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Chinese Civil War

During World War II it was envisioned that in a two-front war Europe would have to come first, and this judgment that Germany must be defeated before Japan stood as the most important single strategic concept of the war. But it was only after the start of war in Europe did the President accept a war strategy which not only assumed a two-front conflict but also made the European conflict a higher priority than the fight with Japan. This debate during the early 1940s pitted commanders such as MacArthur and Marshall against each other, and these feuds were not forgotten after the end of the war. Long-time rivals, in many ways Marshall and MacArthur represented different viewpoints: moderate conservative versus committed right-winger, Europe-first versus concentration on Asia, and limited war versus total war. Indeed, formulation of policy towards the Soviet Union in what eventually became the Cold War followed the same pattern, ultimately with the same Europe-first conclusion.

The story of the Chinese civil war is the tale of a failed state in which numerous domestic political and military factions are vying for power, while aggressive foreign powers are impinging on Chinese sovereignty, and at the same time the entire world is plunged into the Great Depression, WWII, and the early stages of the Cold War. Given the huge size of China, in both population and geographic scope, and the chaos that followed the fall of the last dynasty, it is no surprise that this is a very complicated tale.

The first round of the Chinese civil war was won not by Mao Tse-tung, but by Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang, which broke an alliance of convenience with the Communists on its way to the establishment of a new National government in 1928. By the eve of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Kuomintang had forced a historic Communist retreat to a barren and remote base area in northwest China. By then, the Red Army had been attrited to a fraction of its former modest size.

But Mao was developing a theory of revolutionary war that theoretically would take his party from this low point to the fulfillment of its unlimited political objectives. Though Mao never brought together all the strands of his strategic thought in one coherent exposition, three sets of basic ideas emerge from what he did write: first, how to bring about the political mobilization of the peasantry; second, how Communist forces could make a military transition from the strategic defense to the strategic offense in a protracted war; and third, how the process of political mobilization and the actions of the armed forces could interact synergistically to produce victory.

In this war there proved to be a complicated relationship between theory and reality. Mao was able to take opportunistic advantage of the Japanese invasion and occupation of large parts of China from 1937 to 1945 and also exploit the Soviet defeat of Japanese forces in Manchuria at the end of the Second World War.

During World War II, the United States emerged as a major actor in Chinese affairs. As an ally it embarked in late 1941 on a program of massive military and financial aid to the hard-pressed Nationalist government. In January 1943 the United States and Britain led the way in revising their treaties with China, bringing to an end a century of unequal treaty relations. Within a few months, a new agreement was signed between the United States and China for the stationing of American troops in China for the common war effort against Japan. In December 1943 the Chinese exclusion acts of the 1880s and subsequent laws enacted by the United States Congress to restrict Chinese immigration into the United States were repealed.

The wartime policy of the United States was initially to help China become a strong ally and a stabilizing force in postwar East Asia. As the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists intensified, however, the United States sought unsuccessfully to reconcile the rival forces for a more effective anti-Japanese war effort.

Toward the end of the war, United States Marines were used to hold Beiping and Tianjin against a possible Soviet incursion, and logistic support was given to Nationalist forces in north and northeast China.

American policymakers and strategists in the late 1940s debated the extent to which the United States should intervene to try to prevent a Communist victory in the Chinese civil war.

On 27 November 1945 General of the Army George Catlett Marshall began efforts to mediate a solution to the Chinese civil war. General of the Army George Catlett Marshall, if not America's greatest soldier, was one of the nation's most capable and one of the great men of the twentieth century. Marshall had retired as chief of staff in November 1945 at the age of 65. Only days after Marshall left the army, President Harry Truman persuaded him to go to China, as his special representative, to try to mediate the bitter civil war there. After acting as aide-de-camp to General Pershing from 1919 to 1924, and served in China from 1924 to 1927. Nominated for Army chief of staff by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in early 1939, Marshall had served as acting chief for two months and then took full control on September 1, 1939 - the day that World War II began with Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. As head of the Army, Marshall directed the American military buildup for World War II.

In December 1945 General Marshall arrived in China with the hope of brokering a cease-fire between the KMT and the CCP, and of building a coalition government that would include all of the contending political/military groups in China. Under Marshall's guidance, the Nationalist and Communist factions established an Executive Headquarters at Peiping, China (also known as Peking or Beijing), in January 1946. The US Army assigned military personnel to the Headquarters to help administer the cease-fire negotiations. U.S. forces were responsible for investigating incidents of violence between Nationalist and Communist forces. The U.S. also helped repatriate Japanese army personnel who had been left in China at the end of World War II.

Unfortunately for Marshall, neither the Communists (represented by Chou En-lai) nor Chiang Kai-shek's representatives were willing to compromise on certain fundamental issues or relinquish the territories they had seized in the wake of the Japanese surrender. The Nationalist and Communist officials did not negotiate in good faith and the cease-fire attempts failed after several months. Battles between Nationalists and Communists soon resumed. The truce fell apart in the spring of 1946, although negotiations continued.

On 08 January 1947 Marshall was recalled, having realized that American efforts short of large-scale armed intervention could not stop the war. Marshall was commissioned as Secretary of State in President Truman's Cabinet, when the U.S. Senate disregarded precedent and unanimously approved the nomination without a hearing on January 8, 1947, making Marshall the first military leader to become the head of the U.S. Department of State. He entered upon his duties January 21, 1947, and served until January 20, 1949. Marshall, as Secretary of State, opposed American intervention in the Chinese Civil war, when others advocated providing military assistance to the Nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-shek.

