Part I: 1947 to 1957
This is a summary of my professional life, with enough information about personal details to provide context. (See CV elsewhere on this website for more details.) Hope you find it interesting.
The mysteries of US Army personnel policies engulf an attempt to explain how I became so engrossed in SE Asian studies. In 1947 my father, then a colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s corps, requested service in Germany. He was assigned to the Philippines, as JAG officer for PhilRyCom [Philippines Ryukyus Command]. His family was allowed to accompany him. At the time I was a freshman at San Diego State College (with the idea that after going on to law school, I would return to San Diego, where I had grown up, to practice law, and enter politics.) My mother was a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Virginia, where we had spent the last few years of the war. (It had been the location of the Army’s School of Military Government.) She persuaded her professors, who were almost totally ignorant of the Philippines, to let her write a dissertation on “U.S. assistance to the Philippine transition to independence”, so she could do research in the field while being an Army wife.
She also became “Prof. Violet Wurfel”, teaching political science at the University of the Philippines, funded by the then infant Fulbright program. (She had written UP President Gonzales before arriving in the Philippines about her availability.) Though her status was unique, she was, in a sense, the first Fulbright lecturer in the Philippines. The University functioned on the partially rebuilt campus on Padre Faura, while the US Army occupied the ‘Philippine University Area’ in Diliman, Quezon City, to which the UP campus had been slated to move just before the war. But this was where we lived; it was the PhilRyCom headquarters.
The university in the Philippines best known to Americans at that time was Santo Tomas, a Dominican school. That is where many American civilian prisoners were kept by the Japanese. Because of the prisoners’ presence, the US military did not bomb that campus, as they had most of central Manila. So soon after I arrived I drove down to UST. After getting university maps and bulletins — which all pointed out that Santo Tomas was older than Harvard — from the registrar, I was allowed to meander about the campus, adorned with many gorgeous flame trees. But I noticed in the hallways and on the stairs a wide white line in the center, so asked what it was for. The answer: of course, boys and girls do not mix in the hallway, when they are separated in class! This was a revelation, which led to others, e.g. the Dominicans were one of the most conservative Catholic orders in the Philippines, rote learning was often required by priest/professors. etc. It became obvious that I should explore the University of the Philippines more thoroughly. Even in our limited range of acquaintances, we soon learned that UP was considered the most prestigious institution of higher education in the Philippines, training ground for most of the political and economic elite. Its curriculum had been shaped by Americans even before its founding in 1911. When I enrolled in UP, my mother and I were able to coordinate schedules so that most days we drove the 45 minutes to Padre Faura together — even through monsoon floods.
I took courses in Philippine government and history, as well as my mother’s course in US government. I studied Spanish from a delightful grand dame of the old school, Sra. Buenaventura, who, through her daughter, Paz, became a lifelong friend. The Senora punctuated classes with the swoosh (open) and swoosh (closed) of her black Spanish fan. Memorizing Rizal’s Spanish poetry was for her an essential teaching mechanism. At that time no one considered it important for me to study Tagalog, later a matter of great regret.
In any case, my more than a year in Philippines — until December 1948 — was hardly a tightly constructed program in Philippine studies. It was nevertheless a profound learning experience that redirected my life. I was invited to town fiestas by friends from Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan, and even an Ifugao kanyao. Some of the ‘best and the brightest’ of that era were UP classmates and friends. Through attending YM-YW conferences in Baguio — and additional meetings of CONDA (Conference Delegates Association) — I also met student leaders from other campuses as well. Having been impressed by the idealistic reformism of these student leaders, I was saddened when so many became enmeshed in corruption in later life.
And as my mother’s driver I also had an experience that very few Manila students of that era could have had: a long discussion with a Huk activist in a farmer’s house in a barrio of Tarlac, Tarlac. (This jaunt was not mentioned to Army friends.) I was impressed by the fact that my mother, who in her research had accepted so much of the official line on US-Philippine relations, was so sympathetic to the Huk analysis of such issues as “back pay” and “guerrilla recognition”. Maneuvering our Chevy over dry Tarlac ricefields I was introduced to what was for me a whole new dimension of Philippine life; it helped to trigger a life-long interest in agrarian reform, and a commitment to justice for peasants.
