Americans in Uniform
The American Image: the "God-Country"
MANY THOUGHTFUL FORMOSANS greeted the surrender with deep emotion - a mixture of elation, relief, and extraordinary anticipation of good things to come. Between World War I and World War II Formosa's most influential leaders had talked of Home Rule, of self-government within the Japanese Empire frame of reference. Now the dream was going to come true, but even better, it would be Home Rule within the framework of "New China," thanks to the United States Government and the American people.
The United States was sometimes referred to as the "God Country." Nowhere in the world was American prestige higher - and by the same token, nowhere since then has disillusionment been so keen and bitter.
It must be remembered that the Formosan people knew much more about the United States than the American people ever knew about Formosa. There was a high literacy rate, a varied press, and some 50,000 radio receivers, many of them attached to community public address systems. Just before World War II news concerning the United States came second only to news of Japan proper in the daily press, and far ahead of coverage for news of China and the rest of the world. I recall, for example, that during the presidential. campaign in 1936 the
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newspapers at Taipei had carried maps of the United States showing electoral college divisions and the voting forecasts. In the public schools Lincoln and Washington were schoolbook heroes, and among some conservative older Formosans Woodrow Wilson's ideas of self-determination as a right for minorities were the Holy Writ of the Home Rule Movement. Young Formosans in the higher schools often discussed the "good fortune" of the Philippines as a possession of the United States.
Our wartime propaganda filtered into Formosa through clandestine radio receivers here and there, and millions of propaganda leaflets, air-dropped after 1944, bore pledges of liberation, the text of the "Four Freedoms" and the Cairo promises.
At the moment of surrender the United States was all-powerful. Washington sponsored China before the world and backed the Generalissimo. All eyes were on American representation.
The United States showed many faces in Formosa in 1945 and 1946; there were the military representatives, the Consular group, the UNRRA team, missionaries, and the miscellany of visitors who flew in and out on special missions and private business.
It should be understood that the ordinary Formosan man-in-the-street drew no distinction between American nationals and the nationals of many lands who made up the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration group (the UNRRA team) or the Spanish, Canadian, British and American missionaries. They all spoke English, hence they all must be "Americans."
At times the "American image" became a little spotty. Individual heroes emerged during the cholera epidemic of 1946 and the rebellion and massacre of 1947, but there were also toadies and thieves, and one practicing sadist to lend a gamey note to the after-hours stories.
There was always, too, the unpredictable behavior of overnight visitors who take leave of good manners when they set foot in a foreign country. Some of us will not forget the day
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that a prominent Congressman, wandering about Asia, was taken to Keelung on tour. Seeing a ceremonial crowd en route, he insisted upon pushing his way into a home in which a funeral was being held; he had always heard about Chinese funerals and coffins, he said, and he wanted to see one.
All Eyes on the Americans in Uniform
The "military image" was the first to come before Formosan eyes. Inevitably the conduct of Americans in uniform was compared with that of Japanese and Chinese soldiers.
Long before the surrender the Formosans had noted the absence of Chinese soldiers in the long lines of haggard Allied prisoners brought ashore, paraded into POW camps, and put to work on public projects. More than 600 flyers had crashed on the mountains and in the fields of Formosa, or had washed up in wreckage from the sea -but there were no Chinese observed among them. Had the Japanese shot all Chinese POW's out-of-hand? Or did few Chinese take part in forward-thrusting action along the China coast, at sea, and in the air over Formosa?
The Formosans commented on this "evidence" that Formosa had been liberated by the Western Allies and not by the Nationalist Chinese, whose military virtues they were inclined to belittle. Their dislike of the bedraggled, undisciplined Nationalist garrison forces was unconcealed.
American GI's ashore on Formosa offered a marked contrast. Each day the Chinese newcomers saw evidence of the popularity of American officers and GI's alike. The Formosans made no attempt to conceal their preferences. The Americans, on their part, soon enough had many occasions to show contempt for the riff-raff which our ships and planes were dumping on the island, and to show sympathy for Japanese and Formosans who had to put up with the marauding Chinese soldiers.
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The Nationalists quite naturally were angered. The loss of face was insufferable, The Chinese Air Force colonel's threat to run every American off the island" and the small discourtesy at the airport on October 24 were minor indications of a very deeprunning emotional resentment. Unfortunately the officers who commanded the Advisory Group could not or did not comprehend the importance of face in the Orient, nor realize that the Group was under the keenest scrutiny at every moment. As far as the Formosans were concerned at that time it was the United States.
