Oral history interview of John F. Melby (Excerpt)

Oral History Interview with  John F. Melby, U.S. Foreign Service Officer, 1937-55, with assignments in Juarez, Mexico, 1937; Caracas, 1939-41; Moscow, 1943-45; Chungking and Nanking, 1945-48; and office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs, 1949-55.

Ontario, Canada, November 14, 1986. by Robert Accinelli. In the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library collection.

ACCINELLI: That’s interesting. What were the differences do you think? Why was Magsaysay able to control the Huks, suppress them in fact, in a relatively short period of time?

MELBY: Because the Huks are Malays, of a strong Spanish background. In my day the most educated of the Philippines for example still spoke as much Spanish as they did English. To this had been added 50 years of American tutelage, if you want to call it that. Well, it was tutelage, which had been really a very beneficent influence in the Philippines. Manuel Quezon once said to me in Washington, before I knew anything about the Filipinos, he said, “The trouble with you Americans in the Philippines is you don’t brutalize us enough.” By which he meant that an awful lot of Filipinos didn’t want to be independent, that our rule had been on the whole, as colonial rule goes, pretty good. Even [Carlos] Romulo himself would say at one point to me — I knew Rommy very well, he was one of my closest friends — he said, “No, John, as a Filipino I have to say I would rather be badly ruled by a Filipino than well ruled by an American. And therefore, I’ve got to support them here, even though it’s not for our own good, sometimes, in immediate terms. We’ve got to learn to stand on our own feet, and the only way to do that is to do it out of our own experience.”

Well, Ed [Landsdale] knew how to handle that. He tried to translate that into Vietnamese terms. It’s very hard to differentiate the Vietnamese from the Chinese.

Southeast Asia, or Indochina, is divided between Laos and Cambodia, which come very definitely out of the Hindu tradition, the Indian tradition, and Vietnam which is right out of the Chinese tradition. They have spent 2,000 years fighting off the Chinese but fighting it off in Chinese terms. Ed never understood the Chinese mentality. He never understood the subtleties of that. The Filipinos, are anything but subtle, you know, and the Chinese are anything but obvious. The two just didn’t go together.


John F. Melby
Author: John F. Melby

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.