In the spring (i.e. Manila dry season) vacation I had a chance to go with the family to Japan for a month; my father had been ordered to “temporary duty” in Tokyo, so we classified as military dependents, travelling on army ships to and from Tokyo. We very thorough tourists, traversing a horribly bumpy road to Nikko in the north and taking “Occupation Forces Only” trains to Mt. Aso in Kyushu, but had little more than superficial contact with Japanese. The cities still had broad expanses of destruction, where vegetable gardens sprung up around the ruins of houses. The countryside was almost devoid, aside from trains, of mechanized transportation. I fell in love with the Japanese landscape, both natural and artificial — especially after visits to famous gardens in both Tokyo and Kyoto.
One of our more amusing experiences of the structure of Occupation unfolded in Hakone, where we had the privilege of lunch at the famous Fujiya Hotel, visited by kings and presidents since the late 19th century. It was reserved for officers’ use only and had managed to preserve its pre-war elegance. So luncheon under a lacquered ceiling was served with fine linens and silver service. Each plate had a silver cover to keep the food warm; but when the waiter removed the cover, the mandatory menu was revealed — hot dogs! On any given day the Occupation throughout Japan served the same thing in all messes.
In addition to the obligatory sightseeing trips to Nara, Kyoto, and Kamakura, I had already acquired the tastes of a budding political scientist. I observed Tojo in the docket at the International War Crimes Tribunal with my father; I witnessed US-Soviet tensions in a session of the Allied Council for Japan; I made two trips to Tokyo University, one illegally on my own (the campus was “off limits to Allied personnel”) and one with my father who obtained a special permit, and two trips to the Diet, once to marvel at the gorgeous building and once to observe a session of the Lower House. Several places I benefited from the desire of so many Japanese to try out their halting English.
My knowledge of Japanese history and culture, though for a month it had been growing by leaps and bounds, was still slim, but this visit whet my appetite for much more. My diary concluded with “the most enjoyable month of my life.” Yet the experience did not lead to a Japan specialization.
Our family sojourn in Manila did provide an entree to Southeast Asia as well as just a focus on the Philippines. I had travel lust already at 18, and modest parental encouragement, so I planned to earn money by teaching piano to beginning students on the Army base; my success was undoubtedly due to my lack of competition. By early November I had saved enough to begin making plans for Peking; my father thought he could get me on a military plane as a “dependent”. But the Red Army’s tightening ring around the Chinese capital forced the US command to decree such flights off limits to all except military personnel on orders. Instead, in early December my mother and I flew to Hong Kong, and I went on alone to Bangkok, which was then still the true “Venice of the Orient”. In the end I regretted having only ten days in that exotic city.
With introductions to the YM, I was able to find a comfortable room w/ bath for 50 cents a night! More importantly I met some Y residents, university students who wanted to practice their English— already remarkably good for Thailand at that time—by guiding me around Bangkok. I rode in samlor and trollies, attended school fairs, had a hour-long photo-shoot with some of the lead dancers at the University of Fine Arts, was fascinated by the preparations for a royal cremation just outside the Palace, and visited the most famous wats. But I did not gain enough understanding of the structure of Thai society to begin to see possible comparisons with the Philippines, as I did much later. In this period it was the differences between the two countries that were most evident.
On returning to Manila, I began to prepare for departure, boarding an Army transport ship for San Francisco on Dec. 30. My stomach weathered the rough seas, and despite card games, old movies and other mindless recreation, I had time to think about the future. I contemplated abandoning law and moving to prepare myself for university teaching on Asian politics. In February I re-entered San Diego State College and began to implement such plans.
My shift away from law was linked, perhaps unconsciously, with the breakdown in communication with my father. He had heard from my mother that I was considering application for CO (conscientious objector) status with my draft board, in his view beyond the pale. Later, when he learned that I planned to accept lAO status — army service, with standard uniform, in non-combatant roles, he resumed speaking.
