Biography of James J. Halsema and James J. Halsema in relation to the study of Japanese history

Biography of James J. Halsema

Outline by:
James J. Halsema

In relation to the study of Japanese history:
Grant K. Goodman

Follow this link for photos of Jim and his parents.

Outline :

Born Jan. 1, 1919 at Warren, OH, son of E. J. Halsema & Marie Boesel.

Graduate Brent School, Baguio (Philippines) 1936; B.A. with history honors Duke 1940; M.A. International Relations SAIS
(Johns Hopkins) 1949; National War College graduate 1958.

Married Margaret Alice Cleveland June 18, 1949. Children: Wayne, Louise, Margaret, Jane, Charlotte, Paul. Five grandchildren.

Contributor to Baguio edition of Manila (Philippines) Daily Bulletin 1934-36; Editor 1940-41

Interned by Japanese Army Baguio and Bilibid Prison Manila 1941-1945; Associated Press correspondent Philippines, Indonesia 1945-48..

U.S. Foreign Service officer with overseas information and cultural programs 1949-1979, serving in Washington, DC and posts at Singapore, Manila, Bangkok, Cairo, Santiago de Chile plus inspections of U. S. Information Service posts in Belgium (+NATO & EU), Ecuador, Poland, Romania,.South Vietnam. Retired April 1979.

Property owner and legal resident Wallace Township, Chester County, PA since 1949. Established full-time residence in converted barn 1982. Philippines specialist. Wrote Bishop Brent’s Baguio School (Baguio, 1987) E. J. Halsema: Colonial Engineer (Manila, 1991).

James J. Halsema in realtion to the study of Japanese history

Grant K. Goodman,
KU professor emeritus of history

Follow this link for photos of Jim and his parents.

For historians of modern Japan, of whom I happen to be one, the search for clues to a better understanding of Japan’s imperial expansion as well as of Japan’s concurrent internal authoritarianism is never ending. That same search usually leads us to try to find new documentary sources, especially those which are contemporary in the sense that they record events, personalities, and in particular, an environment revelatory of evolving Japanese developments. Remarkably, I believe, this is what is so important about the diary of James Halsema.

Several years ago in a casual conversation Jim Halsema not only told me that he was a student delegate to the 7th Japan-America Student Conference (JASC) held in Japan, but that he had kept a diary of that experience. Luckily for us Jim had that diary in his possession and has been willing to share it with us. Because Jim Halsema was an incredibly astute and careful observer, even at the relatively tender age of 21, we are able to share his keen perceptions of Japan, Korea, Manchuria, and China on the eve of the Pacific War. And what we are able to discern in retrospect from the Halsema diary is that a) the Japanese government had no intention whatever of diminishing its imperial state in Northeast Asia and b) that Japanese public opinion was extremely supportive of that position. From Halsema’s observations one easily deduces that, behind the rhetoric of comity which is endemic in the nature of the Japan-America Student Conference, there was already evident a significant degree of tension at the base of Japanese-American relations. That Halsema was as insightful as he was can surely be attributed to his native intelligence and to his education and in particular, to his exposure to Asia including Japan from his earliest childhood.

James Halsema was born Jan. 1, 1919 in Warren, Ohio while his father, who had joined the Philippine Islands Bureau of Public Works as an engineer in 1908, was serving in the US Army Corps of Engineers. At the age of six months, James, together with his mother and sister joined their father E.J. Halsema in Zamboanga where he resumed his career with the Bureau of Public Works. Seconded to develop the Malangas coalmine, E.H. Halsema barely survived an epidemic of blackwater (cerebral malaria) fever that killed 600 Cebuano workers. Sent to Baguio to recuperate, E.H. Halsema stayed there 17 years serving as city mayor and district engineer for Benguet.

James Halsema attended the prestigious Brent School in Baguio, graduating in 1936 proceeding to Duke University where he graduated with honors in History in 1940. He returned to the Philippines after the JASC and was interned by the Imperial Japanese Army, which captured Baguio Dec. 27, 1941.

It was Paul Linebarger, the outstanding Asianist on the Duke faculty at the time, who acquainted Jim Halsema with the JASC and urged him to apply. Halsema himself notes, “Japan was not exotic to me or my family. Growing up in the Philippines as the son of an American official in the American colonial era, I visited Japanese ports, usually Kobe and Yokohama, en route to Manila from San Francisco. In 1938 on my one and only summer at home in Baguio… I saw both Japanese ports twice and encountered a very suspicious attitude on the part of Japanese officialdom (as well as having to provide stool samples on the eastward return to prove that I hadn’t picked up any tropical diseases). In 1903-4 Japanese skilled labor was used in the construction of the Benguet (now Kennon) Road from the lowland railhead to the hill station of Baguio. Many remained, and more joined them. The 1940 census showed that in Baguio and its suburbs there were 1064 Japanese citizens as contrasted with 635 Americans. There was a Japanese school. Japanese radio stations like JOAK provided strong signals at night. Taiwan was only a few hundred kilometers north… Japanese were active in retailing and vegetable farming. My hair was cut by Japanese women barbers.”