Borg, Dorothy

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BORG, Dorothy

Born 4 September 1902, Elberon, New Jersey; died 25 October 1993

Daughter of Sidney C. and Madeleine Beer Borg

Dorothy Borg dedicated her life and career to the study and teaching of American-East Asian relations. After graduating from Wellesley College in 1923, she pursued more advanced studies and received her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1931. Her doctoral dissertation was published in 1947 under the title, American Policy and the Chinese Revolution, 1925-1928. Not only is it a work of great scholarship, but, unlike most dissertations, is enjoyable reading. Through personal consultation with such leading participants as Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg, as well as through an examination of State Department documents and various unofficial publications, Borg produced a fascinating study. It is particularly noteworthy for its portrayal of the interrelated pressures and counterpressures of public opinion at home, the rising nationalism in China, and the national interests of other treaty powers. Borg masterfully shows how all of these factors complicated policy problems in Washington. The book received outstanding reviews by fellow scholars and was credited as having made an invaluable contribution to the field of diplomatic history.

Unfortunately, however, the late 1940s and early 1950s, which encompassed the era of Cold War McCarthyism, was a controversial if not dangerous time for a scholar to be commenting on America's policy toward China. China lobbyists were actively denouncing many China specialists for their critical views of Chiang Kai-shek and the support given to him by the U.S. As China correspondent of the Institute of Public Relations, Borg, however, remained unintimidated. She published articles critical of Chiang Kai-shek's corrupt and unpopular government in which she questioned America's unconditional support. She explained how the student protests in Kuomintang China, which she observed, were "symptomatic of the unrest among all classes." Their insistence that the civil war must stop was an important expression of popular opinion. Chiang Kai-shek's power struggle against the communists was a losing battle, and for the U.S. to give financial assistance to him under these circumstances was useless and detrimental to future Sino-American relations.

After the McCarthy furor had subsided, Borg went on to work with the East Asian Research Center at Harvard University, from 1959 to 1961. Then, in 1962, she became the senior research associate of American Far Eastern policy at Columbia University's East Asian Institute.

Borg's next major work, The United States and the Far Eastern Crisis of 1933-1938: From the Manchurian Incident through the Initial Stage of the Undeclared Sino-Japanese War, was published in 1964. In analyzing the effects of Japan's growing power on the interests and policies of the U.S. in East Asia. Borg points out how the Roosevelt administration worked very hard at doing nothing. Although there was a great deal of lofty rhetoric on international responsibilities, the U.S. acquiesced to Japanese expansion and was not willing to champion China's independence. The major concern was not to antagonize Japan. Thus assistance to China was restricted to what the Japanese would not find objectionable. On the other hand, for fear of it appearing that the U.S. was condoning Japanese aggression, Franklin Roosevelt avoided taking positive steps to improve relations with Japan.

The State Department Archives Borg examined reveal the attitudes of American officials toward the Chinese communists, and clearly illustrate many of the erroneous assumptions that account for much of America's failure in China. Borg masterfully used documents and periodicals to recreate the environment in which America's China policy was determined. By being craftsmanlike, fair-minded, and even-tempered, she was able to make another valuable contribution to our understanding of a most exasperating period in the history of American foreign policy. She concludes that policy decisions need to be better informed of the realities of the situation if they are to be creative and successful. For her outstanding scholarship, Borg received the Bancroft History Prize in 1965.

Another of Borg's publications of major significance is a work she edited along with Shupei Okamota entitled Pearl Harbor as History: Japanese-American Relations, 1931-1941 (1973). Some 24 scholars contributed essays that analyze culture, political process, and government structure as they related to Japanese-American relations during the 1930s. In this way the editors hoped to offer fresh answers to the questions concerning why the U.S. and Japan went to war in 1941. The organization of the volume includes an introduction and summary by Richard Leopold of discussions at a 1969 conference, and detailed essays analyzing the role of prime ministers, congresses, the president, private economic groups, financial defense bureaucracies, liberal and right-wing organizations, the press, and intellectuals. Borg's own essay is a discourse on policymakers in Washington, analyzing various kinds of inevitable interrelationships and conflicts. The work has been praised for the new data made available on Japanese politics and diplomacy, and for its value as a guide to secondary and archival sources.

In recognition for her lifelong dedication to U.S. foreign relations, Borg was awarded the Norman and Laura Graebner Award in 1986. She died in 1993 at the age of 91.


New Frontiers in American-East Asian Relations: Essays Presented to Dorothy Borg (1983).