Back in the 1960’s, I watched TV shows recounting the fall of Nationalist China. The bold voice of Walter Cronkite told how Peiping, Nanking, Shanghai and Canton (1950’s spellings) surrendered to the Communists in succession in 1949, until the refugee government retreated to Formosa (now called Taiwan).
I never understood how an American ally could collapse so quickly; nor did I understand the power of the China lobby and its successful efforts to protect Taiwan and prevent United States recognition of the Communist government for more than a decade.
Veteran foreign correspondent Kevin Peraino tells how it happened in his upcoming book A Force So Swift, to be released in September by Crown/Penguin Random House.
China emerged from World War II victorious. The strength of the Nationalist government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was superficial. Weakened by corruption, primitive infrastructure, inadequate military equipment, and an unstable economy, the Nationalists were no match for the rival Communists. The Communists were tightly disciplined, supported by the rural masses, and ideologically driven,
From 1945 through 1948, the United States pressured the Nationalists and Communists to join a coalition government. The Nationalists refused. American military aid failed to get the Nationalists into shape to battle the Communists.
Finally, in 1949, the United States gave up on the Nationalists, reduced aid, and stood by while the Nationalists collapsed.
Peraino (photo on left) spotlights three key figures in the fall of China.
(1) Secretary of State Dean Acheson. He was a realist. He understood that the Communists were going to win. He wanted to end American support for the Nationalists, maintain some American influence in China, and begin a relationship with the future Communist rulers.
(2) Congressman Walter Judd. A former medical missionary in China, Judd was elected as a Republican to Congress from Minnesota. He was no isolationist. He campaigned with then Vice President Harry Truman in the midwest in support of the proposed United Nations. Judd thought that because of racism, the United States focused on saving post-war Western Europe, consigning China to a low priority. He clashed with Truman and Acheson, organizing support for the Nationalists in the late 1940s and throughout the Cold War.
(3) Madame Chiang Kai-shek. The American educated and politically savvy wife of the Generalissimo, Madame Chiang organized support in United States for the Nationalists, and drove the agenda of the right wing during the early years of the Cold War. Her family ran the Chinese government and its finances as a privately held corporation.
Peraino tells a good story, using enough detail to inform without overwhelming the reader. This book is highly recommended for fans of the Cold War.