Marshall directed his staff to formulate a program of economic recovery for Europe, which he outlined in a brief but historic address to Harvard University's graduating class on June 5, 1947. He convinced Congress to give Europe $13 billion to help rebuild. This very popular "Marshall Plan" brought hope and peace to many nations. For his great achievement, Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

The Chinese Civil War, in which the United States aided the Nationalists with massive economic loans but no military support, became more widespread. Battles raged not only for territories but also for the allegiance of cross sections of the population. By using Manchuria as a base of supply and manpower and by accelerating the stages of Mao's theory, Communists field commanders defeated Kuomintang forces in a series of conventional engagements in the late 1940s and established the People's Republic of China in October 1949.

After numerous operational set-backs in Manchuria, especially in attempting to take the major cities, the Communists were ultimately able to seize the region and then focus on the war south of the Great Wall. And yet, even though the balance of power was shifting toward the CCP, there were still numerous opportunities for a negotiated settlement. Stalin actually tried to restrain Mao on several occasions while he gauged American responses to developments in China. After the Huai-hai Campaign, it seemed that the Communists were going to pause on the northern bank of the Yangtze River. Only when it became clear that American and British support for negotiations was lacking, did Stalin give Mao the go-ahead to cross the river. This culminated in the collapse of KMT resistance, which led directly to Chiang Kai-shek's retreat to Taiwan, and the establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. The Mandate of Heaven had been withdrawn from Chiang Kai-shek.

The victory of the Communist forces led by Mao Tsetung (Mao Zedong) in the Chinese civil war cast an ominous pall over world affairs. In that same year, Russia detonated its first atomic bomb, ending the US monopoly over nuclear weapons. The arms race had begun, and the threat of nuclear war thereafter became a constant concern.

The debate which took place in the United States as a result of the removal of Chiang-Kai-shek to the island of Formosa centered on Republican charges that the Democrats "lost" China. "Without question, the critics had by early 1949 convinced many Americans that Truman was, shockingly, abandoning China, China being equivalent with Chiang's dying order," journalist Robert Donovan wrote in his two-volume history of Truman's presidency.

In the debate over what to do about the changed military situation in Korea following the second, and massive, Chinese military intervention in late November 1950, Marshall opposed a cease-fire with the Chinese - it would represent a "great weakness on our part"-and added that the United States could not in "all good conscience" abandon the South Koreans. When British Prime Minister Clement Attlee suggested negotiations with the Chinese, Marshall expressed opposition, arguing that it was almost impossible to negotiate with the Chinese Communists; he also expressed fear of the effects on Japan and the Philippines of concessions to the Communists. At the same time Marshall sought ways to avoid a wider war with China. When many in Congress favored an expanded war, Marshall was among the administration leaders who, in February 1951, stressed the paramount importance to the United States of Western Europe.

On 10 April 1951 President Truman relieved MacArthur of his commands in the Far East. On 09 June 1951 Gen. Douglas MacArthur charged that the post-war Marshall mission to China committed "one of the greatest blunders in American diplomatic history, for which the free world is now paying in blood and disaster." The deposed Far Eastern commander added that the free world "in all probability" will continue to pay this blood price "indefinitely." In June 1951, when Senator Joseph McCarthy demanded the resignations of Acheson and Marshall and threatened Truman with impeachment, he all but called Marshall a Communist. McCarthy, who had earlier accused the Truman administration of harboring Communists, spoke for three hours in the Senate; he released a 60,000-word document reviewing Marshall's career since 1939 and charging him with leading a conspiracy to sacrifice the United States to the intrigues of the Soviet Union.

The investigation of the Institute of Pacific Relations was the first major investigation initiated by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS). Because of the nature of its investigations, the subcommittee is considered by some to be the Senate equivalent to the older House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The IPR was established in 1925 to provide a forum for discussion of Asian problems and relations between Asia and the West. To promote greater knowledge of the Far East, the IPR established a large research program, which was supported financially by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and other major corporations. While the IPR leadership maintained it was a nonpartisan body, others, including some former members, accused it of supporting the Communist line with respect to its analysis of political developments in the Far East. Some people accused the IPR leadership of spying for the Soviet Union. Owen Lattimore, editor of the IPR journal Pacific Affairs, was especially singled out for criticism.

Amerasia was a journal on Far Eastern affairs, edited by Phillip J. Jaffe and Kate L. Mitchell. Classified documents concerning U.S. policy in China were found in the possession of several defendants. Because the OSS burglarized the office of Amerasia and the homes of several individuals, the evidence was deemed tainted and charges were reduced or dropped. Congressional interest in the case continued however. In 1946, a House Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Rep. Samuel F. Hobbs and, in 1950, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees investigated the Amerasia case.

Two of Marshall's harshest critics were U.S. Senators Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin and William Jenner of Indiana. Both men fed the anti-communist hysteria of the era that became known as "McCarthyism." In one Senate speech Jenner said "General George C. Marshall is a living lie" and asserted that "he is eager to play the role of a front man for traitors." An even more vicious assault came from McCarthy, who published two books attacking Marshall's entire career and delivered a 60,000-word Senate speech that accused Marshall of being part of "a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man."

US policy toward China during President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration remained essentially what it had been during the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations--non-recognition of the Peoples Republic of China (P.R.C.), support for Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government and its possession of China's seat in the United Nations, and a ban on trade and travel to the PRC.

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Page last modified: 15-07-2011 15:40:15 ZULU