With an amused "Big Brother" tolerance the Commanding Officer took the view that we were working with a rather childish people; if the silly Chinese wanted to pretend that they had "won the war" it really did not matter very much. After all, Formosa would be their show in the future, we knew well enough how they reached the island, and we were not going to be around very long.
Our billeting difficulties illustrates the problem again, and the ease with which Americans tended to yield to their "Little Brothers." The American officers ignored it - a temporary problem; the incoming Chinese, on the other band, manipulated the housing question to make public a demonstration of their contempt for the meddlesome foreigners.
The Advance Team had spent twenty days preparing for the Governor-General and his escort. In that period Chinese generals and colonels and civilian officers of the new regime had staked out claims upon scores of large properties. Some were official residences attached to departments of government or the large corporations. Some were handsome private homes.
From my "imperialist" point of view I thought the circumstances justified and required adequate housing for the representatives of the United States. There were dozens of large confiscated houses, occupied by squatters, which would have made dignified temporary headquarters for the Military Advisory Group and adequate quarters for a permanent American
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establishment at Taipei when the time came to reopen a consulate on the island.
But the American officers made no suggestions or demands, taking what was assigned to them without a murmur. The Colonel commanding and his Chief of Staff were housed well enough in the official residence of the Bank of Taiwan, spacious, well-kept, and -like the Plum Mansion - completely furnished. But the Colonel's. effective working staff (the lieutenant-colonels and majors who had so angered the Chinese Air Force) were assigned quarters in the office building of a pineapple company. True enough, the American Government had long ago rented and used the building for the American Consulate, but even then it was inadequate. During the war it had been remodeled. Now officers slept in the old upstairs residence kitchen and shared an outside toilet with the servants. Innumerable hangers-on crowded about to watch the foreigners and tap the food supplies. Our doctor, a major in the Medical Corps, called the place a "pig-pen," but since these were temporary quarters, and the men spent much of the time in suburban hotspring hotels, the problem was not serious. But from the Chinese point of view we definitely had "small face."
Our enlisted men were quartered in the suburban barracks vacated by the prisoners of war, but the junior officers were happily at home in an undamaged downtown hotel-restaurant, not so fine as the Plum or Rose Mansions across the city, but nevertheless served from an excellent kitchen.
Relations between the American military group and the Chinese Nationalist military organization were officially polite but strained, and a series of ugly after-hours incidents left no doubt that our presence was most unwelcome to Chen Yi's men. For example, on one occasion at midnight a number of young Chinese officers, well fortified with liquor, stormed at the doors of the American officers' quarters in downtown Taipei, spoiling for a brawl and threatening to "shoot up the establishment." There were two instances, at least, in which Chinese military
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trucks attempted deliberately to force American jeeps over embankments on the twisting mountain road to Grass Mountain in the suburbs. At Keelung on one occasion I was taking on tour a visiting Captain from the Office of Naval Intelligence at Washington when our way was blocked by a Chinese Nationalist officer who refused to move from the road, cursing, shaking his fist, and making an obvious play for attention and face before the gathering crowd. He decamped quickly enough when we moved to leave the jeep. The crowd cheered.
The outpouring of gratitude toward America was at times embarrassing. Just after the formal surrender, I was walking in the countryside near Taipei when I saw a child run into the field to alert his mother. She hastened to the embankment, bringing her daughters. Clambering to the road and removing wide straw hats they bowed again and again, hailing me as "Amerika-san! Amerika-san!" - "Mr. America" - and thanking me in Japanese "for what America has done."
Not far away on another day I passed a half-ruined house and family temple, obviously the home of a well-to-do landholder. An elderly man hurried out, urged me to stop for a cup of tea, and offered to show me through the grounds and temple. The damage had been done by an American bomb which had missed its target nearby, one family member had been killed, but there was no bitterness. It could not be helped; thanks to America, said my host, Formosa was now free, and could return to China. He insisted that I accept a handsome glazed tile, fallen from the temple roof, as a memento of our hour together and the family's gratitude.
