Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Amerasia January 26, 1945. The Magazine that Started an Enormous Political Scandal

I don't often get the opportunity to combine my passion for collecting periodicals with my equally active mania for World War II history. This very scarce (under 2000 circulation) magazine fills the bill. I found and purchased it, in a bound volume from a bookfinding site (http://www.bookfinder.com/ my favorite) for under $100. It is undoubtedly one of the most politically important issues of any magazine ever published.

Amerasia was a leftist leaning journal published by Philip J. Jaffe and Kate L. Mitchell. In February 1945, after being given a heads-up by his British colleagues, Kenneth Wells, chief of the Southern Asia section of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the direct predecessor of the CIA) couldn't believe his eyes when he began reading the most recent issue of Amerasia, finding portions, virtually verbatim, of a top secret document he had recently written for the State Department on British policy in Thailand that had only been circulated among top Asia experts in the State Department and military intelligence agencies.

Alerted to the security breach, the OSS began a surveillance and eventual break-in of the Amerasia office, where they found an enormous cache of highly-classified documents from various government agencies, eventually resulting in the arrest of the "Amerasia six" , that included the two editors, triggering the first of the great post-war spy cases (the ones involving Alger Hiss and The Rosenbergs being others of note).

One of the other defendants was John Stuart Service, a high-ranking State Department official in China, who had been relieved of his position by Ambassador Patrick Hurley in a purge of officials he felt were functioning against the policies of the American government to support the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek in favor of the "so-called Communists" and "agarian reformers" led by Mao Tse-Tung.

The concurrent FBI investigation launched as a result of the magazine article uncovered a host of evidence of the association of Service, known Soviet spy Lauchlin Currie and former FDR insider Tom "Tommy the Cork" Corcoran, who made significant efforts to squelch the investigation.
In the early fifties, the defendants in the Amerasia Affair became cannon fodder for the sometimes justified but often paranoid red-baiting ramblings of Senator Joseph McCarthy, a well publicized and unfortunate chapter in American history.
All but for an issue of a seemingly unimportant American periodical!

For a more detailed look at this fascinating event see: The Amerasia Spy Case: prelude to McCarthyism. by Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh. University of North Carolina Press. 1996.

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