Tuesday, November 22, 2005

October 4, 1937 archives: "humane objective"

As Advertised

The longest city walls in China, built in large part by the early Ming Emperors, encircle the strange city of Nanking. Seven times it has been the capital of Chinese dynasties, as it is today the capital of the republic, and Nanking was old when Jesus was a babe in Bethlehem. Whole districts inside the capital's walls are open fields, dotted here and there with ruined bridges that once spanned rivulets which no longer exist. Down by the Bund fronting the Yangtze River lives a large community of Nanking's 500,000 Chinese people, pack-jammed into squalid, odorous huts. Dotted on impressive sites connected by fine boulevards are shining, splendorous government buildings all completed since China's present leader, Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek, set up his regime at Nanking which means "Southern Capital," abandoning Peking, the "Northern Capital" which Japanese captured this year. Last week there had already been sixteen Japanese air raids over Nanking when the Commander in Chief of the Japanese Navy in China, Admiral Kiyoshi Hasegawa, announced a series of super-bombings to wipe the capital of China from the map.

Japanese editors praised Admiral Hasegawa for "his Samurai-like and knightly attitude" in giving advance warning to the foe. Since in modern times accepted Japanese strategy has been a knife-in-the-back thrust without warning, the Samurai-Admiral appeared almost a freak. To get to Nanking before the deadline he had set for its destruction last week, U. S. correspondents and cameramen leaped into any kind of car they could hire at Shanghai, tore off over 160 miles of road so rough that a jagged rock punctured the crankcase of one car. Nimbly the Chinese chauffeur repaired it with a piece of chamois skin and a can opener, dashed on with his cargo of foreign devils bound for the scene of advertised atrocities.

"Too Unhappy to Speak!"

Japan's eccentric Samurai-Admiral had strongly advised foreigners and their diplomats to seek safety by clearing out of Nanking last week, this knightly advice constituting in the eyes of Western states just about the most brazen piece of Japanese nose-thumbing yet at international law. In Nanking the forehanded Soviet Ambassador, Comrade Dmitry Vasilievich Bogomolov and his Embassy staff at once retired into their new $12,000 concrete dugout, equipped with an icebox and kitchenette and supposed to be able to withstand even a direct hit by a 500-lb. bomb.

Already wounded by Japanese airmen and in the hospital at Shanghai was British Ambassador Knatchbull-Hugessen (TIME, Sept. 27), but British Charge d'Affaires R. G. Howe decided to stick at his post in Nanking. This left U. S. Ambassador Nelson T. Johnson, a longtime Far East veteran who has made tramps and treks in bandit-infested Provinces "just for fun," staring at the standing orders which the U. S. Embassy, Legation and Consulate has recently received under the New Deal. These orders force the ranking U. S. official on the spot to decide what in his judgment constitutes "unnecessary risk" for himself and staff.

"I am too unhappy to speak," Ambassador Johnson told Associated Press. "This is the first time in 30 years I have been forced to leave my post. . . . I cannot risk the lives of the loyal men of my staff. I am not deserting."

While word sped to tell the Chinese Foreign Office that Ambassador Johnson and staff were moving onto the U. S. gunboats Luzon and Guam anchored off the Nanking Bund, Second Secretary J. Hall Paxton, son of a missionary, was alone in asking if he could stay and keep the U. S. Embassy open. The Ambassador said "yes." In 1927 when Nanking, then only a provincial capital, was entered by troops of China's present Premier, young Mr. Paxton was there as Vice Consul. The troops had got completely out of hand, looting every foreign house in town, killing six foreigners, and Vice Consul Paxton was able to get out safely with many U. S. citizens only under cover of a protective barrage laid down by U. S. and British warships firing from the river. With fine missionary spirit, Second Secretary Paxton thinks none the less of Chinese on this account, was deeply pained as anti-U. S. feeling spread like wildfire in Nanking last week and Chinese shrilled: "We have been deserted by the American Ambassador."*

Arriving U. S. correspondents, as they drove into Nanking, flying U. S. flags on their rented cars, were greeted by Chinese with catcalls, insulting gestures. On this day of tense fear that Death might rain at any moment, 29 suspects, mostly natives born in China, but with one or more Japanese parents or grandparents, were shot in Nanking as spies. Drugstores sold civilians thousands of makeshift gas masks made of mere gauze, then a government order directed "confiscation of all gas masks in Nanking for military purposes." Meanwhile all over the capital, toiling furiously at the orders of Generalissimo Chiang, Chinese constructed dugouts with such energy that 5,000 shelters capable of holding about ten persons each were ready at the zero hour set by Admiral Hasegawa. Ordinary Nanking civilians were free to flee, and a large part of the population of the capital had exited in good order, with firms like Standard Oil speeding their Chinese employes to safety, but by decree of Generalissimo Chiang the penalty for a Chinese who quit any government job in Nanking classified as "essential" was Death.

Clawing Condors.

"Spare Nanking! Respect international law. Don't bomb defenseless civilians!"—Such was the gist of diplomatic pleas and protests made meanwhile at Tokyo by Britain and the U. S., later joined by two other occidental states. Japanese officials replied that their "humane objective" was to end the war as quickly as possible, but all the same Nanking was spared from noon, the original "Zero Hour," until the next morning—not out of Japanese respect for the protests of the Great Powers but because of "weather unsuitable for bombing."

