lørdag 17. februar 2024

From China's Past: Madame Chiang Kai-shek's Speech to Congress, February 18, 1943

In a carefully choreographed eight-month charm offensive, Soong Mei-ling, better known by her married name, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, or simply “Madame”, traveled across North America, captivating audiences with her appearance, cosmopolitan outlook, and letter-perfect English. On February 18, 1943, she spoke to the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill. The Second World War was raging in Europe and Asia, and Madame Chiang came with a plea for help. 

Born in China, educated in America, Madame sought political and financial support for the Chinese regime of her husband, known as the Generalissimo, and for China in its brutal war with the Japanese. Although in her private life she could be haughty and cruel, in this speech she emphasizes the nobleness of Chinese suffering and the virtues of Christian forgiveness.

Less than three years after her North American tour, Japan’s surrender ended World War II. But civil war erupted between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists. In 1946 Soong Mei-ling and her husband fled to Taiwan. She lived to be 106 and never again set foot in mainland China.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Congress of the United States:

At any time, it would be a privilege for me to address Congress, more especially this present august body which will have so much to do in shaping the destiny of the world. In speaking to Congress I am literally speaking to the American people. The 77th Congress, as their representatives, fulfilled the obligations and responsibilities of its trust by declaring war on the aggressors.

That part of the duty of the people's representatives was discharged in 1941. The task now confronting you is to help win the war and to create and uphold a lasting peace which will justify the sacrifices and sufferings of the victims of aggression.

Before enlarging on this subject, I should like to tell you a little about my long and vividly interesting trip to your country from my own land, which has bled and borne unflinchingly the burden of war for more than five and a half years. I shall not dwell, however, upon the part China has played in our united effort to free mankind from brutality and violence. I shall try to convey to you, however imperfectly, the impressions gained during the trip.

First of all, I want to assure you that the American people have every right to be proud of their fighting men in so many parts of the world. I am particularly thinking of those of your boys in the far-flung, out-of-the-way stations and areas where life is attended by dreary drabness; this because their duty is not one of spectacular performance and they are not buoyed up by the excitement of battle. They are called upon, day after colorless day, to perform routine duties such as safeguarding defenses and preparing for possible enemy action.

It has been said, and I find it true from personal experience, that it is easier to risk one's life on the battlefield than it is to perform customary humble and humdrum duties which, however, are just as necessary to winning the war.

Some of your troops are stationed in isolated spots, quite out of reach of ordinary communications. Some of your boys have had to fly hundreds of hours over the sea from an improvised airfield in quests, often disappointingly fruitless, of enemy submarines. They, and others, have to stand the monotony of waiting, just waiting. But, as I told them, true patriotism lies in possessing the morale and physical stamina to perform faithfully and conscientiously the daily tasks so that in the sum total the strongest -- the weakest link is the strongest. The trivial round, the common task , would furnish all we ought to ask.

Your soldiers have shown conclusively that they are able stoically to endure homesickness, the glaring dryness and scorching heat of the tropics, and keep themselves fit and in excellent fighting trim. They are amongst the unsung heroes of this war, and everything possible to lighten their tedium and buoy up their morale should be done. That sacred duty is yours.

The American Army is better fed than any army in the world. This does not mean, however, that they can live indefinitely on canned food without having the effects tell on them. These admittedly are but minor hardships of war, especially when we pause to consider that in many parts of the world starvation prevails. But peculiarly enough, oftentimes it is not the major problems of existence which irk a man's soul; it is rather the pin pricks, especially those incidental to a life of deadly sameness, with tempers frayed out and nervous systems torn to shreds.

The second impression of my trip is that America is not only the cauldron of democracy but the incubator of democratic principles. At some of the places I visited, I met the crews of your air bases. There, I found first generation Germans, Italians, Frenchmen, Poles, Czechoslovakians, and other nationals. Some of them had accents so thick, that if such a thing were possible, one could not cut them with a butter knife.

But there they were, all Americans, all devoted to the same ideals, all working for the same cause, and united by the same high purpose. No suspicion or rivalry existed between them. This increased my belief and faith that devotion to common principles eliminates differences in race and that identity of ideals is the strongest possible solvent of racial dissimilarities.

I have reached your country, therefore, with no misgivings, but with my belief that the American people are building and carrying out a true pattern of the nation conceived by your forebears, strengthened and confirmed.

You, as representatives of the American people, have before you the glorious opportunity of carrying on the pioneer work of your ancestors, beyond the frontiers of physical and geographical limitations. Their brawn and thews braved undauntedly almost unbelievable hardships to open up a new continent. The modern world lauds them for their vigor and intensity of purpose, and for their accomplishment.