Some weeks later I climbed a thousand steps to revisit a Taoist temple high in the hills near the city. I had known it well before the war. At the foot of the mountain I paused for a cup of tea and a talk with hospitable villagers. As I went on my way several bearers with shoulder-poles and hampers passed me, smiling and bowing without breaking a quick swinging pace. At the temple I found preparations for a feast going forward.
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Food sent up from the village had been spread to welcome me. Before it was served, however, the chief priest asked me to stand before the altar. With fellow priests and acolytes he then gave thanks, praying for peace and prosperity in the world and invoking blessings upon the United States. Forming up a chanting procession they burned incense and paper prayers, while moving round and round the sanctuary in which I stood. This was "God Bless America" in a new version and new setting, but it was obviously a very genuine display of emotion coming from the heart. This was only the first of many times in which I heard Formosans speak of America as a "god-country," meaning a nation that has the character and personality of protective divinity.
In the course of feasting on that occasion the conversation turned for a moment to a series of mysterious murders which had taken place on the streets of Taipei in mid-October. Several Japanese women had been waylaid and killed, but neither robbery nor rape appeared to be the motive. Although the Formosans were glad to see the Japanese become the underdogs for a change, they were shocked at the brutality of these killings. It was evident to me that there was no vicious anti-Japanese sentiment infecting the general community.
Months later we learned that the mysterious "colonels," Huang and Chang - General Tai Li's dread Gestapo agents had approached responsible Formosan leaders at about this time, proposing a general massacre of the Japanese civil population. They set the date for a "spontaneous" uprising to take place on the night of October 27.
The Formosan leaders would have none of it; this was no longer 19th-century China, and the widespread dislike of Japanese was not a deep-seated hatred. Tai Li and his agents had misjudged the Formosan temper, and certainly they seemed to have forgotten the presence of 170,000 Japanese soldiers lying idle in camps not far away.
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What Returning Formosan Labor-Conscripts Had to Say
Soon after the war's end labor conscripts began to return to the island. Some came home with tales of American military conduct in the field and of American attitudes toward prisoners of war. Japan's military fanatics had preached the "disgrace" of surrender, insisting that it was better to commit suicide than to be taken prisoner, and that prisoners deserved only the harshest treatment. The treatment accorded prisoners by the Americans, therefore, was a welcome surprise. For example, sixteen young Formosans, taken prisoner in the Netherlands East Indies by the 158th Regimental Combat Team, worked thereafter faithfully for their American captors and earned a letter of commendation from the Commanding General. Of this they were enormously proud. In it the Commanding General (Hanford MacNider) noted that in the course of the Noenfoor operation the boys had rendered valuable service by accompanying American patrols seeking out stragglers, by negotiating the surrender of both Formosan and Japanese troops, by acting as interpreters, and "by engaging in a wide variety of other helpful activities." When the unit left the Indies the Formosan POW's begged to be allowed to accompany the Americans. This they were permitted to do. Thereafter, said the General, "they conscientiously carried out their duties under hazardous conditions and frequently under heavy enemy fire." He concluded his commendation with these words:
In the light of these PWs long and faithful service for the 158th RCT and because of their demonstrated loyalty toward the U.S. Forces in the course of the war against Japanese militarism, it is recommended that all possible consideration be shown to this personnel, and that preferential treatment be accorded whenever possible. 
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This commendation - of which any man might be proud - the names and nicknames of the young men, and these they continued proudly to use on Formosa until the uprising of 1947 brought reprisals. The nicknames themselves tell of an established camaraderie with their American GI friends, for among them were "Smiley" and "Mike," "Dutch" and "George," "Oscar" and "Charley," "Jake," "Joe," "Johnny," "Cookie," "China Boy" and "Nick."
Elsewhere in the Philippines a unit of the U.S. Sixth Army captured two very young Formosan labor conscripts, who were promptly named "T-Bone" and "Wishbone," given miniature GI uniforms, and adopted as "mascots."
At a more significant level was a study group formed among Formosan POW's interned in the Philippines for some months. They had access to American magazines and newspapers, and in one they found an article which I had published in New York on October 10, 1945, entitled "Some Chinese Problems in Taiwan." This they had translated, reproduced, and distributed as a "discussion text" for study groups organized among the internees.
