Friday, July 31, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Strangest General Of Them All

The 20th century was inhabited with a number of notable
figures who had incredible, unpredictable, and often heroic,
accomplishments, but who were such odd ducks that they have
been all but forgotten by current history. I have written about
some of them, including a major league baseball player who
spoke seven languages and became a top U.S. spy during World
War II; a Catalan businessman who spoke eight languages and
became a double agent for the Allies also during World War II,
and almost singlehandedly saved the Normandy invasion in
1944 by fooling Hitler and his Wehrmacht generals into thinking
the invasion would be at Calais; a Russian poet and scholar who
became a leading Zionist prophet and general, and helped create
the institutions of the modern state of Israel; a Swedish
psychologist who became one of the greatest poets of his century,
but could not write nor speak for much of his adult life; and the
greatest violinist of his time who spent the last years of his life
selflessly and miraculously saving the most of the classical
musicians of Europe from the Holocaust.

Some of the century’s most remarkable figures are well-known.
British writer, actor, filmmaker and musician Noel Coward was
famous as a show business celebrity, but only after World  War II
was it revealed he was a valuable Allied spy. Bill Gates was a
young nerd who changed global technology, amassed the greatest
fortune in history, and later became the major philanthropist of
his time, saving countless lives. His name is a household word.

To the list of forgotten heroes, we can add Morris Abraham
Cohen, a former youthful pickpocket and con artist from Poland
who became modern China’s revolutionary founder Sun Yat Sen’s
personal bodyguard, later the only non-Chinese general in the
history of the Chinese revolutionary army, and then personally
changed one of the most significant votes in United Nations history
before retiring to Manchester, England where he sold raincoats.

Cohen was taken from Poland to England by his parents in 1889
when he was two. As a youth he was constantly in trouble with
the law, and after getting out of reform school at 18, was sent to
western Canada to straighten out his life.

Hw initially worked s a farmer in Saskatchewan, but soon began
wandering through the western Canadian provinces gambling and
again getting into trouble. By chance, Cohen became friendly with
some Chinese exiles working in that area after defending a
Chinese restaurant owner who was being robbed. Defense of the
Chinese was unheard of in that time, and the immigrants
welcomed Cohen into their midst and into the growing Sun Yat
Sen movement that opposed the Manchu dynasty which then
ruled China. Moving to Edmonton, Alberta, Cohen became a
public official, sold real estate. and on the side, recruited Chinese
immigrants and trained them in drill and musketry on behalf of
the Sun Yat Sen organization in Canada.

Serving in the Canadian Army during World War I, Cohen saw
combat in Europe before resettling in Canada. But the pre-war
land boom there was now over, and Cohen went to China in 1922
where he soon became part of Sun Yat Sen’s private entourage,
serving as a bodyguard. After being wounded in an attack during
this period, he took to carrying a second gun, and became widely
known as “Two-Gun Cohen.”  After Sun died of cancer in 1925,
Cohen went to work for various warlords, and became acquainted
with Chang Kai-shek. He was given the rank of major general in
Chinese army. When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, “Two-Gun”
Cohen joined in the fight against them, rounding up weapons,
rescuing Sun’s relatives and friends, and even assisting British
intelligence. Cohen remained behind in Hong Kong, and when that
city fell in 1941, he was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.
In 1943, he was freed in a prisoner exchange.

He sailed back to Canada, settled in Montreal and got married. It
was at this time he committed his most historic act. The newly-
created United Nations was meeting in San Francisco in 1947, and
debating the creation of the state of Israel. China at that time was
one of the five members of the U.N. security council, and thus had
veto power over any UN action. When he learned that China was
intending to veto the creation of the State of Israel, “Two-Gun”
Cohen flew to California and persuaded the head of the Chinese
delegation to change his vote, thus making Israel possible.

Cohen then moved back to Manchester, England with his
widowed sister, and went into the raincoat business. he also
served as a consultant for British companies wanting to do
business with the Chinese governments in Beijing and Taiwan.
Because of his historic service to Sun Yat Sen, Cohen was one of
the few persons who had influence with, and could move easily
between, the two Chinas. On his last visit to China, he was
honored by Premier Chou En Lai, and both Chinas sent
representatives to his funeral in 1970.

Perhaps it was only the extraordinary and extremely violent
events of the 20th century that could produce such figures. as
“Two-Gun” Cohen. There do not yet seem to be equivalent
figures in the new century, although they are perhaps some
among us without our yet knowing about them. Perhaps the
transparency of our new age, goaded by the internet and all
of our dazzling new technology will prevent such figures to
rise in our midst.

Or perhaps dramatic events we do not yet know will happen
will bring them out into the open --- and to our amazement.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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