The simplest explanation of a historian’s purpose may be “to understand the past.” A more prosaic “historian’s Basic Job Description” is to “research, analyze, record, and interpret the past as recorded in sources, such as government and institutional records, newspapers and other periodicals, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts, such as personal diaries and letters.”1 This certainly seems an exhaustive list, but this article addresses specific issues confronting historians while researching naval history—particularly in Asia. Personal experiences while conducting research in China, Taiwan, and the United States are noted, with focus on four categories of historical “evidence.”
·Facts: accepted truth
·Eyewitness Accounts: from participants and witnesses
·Sea Stories: “Hey, this is a no-shitter”
·Fiction: “made up” or based on foregoing three categories of “evidence”
2. An explanation of missionary motivation is provided in John Hersey, The Call: An American Missionary in China (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985). This superb, semi-autobiographic novel is based on Hersey’s missionary parents.
3. See, for instance, Paul A. Varg, Missionaries, Chinese, and Diplomats: The American Protestant Missionary Movement in China, 1890–1952 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958); Wayne Flint, Taking Christianity to China: Alabama Missionaries in the Middle Kingdom, 1850–1950 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1997); and Jane Hunter, The Gospel of Gentility: American Women Missionaries in Turn-of-the-Century China (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984). Significant missionary collections are on microfilm and increasingly online at Auburn University, Yale, Harvard BOAS (London), and elsewhere.
4. There are several valuable depositories of missionary reports and documents, including collections at Harvard, the University of North Carolina, Auburn University, and elsewhere.
5. I saw the museum mural in 2005. See Philip Short, Mao: A Life (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1999), 119–122. See also Jonathan Spence, Mao Zedong: A Life (New York: Penguin, 1999); 52–55 notes that “Mao’s proven strength [at the First CCP Congress] was as a businessman.” Spence also notes that Mao explained his absence at the Second CCP Congress in 1922 by saying he “had forgot the name of the place” where it was to be held (62).
6. See Bernard D. Cole, “A NOGLOW in Vietnam, 1968: Air Power at the Battle of Khe Sanh, Journal of Military History 64, no. 1 (January 2000): 141–158, for my account of the battle from the perspective of the Fire Support Coordination Center.
7. Donald A. Jordan, The Northern Expedition: China’s National Revolution of 1926–1928 (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1976) remains a good description of this campaign.
8. Military Attache to G-2, War department, “Comment on Current Events, April 15–20, 1926, 29 May 1926, 2, Received by ONI 07 June 1926, cited in Bernard D. Cole, Gunboats and Marines: the U.S. Navy in China, 1925–1928 (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1982),78–79.
9. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg kept close track of these incidents. His direction to not “use force of arms to enforce treaty rights” was impractical, since maintaining American neutrality in China’s civil war, while defending Americans and their interests, was contradictory guidance to U.S. diplomatic and military personnel in China. They could not carry out their protective mission without interfering in civilian political developments.
10. See Dennis L. Noble, The Sailor’s Homer: The Life and Times of Richard McKenna, Author The Sand Pebbles (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015). I met McKenna briefly when I was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina in 1961, where he had retired. When researching my dissertation at the UNC library in 1976, I discovered to my disappointment that McKenna’s papers had been retained by his widow, who was denying access to them.
11. Nine nations stationed gunboats on the Yangtze at times between 1839 and 1948: the United States (since 1857), Britain (since 1939), France, Austria- Hungary, Germany, Russia, Japan, Portugal, and of course, China. One gunboat operated under five flags (one twice) during her service: The USS Wake (PR-3) was built in Shanghai in 1926–27, seized by Japanese forces in 1941, retaken by the U.S. Navy in 1945, then commissioned into the Republic of China Navy that same year, before surrendering to the PLA Navy in 1948.
12. When I was conducting research in August 1977, I visited the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni House in search of old copies of Shipmate, the alumni magazine. I introduced myself to the Alumni Association director, retired Captain Roy C. Smith III. Not only was he the son of the Noa’s commanding officer but had been on board the ship as a 14-year-old during the Nanjing Incident! Captain Smith was a very gracious interviewee and provided me with contact information for several Noa veterans who were happy to answer my questions. Pure serendipity.
13. The Noa was a “four-piper” destroyer armed with 4-inch guns and machine guns. Emerald was one of a two-ship class built during World War I, armed with 6-inch guns as well as smaller caliber weapons.
14. LT John D. Wilson, USN (Ret.), telephone discussion, 14 July 1977, which was followed by a letter. Wilson was a Signalman First Class in 1927 and one of three enlisted men who received the Navy Cross for their actions at Nanjing.
15. Three Japanese destroyers also were present at Nanjing, as were Italian and French gunboats, but none of them joined in the bombardment.
16. According to various sources, when asked how history would judge his decisions, Winston Churchill reportedly replied “well, because I shall write the history.” See, for instance, https://winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu/leave-past-history/. Perhaps the dishonesty factor in “eyewitness” accounts is directly proportional to the ego of the eyewitness involved.