In the spring of 1950 my acceptance for graduate study in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, confirmed my shift in career plans. I was drawn not only by the prestige of the institution but by the fact that the last governor-general of Indonesia, Hubertus J. van Mook, was a visiting professor of political science. A few months after I arrived in Berkeley I secured his agreement to be my M.A. thesis advisor; he was especially pleased with my topic, the history of agrarian policy in the Philippines. I was not surprised with his tendency to defend “good colonialism”, or his scepticism about nationalism. But what was unexpected was the ease with which a lowly student could discuss, even debate, differences with a man who had been so recently viceroy of the vast Indonesian archipelago. It was a rich experience. Only much later did I learn that van Mook had ordered the arrest of George Kahin soon after he arrived in Indonesia in 1947. (Kahin was to become my professor and advisor at Cornell only a year later.) I visited van Mook at the UN in New York a couple of years later, after he became the first director of the UN Development Programme.
Most of my time at Berkeley I was a resident of the International House, one of three built by the Rockefellers in the 1930s. The social atmosphere was very different indeed from that in San Diego, where I either lived with my grandfather or roomed with a neighbour. For me the chance to meet students from Asia was most treasured. (In fact, I helped to organize the “Southeast Asian Table” in the cafeteria, competing with the much larger French and Spanish tables.) The Okinawans I met remained friends for many years. Japanese and Filipinos were mostly scions of wealthy families. The two Burmese, however, were impoverished government scholars. Between semesters, when the I House cafeteria was closed, I ‘boarded’ with them, eating primarily potato curry. Both were economists, one, Maung Swe, was with the Union Bank of Burma, and one taught at the University of Mandalay. Maung Swe was particularly loyal as a correspondent. We visited him twice in Rangoon; but he was never again able to leave his country.
My roommate was an Israeli army veteran studying forestry, who, from his own experience, could answer my many questions about kibbutzim. At that time my view of Israel was very favourable, even to the point of hoping that the kibbutz could be a model for agricultural production in SE Asia, and wanting the kibbutz experience for myself.
Van Mook was the only SE Asia specialist at Berkeley at that time, so when he left in the summer of 1951, before I had finished my thesis, I asked Robert Scalapino, from whom I had taken a seminar on Japanese politics, to be my chairman; happily he agreed. He was not a demanding chair. (I did not finish until the summer of 1953, shortly before being drafted.) The Japanese politics seminar had been fascinating, but it helped me to realize how important Japanese language was for a specialist in that subject. Most of my classmates had been in the wartime language program of the US army. I would have had to set aside two or three more years for such study myself if I were to become a Japan specialist. And then, while I still pondered that difficult choice, a wonderful opportunity opened up at Cornell.
I was already looking for a PhD program where I could specialize in SE Asia. And then came the brochure from Ithaca advertising Ford Foundation fellowships for students concentrating on that very region. I eagerly filled out the lengthy forms, and was excited to learn within a couple of months that I had been granted one of the slots! The fellowships were so generous that they covered not only tuition and living expenses, but suggested that, if I did well, there was prospect of dissertation field research expenses as well. For a graduate student, I was on the deluxe track.
I was also very fortunate in having George Kahin as my advisor. His first role was to guide this rather gauche Californian through the protocols of the Ivy League. (As a Seattle-raised student at Johns Hopkins he had also faced Ivy League socialization.) He was as informal in his manner as Van Mook had been formal, and looked after his graduate students with warm concern. The importance of his role was tested in the first month of school.
Prof. Mario Einaudi, the son of the president of Italy (a fact of which I was unaware at the time), was chair of the Department of Government. He invited faculty and graduate students to his house for a reception to open the academic year. When the day arrived, it was very warm and humid. I thought I had just the outfit for the occasion: a guayabera, acquired in Vera Cruz, Mexico, in the summer of 1950. (My uncle, Don Drury, had invited me to visit him in Yucatan, where he managed a plywood factory, and to tour Mexico.) I had observed that in Mexico the guayabera was the dress uniform in warm weather. As it turned out that same status did not obtain in Ithaca, New York, especially when mixing with the Italian elite.
The day after the reception Prof. Einaudi called Prof. Kahin, with the opening question, “Do you think that this Wurfel is really graduate student material? He wore his pajamas to my house!” George sprang to my defense, and explained the character of the guayabera. Then he called me in, to report what had happened, and to recommend measures that might re-ingratiate me with Einaudi. Henceforth other graduate students could always tell what days I had a class with Einaudi — I was wearing a coat and tie. Einaudi turned out to be much more understanding than I had first imagined; he was especially easy on me when administering the departmental French exam for the PhD.
