Skip to main content


Francis Trelease Underhill, Jr.

It may be that any man’s death diminishes each of us, as John Donne held in the seventeenth century. Certainly the recent passing after a brief illness of Frank Underhill lessens all who knew him or knew of him. We at American Diplomacy feel a special sense of this loss.

Francis Underhill
Francis Underhill

A career American diplomat, Ambassador Underhill graced the board of directors of American Diplomacy Publishers, our parent organization, for more than two years. In addition, he provided to the journal numerous reminiscences of diplomatic life and commentaries on current issues, all written in his distinctively graceful, often humorous style.

The Honorable Francis Trelease Underhill, Jr., born in New Jersey in 1921, earned degrees at Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He served overseas as an officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Entering the Foreign Service in 1947, he had assignments abroad in Portugal, Spain, Indonesia (twice – the second time, 1974-77, as U.S. envoy), Poland, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea. All of these were in addition to the periodic Washington postings in the Department of State.

After more than three decades in the Foreign Service, Ambassador Underhill and his wife, Helen Savacoll (Savvy), retired to North Carolina. There he wrote and spoke widely on foreign policy questions, including, we are pleased to note, in the pages of American Diplomacy. He died in Flat Rock, North Carolina, on October 17, 1999. Frank Underhill will be greatly missed.

~ The Editor

Francis Underhill:
A Sampler

On the Many Faces of Christmas in the Foreign Service (Summer 1999)

Now that the psychic benefits of war have faded, Is War Obsolescent? (Spring 1998)

Akin to the addict’s quick fix, Where Does the Violence Come From? (Summer 1998)

Close calls on protocol in Malaysia When the Rockefellars Come to Call (Autumn 1998)

Other recent pieces by Editor Henry Mattox:

On NATO’s successful air offensive in Kosovo, If This be Victory… (Editorial, Summer 1999)

On this Journal’s steady growth and expansion, A New Department – and A New Face (Editorial, Spring 1999)

On Professionalism Among American Ambassadors (Editorial comment, Winter 1999)

On the kidnapping of an American ambassador in Haiti in 1973, Excitement Around Here last Week! (Memoir, Spring 1999

Sand and Sediment

In this, the thirteenth quarterly issue of American Diplomacy since its founding in 1996, Publisher Frank Crigler and I take pleasure in presenting, as ever, a full measure of intellectual fare for our readership. Included this time out are items ranging from a study of the opposition to the 1960 U.S.-Japanese bilateral treaty to consideration of Somalia in the UN Trusteeship context to further analysis of the Kosovo problem — to discussion of medical problems and prostitution in Castro’s Cuba. The discerning reader will wish to profit from the book reviews, as well, plus announcements of interest in the foreign affairs field.

We feature in this issue, however, discussion of China and relations between the Peoples’ Republic of China and the United States. Five thoughtful offerings grace our cyberspace pages in this Fall issue:

  • We lead off with an astute study of Chinese military attitudes and concepts by Sinologist Ralph Sawyer, an investigation subtitled “The Paradox of the Unlearned Lesson.” Sawyer’s unconventional thesis may surprise many readers.
  • Former senior U.S. Foreign Service officer Joe Borich provides a late update on the state of relations between the United States and China.
  • Attorney and scholar Thomas Grant explicates the unusual “One China” concept that has, to this point at least, governed the international relations of the PRC and Taiwan.
  • Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace asks — and answers — the question “Is China Unstable?”
  • And Carl Fritz of the American Diplomacy Editorial Review Board reminisces about his days at the end of World War II in a China far different from the giant world power of today.

The current world scene made our choice of a China theme almost a no-brainer. This month (October) the PRC notes the fiftieth anniversary of the communist defeat in 1949 of Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist forces’ departure from the mainland for Taiwan, marking effectively the beginning of PRC rule over China proper. In September, Presidents Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin, after meeting in New Zealand, declared an end to the recent deep freeze in bilateral relations following the accidental bombing, through egregious intelligence errors, of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. A next step appears to be admission of the PRC to the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, President Clinton has warned China not to use military force against Taiwan — this following his administration’s criticism of official Taiwanese statements that seemed to inch that island nation closer to explicit claims to independence. (For a discussion of the complexities of this initiative, see Thomas Grant’s analysis.)

Frictions between the U.S. and communist Chinese governments and the attendant ups and downs in official relations go back not to 1949, of course, but rather more effectively to 1971 (October again) when American acquiescence permitted the UN at long last to admit the PRC to membership. What with one political thing and another, however, it was not until 1979 (in January, not October this time) that the two nations normalized bilateral diplomatic relations.

Decided ups and downs have followed. Tracing their course even briefly is beyond the scope of this editorial and would tax severely this writer’s ability to synthesize the findings of diplomatic practitioners and scholars in the field of China studies. Hence our featured articles and commentaries offered this quarter, with more, we hope, to come in future.

Need I say it? China is vital to world peace. In modern history the “accumulated sediment of China’s long past” impeded the nation in achieving its current status. But no longer are the Chinese people “just a heap of loose sand” without national cohesion, as President Sun Yat-sen observed accurately seventy-five years ago.* The PRC is a major global power, one clearly to be reckoned with in the coming century. End.

~ The Editor

* The “accumulated sediment” phrase is from Tanizaki Junichiro, In Praise of Shadows (1934) and that of Sun from China as a Heap of Loose Sand (1924).

Comments are closed.