June 23, 1925
|Other names||Anna Chan Chenault
Anna Chen Chenault
|Spouse(s)||Claire Lee Chennault (married 1947-1958, his death)|
|Children||Claire Anna and Cynthia Louise|
|Relatives||Liao Zhongkai (great uncle)|
Anna Chennault, born Chen Xiangmei (Chinese: 陳香梅; born June 23, 1925), also known as Anna Chan Chennault or Anna Chen Chennault, is the widow of World War II leader Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault, commander of American air operations in China and leader of the "Flying Tigers". She was a prominent Asian-American politician of the Republican Party.
On June 23, 1925, Chen was born in Beijing, China. In 1935, her father, a diplomat, was sent to be the Chinese consul in Mexicali, Mexico and he could not afford to take his large family to Mexico on his salary. Fearing war between Japan and China was brewing, he sent his wife and children to the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong to live with his mother. In 1938, Chen's mother died, and as an older sister she became a surrogate mother to her younger sisters. On the morning of 8 December 1941, Chen was attending class at St. Paul's high school when she was forced to take cover when the Japanese bombed the school. Chen witnessed first-hand the battle of Hong Kong as the invading Japanese fought British, Indian and Canadian troops, ending with the surrender of Hong Kong on Christmas Day; in the interim, Chen spent much time hiding to avoid the bombs and shells as Hong Kong went up in flames.
Chen together with her five sisters all fled Hong Kong to escape the Japanese to Guilin in "free China". Chen attended Lingnan university, which was normally based in Hong Kong, but which had relocated to "free China". As refugees, Chen and her sisters all lived in poverty during the war years, often having to eat weevil-ridden rice to survive. Chen Xiangmei received a bachelor's degree in Chinese from Lingnan University in 1944. She was a war correspondent for the Central News Agency from 1944 to 1948 and wrote for the Hsin Ming Daily News in Shanghai, from 1944 to 1949. She is the younger sister of Cynthia Chan, who was a U.S. Army nurse in the Flying Tiger group under General Claire Chennault in Kunming. While visiting Cynthia Chan in Kunming, she met Chennault. While working as a journalist in 1944, the 19 year old Chen interviewed General Chennault, the dynamic and charismatic leader of the Flying Tigers, a man widely viewed in China as a war hero as his pilots had protected the Chinese people from the Japanese who bombed everything in China without mercy from 1937 on, killing hundreds of thousands. After the interview, Chen had tea with Chennault, whose gentlemanly behavior and Southern charm left her feeling "awed" as she later remembered.
Chen Xiangmei and Chennault, who was more than 30 years her senior, married in 1947. In 1946, Chennault had divorced his first wife, the former Nell Thompson, whom he had wed in 1911 in Winnsboro, Louisiana, and the mother of his eight children, the youngest of whom, Rosemary Chennault Simrall, died in August 2013. Anna Chennault has two children, Claire Anna (born in 1949) and Cynthia Louise (born in 1950). After the war her husband was somewhat of a celebrity. A heavy smoker, he died in 1958 of lung cancer. The Chennaults divided their time between Taipei and Monroe, Louisiana, where Anna Chennault become the first non-white person to settle into a previously all white neighborhood; General Chennault's status as a war hero ensured against objections to his Chinese-born wife.
General Chennault was a Sinophile and a strong admirer of Chiang Kai-shek, and in the 1940s, he joined the China Lobby, an informal and diverse group of journalists, businessmen, politicians, intellectuals, and Protestant churchmen who believed it was in the best interest of the United States to support the Kuomintang regime. She tirelessly lobbied for American support for Chiang. Chiang had converted to Methodism to marry his third wife Soong Meiling in 1927, and for much of his life, Chiang was seen by American evangelical Protestant groups as China's great Christian hope, the man who would modernize and westernize China. Anna Chennault ultimately followed her husband into the China Lobby and by 1955 was regularly giving speeches calling for American support to Taiwan and the eventual return of the Kuomintang to the mainland of China. Fluent in English, a good speaker, and a Chinese-American woman who presumably was in a position to know what was good for China, Chennault's speeches made her a popular figure for the China Lobby. After she spoke in Dallas in May 1955, the Dallas News in an editorial called Chennault someone whose "opinions were worth listening to" and "a personage in her own right, by inheritance and achievement, as well as by marriage".
