Monday, December 21, 2009

Another one

Another "innocent" victim of the McCarthyite "witch-hunt" appears to have been a purveyor of sensitive information to the Chinese communists. In the Wall Street Journal Jonathan Mirsky reviews Lynne Joiner's Honourable Survivor, the life of John S. "Jack" Service, one of the best known China hands in the State Department, a man much admired for his allegedly superb knowledge of that country, whose career was destroyed by accusations of espionage and treason.

Although he was eventually cleared of charges by some federal judge who clearly did not bother to look at the case in any detail, both the cloud and the halo of the martyr remained with him.
Service, who died in 1999, was eventually judged innocent of disloyalty to the U.S. and abetting Chinese communism. But for years he was accused of being one of the State Department China hands who had "lost China" to the Communists in the 1940s. "Honorable Survivor," by journalist Lynne Joiner, who was also his close friend, makes it clear—and this is Ms. Joiner's chief contribution—that at a minimum Service was "recklessly indiscreet" in his contacts with Communist sympathizers in the U.S. to whom he gave documents or disclosed details of U.S. policy.
That's quite bad enough. After all, a man who has risen high in the State Department should not find it so easy to be "recklessly indiscreet". But what Mr Mirsky tells us makes the story worse:
In two phone interviews with me shortly before he died a decade ago, Service admitted that in the 1940s he had given Jaffe a top-secret document revealing the Nationalist Order of Battle, which showed the exact disposition of the forces facing Mao's troops. When I observed that some might regard this as treason (I made no accusation), Service said he knew it. "I want to get this off my chest," he said, explaining: "I was gullible, and trusting, and foolish." He also told me that he had purposely ignored Mao's persecution, including executions, of his perceived enemies at Yan'an. Why cover for the supposedly moderate Communist leader? "I wanted them to win. I thought they were better than the Nationalists and that if we always opposed them we would have no access to the next Chinese government."

Service pressed me to publish our conversation, but friends of his said that it would be very painful. I agreed and after some time forgot the whole episode, until Ms. Joiner's book came my way. His stunning admission that he did supply classified intelligence to Jaffe, whom he must have assumed would pass it on, puts his later career—and Ms. Joiner's book—in a different light. If what Service told me near the end of his life is true, he can no longer be viewed as an innocent victim.
One cannot help wondering at Mr Mirsky's naivete and readiness to go along with half-truths.


  1. Helen - Soviet archives show that he was a spy. He obviously liked Mao and thought he had the best solution to leading the country. The fact that he was willing to overlook his brutal techniques is enough of a crime. Mirsky makes a statement - how do you know it's a half truth? This guy liked the communist system and thought it could work. But meanwhile, he was OK with the killing of millions to set it in motion.


  2. Mea culpa. I did not make myself clear with that last sentence. My puzzlement was not with Mirsky's story - Service was quite clearly a Communist spy who was ready to overlook the worst kind of brutality in his hero - but with his willingness to keep quiet and then to forget the whole conversation. How can one forget a conversation like that. All I can assume is that he was willing to go along with the half-truth that Service's friends were peddling.

  3. The standard excuse for such creatures (see any issue of "The Nation") is that, while it is a shame that some few people perhaps went a bit too far in their zeal, we must remember that Fascism was on the march, with the active asssistance of powerful and rich interests, and that dedicated anti-Fascists frequently and understandably found the Land of Socialism a true beacon.
    I have read such drivel many times. I bet you have, too.