Kahin continued to be a very wise counsellor. I noticed that in the SE Asia Program, Indonesian studies was given top billing, receiving most attention from the devout Indonesianist, George Kahin. I, like so many classmates, was enamored of Indonesian culture. So I asked if I should choose an Indonesian specialization. Prof. Kahin pointed out, however, that at that time I was the only political science PhD candidate who had field experience in and research output on the Philippines. He suggested that it would be advantageous for me to stick with the Philippines. (And the following year the SEAP hired an economist, Frank Golay, with a Philippine focus.) And so I did, even though Tagalog was not offered at that time; Spanish was accepted as a substitute!
The faculty and staff of the SE Asian Program was a fairly close knit community, with several social gatherings during the year, including potlucks and picnics. Some of my classmates from that era have remained close personal friends throughout my life. I often learned as much from fellow students as from professors — Herb Feith, the Indonesianist from Australia, comes particularly to mind. My exposure to the anthropological approach was especially enriching, even without a minor in that field. It was an essential adjunct to the study of political development, teaching me the pervasive influence of culture.
However, political science theory was relatively neglected at Cornell. As I recall there was no course on contemporary political theory in the Government Department at that time, and Prof. Kahin seldom spent any time on it in his classes. Thus I was deficient in this area when I entered the job market, at times a serious handicap. This, coupled with my own strong identity as a Southeast Asian area specialist, made me most comfortable in job situations where my area specialty was clearly recognized. At no time in my career did I have an appointment that did not include at least one course assignment on SE Asia. For a few years, at different universities, I taught exclusively on SE Asia.
In the spring of 1953, after passing my comprehensive exams for the PhD, I reapplied for a draft deferment to cover a year of field research, which the Ford Foundation would support. Despite strong letters from both Ford and the Cornell SE Asia Program, the draft board would not be moved. So I scurried to finish uncompleted tasks, such as my Master’s thesis for Berkeley. In August I returned to San Diego to spend some time with my socialist grandfather, E.W.B. Mark. (He died while I was overseas.) In September I was drafted, reporting to Ft. Ord. Most of my first two months in the Army I spent in the hospital, after contracting a severe case of pneumonia during a forced march in the rain. After Christmas, I was sent to Camp Pickett, Virginia, for basic training (in which KP duty was substituted for weapons training, as per policy towards conscientious objectors drafted as IA0s). Upon ‘graduation’ I was sent to an even less illustrious location, the Army Hometown News Service in Kansas City, stuffing envelopes to be mailed to newspapers in soldiers’ hometowns on the occasion of every promotion to Pfc, or equivalent newsworthy event. (I myself never made it past Pfc in my 21 months in the Army.) It was one of the hottest summers on record in Kansas City. Besides tennis at dawn and swimming in lukewarm lakes, our recreation included watching the ‘Army McCarthy Hearings’ on TV. (No Communists were found in our detachment.)
My movement in the fall of 1954 to Tokyo was one of the small miracles in the history of the US Army. I requested duty in the Far East Psywar Detachment, because I had a graduate school friend there, and he persuaded the commandant to request me. To the amazement of all, I was actually sent there. My assignment was in the research unit preparing ‘relevant’ background information for Army broadcasts to China and North Korea. There were several others in our unit with MAs in the social sciences. My job included keeping up on developments in Indo-China. But the work was often rather boring, e.g. preparing lists of persons whose birthdays might be celebrated in the propaganda broadcasts.
One day, to fight boredom, I submitted for inclusion in the weekly list the name of the corporal at the next desk. I told him what I was doing; he had a good sense of humour. We assumed that it would be caught by the highly-paid civilian employee supervising our office, who would probably remark no more than, “Nice try”. Weeks went by; I received a much coveted three-day pass and planned to climb Mt. Fuji with a Japanese friend. On that fateful Friday morning, sporting my climbing togs, I made the mistake of stopping in the office for my mail. The sergeant-major saw me and bellowed: “Wurfel, change into uniform and get yourself to the Colonel’s office” plus a few colourful embellishments. All rights and privileges of a three-day pass disintegrated in the moment.
