter [Vincent]. "Davies has gotten in a row with Hurley. We've got to get him out. Will you go back? Do you want to go back?" I said, "Sure."

LEVENSON: Were you glad to?

J. SERVICE: Oh, of course. Sure, what the hell. After all, there was a war on; we all wanted to do something. It's hard nowadays to remember how patriotic we felt--but perhaps there was also some personal interest.

I asked about Wedemeyer's attitude. He said, "Wedemeyer has asked for you. Wedemeyer wants you. We're going to ask that you be allowed to continue contact with the Communists. This is our main reason in agreeing to your going back."

It was a matter of great haste. I took off New Year's Eve, as I recall, or very near New Year's Eve, went back to Washington. In those days it was a long hop across the country.


J. SERVICE: When I got to the Department, the chief of personnel, chief of Foreign Service personnel, wanted to talk to me. [tape off] The chief of Foreign Service personnel asked me to see him. Briefly, he said that he had very serious doubts about sending me back to Chungking, that he'd been told that it would very likely--[tape off]-- have bad effects on the family. In other words, he knew about the family situation. I said to him that he didn't need to worry, that we had reached a resolution on that, which would solve that problem. I was not going to go ahead with the divorce, was going to stay with the family, and so that he didn't need to feel the Department was in effect breaking up a marriage.

I said the real problem in Chungking, as far as I could see it, was Hurley, his attitude toward the Foreign Service, and particularly the circumstances that forced John Davies' recall in a hurry.

He said he understood that and knew about it, that I would be working, of course, not under Hurley but under the army, and that the State Department understood the situation and would be in effect behind me. I forget if that's exactly the words he used.

So, off to China I went. Got a telegram I think in New Delhi from my brother Dick and from Dave Barrett. I think they said, "Don't go to Chungking, but if you feel you've got to, stop in Kunming."

I stayed in New Delhi with the man who was head of the American diplomatic mission -- we didn't have an embassy; it was called an American commission or something like that -- a man named George Merrell who'd been in Peking years before. There I met General Donovan who was head of the OSS , who was flying to Chungking, had his own plane. He was going to Chungking, so he said, "Fly with me," which I naturally did not turn down.

In Kunming my brother and Dave Barrett said, "You're committing suicide. Don't go. Hurley will have your scalp." "Well," I said, "one can't refuse. You can't not go after having accepted the assignment."

So I went. We got off the plane in Chungking. Tai Li had turned out to meet Donovan. [chuckling] The look on Tai Li's face, when I walked out of the plane beside Donovan, helped to make the whole occasion a little more happy.

Well, I think that's probably a pretty good place to quit.


Hurley and Wedemeyer Replace Gauss and Stilwell

LEVENSON: There's a new American cast now.

J. SERVICE: Yes. The [CBI] theater had been broken. Wedemeyer had taken over the China theater from Stilwell. Gauss had left and Hurley was now ambassador.

LEVENSON: How much did this represent a relegation of China to a second class position in terms of American priorities?

J. SERVICE: Partly you've got to remember that Hurley was sent out to do a specific job. He was sent out to negotiate the placing of Stillwell in command of Chinese troops. I don't think that anybody in Washington expected it to be more than that.

But then that ended in a fiasco. Gauss resigned in anger and disgust, and Hurley was on the spot. The Chinese wrote a letter to Roosevelt--it's in my monograph--asking that Hurley be nominated. This would occur to me to be a very poor reason for making a man ambassador!

I can only assume that in Washington they thought, "What the hell. China is a headache and is not very important." (I think by that time it was regarded as not very important.) "He seems to get along with Chiang, and we've had nothing except trouble and friction with Chiang. So, why not name him?" But, I really don t know.

I was in Chungking from January 18 and I left in early April [1945], so I was only in China for a relatively short while. It's a confused and ineffectual period in a way.

Hurley wanted to talk to me, as soon as I arrived, and this was when he gave me the warning that if I interfered with him, he would break me. I said I had no intention of interfering with him. After all, any military or other commander needed intelligence, information, and I felt that was my job. Also I was working for the army, which was something he never really accepted. He felt that he was coordinating all American activity in China including the army.

Wedemeyer agreed that I was to work for him and said not to pay too much attention to Hurley's blusterings. But, his idea of what he wanted me to do was quite different from what it had been under Stilwell. [tape off]


LEVENSON: Did you feel threatened by Hurley, genuinely threatened?

J. SERVICE: Oh, certainly it was a very threatening atmosphere. The whole atmosphere in Chungking was threatening. The embassy staff was operating under very difficult conditions. Hurley had his own little separate embassy really in a sense. He was communicating not with the State Department but with the White House, ignoring the State Department, using the "Mary" Miles navy group communications, not even the embassy or State Department radios. Also, he was threatening the staff and preventing their reporting anything that was unfavorable.

But Wedemeyer wanted, I think, a political agent much as John Davies had functioned in India. He had known John in India and Southeast Asia Command headquarters where Wedemeyer had been deputy with Mountbatten.

I was breaking up with my Chinese friend Yun-ju. That had to be gone through. Then, Sol Adler was away. He was back in Washington I think at that time. So--and perhaps it was fortunate in a way--I wasn't able to move back into his old quarters.

I stayed for a while, as I recall, in army billets, and then moved in--there was an extra bed at the embassy mess--with the counselor and the secretaries. I moved in with them.

Political Adviser to Wedemeyer: Meeting with Chou En-lai

J. SERVICE: I did a sort of a diplomatic job for Wedemeyer. Some Free French representatives were in China and they wanted American help for getting into Indochina. Our official policy then was we weren't going to help the French get back Indochina, since that was Roosevelt's policy. We had to tell them we were very sorry but we couldn't give them any assistance at that time. Later on they got some I think.

Wedemeyer's staff were all new people practically. Everybody that was associated with Stilwell was given the heave-ho. A new crew came in with no China background.

The whole tone of the headquarters had changed, "Well, Stilwell tactics didn't work, and we're just here to get along with the Chinese." So there really wasn't much desire for
political intelligence.


LEVENSON: You've raised an interesting question. You said, "Stilwell's staff was given the heave-ho, but you, who got labelled as the primary culprit--Wedemeyer asked for you to come back. Have you any explanation for that?

J. SERVICE: [chuckling] Yes. Wedemeyer was going through a process here. He didn't really make up his mind all at one time. I think that the heave-ho was particularly on the military people, because Stilwell did have a lot of old classmates from West Point and people he'd known in the army. Some of them were good and some of them were not terribly good. They were rather obsolescent types, and that's one reason they were in the CBI theater, after all. This was not where the main action was. Wedemeyer wanted to bring in his younger people.

But Wedemeyer did have an idea of needing advisers. He was very much of a staff man. Eisenhower had his political advisers, and there had been some down in the Southeast Asia Command. This was an accepted thing. I think Wedemeyer wanted to have experienced people. He wanted it at first. Later on he very much went with the tide. As he saw things develop and as Hurley became powerful and Hurle