Oral History Interview with
Richard D. Weigle
United States Army Air Force, 1942-46; Headquarters, G-2, G-3, Chinese Army in India, 1944-45;
secretary, General Staff, Chinese Combat Command, 1945; and Executive Officer, Office of Far Eastern
Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, 1946-49.
June 11, 1973
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. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Weigle 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 February, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Richard D. Weigle
June 11, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Doctor Weigle, I wonder if you might begin our conversation by saying something about how you came to be interested in Far Eastern affairs? Perhaps you would like to go back and talk something about the events in your education which led you to become especially competent in that field?
WEIGLE: Well, when I graduated from Yale College in 1931 I thought that I would probably go on and make academic life a career, but I wanted to take a break from study. I was planning to go and teach in the Near East and then, suddenly, Yale-in-China became a possibility.
I decided to accept an appointment there for two years and taught at Changsha in Hunan Province, China from 1931 to 1933. When I came back to this country, I took a little over a year in the Yale Divinity School and became, at the same time, associated with the home office of Yale-in-China. Eventually I became Executive Secretary of the Yale-in-China Association and returned to China in January of 1935 for six months in that connection, I finally decided that my studies should be in American diplomatic history, so I enrolled in the Yale graduate school in the fall of 1935 and received my Ph.D degree four years later. At the same time, I continued until the final year the Yale-in-China connection.
MCKINZIE: You studied under Samuel Flagg Bemis?
WEIGLE: I did work under Bemis, yes. On the influence of the sugar interests on American diplomacy in Hawaii and Cuba from 1893 to 1903. Then I went to Carleton College and taught there.
One of the three courses that I taught was called, "Problems of the Pacific." When the war came along in 1942, I had to resign from Carleton because of college policy, in order to accept an appointment in the Army Air Corp.
MCKINZIE: College policy was not to give leave?
WEIGLE: Not to give people leave for the war: I don't know -- if one had challenged that that might have been overthrown. But I simply resigned at the time and that has a bearing on later events.
MCKINZIE: May I interrupt at this point to ask, at the period when you were teaching at Yale-in-China, from 1931 to 1933 and later when you returned, what kinds of basic ideas you came to have about Chinese politics or about China's place in the world? Was the nation on the verge of happening, already a great nation, a nation which you had any particularly strong feelings about?
WEIGLE: Well, you see during the period that I was there the Chiang government was just beginning to come into its own. Roads were being extended, railroads were being built. One had the sense of more of an emerging or developing nation than a nation. that was about to become a great power. I actually saw Chiang at close range though I didn't actually meet him. He came for some public event there in Hunan Province and opened a track meet that General Ho Chien the governor was host to. But you could understand, later in the decade, why the Japanese felt they had to move when they did. You felt that the Chiang government was finally beginning to develop a degree of unity in the country and a degree of power.
MCKINZIE: You didn't expect, I assume, to be sent back to China in your military service?
WEIGLE: Well, I didn't expect it, but I worked for it. I started off teaching the Norden bombsight in a ground school for bombardiers in
Texas. I knew that Yale had a Chinese language school, so I applied for Chinese language work. I was accepted and went to Yale for three months of intensive training in early 1944. Then, of course, as soon as we were trained we were shipped out, initially to India to a replacement training center near Calcutta. I was assigned then to the Chinese Army in India. This was Stilwell's troops, who had fled out of Burma and who had then been reinforced by many recruits coming over the "Hump." When they flew supplies in from India, these troops would come back over the Hump. So I worked first there in the rear echelon, the training center at Ramgarh in Bihar Province, India as a kind of G-2, G-3 to the American staff of the training center. The chief of staff there, the head, was General [William] Bergin and later General Hadon L. Boatner. (Boatner in the '50s went to Koje to settle a prison camp uprising during the Korean war, as you may know). Boatner had been relieved at Myitkyina because he
apparently had been unable to make any headway there in capturing the city from the Japanese.
So, he was assigned to the rear echelon, and I became a kind of G-2, G-3 to him. Then I went over with him into China in about April of 1945 when he became the deputy commander of the Chinese Combat Command under General [Robert B.] McClure. The Chinese Combat Command was the American liaison command to General Ho Ying-chin, the commanding general of the Chinese ground forces.
One of my interesting little assignments then was to teach General Ho Ying-chin English once or twice a week. This I enjoyed a great deal.
MCKINZIE: How much did he learn?
WEIGLE: Not very much. There was not enough time for regular lessons. I was then the secretary to the general staff of the Chinese Combat Command. Later, when the war ended, Boatner made me his aide-de-camp, and so I came back
to this country as his aide in the fall of 1945.
At that point, I was trying to decide what to do and whether to reapply to Carleton for a teaching position. I thought a little about applying for a research grant to write a book about the Chinese Army in India. Boatner said that he thought that I ought to consider going into the State Department. I'd never really thought about that, in spite of the fact that I'd worked so much on the State Department when I was doing my Ph.D thesis.
At all events, he asked whether I wouldn't be willing to explore the matter, and I said I would. He said that he knew quite well John Carter Vincent, then the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs in the State Department. So, I came east from my wife's home in Janesville, Wisconsin and talked with Mr. Vincent, and especially with Mr. James K. Penfield who was the Deputy Director. Nothing seemed immediately forthcoming, although pressure was then on the
political offices of the State Department to take on executive officers who would streamline operations and make them somewhat more efficient. This was being resisted by the Far Eastern Office. That had always been a rather small and intimate operation, They did not want to grow. There was suspicion that taking on some high level administrator or executive person would put them all in kind of a straight-jacket.
At all events, the fact that I had some substantive knowledge of the Far East and also had some administrative experience in the army seemed like a good combination to them. So, I guess that was why I was considered. The first thing that came through was an appointment with the Far Eastern Commission where Nelson CT.] Johnson was the head -- Executive Director, I think they called it. His right-hand man was Hugh [D.] Farley, who had once been my associate both in Yale-in-China and then later at Carleton College. Through Farley I was
appointed the first Documents Officer of the Far Eastern Commission and set up the whole document situation there.
MCKINZIE: Do you recall at this point any of -- let's use the word morale, of the Far Eastern Commission? It didn't amount to much after awhile.
WEIGLE: There was no particular problem then. Everything was certainly moving well. The various staff members in Washington were meeting together and everything seemed to be going pretty well at that point. I was only in the Commission until around mid-January, not more than a month or six weeks. Then the appointment in State itself came through, so that I shifted to become the Executive Officer in the Office of Far Eastern Affairs.
MCKINZIE: Was that a balancing off of professional considerations -- whether you should go to the State Department or stay with the Far Eastern Commission?
WEIGLE: Well, I just felt that the Far Eastern Office in the State Department was a much more permanent thing and much more alive; and I'd always had high respect for the geographical offices of the Department. There were then five, I think, altogether: United Nations Affairs, European Affairs, Near Eastern and African Affairs, American Republic Affairs, and Far Eastern Affairs. Those were the five. It seemed to me that at best th