On one occasion, quite by chance, I strengthened belief in the godlike benevolence and authority of the American military organization among the aboriginal people. Soon after the surrender, I went into the mountains to a former Japanese police station on the borders of the aboriginal country. I wished to see what conditions prevailed among the Taiyal tribesmen. The Japanese had withdrawn, but no Chinese had yet appeared. Formosans living near the border and the tribesmen seemed to be having no trouble, and together they gave me a feast at the border village. On the following days I walked through several Taiyal settlements and heard & stories of women whose husbands and sons had been conscripted years before to serve the Japanese Army as mountain bearers and jungle scouts in the Philippines and New Guinea. The few males left were little boys and old men; few new babies were
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being born, for by the strict codes of the Taiyal people, no woman could remarry unless she had final proof of the death of her husband. I was begged to "send back the men."
I promised to speak to Governor Chen, and to see what I could do about notifying the American military organizations concerned with repatriation. This was on a Sunday morning. On the following Tuesday evening, at Taipei, I saw a file of aborigines moving from a railway station to barracks nearby, accompanied by Japanese officers. I discovered they were from the district which I had just visited, some thirty miles away in the mountains. By Thursday they were home again. And on Saturday, two days later, a large delegation of young men and women, bearing such gifts as they could contrive, appeared in Taipei at my quarters, having made the long journey down from the hills to "Thank America" for so promptly answering their request for help. We had demonstrated (to their satisfaction, at least) that the American military organization was both benevolent and all-powerful.
During 1946 at least three organizations were established in Formosa by Formosans who had been captured at the front and had developed admiration for the humane treatment and friendly behavior of the average American GI. The stories which they had to tell stood in marked contrast with the experience of several thousand Formosan labor conscripts who had been stranded in South China when the Japanese surrendered. Some 8000 were on Hainan Island and were interned there when the Japanese pulled out and the Nationalist Chinese ventured in.
An UNRRA team in China discovered them starving, wounded and diseased. A long, complicated negotiation at last secured homeward passage for some two thousand. But when UNRRA notified the Chinese at Taipei, there was a harsh reaction. These conscripts, they said, were "collaborationists who had helped Japan" and would have to be fed, nursed, clothed, and sent to their homes. It was a waste of money. The port
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authorities at Keelung emphatically said that they wanted nothing to do with them, and when UNRRA asked the Director of Railways (Chen Ching-wen) to provide free passage for them to Central and Southern Formosa, he snapped, "They are not worth helping." When at last they did reach home (thanks to UNRRA) they had nothing but ill to say of their "mainland cousins" and the Nationalist Government. When the uprising came in 1947 Chen Yi's men (and Chiang Kai-shek himself) again and again named these conscript repatriates as "Communists" and "troublemakers poisoned by the Japanese."
Meanwhile the Formosans at home had ample opportunity to observe American soldiers and sailors in and near Taipei and Kaohsiung, and what they saw they liked. For several weeks some five hundred sailors came up from Keelung each day to play about in Taipei. They were sweeping mines in the Straits of Formosa. Members of the American Advisory Group became well known and very popular in the period October, 1945, through March, 1946. Americans spent freely, they were relaxed, and they were popular. Most of them had seen service for a time on mainland China. Here in Formosa were no signs saying "Yanks Go Home!" The greeting was usually "Hi, Joe!" Their duties were light, they were well housed, and there was ample time to fraternize in the excellent Taipei restaurants or at the hot springs in the hills.
Technically they were present only to help Chen Yi's men establish themselves at Taipei, and to organize the repatriation of the Japanese troops interned in the countryside. But within a matter of days their role began subtly to change; they found themselves becoming buffers between the incoming Chinese on the one hand, and on the other the Formosans and the Japanese civil population. They made small effort to hide contempt for the incompetent Chinese officers who were perforce their colleagues in this Transfer operation. In the officers' quarters and in the GI messrooms the conversations at table invariably became a recital of Chinese shortcomings - of technical incompetence,
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dishonesty and individual cowardice. As the weeks wore on the Americans in all ranks found themselves drawn into small crises involving Formosans or Japanese who were being victimized by the Chinese "liberators."
Wanted: Permanent Consular Representation at Taipei
Senior officers in the Advisory Group were in an awkward position. Private sympathy lay with the "liberated" Formosans and the dispossessed Japanese; public duty required close association and daily work with Chen Yi's men.