You have today before you the immeasurably greater opportunity to implement these same ideals and to help bring about the liberation of man's spirit in every part of the world. In order to accomplish this purpose, we of the United Nations must now so prosecute the war that victory will be ours decisively and with all good speed.

Sun-Tzu, the well-known Chinese strategist, said: In order to win, "know thyself" and "[know] thy enemy."1 We have also the saying: "It takes little effort to watch the other fellow carry the load."2

In spite of these teachings from a wise old past, which are shared by every nation, there has been a tendency to belittle the strength of our opponents. When Japan thrust total war on China in 1937, military experts of every nation did not give China even a ghost of a chance. But when Japan failed to bring China cringing to her knees as she vaunted, the world took solace in this phenomenon by declaring that they had overestimated Japan's military might.

Nevertheless, when the greedy flames of war inexorably spread in the Pacific following the perfidious attack on Pearl Harbor, Malaya, and lands in and around the China Sea, and one after another of these places fell, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. Doubts and fears lifted their ugly heads and the world began to think that the Japanese were Nietzschean Supermen -- superior in intellect and physical prowess, a belief which the Gobineaus and the Houston Chamberlains and their apt pupils, the Nazi racists, had propounded about the Nordics.

Again, now the prevailing opinion seems to consider the defeat of the Japanese as of relative unimportance and that Hitler is our first concern. This is not borne out by actual facts, nor is it to the interests of the United Nations as a whole to allow Japan to continue, not only as a vital potential threat but as a waiting sword of Damocles, ready -- but as a waiting sword of Damocles ready to des[cend] at a moment's notice.

Let us not forget that Japan in her occupied areas today has greater resources at her command than Germany.

Let us not forget that the longer Japan is left in undisputed possessions of these resources, the stronger she must become. Each passing day takes more toll in lives of both Americans and Chinese.

Let us not forget that the Japanese are an intransigent people.

Let us not forget that during the first four and a half years of total aggression China has borne Japan's sadistic fury unaided and alone.

The victories won by the United States Navy at Midway and the Coral Sea are doubtless steps in the right direction, they are merely steps in the right direction -- for the magnificent fight that was waged at Guadalcanal during the past six months attests to the fact that the defeat of the forces of evil, though long and arduous, will finally come to pass. For have we not on the side of righteousness and justice staunch allies in Great Britain, Russia, and other brave and indomitable peoples?

Meanwhile, the peril of the Japanese juggernaut remains. Japanese military might must be decimated as a fighting force before its threat to civilization is removed. When the 77th Congress declared war against Japan, Germany, and Italy, Congress, for the moment, had done its work. It now remains for you, the present representatives of the American people, to point the way to win the war, to help construct a world in which all peoples may henceforth live in harmony and peace.

May I not hope that it is the resolve of Congress to devote itself to the creation of the post-war world? To dedicate itself to the preparation for the brighter future that a stricken world so eagerly awaits?

We of this generation who are privileged to help make a better world for ourselves and for posterity should remember that, while we must not be visionary, we must have vision so that peace should not be punitive in spirit and should not be provincial or nationalistic or even continental in concept, but universal in scope and -- and humanitarian in action, for modern science has so annihilated distance that what affects one people must of necessity affect all other peoples.

The term "hands and feet" is often used in China to signify the relationship between brothers. Since international interdependence is now so universally recognized, can we not also say that all nations should become members of one corporate body?

The one hundred and sixty years of traditional friendship between our two great peoples, China and America, which has never been marred by misunderstandings, is unsurpassed in the annals of the world. I can also assure you that China is eager and ready to cooperate with you and other peoples to lay a true and lasting foundation for a sane and progressive world society which would make it impossible for any arrogant or predatory neighbor to plunge future generations into another orgy of blood.

In the past China has not computed the cost to her manpower in her fight against aggression, although she well realized that manpower is [the] real wealth of a nation; and it takes generations to grow it. She -- She has been soberly conscious of her responsibilities and has not concerned herself with privileges and gains which she might have obtained through compromise of principles; nor will she demean herself and all she holds dear to the practice of the market place.

We in China, like you, want a better world, not for ourselves alone, but for all mankind, and we must have it. It is not enough, however, to proclaim our idea[l]s or even to be convinced that we have them. In order to preserve, uphold, and maintain them, there are times when we should throw all we cherish into our effort to fulfill these ideals even at the risk of failure.

The teachings drawn from our late leader, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, have given our people the fortitude to carry on. From five and a half years of experience, we in China are convinced that it is the better part of wisdom not to accept failure ignominiously, but to risk it gloriously.

We shall have faith, that, at the writing of peace, America and our other gallant Allies will not be obtunded by the mirage of contingent reasons of expediency.

Man's mettle is tested both in adversity and in success. Twice is this true of the soul of a nation.