Morris Abraham “Two-Gun” Cohen, Adventurer

From Wikipedia: (footnotes deleted)

Cohen loved the theaters, the streets, the markets, the foods and the boxing arenas of the British capital more than he did the Jews’ Free School, and in April 1900 he was arrested as “a person suspected of attempting to pick pockets”. A magistrate sent him to the Hayes Industrial School, an institution set up by the likes of Lord Rothschild to care for and train wayward Jewish lads. He was released in 1905 and Cohen’s parents shipped the young Morris off to western Canada with the hope that the fresh air and open plains of the New World would reform his ways.

Cohen initially worked on a farm near Whitewood, Saskatchewan. He tilled the land, tended the livestock and learned to shoot a gun and play cards. He did that for a year, and then started wandering through the Western provinces, making a living as a carnival talker, gambler, grifter and successful real estate broker. Some of his activities landed him in jail.

The traditional “ill-spent youth” of many Travellers…

Cohen also became friendly with some of the Chinese exiles who had come to work on the Canadian Pacific Railways. He loved the camaraderie and the food, and in Saskatoon came to the aid of a Chinese restaurant owner who was being robbed. Cohen’s training in the alleyways of London came in handy, and he knocked out the thief and tossed him out into the street. Such an act was unheard of at the time, as few white men ever came to the aid of the Chinese. The Chinese welcomed Cohen into their fold and eventually invited him to join the Tongmenghui, Sun Yat-sen‘s anti-Manchu organization. Cohen began to advocate for the Chinese.

Things are different, depending on the kind of world you are working on… and the nature of the interstellar government. For example, the Imperium doesn’t really care about such local matters: but the Solomani Party definitely does!

It was in pre-World War I Edmonton that Cohen commenced his long and varied military career by recruiting members of the Chinese community and training them in drill and musketry on behalf of Dr Sun Yat-sen’s representative organization in Canada.

“Adventurers from Canada? You might as well talk about mercenaries from safe-and-bland Switzerland.”

“Umm… about those mercenaries from Switzerland…”


An aside, this time from the Swiss Mercenaries article:

After 1515 the Swiss pledged themselves to neutrality, other than regarding Swiss soldiers serving in the ranks of the Royal French army. The Landsknecht, however, would continue to serve any paymaster, even, at times, enemies of the Holy Roman Emperor (and Landsknechts at times even fought each other on the battlefield). The Landsknecht often assumed the bright soldier’s outfits of the Swiss.

The Swiss were not flattered by the imitation, and the two bodies of mercenaries immediately became bitter rivals over employment and on the battlefield, where they were often opposed during the major European conflict of the early sixteenth century, the Great Italian Wars. Although the Swiss generally had a significant edge in a simple “push of pike“, the resulting combat was nonetheless quite savage, and known to Italian onlookers as “bad war”. Period artists such as Hans Holbein attest to the fact that two such huge pike columns crashing into each other could result in a maelstrom of battle, with very many dead and wounded on both sides.

So what do we get, when mercenary grudge matches kick in on the battlefield? What the Italians prefer to call “bad wars”.

Just a little something for Referees to think about.


OK, back to our real-life Traveller…

Cohen fought with the Canadian Railway Troops in Europe during World War I…

Of course any Imperial corporation worthy of the name can raise up a few battalions for His Majesty’s Service. Make that field armies for the larger concerns…

…where part of his job involved supervising Chinese labourers. He also saw some fierce fighting at the Western Front, especially during the Third Battle of Ypres. After the war, he resettled in Canada. But the economy had declined and the days of the real estate boom were long over. Cohen looked for something new to do…

Is there anything more dangerous in the galaxy, than a bored Traveller with a starship?

…and in 1922 he headed to China to help close a railway deal for Sun Yat-sen with Northern Construction and JW Stewart Ltd. After disembarking in Shanghai, Cohen went to see George Sokolsky, the New-York born journalist who worked for Sun’s English-language Shanghai Gazette. Sokolsky arranged an interview for him with Eugene Chen, Sun’s English language secretary. Cohen was hired, and soon ensconced himself at Sun’s home at 29 Rue Molière in the city’s French Concession. He then got right to work.