The military duties (the transfer of Japanese military properties and the repatriation of Japanese troops) were relatively simple, but the problems generated by the presence of 300,000 Japanese civilians and the need to secure an orderly transfer of the confiscated industrial complex were far too great, and lay well beyond the authority or the competence of our Military Group. The presence of Americans at Taipei imposed unwelcome restraint upon the rapacious Nationalists but there was no firm basis from which to attack major problems of the civil economy. In Formosan and Japanese eyes the Americans had become custodians of their safety and welfare pending treaty transfer and organization of a stable new administration. With some irony we remarked among ourselves that although the wartime Schools for Military Government and Administration had trained some two thousand men for duty on Formosa only two had been assigned to the island, and one of these soon decamped.
In November it began to be rumored that gold bars worth more than a half-million U.S. dollars had disappeared while in transit from the Japanese military offices to the Chinese headquarters. They were part of a gold shipment which had been sent from Tokyo to pay the Japanese forces in the Philippines but had moved no farther than Formosa. Each gold medallion,
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wrapped separately, had its own serial number. They had been double-checked carefully before witnesses as they were handed to an American officer. But when they were delivered to the Chinese and again checked carefully they were no longer in serial order and quite a number were missing. The Chinese promptly lodged charges and prepared to sue for recovery. The American officer who had carried them from one headquarters to another suddenly disappeared, secured an emergency "hardship" discharge from the services at Shanghai and left China.
Throughout the autumn I urged friends at the American Embassy to press for civil representation of American interests at Taipei. Billions of dollars worth of Japanese property were to be accounted for, confiscated and transferred to Chinese control. Surely some thought should be given to its importance in any future reparations settlement arrangements. The so-called "gold case" served as a dramatic warning.
At last a career Foreign Service officer flew in for a preliminary survey of American needs, followed in January, 1946, by Mr. Leo Sturgeon, Consul General-designate for Manchuri. The Chinese received him politely but without enthusiasm. The opening of an American consular establishment was not at all to Chen Yi's liking but he accepted the inevitable and promised "full cooperation."
The presence of Americans on Formosa was proving troublesome. Governor Chen complained to Higher Authority that American military officers were "meddling in civil affairs." He really meant that he and his men were losing face; our presence cramped their carpetbagging style, and - worse - it was clear to one and all that the dispossessed Japanese and the "liberated" native Formosans alike were looking to Americans for protection.
Chen's complaints brought a prompt response; General Wedemeyer's Headquarters directed the American Advisory Group to withdraw.
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Either this was more than Governor Chen had bargained for, or he had second thoughts; there were all those restive Japanese troops yet to be repatriated. The Governor revised his complaints, and the withdrawal order was canceled. The Americans were directed to call themselves henceforth merely a "Liaison Group," and to confine themselves strictly to the repatriation problem, a military affair.
My presence presented a slightly different problem, for I was an Assistant Naval Attache, with Embassy connections and a diplomatic passport. I would not necessarily be withdrawn with the Army Group. Moreoever it was well-known to the Chinese that my return to Formosa had created a mild stir among old friends and former students, and that I was being kept well informed of conditions under the Nationalist Administration. The attempt to have me recalled was neatly made, and represents a technique used again and again in the China Theatre. A visiting Vice Admiral, wined and dined during an overnight stop at Taipei, was told privately that I was attempting to "protect Japanese interests." I was soon summoned to the Embassy at Chungking to explain this, and to report upon conditions on the island. I then returned to Formosa.
In earlier conversations with Governor-General Chen Yi, Consul General Sturgeon had asked Chen to assist the United States in finding a suitable property for an American Consulate. Washington would pay for it, of course. The Consul General at Shanghai asked me to take the problem in hand, and the Governor directed his aides to assist me.
In due course I was handed a list of twenty properties. One by one I checked them off, passing as I did scores of large official residences and private houses which were now occupied by incoming Chinese influential enough to acquire them. I knew that in many instances individuals were laying claim to two or more large properties by a simple exercise of squatter's rights, staked out by assigning three or four servants or guards to ward off other possible claimants. Where legal title could not be
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secured, it was always possible to profit from bribes paid to withdraw one's squatters quietly.