The Colonel, who commanded the detachment, was visibly upset. He explained—or barked—that he had received an inquiry from the US Embassy in Taipeh as to the relevance of the birthday entry for which I was responsible. (The Tokyo Psywar Detachment weekly bulletin was, I learned, distributed to military headquarters and diplomatic outposts throughout Asia.) I was accused of besmirching the name of the whole Detachment. (I was not bold enough to ask whether the three levels of administrators through which the draft bulletin passed ever read what they approved.) My punishment was to be sweeping and mopping floors every night for a month; a sergeant was given the pleasure of supervising me. My colleagues got the message: no more in-house jokes — because they might not remain in house.
My stay in central Tokyo — both office and barracks were in the Finance Biru (former Ministry of Finance building) at Toranamon — opened up some wonderful off-hours opportunities. I took two semesters of introductory Japanese at the Naganuma school in Shibuya, where my second language, up to then, Spanish, had a nasty habit of slipping in to my attempt to form Japanese sentences. To supplement formal classes I also met regularly with a recent Tokyo University graduate who had majored in English literature; we taught each other. My Japanese was so weak that I often failed to understand what he was saying. In English it was not much better, since his sentence structure and vocabulary were decidedly Shakesperean. Nor was my mangled Naganuma Japanese much easier for him. But we wanted to communicate, and somehow we managed.
One of my contacts was with the American Friends Service Committee office in Tokyo. I sometimes attended Friends’ Meeting, where silence was the universal language. By participating in AFSC week-end work camps, I met students from all over Tokyo, most with relatively good English — in addition to a few British soldiers — some of whom became lifelong friends. Through Quaker connections I had a chance to meet and talk with Suzuki Daisetsu, the great Buddhist/Quaker philosopher. Friends’ Meeting was also a link to the recently established International Christian University on the outskirts of Tokyo; Dr. Iwao Ayusawa, a “weighty quake” and chair of the ICU Social Science Division invited me to visit campus, which I did, and further suggested that I might want to teach there some day. To be polite, I answered, “yes, of course”.
But my thoughts, as 1955 progressed, were increasingly engrossed in making plans for research in the Philippines. Learning that I could be given three months early discharge by the Army to “return to school”, I applied, claiming that assigned field research should be the equivalent of “returning to school”. My interpretation was accepted, so I prepared for a July discharge.
In July I headed south, with stopovers for introductory research on land reform in Korea and Taiwan. The journey was mostly by sea. Between Keelung and Hong Kong I was the lone passenger on a British freighter. It was a clean ship and the weather was good; the captain and officers were British, but most of the crew appeared to be Chinese. The Chinese chef had been well-schooled by his boss to cook only British food; it was so “democratic” — every meal tasted the same, i.e. tasteless. On arrival in Manila, aboard the Messagerie Maritimes luxury liner, the Laos, I was met by Betty Hessel, a Methodist missionary who had been my Aunt Helen’s high school classmate; we had become good friends in 1948.
Betty and her husband Eugene invited me to stay with them in the manse of Ellenwood Malate church, where Eugene was minister, for the first few weeks while I found an apartment and a car. Since they had lived in the Philippines for nearly a decade, their advice was invaluable. The Ford Foundation stipend was fairly generous, so I was able to buy a used Hillman (light blue), and rent a two room apartment on Sierra Madre St., just off of Espana Extension. It was in the family compound of a well-to-do Pampanga doctor — whose views on land reform were far from my own. The location was good, about half way between the UP Diliman campus, where I had several friends, and the Congress, where I was researching legislative histories. The US A.I.D (then the ICA) offices, and those of the newer agencies created to deal with aspects of agrarian policy were not far.
