by Xujun Eberlein
For the two years following 9-11, I struggled with a Hamletian question, "To quit, or not to quit?" I eventually chose the former, bowed out of my high-tech job, and became a writer and a guilty dependent of my husband.
After I started writing in earnest (my focus then was on the cultural revolution), I browsed the Internet more diligently. One day in early 2005 I happened upon a Web page, whose content gave me pause.
Written by the proud son of a Navy officer who had served in SACO, the text expressed admiration for Miles and Tai Li (i.e., Dai Li), and was a tribute to the father's brave participation in "guerrilla warfare operations against the Japanese troops." The Web page gave a few links to other sites related to SACO personnel, where I saw the same pride manifest.
By that time, I had gotten used to the information disparity on both sides of the Pacific. Still, the two irreconcilable images of SACO were unsettling at a personal level. Did either of us, the descendants of the SACO men or Chinese like me, see the full picture?
It isn't easy to reject a certain notion when one has been accustomed to it from a young age, much like one's taste for food. Nonetheless I began to research, at first aimed at finding evidence of SACO's involvement in the Refuse Pit and Bai Mansion prisons, depending mainly on English resources. I searched library catalogues and the Internet extensively. I read whatever I could get hold on SACO. Among the books I have read, three are especially worth noting. I won't be giving a detailed review of each, just note a few things of particularly relevance to my subject.
- Milton Miles' 600-page memoir, A Different Kind of War: The little-known story of the combined guerrilla forces created in China by the U.S. Navy and the Chinese during World War II., Doubleday, 1967
Miles was a Vice Admiral and SACO's co-director. In the memoir, he did not hide his hatred toward the Chinese Communists. I got the impression that, if it were up to him, he wouldn't have minded lumping them with his Japanese enemies. The book claims that "SACO had no personnel that was employed against the Communists, and that no equipment had been supplied for use against them except in certain already reported instances when they themselves had attacked our Chinese troops." I doubt the veracity of such a claim, but Miles might well have believed it. I found his unconditional trust in Dai Li quite naïve, but the book did give me the impression that Miles was genuinely unaware of the prisons at his "Happy Valley" headquarters. This was baffling.
A SACO researcher in Chongqing, Sun Dannian, told me recently that Miles' book is unavailable in mainland China, and there has been no Chinese translation of it published there, though she had read a Taiwan-published translation. Her impression of Miles from that translation was "he was an excellent naval officer doing a great job."
- The U.S. Crusade in China, 1938-1945 by Michael Schaller, Columbia University Press, 1979
This was the only foreign book quoted (not sure since when; in any case won't be earlier than 1979) at Chongqing's SACO museum, apparently for its favorableness, and the author was respectfully addressed as "America's China expert." I took a photo of the quote, which was in Chinese translation, during my 2002 visit to the museum. Some time later I bought a copy of the book. That quote's original English text, as I found in a chapter titled "SACO: The Counter-Revolution in Action," reads as follows:
Amidst the highly unstable political and military situation in wartime China, the politicized personnel of SACO played a pivotal role in affecting both the current policies and future expectations of the two contending Chinese factions. SACO's direct involvement in China, its willingness to become a conduit for secret military programs, and its dedication to the destruction of revolutionary movements all gave it a disproportionately large impact on Chinese-American relations. ... SACO's essential policy had been to help prepare the KMT for civil war.
The chapter cites activities of SACO that supports the above charge. At one point, it refers to a source's accusation "Miles's personal participation in mass trials conducted by Tai Li, after which political prisoners were buried alive." However, no specifics such as time and location are given. There is also an indirect allegation appearing at the end of the same chapter, which mentions that, in 1974, "the Chinese press carried gruesome reports on the mangled human remains which had been unearthed at SACO's 'Happy Valley' headquarters near Chungking." ("Chungking" was the 1940s transliteration of Chongqing.) The bodies referred to here must have been those from the same photo I had seen in my childhood, because nothing new was unearthed in 1974, the year I graduated from high school.