As I checked off my list of twenty properties offered to the American Government for consideration, I saw at once that considerable thought had been given to American face and how to deflate American prestige. Without exception the listed properties were buildings which no Chinese commissioner, general, colonel, or major would have considered, and no incoming Chinese bureaucrat or private person of rank would have contemplated for his own use. The buildings were at the ends of narrow alleys in the slums, and most of them were in an advanced state of decay. Several were former British business properties for which the legal status was not then clear. Some were in distant parts of town, and some could not be reached by car. They were distinctly the leftovers. I rejected them all.
I thought the United States should have at least one of the better properties being vacated by the Japanese and I thought it odd that the American Government should have to pay handsomely to local Chinese administrators for the favor of a residence among them.
A second list of properties was presented for consideration. They were better but only slightly so. Only one had adequate provison for a combined office-residence arrangement, a solid construction and a central location. It had been built many years earlier for the local representatives of the Standard Oil Company, had passed from owner to owner and now had been confiscated. We were to be allowed the privilege of buying it. In time it became the American Embassy in China.
There were small difficulties. Mayor Huang of Taipei was attempting to establish squatter's rights in the building as he was also squatting in other desirable properties around town. The Governor's Office ordered him to withdraw. In angry retaliation he promptly seized a large residence adjacent to the old prewar American Consulate which had been a rented property. The owner was a wealthy Formosan woman who had
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many American friends. When she protested vigorously the Mayor arranged to have her arrested on charges of "collaboration with the Japanese." During the noisy litigation His Honor unwisely charged, in print, that the United States Government had "stolen" his property. The officers of the American Liaison Group decided that it was time to object to some of the trivial but persistent efforts to cause the Americans loss of face before the public. The Mayor was asked to publish a retraction which he did with poor grace.
Our troubles were not at an end at the old Standard Oil Building. Before we could survey the premises in detail and begin plans for remodeling we discovered that a Nationalist General had taken a fancy to the house and grounds and had moved in a team of squatters. We were invited to get off the property and to stay off. A direct order from the Governor was required to pry the General's representatives from the kitchen quarters.
The Governor was not in a good mood. At about this time the OSS team living in the Rose Mansion made a blunder which the Communists subsequently took up, embellished, and used in propaganda. In a peculiarly inept attempt to conduct a public opinion survey, OSS officers in uniform went on the streets with interpreters to interview people who were stopped at random. The surprised Formosans were asked whether they would prefer (a) continuing Chinese rule, (b) a return to Japanese administration, or (c) a future under United Nations trusteeship, with the United States as trustee.
It was a silly performance, and the Chinese had cause to be indignant. The OSS officers, on their part, believed that local anti-Chinese feeling was rising to a degree which made the enquiry legitimate.
In January, 1946, a Scripps-Howard correspondent (the late William D. Newton) entered Formosa to survey the state of affairs being then so dramatically reported in the mainland Chinese press. He toured the island, hearing all sides of the
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controversy which had risen between the newcomers and the Formosans who poured out complaints wherever be went.
Chen Yi's agents were alarmed. At an elaborate dinner arranged for the purpose, I heard one of the Commissioners persuade our unperceptive Colonel that Newton's presence endangered "traditional Chinese-American friendship." There were many toasts to "closer Sino-American cooperation," and soon enough the Colonel sprang to his feet, thumped the table, and roared that be would expell Newton and forbid any other newsmen to enter Formosa without his express permission. We knew that he had no authority beyond his Liaison duties, but the Commissioners, his hosts, smiled happily. He had so neatly jumped through the hoop. There would be no U. S. Army support - transportation, billeting and the like - for Mr. Newton after this.
The Japanese military representatives now reported to the American Liaison Group that the Chinese had broken pledges to keep ample food reserves available until troop repatriation was complete. The Americans were aware of rising tensions throughout the island. They knew that the Nationalist Government promises could not be relied upon; if there were a food crisis involving 170,000 Japanese internees, it might trigger a general outburst against the mainland people.
The Colonel therefore alerted MacArthur's Headquarters at Tokyo, recommended an accelerated repatriation schedule. and by April 1, 1946, the last Japanese soldier had left Formosa. The American Liaison Group withdrew, having no further duties to perform.
The American GI's were gone, but they had left behind them a very deep and very favorable impression. Who would look to Formosan interests now? How safe was the Japanese civil population? No one knew and few cared to contemplate the possibilities.