In looking for a research assistant UP contacts guided me to Casiano Flores, a young UP law student, who became not only my research assistant but a lifelong friend. Yanoy, as he was called, was a diligent assistant whose self-confident charm made it easy for him to do follow-up in government offices on documents I was seeking, as well as other tasks. In 1956 he married and eventually raised six children — a boy’s basketball team and one girl. When he graduated he took a position as a University lawyer, spending a few years as administrator on a University-owned rubber plantation; later he was on the staff of the UP Law Center. After retirement from UP he took on positions as Secretary of the Senate and later as Executive Secretary of the Commission on Appointments, a joint body of the House and Senate. Both positions put him in the midst of policy issues I was researching. His research assistance for me, obtaining documents and arranging interviews, thus lasted into the 1990s.
I launched my research at the height of Ramon Magsaysay’s popularity, which was awesome. I was able to observe up close the near-religious adoration with which peasants regarded him; and, at the same time his detachment from the details of the policy process — characteristics of the charismatic leader. Having my own transportation I often travelled to Central Luzon — and to Ilocos and the Southern Tagalog regions — to observe the organizing work of the Federation of Free Farmers (thanks to a personal friendship with Jerry Montemayor, its president), or to sit in on hearings of the Agriculutral Tenancy Commission or the Court of Agrarian Relations, or to interview officers of various Farmers’ Cooperative Marketing Associations, which were supervised by the Agricultural Credit and Cooperative Financing Administration (ACCFA). I also interviewed Congressmen and Senators key to the formulation and passage of labor and agrarian legislation.
Another important segment of my research was to document and understand the role of the ICA in drafting and promoting reform legislation. (In the case of Robert Hardie, who had long since left the Philippines, I had to travel to his home in Missouri to interview him.) Most of the key advisors in the fields of tenancy reform, agricultural credit and land settlement were very cooperative, sometimes offering me a ride when they went to the field. I sensed frustration in their failure to get consistent higher level US government support for some of the issues they were pressing with Philippine agencies, and the foot dragging they sometimes faced in those very agencies. In those days I was quite positive about the US attempt to push “social reform through foreign aid” and thus found it easy to establish good rapport with those on the front lines of such efforts. But by the 1970s I had seen enough of the process to realize that it was often just another technique of ‘American imperialism’, a term I was only bold enough to use a generation after my first field research.
Though almost all of my interviews were successfully completed in English, and all documentation, whether administrative or judicial, was in Spanish or English, I could see the future need for some competence in Tagalog (or its variant, the National Language). Thus I sought a teacher; I was most fortunate in finding at Philippine Women’s University one of country’s best linguists, Prof. Paraluman Aspillera. In order to accommodate my various trips out of Manila, I was able to arrange individual tutoring. While this schedule was very pleasant — we discussed all sorts of topics — it did not provide me with the discipline that I really needed. And so I never progressed beyond a very introductory level. Even taxi drivers, language instructors in many cultures, were in Manila mostly fluent in English. So when I tried to initiate a conversation in my halting Tagalog, they felt sorry for me — and switched to English. Only near the end of my year’s research was I brave enough to arrange for a few days stay with a Tarlac farm family that spoke no English at all. Essential communication was maintained, but many fine points were lost, I am sure. Several of my forays in the barrio were in Bicol, Mindanao and the Visayas, where, in the 1950s, Tagalog was not widely spoken. Rarely, with a court clerk or an older teniente de barrio, Spanish was the preferred language. With each subsequent research trip to the Philippines, the usefulness of Tagalog grew. But I became trapped in a schedule of so many meetings and interviews that language study was too easily neglected.
This was an era in which Philippine government and civil society were wide open to foreign researchers. Record keeping in some offices was chaotic, but mid-level staff were eager to please, even to the point of offering me their last copy of an important document — I politely refused and arranged for making an extra copy. To be sure I also sometimes felt that key documentation was being hidden from me; not to preserve “state secrets” but to conceal evidence of corruption or administrative incompetence. Fortunately not all clerks appreciated how revealing some of the duplicate documents I was given actually were.
Field researchers seldom “finish” their data gathering in the time originally allotted. But in this case I could not linger, because of plans for further research in other SE Asian countries. The Ford Foundation grant had generously provided a stipend for three additional months in other SE Asian countries “to do brief studies on the status of agrarian policy”. In September, 1956, I departed for Saigon, where land reform was high on the agenda of the ICA, which at that point had considerable influence over the Diem regime. Since the situation was most similar to the Philippines, I allocated six weeks for Vietnam.
