In March 1969, at 32 years of age, I was by far the youngest of the ten chairmen of Foreign Area Studies at American University—and certainly the one with the least impressive credentials. Among my colleagues were not only well-known scholars, but former advisors to Presidents, reputable writers, a man who had launched a program that resulted in the surrender of tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers during the Korean War, and former members of the military staffs of Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Patton. Integrity was the dominant trait among us. But within about a 20-month period (1968-1970) there was a massive hemorrhage of talent from our 90-person organization, which had for years developed a reputation for producing some of the most accurate books in the English language about many non-European countries.
As far as I could determine, the trouble began when the Saudi Arabian government found out that a Washington-financed Area Handbook had described the slave markets, which were still a regular occurrence in the small towns of that kingdom. The Saudis had, I was told, threatened to break off diplomatic relations, in spite of having been shown the foreword to the handbook, which stated that the views expressed were those of the authors and not of the United States government. This incident, it was explained to me, triggered the “sensitivity review process” that was responsible for massive deletions in subsequent handbooks.
Still worse was the uproar in the State Department, in early 1968, when the bureaucrats in Foggy Bottom got around to reading our Area Handbook for Communist China, of which I was one of six coauthors. Our description of Mao’s methods and the condition of his people was contrary to the image our government was then trying to convey, in order to bring about the normalization in diplomatic relations that was our government’s secret goal. As a result. President Lyndon Johnson was prevailed upon to sign a directive stipulating that from that time on all government-financed foreign research would have to be forwarded to the relevant State Department desk officer in early draft form. This was not for the purposes of censorship, we were assured. The director of Foreign Area Studies was thrown out with only five days’ notice.
Even more drastic was the fallout from the early 1960’s Cuba handbook. As a result of the October 1962 missile crisis, there were insistent questions about how the United States had come to the brink of nuclear devastation. Unfortunately for Clifford Barnett and his conscientious team of research writers, the Cuba handbook spelled out all too clearly that as far back as 1947 Fidel Castro had been a participant in the Cayo Confites expedition to overthrow the government of the Dominican Republic. This had been under the direction of Pepe Figueres’ “Caribbean Legion.” Both the man and the organization were later acknowledged to have been under CIA control. Other information in the handbook made it clear that in the 1950’s Castro had received both financing and favorable publicity from the United States, as well as conceptual and organizational help. Washington’s response was to retrieve all the copies of the Cuba handbook that had already been sent out to numerous university libraries and to order them pulped. Even the President of the United States would not be able to get ahold of a book that “didn’t exist.”
I had just completed the supervision and editing of the Area Handbook for Guatemala and was proceeding with Costa Rica when I found out that my next job would be to produce a sanitized version of the Cuba handbook. After learning about the full-scale “disinformation” effort in progress—to insert false information into the handbook chapters after they had left the author’s hand—I handed in my resignation, with a multi-page letter (which went to the President of American University) explaining why so many of the very best people were leaving. He had previously been clued-in to the situation and had tried to stiffen our resolve to resist the pressures we were under. He told our assembled organization, “Doctors hide their mistakes, undertakers bury them, but your shame is there for all the world to see.” After some unpleasant encounters with at least three agencies of Big Brother as a magazine editor, I left the country with my family for nine years.
In 1991, after working for nine years as a government documents specialist at Wake Forest University, I returned to Washington at the invitation of a friend who had been familiar with both my work and the problems I had encountered during my last sojourn there in the 1960’s. He wanted me to put into readable form the information his organization had collected through psychological tests administered to both American and Chinese (Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland) college students. His first choice for the position, Dr. Francis Hsu, a renowned expert on the differences in Chinese and American thought processes, had declined for reasons of frail health and advanced age.
Among the more interesting results of the study comparing Chinese and American thought patterns was the conclusion that Chinese Mainland students do not consider Marxism relevant to economic questions but do consider communism a faith. On the other hand, they do not consider Confucius or Confucianism to belong to the realm of religion. The main focus of their lives is their family, and they all but worship their mother. There is no tolerance for misbehavior in children past the age of five, and selflessness is the norm. Pornography, and behavior related to it, is contemptuously dismissed as spiritual pollution. Women may legitimately use their charms and sex appeal in only two contexts: relations in, or leading up to, marriage and prostitution. Partly for this reason, women in the professions find easy acceptance strictly on their professional competence. Not only parents, but also professors, university administrators, employers, and others in positions of authority over unmarried persons in their 20’s consider it a solemn obligation to safeguard the sexual morality of their charges. Misconduct by either gender can result in the destruction of careers. There is serious concern at all levels of society that Western influences are undermining the moral fiber of Chinese youth. Marriage is the almost universal goal of all young people, and wedding-night virginity is expected. Schoolwork is a serious focus for urban young people who have the opportunity to study. Western-style dating is taboo because it would be a distraction for secondary- school students.
American college students contrasted sharply with the Chinese in virtually all of the above areas. The study showed that “health, sex, and sports” are the major focus of education for American students. Hedonism and self-indulgence are prominent. College conjures up “sports, football, fraternities, and parties” more than anything else. The word “classroom” did not even appear among American free-association responses to the stimulus-word “college.”
In great contrast to the Mainland Chinese, a significant minority of American college students had very ambivalent feelings toward their mothers. The word “mother” evoked responses such as “f–ker,” “strange,” “abusive,” “bossy,” and “pushy.” The students resented their mothers’ tendency to nag, fight, inflict pain, and instill fear. Of the four groups studied (students in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States), Americans were the least inclined to consider their mothers as gentle and kind. While Mainland Chinese indicated a respect verging on awe and reverence toward their fathers, Americans indicated no strong feelings, either positive or negative—with alcoholism and divorce being the major complaints against them.
Although I had been given very strong assurances that I would be independent and free from pressure in reaching my conclusions, the reality turned out otherwise. Since I was not amenable to modifying my sources and conclusions, I found that my job had been terminated in June 1992. I was offered renewal of my position on the condition that I write what I was told to write. My response that this would be prostitution was regarded as incomprehensible.
The Department of Education, the formal sponsor of the study, informed me that it had been given the names of all the persons who had worked on it and that mine was not among them. In fact, the study came out under the authorship of Dr. Hsu, who, as far as I could determine, had not even seen it. I am told that the new, anonymously modified version of the study bears virtually no resemblance to the work I left at my departure. No doubt it will be politically correct—and very pleasing to those who ordered it. It will also bear very little resemblance to the research on which it is supposed to be based.