Life as a widow
Under the anti-miscegenation law in Louisiana at the time, Anna Chennault's marriage to General Chennault was not recognized, and in order to ensure his will leaving his property and assets in Louisiana to his wife and Eurasian daughters was respected, General Chennault had his will probated in Washington, D.C. In 1894, the State of Louisiana had passed a law forbidding marriage between whites and non-whites, and General Chennault had been advised by his lawyer that his marriage to Anna was "null and void" as far as Louisiana was concerned, and the state would not respect his will leaving his assets to his wife and daughters under the grounds that his marriage was illegal. There was always the possibility that Claire Chennault's first wife and his children by his first marriage might challenge the will in the courts, under the grounds that his second marriage was illegal and his daughters by Anna were thus bastards, and to prevent this, he had his will probated in Washington, D.C where his second marriage was recognized as legal. In his will, Chennault left more money for his ex-wife and his children by her, but he left all the shares he owned in the Civil Air Transport company and the Flying Tiger Line to his wife and his daughters by her, making them all into very rich women. After her husband's death, Anna Chennault worked as a publicist for the Civil Air Transport in Taipei, Taiwan (1946 to 1957) and was vice-president of international affairs for the Flying Tiger Line that he founded, and was president of TAC International (from 1976). She was an occasional correspondent for the Central News Agency (from 1965) and the U.S. correspondent for the Hsin Shen Daily News (from 1958). She was a broadcaster for the Voice of America from 1963 to 1966. In 1960, Chennault had her first political experience when she campaigned for Richard Nixon, being used as the Republican principal campaigner amongst Chinese-Americans.
In the U.S. she received presidential appointments from U.S. President Richard Nixon to the President's Advisory Committee for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the U.S. National Committee for UNESCO (from 1970). She was president of Chinese Refugee Relief from 1962 to 1970 and has served as president of the General Claire Chennault Foundation after 1960.
Chennault served as a national committeewoman for the District of Columbia of the Republican Party (since 1960) and led the National Republican Asian Assembly. She has assisted many Chinese Americans to become active in politics and in 1973 helped found the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA).
Paris Peace Accords
Recorded in Nixon, A Life, by Jonathan Aitken, notes of Patrick Hillings, the former congressman accompanying the candidate's 1967 trip to Taipei, Nixon interjected just after an unexpected encounter with Mrs. Chennault, "Get her away from me, Hillings; she's a chatterbox."
Yet according to records of President Lyndon B. Johnson's secret monitoring of South Vietnamese officials and his political foes, Anna Chennault played a crucial role on behalf of the Nixon campaign which sought to block a peace treaty in what one long-term Washington insider called "activities ... beyond the bounds of justifiable political combat." She arranged the contact with South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem whom Richard Nixon met in secret in July 1968 in New York. It was through Chennault's intercession that Republicans advised Saigon to refuse participation in the talks, promising a better deal once elected. Records of FBI wiretaps show that Chennault phoned Bui Diem on November 2 with the message "hold on, we are gonna win." Before the elections President Johnson “suspected (…) Richard Nixon, of political sabotage that he called treason”.
On January 2, 2017, the New York Times reported that historian John A. Farrell, a biographer of Nixon, had found a memo written by H.R. Bob Haldeman that confirmed that Nixon himself had authorized "throwing a monkey wrench" into Johnson's peace negotiations.
In part because Nixon won the presidency, no one was ever prosecuted for this violation of the Logan Act. Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, then FBI Deputy Director, mentioned in his book Hoover's FBI that his agency was only able to connect a single November 2, 1968 phone call from the then Vice President candidate Spiro Agnew to Anna Chennault, unrecorded details of which Johnson believed were subsequently transmitted to Nixon.
In her book The Education of Anna, General Chennault told her, "We pilots have to do the most lunatic daring things but you take the cake." She states that later liaisons with Nixon staff were by telephone to then aide John N. Mitchell, via direct personal numbers that changed every several days, as was his custom. A week after the election and Nixon's fence mending with Johnson in a joint statement announcing Vietnam policy, Mitchell asked Chennault to intercede again, this time to get Saigon to join the talks. She refused. According to her account, Nixon personally thanked her in 1969, she complained she "had suffered dearly" for her efforts on his behalf, and he replied, "Yes, I appreciate that. I know you are a good soldier." The American journalist Catherine Forslund argued that Chennault would have been in a good position to demand that Nixon appoint her ambassador to an important American ally or that she given some other prestigious job as a reward, but Chennault declined, fearing that she might have to answer difficult questions during the Senate confirmation hearings.
- Catherine Forslund, Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations (2002) ISBN 0-8420-2833-1
- Hyung-chan Kim, chief editor, Distinguished Asian Americans, A Biographical Dictionary, Greenwood Press (1999), pp. 55, 56.
Anna Chennault has written several books:
- Anna Chennault. Chennault and the Flying Tigers: Way of a Fighter (January 1, 1963 ed.). New York, NY Paul S. Eriksson, Inc. B001YUDCZA.