Not that many Travellers get to set up shop in the home of the local Noble!

In Shanghai and Canton (Guangzhou), Cohen trained Sun’s small armed forces to box and shoot, and told people that he was an aide-de-camp and an acting colonel in Sun Yat-sen’s army. Fortunately for Cohen, his lack of proficiency in Chinese — he spoke a pidgin form of Cantonese at best — was not a problem since Sun, his wife Soong Ching-ling and many of their associates were Western-educated and spoke English.

I still recommend a handy portable translator.
(“Translator app? That ain’t real Traveller!”)

Cohen’s colleagues started calling him Ma Kun, and he soon became one of Sun’s main protectors, shadowing the Chinese leader to conferences and war zones. After one battle where he was nicked by a bullet, Cohen started carrying a second gun. The western community were intrigued by Sun’s gun-toting protector and began calling him “Two-Gun Cohen.” The name stuck.

Sun died of cancer in 1925, and Cohen went to work for a series of Southern Chinese Kuomintang leaders…

The old boss is dead, but a man’s still gotta get paid…

Cohen ran security for his bosses and acquired weapons and gunboats. Eventually he earned the rank of acting general, though he never led any troops.

Well, he did handle personal security for the local warlords, so…

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, Cohen eagerly joined the fight. He rounded up weapons for the Chinese and even did work for the British intelligence agency, Special Operations Executive (SOE). Cohen was able to prove that the Japanese were using poison gas to exterminate the Chinese masses.

There are local, run-of-the-mill warlords; and then there are the Nazi’s race-driven fascists. “Just when you though things couldn’t get worse…”

Cohen was in Hong Kong when the Japanese attacked in December 1941. He placed Soong Ching-ling and her sister Ai-ling onto one of the last planes out of the British colony.

Cohen stayed behind to fight, and when Hong Kong fell later that month, the Japanese imprisoned him at Stanley Prison Camp. There the Japanese badly beat him and he languished in Stanley until he was part of a rare prisoner exchange in late 1943.

I like to think that some of Cohen’s allies managed to work something out for him.

Cohen sailed back to Canada, settled in Montreal and married Judith Clark, who ran a successful women’s boutique. He made regular visits back to China with the hope of establishing work or business ties. Mostly, though, Cohen saw old friends, sat in hotel lobbies and spun out tales—many of them tall—of his exploits. It was his own myth making, together with the desire of others to fabricate yarns about him, that has resulted in much of the misinformation about Cohen, from the claim that he had a hand in the making of modern China, to such outlandish ones like him having an affair with Soong Ching-ling and a wife in Canada back in the 1920s.

Tall tales with a kernel of truth can lead a Traveller to great wealth, or an early grave… or both!

After the 1949 Communist takeover, Cohen was one of the few people who was able to move between Taiwan and mainland China.

From grifter, to soldier, to diplomat. An interesting life journey… and very Traveller, if I may say so myself!

Cohen then settled with his widowed sister, Leah Cooper, in Salford, England. There he was surrounded by siblings, nephews and nieces and became a beloved family patriarch.

A pro-family man myself, I respect and appreciate this choice. Still, people don’t age as badly now as they did five decades ago: you could have the old warhorse doing the diplomacy thing, and the young men handling the rough stuff.

(Not a bad plan for a minor Noble family, either!)

His standing as a loyal aide to Sun Yat-sen helped him maintain good relations with both Kuomintang and Chinese Communist leaders, and he soon was able to arrange consulting jobs with Vickers (planes), Rolls Royce (engines) and Decca Radar.

Many great men have many mouths to feed.

And, admittedly, many Travellers just like making money, and/or have grown to appreciate a certain standard of living.

His last visit to China was during the start of the Cultural Revolution as an honoured guest of Zhou Enlai.

A real Traveller doesn’t let old age stay his feet.

“Yeah, that landmine wasn’t a good’un: but look what I can do with this grav chair!” said Gramps as he rammed the thruster to Max Power.

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About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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