Hot Wars

For millions of people, describing the period from 1945 to 1975 as a Cold War is inaccurate, even insulting. Especially in Asia, that era was a bloody continuation of the Second World War, only with slightly different combatants. From 1937 to 1945, the Japanese military had fought communists and nationalists. And from 1945 to 1975 the U.S. military fought communists and nationalists. Wars in China, Korea, and Indochina caused millions of casualties.

Herbert Norman’s position in Japan from 1945 to 1950 gave him an excellent perspective on Cold-War intrigues, war preparations and wars. But he was more than observer, he was also participant. Immediately upon the surrender of Japan he joined the staff of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was chief of the forces occupying Japan; his title was Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). As historian John Dower has trenchantly observed, the distinction in MacArthur’s mind between being Supreme Commander and Supreme Being almost became obliterated during the postwar occupation. Curiously, Herbert Norman was able to function almost as an equal to this American Caesar, partly because MacArthur acknowledged Norman’s deep knowledge of the country. Norman’s significant role in assisting the transition of Japan towards democracy was further recognized in June 1946, when the Canadian government appointed him Head of the Canadian Liaison Mission – the equivalent of the Canadian ambassador to Japan.

In the exhilarating second half of the 1940s, Tokyo played host to key anti-communist Asians and Americans. South Korean President Syngman Rhee was there seeking allies to suppress his electoral opponents and to build his military. Chinese leader Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) was trying to cadge assistance for a doomed campaign against Mao Zedong’s communists. Another player on the scene was the architect of the U.S. containment policy in Europe, American diplomat George F. Kennan. In 1948, Kennan trained his sights on Asia. There he helped to set the Reverse Course, which defined a new role for Japan as a Cold War junior partner to the United States.

Not to be overlooked in this intrigue was MacArthur’s admiring staff. Foremost among them was General Charles Willoughby. As chief of the G-2 Civil Intelligence Section of the American occupation force, Willoughby combined unswerving loyalty to MacArthur with ferocious anti-communism. (U.S. Army intelligence is known as G-2, Personnel being G-1, Planning and Operations G-3, etc.) As Intelligence Chief, Willoughby had his eyes on everyone. From his perspective, anyone who doubted MacArthur’s brilliance was also likely to be politically subversive. The Cold War, then, was not always about the global struggle between capitalism and communism. Sometimes it was also about personal jealousy and ambition.

For a time, Norman proved himself more than adept at negotiating his way through this murky landscape. Indeed, he positively thrived, giving sage advice to MacArthur and sending insightful observations about the swirling political scene back to Ottawa. All this must have re-affirmed Norman’s decision to make diplomacy his career. But it was also in this highly politicized atmosphere that Norman first became identified as a potential security threat.

Norman was not alone in attracting distrust. The success of the communist revolution in China on October 1, 1949 greatly raised the level of fear and suspicion in the United States. Since the 1930s, the United States had been arming Mao Zedong’s rival, Jiang Jieshi. They were counting on “the Generalissimo” to prevent communist victory. But many American and Canadian diplomats and military officers stationed in Asia saw the corrupt reality of Jiang’s regime and compared it unfavourably to Mao’s people’s army. They foresaw that Mao’s forces would win the contest for the hearts of the Chinese people. Yet when the revolution actually occurred there was hell to pay in Washington. How could such a reversal have happened? To Cold Warriors, only internal treason could explain it. The hunt was on for the Americans – especially those inside the U.S. government – who were responsible for the “loss of China.”

Norman fit the profile of the double agents blamed by the American government for the communist victory in China. Like the others, he was a diplomat. They were in the U.S. State Department, he was in the Canadian equivalent – the Department of External Affairs. He was an expert on Asia who had been raised in Japan and had grown to know and admire much about the region. More suspicious still was the fact that he was friends with some of these “China hands” and had associated with them in organizations like the Institute of Pacific Relations. As U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy said, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Herbert Norman seemed to be just such a bird. And in 1950, the duck shoot began.

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