- Anna Chennault. A Thousand Springs: The Biography of a Marriage (January 1, 1962 ed.). New York, NY Paul S. Eriksson, Inc. B000JD0KCQ.
- Anna Chennault. The Education of Anna (1980 ed.). Times Books; Second Printing edition. p. 242. ISBN 0-8129-0844-9.
- The Education of Anna (1980)
- Song of Yesterday (1961) in Chinese
- M.E.E. (1963) in Chinese
- My Two Worlds (1965) in Chinese
- The Other Half (1966) in Chinese
- Letters from the U.S.A. (1967)
- Journey among Friends and Strangers (1978, Chinese edition)
- 14th Air Force Association
- Theta Sigma Phi
- National Military Family Association, founder and chairperson
- Committee of 100
- Peter Baker (2017-01-02). "Nixon Tried to Spoil Johnson’s Vietnam Peace Talks in ’68, Notes Show". New York Times. p. A11. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
Through much of the campaign, the Nixon team maintained a secret channel to the South Vietnamese through Anna Chennault, widow of Claire Lee Chennault, leader of the Flying Tigers in China during World War II. Mrs. Chennault had become a prominent Republican fund-raiser and Washington hostess.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 8.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 9.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 10.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 pages 10-11.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 11.
- Rebecca Chan Chung, Deborah Chung and Cecilia Ng Wong, "Piloted to Serve", 2012
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 16
- "Rosemary Chennault Simrall". Monroe News-Star. Retrieved August 27, 2013.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 34.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 27.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 35.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 40.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 40.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 pages 40-41.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 41.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 pages 41-42.
- Franklin Ng, "Anna Chen Chennault," Distinguished Asian Americans: A Biographical Dictionary, Hyung-chan Kim, ed., Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT, 1999, p.55
- "Chinese-Americans Told to Be More Political".
- Robert “KC” Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from on YouTube of President Johnson: “We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee—our California friend [Richard Nixon] —has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends, both—our allies and the others. He’s been doing it through rather subterranean sources here.“
- Jules Witcover. The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch: Half a Century Pounding the Political Beat (October 4, 2005 ed.). The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-8018-8247-8.
“I tracked down Anna Chennault (…) she insisted she had acted under instructions from the Nixon campaign in contacting the Saigon regime. ‘The only people who knew about the whole operation,’ she told me, ‘were Nixon, John Mitchell [Nixon’s campaign manager] and John Tower (senator from Texas and Nixon campaign figure), and they're all dead. But they knew what I was doing. Anyone who knows about these thing knows I was getting orders to do these thing. I couldn’t do anything without instructions.’”
- Clark M. Clifford. Counsel to the President: A Memoir (May 21, 1991 ed.). Random House. p. 582. ISBN 0-394-56995-4.
”The activities of the Nixon team went far beyond the bounds of justifiable political combat. It constituted direct interference in the activities of the executive branch and the responsibilities of the Chief Executive, the only people with authority to negotiate on behalf of the nation. The activities of the Nixon campaign constituted a gross, even potentially illegal, interference in the security affairs of the nation by private individuals.”
- Diem Bui with David Chanoff. In the Jaws of History (April 1, 1999 ed.). Indiana University Press. p. 237. ISBN 0-253-21301-0.
Waiting for me in the lobby was Anna Chennault. A few minutes later I was being introduced to Nixon and John Mitchell, his law partner and adviser. (…) Nixon (…) added that his staff would be in touch with me through john Mitchell and Anna Chennault.
- Seymour M. Hersh. “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House”. Summit Books, 1983, p. 21. “A few days before the election, she wrote, Mitchell telephoned with an urgent message. ‘Anna,’ (Chennault) she quotes him as saying. ‘I'm speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It's very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you have made that clear to them.’”.
- Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from on YouTube of President Johnson: “Mrs. [Anna] Chennault is contacting their [South Vietnamese] ambassador from time to time—seems to be kind of the go-between”
- Robert “KC” Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from on YouTube of President Johnson: “He (Richard Nixon) has been saying to the allies that ‘you’re going to get sold out. Watch Yalta, and Potsdam, and two Berlins, and everything. And they’re [the Johnson administration] going to recognize the NLF. I [Nixon] don’t have to do that. You better not give away your liberty just a few hours before I can preserve it for you.’”
- Robert "KC" Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from on YouTube of President Johnson: “The next thing that we got our teeth in was one of his associates—a fellow named [John] Mitchell, who is running his campaign, who’s the real Sherman Adams (Eisenhower’s chief of staff) of the operation, in effect said to a businessman that ‘we’re going to handle this like we handled the Fortas matter, unquote. We’re going to frustrate the President by saying to the South Vietnamese, and the Koreans, and the Thailanders [sic], “Beware of Johnson.”’ ‘At the same time, we’re going to say to Hanoi, “I [Nixon] can make a better deal than he (Johnson) has, because I’m fresh and new, and I don’t have to demand as much as he does in the light of past positions.”’”