I only realized later that the high priority for land reform was often due to the role of the CIA, which at that time regarded such reform as a bulwark against communism. Not surprising that the category of an independent university researcher seemed to be incomprehensible to many in the expatriate community in Saigon. When I introduced myself as such, the frequent assumption was that I was CIA, revealed in signals that I did not at first understand. But as I learned more about the “scene”, I realized that dinner invitations after first meeting from people who turned out to be friends of Col. Edward Lansdale had a special meaning. (I was sometimes asked more questions about my own research than I was able to ask about Vietnam.) I even met Lansdale himself, as well as the legendary Wolf Ladejinsky, agrarian reform advisor to Pres. Diem.
But I felt most at home with the staff of the agrarian section of ICA, where the careful monitoring of the reform program was being undertaken, and proposals for its revision drafted — without the glamour attached to Lansdale, or Ladejinky, by the press. ICA staff helped me gather relevant documentation and sometimes provided me with transportation to provinces where they were especially active. I once rode with some local ICA staff in an old black Peugot to Sadec in the deep south, passing many old French guard towers by then manned by South Vietnamese forces. At one such tower the soldiers of this newly independent country were particularly diligent. They stopped our car and gruffly asked me to get out. But when they learned that this was a US government vehicle and I was an American, they apologized, adding “We thought you were French.” Only when the book came out in 1958 did I recognize that in many ways I had been living in the plot of “The Ugly American”, including pleasant rounds of drinks on the veranda and meals at some of the best restaurants, as well as bumpy rides in old French sedans past recently nationalized guard posts.
I might have been completely corrupted had it not been for the contacts I had earlier made in Ithaca both with Americans and Vietnamese. Don Luce, a Cornell College of Agriculture graduate, was at the time of my arrival in Vietnam merely an acquaintance, who became a good friend. In 1956 he was already head of the Saigon office of International Voluntary Service, engaged in several agricultural projects at the village level, and would later become a political figure in his own right — one of the leading, and best informed, voices in the US against American policy in Vietnam. Don was very helpful, both in arranging introductions and finding me a moderately priced place to stay.
Another Cornell contact who was extremely helpful was Nguyen Thai, a Catholic, who was closely associated with Pres. Diem. In fact, he was the presidential press secretary. Thai even arranged for me to have an interview with Diem, hardly an ‘exchange’, but more like listening to a monologue. Thai also introduced me to other Vietnamese officials — but not to some of the dissidents I would meet in the 1960s.
Out of my Vietnamese sojourn I gathered materials for an article eventually published in Far Eastern Survey. Though in later years I thought I had been too kind, I was somewhat critical of the policies formulated by Ladejinsky and pressed on Diem. The cautious progressive who edited the Far Eastern Survey (FES and Pacific Affairs which published my first academic article), Bill Holland, showed the draft to Ladejinsky to confirm that I was not too far off base. Apparently Ladejinsky’s sharply negative response, including a warning to Holland not to publish, largely made my case; the article was soon published with only minor revisions. I was very conscious for many years of my debt of gratitude to Bill.
After Vietnam my SE Asian tour acquired a large portion of sightseeing, spiced with some considerable good luck. In Cambodia I had no personal contacts, but in Phnompenh happened upon the funeral ceremonies for Prince Sihanouk’s grandmother (or so I was told). The procession through the streets of Buddhist hierarchy and the Brahmin priests attached to the Palace was a gorgeous display of historical costumes. I also toured the palace grounds and leading temples. From Phnompenh I flew to Angkor, since surface travel was not advised. Being a tourist in Angkor was a rather lonely business that year; I revelled in the lack of “competition”. Without an adequate guide book or money for a taxi, I was lucky to find a young cyclos driver who spoke a bit of English. For two days we roamed Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, and even swam in one of the ancient reservoirs. On the second day I was amazed to run into a couple I had met in Japan through John Howes. Though they too were only graduate students, our pooled resources allowed us to hire a vehicle to go to some outlying temples, e.g. the fabulous Bantey Srei.