At 10:35 a.m. rasping Nanking sirens screeched the air raid warning. Japan's bombers had of course taken off from Shanghai, and 13 young Chinese airmen, each piloting a U. S.-built Curtiss-Hawk, whirred up and away into the northwest to meet the invaders. Just as the Chinese disappeared, the first Japanese air squadron came over from the opposite direction, the southeast, flying two miles up, a faintly buzzing swarm of about 40 grey ships in a dazzling blue sky. Faster than anyone could think three things happened. The Japanese power-dived upon Nanking, Chinese anti-aircraft guns on the hills around the capital opened up, and reserve Chinese pursuit fighters took the air, climbing to tear like clawing condors at the Japanese bombers' flanks. The Japanese wing leader signaled with a puff of smoke, all his following bombers let go their loads and zoomed upward to get away, but by a freak four Japanese craft were downed at the same instant, belched smoke and plunged earthward like meteors, streaming flames.

At 11:15 the second wave of Japanese came over, this time from the northwest, bombing the Drum Tower residential section of China's capital. In a total of four hours' bombing, wave on wave, Japanese airmen dropped everything from enormous 500-lb. explosive charges which destroyed whole blocks and rocked the earth, to small, incendiary bombs no bigger than hand grenades, which ignited everything they touched that could possibly be set afire.

Ambassador Johnson on his gunboat in the river had a front seat at the bombing of Nanking's railway station and its Hsiakwan slums along the Yangtze. There Chinese too young, too old, too poor, too sick or too ignorant to have left Nanking were slain in slews. Japanese bombs wrecked and ignited their miserable huts, blew them to bits, seared the living, cremated the dead. Instead of panic or disorder, the reaction of Nanking's wretched poor seemed to be either to cower bemused and trembling or to rush into the streets with yells, curses and fists madly shaken at Japan's war birds. So far as could be learned not a single Chinese of prominence or foreigner had been hurt in Nanking as the vultures swooped away. Laborers at once began filling up holes in the streets, rushed construction of more dugouts. Only a few Chinese government buildings had been damaged, none of importance destroyed, and an improvised earthen dugout at the U. S. Embassy had not been hit by anything, although a Chinese anti-aircraft shell had splintered around the gatehouse. "It's just as safe here as on the river," announced Ambassador Johnson moving his whole staff back into the U. S. Embassy—after which natives of Nanking again beamed at sight of the Stars and Stripes wherever shown, made no more insulting noises or gestures. After inspecting Nanking, military experts opined that unskillfully constructed dugouts which collapsed of themselves had killed about as many Chinese as any one squadron of Japanese bombers.

Next day at 3:30 p.m. a Chinese squadron which had flown 90 miles toward Shanghai engaged 50 Japanese planes on their way to bomb Nanking and fought them so fiercely that they turned back. It was plain as a pikestaff that Japan's airmen had failed either to break Chinese morale at Nanking or to win mastery of the air over the capital. In guarded dispatches Nanking correspondents announced that "mystery planes" and "mystery anti-aircraft guns" were being added to the defenses of Nanking, and the dispatches said these "did not come from the Soviet Union" although Japanese editors hotly charged that they did.

Real American Sentiments?

In Nanking at her desk in the Air Ministry, which she virtually manages, was the wife of China's Generalissimo, deeply pious and distinctly pretty Mme Chiang Kaishek. Her husband was away inspecting the Shanghai front on the day of Japan's first air raid, but he was back in Nanking for all the raids, sky-fighting, fires and bombing which followed on successive days.

Prudent, the Chinese Generalissimo kept his exact whereabouts as secret as possible, but correspondents were spirited to him at intervals for interviews which kept proving to the world that he was still in Nanking and by their logic much distressed such good souls as U. S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Citing the Nine-Power Washington Treaty by which the U. S., Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and The Netherlands stand pledged to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial and administrative integrity of China, Generalissimo Chiang said: "I believe that the present attitude of the United States Government toward the China crisis does not represent the real sentiments or attitude of the American people. . . . Chinese-American friendship being so traditional, and China being bled as she is by an aggressor, I believe the United States ultimately will live up to its obligations under the Nine-Power Pact. So long as the Nine-Power Pact stands, America cannot take an attitude of neutrality toward the present Japanese war of aggression."

Power Dive.

Next day Japanese hurled 80 bombers at Nanking in their biggest raid of the year, raised the week's total of Nanking citizens killed to above 500 and finally succeeded in destroying the Chinese capital's $1,000,000 electric power plant in one of the most spectacular maneuvers of the air war. To make sure his 500-lb. bombs did not miss, the Japanese squadron leader went into an absolutely vertical power dive directly above the plant, let go his bombs at the last agonizing moment when his plane seemed hurtling into the chimneys, then pulled out of his dive and miraculously escaped a score of barking anti-aircraft guns. At latest dispatches the wrecked electric plant was a burnt-out shell, Japanese had bombed two Chinese hospitals, each of which displayed a huge Red Cross, and Nanking's waterworks had been put out of commission, while Japan pressed her war from Suiyuan to Canton in raids and battles dotted clear across China (see below).

* Cabled Associated Press from Tokyo: "A wave of friendship for the United States is sweeping Japan as a result of the evacuation of Nanking by Ambassador Nelson Johnson in compliance with the Japanese warning that the city would be bombed. Newspapers are filled with praise of Mr. Hull, President Roosevelt and Americans generally.''

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your thoughts, but please be kind and respectful. My mom reads this blog.