[Marxism] John W. Powell

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 17 07:37:49 MST 2008

N.Y. Times, December 17, 2008
John W. Powell, 89, Dies; Writer in Sedition Case

John W. Powell, an American journalist who in 1959 was tried for 
sedition in a rare and highly public case after he asserted in print 
that the United States had used biological weapons in the Korean War, 
died on Monday in San Francisco. He was 89 and had lived in San 
Francisco for many years.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his son John S. Powell said.

Mr. Powell’s case was one of the rare federal prosecutions for sedition 
— inciting resistance to the government — in the decades since World War 
I. Though the government eventually dropped all charges against him, his 
case dragged on for five years and became a cause célèbre.

The case against Mr. Powell centered on articles he wrote during the 
war, in the early 1950s, in The China Monthly Review, the 
English-language magazine he published and edited in Shanghai. In the 
articles, Mr. Powell reported claims by the Chinese government that the 
United States military had used germ weapons against Chinese troops in 
North Korea.

The United States government charged that Mr. Powell had violated 
wartime sedition laws by printing false statements. It also charged that 
his articles were used to undermine the loyalty of American troops in 
North Korean prisoner-of-war camps, who were forced by their Communist 
guards to read them.

In April 1956, a federal grand jury in San Francisco indicted Mr. Powell 
on 13 counts of sedition. Mr. Powell’s wife, Sylvia, and an associate, 
Julian Schuman, both editors at The China Monthly Review, were indicted 
on one count each. Each count carried a penalty of 20 years in prison, a 
$10,000 fine or both.

John William Powell, known as Bill, had family roots in Shanghai. His 
father, John Benjamin Powell, had helped found The China Weekly Review, 
as it was then known, in 1917. In the late 1930s, during the Second 
Sino-Japanese War, the elder Mr. Powell was an outspoken supporter of 
China amid the Japanese occupation there. In December 1941, after Japan 
attacked Pearl Harbor, John Benjamin Powell was thrown into a Japanese 
prison camp. He lost both feet to gangrene there; he died in 1947 at 60.

Bill Powell was born in Shanghai on July 3, 1919, and spent his boyhood 
with relatives in Hannibal, Mo. He studied journalism at the University 
of Missouri and in World War II worked in China for the United States 
Office of War Information.

After the war, Mr. Powell took over his father’s magazine. When the 
Chinese Communists came to power in 1949, he publicly supported their 
cause, which did little to endear him to United States officials a 
decade later. In 1950, citing financial difficulties, Mr. Powell turned 
the magazine into a monthly. In 1953, it ceased publication, and Mr. 
Powell returned with his family to the United States.

The trial of Mr. Powell, Sylvia Powell and Mr. Schuman opened on Jan. 
26, 1959, in Federal District Court in San Francisco. On Jan. 30, Chief 
Judge Louis E. Goodman declared a mistrial because of the attention the 
news media had given to remarks about treason he made in court the 
previous day. (With the jury out of the room, Judge Goodman had agreed 
with the prosecutor that the evidence presented so far “would be prima 
facie sufficient to sustain a verdict of guilty under the treason 
statute,” according to the court record.)

As soon as the mistrial was declared, prosecutors filed a complaint of 
treason against the three defendants. The government dropped the treason 
charges in July 1959 after it failed to obtain indictments. In May 1961, 
with the approval of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the remaining 
sedition charges against the Powells and Mr. Schuman were dropped.

Unable to get work as a journalist, Mr. Powell made his living buying, 
restoring and selling Victorian houses in San Francisco and later ran an 
antiques business. Mr. Schuman, who returned to China, died there 
several years ago, John Powell said. Sylvia Powell died in 2004.

Besides his son John, of London, Mr. Powell is survived by two other 
sons, Thomas S. Powell of Albuquerque and William Campbell Powell of San 
Francisco; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Powell returned to journalism, and to national attention, in the 
1980s with two articles about Japanese biological experiments in World 
War II. The articles, published in The Bulletin of Concerned Asian 
Scholars in 1980 and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1981, 
reported on the special Japanese Army unit known as Unit 731, which 
during the war carried out large-scale germ-warfare experiments in 
China, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

The existence of Unit 731 was first reported in the Western news media 
in the late 1940s. Mr. Powell’s articles, which drew wide notice, 
further asserted that the United States government had agreed not to 
bring war-crimes charges against Japan in exchange for medical data from 
Unit 731’s experiments. And it was from these data, Mr. Powell’s 
articles suggested, that the United States learned the germ-warfare 
skills it would one day use in North Korea.

Even today, historians do not agree on whether the United States 
actually used biological weapons in North Korea, as Mr. Powell contended 
more than half a century ago.

“There’s no consensus,” Stephen Endicott, a retired professor of history 
at York University in Toronto, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. 
Mr. Endicott is the author, with Edward Hagerman, of “The United States 
and Biological Warfare: Secrets From the Early Cold War and Korea” 
(Indiana University, 1998).

Mr. Endicott added:

“Nobody has come forward to say, on the American side, ‘Yes, we did it,’ 
or on the Chinese side, ‘Yes, we lied about it.’ It remains one of the 
controversial issues of the cold war.”

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