I do not know what irked me more, the truth about U.S. diplomat John Service’s betrayal or China expert reporter Jonathan Mirsky’s cover up. Together they serve to continue to propagate the myth that those accusing American diplomats of dubious loyalty are mendacious paranoids. You can find the charge seamlessly inserted in a popular movie such as Julie & Julia and you can read it in the oral interview conducted with Service by CNN in the late 90s.
The interviewer never even thought to ask Service to confirm his innocence. Given Mirsky’s revelation of Service’s wish to “get this (betrayal) off his chest,” he may have revealed the truth. Instead, he was repeatedly asked whether he was scapegoated. Perhaps, by then, Service realized that his confession is unwanted not because it would harm him but because it would harm his friends whose career as well as world view is based on their success not only in covering up the truth about the past but discrediting those who seek to reveal it.
If Jonathan Mirsky had acted honorably a biography of Service could not have been entitled “Honorable Survivor” as he himself implies. You be the judge:
In two phone interviews with me shortly before he died a decade ago, Service admitted that in the 1940s he had given Jaffe a top-secret document revealing the Nationalist Order of Battle, which showed the exact disposition of the forces facing Mao’s troops. When I observed that some might regard this as treason (I made no accusation), Service said he knew it. “I want to get this off my chest,” he said, explaining: “I was gullible, and trusting, and foolish.” He also told me that he had purposely ignored Mao’s persecution, including executions, of his perceived enemies at Yan’an. Why cover for the supposedly moderate Communist leader? “I wanted them to win. I thought they were better than the Nationalists and that if we always opposed them we would have no access to the next Chinese government.”Service pressed me to publish our conversation, but friends of his said that it would be very painful. I agreed and after some time forgot the whole episode, until Ms. Joiner’s book came my way. His stunning admission that he did supply classified intelligence to Jaffe, whom he must have assumed would pass it on, puts his later career—and Ms. Joiner’s book—in a different light. If what Service told me near the end of his life is true, he can no longer be viewed as an innocent victim.
As well educated men, I trust both are familiar with Oscar Wilde’s horror story, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is a story of man who remains beautiful while his basement portrait is tainted by his betrayals. There is that devastating moment when Dorian is forced to confront his true portrait. Neither Service nor Mirsky nor their “friends” could wish to see their true reflection as it would certainly be “very painful.”