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When the Korean War broke out, and all those North Korean infantry
divisions came pouring over the border just north of Seoul, I had the
good fortune of being in Shanghai, where in fact there hadn’t been any
fighting since the Japanese surrender.
The U.S. had courteously ushered shiploads of Nationalist Chinese
from the south to north of Tsingtao where, with equal courtesy, we
expected them to continue fighting their civil war, but now against Mao
Tsedong. This was until the famous falling out between Moscow and
Beijing — after which the Russians were no longer welcome in China.
But I was still welcome, above all in Shanghai, one of my favorite
cities. Shanghai, mind you, was a bit the worse for wear, after the
Japanese, the Civil War, and all that, but it was still romantic, with
its International Settlement, French Concession, and a really very mixed
population. The big hotels and restaurants and movie theaters were
still there (in one of which I saw Laurence Olivier’s “Henry V.”) The
European population of Shanghai was essentially Russian, since in the
last phase of the Bolshevik Revolution, Kolchak’s czarist forces had
retreated eastward, and the last stop in Siberia for many of these
people had been Harbin — a place I’d never heard of before. But
whenever I asked a Russian girl in Shanghai where she was from, it was
So if you went around asking pretty girls where they were from, you
got the impression Harbin was kind of like the Left Bank of Paris. Mind
you in the Shanghai winter, all these cute Russian girls still wore
boots, as if they’d never left Petrograd. So if you took one out
dancing, you had to prepare yourself for dancing with a girl in heavy
boots. BOOTS! The girl I loved most was named Tania. I can’t give you
the name of the girl I loved next best after Tania because she was the
wife of a U.S. Marine captain at the time somewhere in Mongolia. I’d
been an officer in Task Force 71, so when you come to think about it,
this lady’s husband and I had a lot in common. I never met him, but you
know what I mean.
I’d never fought in a civil war, but when they’re over, the two sides
aren’t necessarily lovey-dovey. And the thousands of Russians in
Shanghai who’d escaped Stalin had no soft spot in their hearts for the
Comintern, the Soviet regime having labeled all refugee ingrates like
these girls traitors, enemies of socialism. When I’d reached perhaps
Honolulu, I heard that the Kremlin had issued a general pardon to all
the Russians who’d fought against them in the Civil War. It was a
front-page story even in the American papers. So next time I was in
Shanghai, I looked up my old girlfriends, but they were all gone. My
first thought was that they must be living it up in Moscow — at that
time, a place I’d never seen. Could Moscow lie? A year or so later I
heard they’d thrown all these girls into the Gulag.
But this is the way we’d treated lots of lovers of freedom once the
game was up — the earliest example I can think of being the objects of
the Fugitive Slave Act during our Civil War. In 1939, a thousand German
Jews boarded an ocean liner named the Saint Louis to escape Nazi
Germany, only to be driven away from the Florida coast by the U.S. Coast
Guard. Most of those poor people ended their days in Hitler’s death
camps. At the end of World War II, for that matter, we sent between two
and three million Soviet citizens — men, women and children — back to
the Soviet Union.
Perhaps the most famous of these returnees were the Cossacks, who had
been fighting the Bolsheviks since the Russian Revolution. These
Cossacks survived the Czar, but they didn’t survive Lenin and Stalin.
Solzenitsyn told their story in “The Gulag Archipelago.” Another
celebrated anti-Bolshevik group was “Vlasov’s people,” a million-man
army that defected from the Soviets in the middle of the war and joined
the anti-Communists side after the Battle of Leningrad in 1942. Vlasov
was hanged by the Soviets and his head displayed in Red Square.
With World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and various other
bloody confrontations, one might think that, after exposure to the
harshness of the real world, the innocence of the American public in
these matters might be hard to restore. Unfortunately, it has been
restored all too easily. When one side or another in an African civil
war butchered its opponents for sport, amputating the arms and legs of
its captives, children included, we are shocked.
One wonders why. Isn’t this the way the game is played? Come,
come. You must have known that.