- Diem Bui with David Chanoff. In the Jaws of History. Indiana University Press, 1999, p. 244.“I began reviewing the cables I had written to (Nguyen Van) Thieu (…). Among them, I found a cable from October 23 (…) in which I had said, ‘Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. They were alarmed by press reports to the effect that you had already softened your position.’ In another cable, from October 27, I wrote, ‘I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage,’ by which I meant Anna Chennault, John Mitchell, and Senator Tower.”
- Anthony Summers. Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon”. Viking, 2000, p. 302. “On November 2, the wiretapping of Ambassador Bui Diem's phone finally paid off. (Anna) Chennault, the FBI's Washington field office reported (see p. 303): CONTACTED VIETNAMESE AMBASSADOR BUI DIEM, AND ADVISED HIM THAT SHE HAD RECEIVED A MESSAGE FROM HER BOSS (NOT FURTHER IDENTIFIED), WHICH HER BOSS WANTED HER TO GIVE PERSONALLY TO THE AMBASSADOR. SHE SAID THE MESSAGE WAS THAT THE AMBASSADOR IS TO "HOLD ON, WE ARE GONNA WIN" AND THAT HER BOSS ALSO SAID "HOLD ON, HE UNDERSTANDS ALL OF IT. SHE REPEATED THAT THIS IS THE ONLY MESSAGE "HE SAID PLEASE TELL YOUR BOSS TO HOLD ON." SHE ADVISED THAT HER BOSS HAD JUST CALLED FROM NEW MEXICO.”.
- Robert “KC” Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from on YouTube of President Johnson: “They’re going around and implying to some of the embassies that they might get a better deal out of somebody that was not involved in this—the “somebody not involved” is what they refer to as “their boss.”(…) “Their boss” is the code word for Mr. Richard Nixon.”
- Thomas Powers. “The Man who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms & the CIA”. Alfred A. Knopf, 1979, p.198. “during the week which ended Sunday, October 27 , the National Security Agency intercepted a radio message from the South Vietnamese Embassy to Saigon explicitly urging (Nguyen Van) Thieu to stand fast against an agreement until after the election. As soon as Johnson learned of the cable he ordered the FBI to place Madame (Anna) Chennault under surveillance and to install a phone tap on the South Vietnamese Embassy”
- Mark Lisheron. “In tapes, LBJ accuses Nixon of treason”. Austin American-Statesman. December 05, 2008. “Johnson tells Sen. Everett Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, that it will be Nixon's responsibility if the South Vietnamese don't participate in the peace talks. ‘This is treason,’ LBJ says to Dirksen.”
- Robert “KC” Johnson. “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What the New LBJ Tapes Reveal”. History News Network, January 26, 2009. Transcript from on YouTube of President Johnson: “Now, I can identify ‘em, because I know who’s doing this. I don’t want to identify it. I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important. (…) I don’t want to do that.”
- Jules Witcover. “The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch: Half a Century Pounding the Political Beat”. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, p131. “Johnson had turned over incriminating evidence about (Anna) Chennault’s activities to (Hubert) Humphrey's for use in the final days of the campaign. The idea was that such an act of treason would sink Nixon and elect Humphrey. But Humphrey declined to use it, partly because he felt he could not reveal the sources of the classified material (…) Later, in his memoir, Humphrey recounted a memo of his own at the time: "I wonder if I should have blown the whistle on Anna Chennault and Nixon. I wish [his italics] I could have been sure. Damn Thieu. Dragging his feet this past weekend hurt us. I wonder if that call did it. If Nixon knew.”.
- Mark Lisheron. “In tapes, LBJ accuses Nixon of treason”. Austin American-Statesman. December 05, 2008. “Confronting Nixon by telephone on November 3, Johnson outlines what had been alleged and how important it was to the conduct of the war for Nixon's people not to meddle. ‘My God,’ Nixon says to Johnson, ‘I would never do anything to encourage the South Vietnamese not to come to that conference table.’”
- Catherine Forslund (2002). Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-8420-2833-2.
- Forslund, Catherine Anna Chnnault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 page 85.
- David Greenberg (31 July 2014). "Book Review: ‘Chasing Shadows’ and ‘The Nixon Tapes’". Washington Post. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
- “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” documentary by Eugene Jarecki (video, 1h19). Interview of Anna Chennault featured in sequence on Nixon campaign sabotage of Paris Peace Accords: start 15min 20sec – end 20min 10sec.
- Papers, 1939-2004 (inclusive), 1955-1989 (bulk). Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.