My three weeks in Indonesia, mostly in Jakarta, Bandung, and Jogjakarta, were richly enhanced by Cornell contacts. Tony Pringodigdo, son of the Secretary to the President, was especially helpful. He guided me to Bogor where I was able to enter the palace grounds, largely untouched since the Dutch era, and to an interview and photo op with Sukarno’s second wife, a beauty indeed. His arrangements for Jogja provided me with a unique experience there too. I stayed in the house of a former minister of social affairs in the national cabinet, who was also related to the Sultan; he and his wife were well positioned within the Jogja elite. Since I had come to Jogja eager to see wayang orang, I could hardly believe my good luck. Several days of celebration of the Sultan’s birthday were underway, and my hosts had extra tickets to the upcoming wayang orang performance in the palace. Though I thought my commitment to learn more about Javanese culture was unflinching, after a few hours on a warm afternoon of slow and subtle movement, accompanied by mesmerizing music, I could not stay awake. Fortunately I also had a chance later to observe and photograph the scores of youth from around Jogja who practiced the wayang orang movements in the outer palace grounds. One student, a friend of my hosts, guided me for a day at Borobudur. Altogether my Indonesian experience was just short of life-changing; but I was too far advanced in my commitment to Philippine studies to actually change course.
My next stop was in Burma, which had become a country of great interest while John Cady was a visiting professor at Cornell. (I had taken his Burma seminar.) I spent nearly two weeks there, mostly in Rangoon. My one up-country trip was to Taunggyi, in the Shan states. My objective was to meet my fellow tourist, Chou En-lai. We were never properly introduced, but I did get a lot of pictures of him being received by a lengthy reception line of local dignitaries. It was his first trip to Burma — much publicized locally. Thanks to the role of English in the Burmese education system in the recent past, I was able to meet a number of students and professors, from which I learned a great deal. The Ford Foundation had a large office in Burma at that time; staffers were particularly helpful in guiding me to people knowledgeable about Burmese agrarian policy, then unique in S E Asia.
From Rangoon I flew on to Karachi, and thence — not on the original schedule — to Istanbul. I had originally been routed through Cairo, with several days’ stopover. But this introduction to the Middle East never happened, thanks to the Suez Crisis. The battle between the British and the Egyptians did not create a welcoming atmosphere for tourists or businessmen. I might have found it exciting to observe all of this as a political scientist, but the airlines gave me no choice. We were scheduled to have a fueling stopover in Istanbul, on the way to Frankfurt. But when we were ready to take off, the plane taxied to the edge of the runway, and into a deep mud puddle! The recovery and repair work required an overnight; the airlines were kind enough to provide us with rooms in a very comfortable hotel. My curiosity about Turkish history and architecture could only be satisfied by an hour’s taxi tour.
I arrived in Frankfort a day late, on December 23, and was met by my parents. My father was stationed at the US Army headquarters there. After Christmas day at home, they took me on a quick tour of Bavaria; they had once previously made this loop, so with the help of my mother’s passable German we managed without guide or guidebook. Our destination, for New Year’s, was an Army hotel in Berchtesgaden. On return to Frankfurt I signed the papers for the purchase and export of a VW ‘beetle’, and soon departed for Rotterdam, where the VW was put on a freighter for New York. I proceded to London, where I boarded the “Queen Elizabeth”, 3rd class, also for New York. The economic calculations proved correct; I was able to save several hundred dollars by buying my VW in Germany.
When my VW was unloaded, the day after I arrived, I headed for Ithaca, to begin writing my dissertation, a much more tedious, and less exciting, task than field research. I returned more committed than ever to the study of SE Asia as a region, more appreciative of its rich, complex cultural heritage, and more confident of my understanding of political culture and process in the Philippines. I had become more sensitive to the similarities, as well as differences, between the Philippines and other SE Asian countries and more determined to explain and defend the strengths of Philippine democracy, at a time when there was still some hope. Despite my Vietnam experience, I had not yet realized how profoundly wrong US intervention there really was. The Cornell SEAP helped me pull together my thoughts from more than a year in the field: George Kahin invited me to give some lectures in his class on “The US and Asia”, and I also had the opportunity to give a seminar for graduate students on the Philippines. One semester I drove a half hour north to Wells College (for women) in order to teach a course on Asian history and politics, my first independent teaching enterprise.