The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-1947

The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-1947


Good afternoon, everybody,
I’m Ed Steinfeld. I’m the Director of the Watson
Institute for International & Public Affairs. And it is my pleasure today to
welcome Daniel Kurtz-Phelan. Dan is the Executive
Editor of Foreign Affairs. He’s been serving in that role
since October of last year. And as many of you know, Dan, he
has lots of local connections. But Dan, before going
to foreign affairs, had served as a
member of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s
policy planning staff. And before that he
had served as a Senior Editor of Foreign Affairs. Many of you are familiar
with Dan’s writings. They’ve appeared in The New
York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and a variety
of other very prominent media platforms. And I hope you’re all familiar
with Dan’s new book, The China Mission. If you haven’t read it,
I encourage you to do so. Dan will be speaking about the
book today, that really focuses on George Marshall’s year-long,
really, 13-month-long effort, from late 1945 into early
1947, in trying to stave off China’s civil– or actually,
that’s not accurate– of trying to resolve a civil war that
had been brewing, really, since 1927, or even earlier. It was an extraordinarily
weighty task, and one that Dan doesn’t just
explain and rehash, but really opens up in all kinds
of ways that many of us, certainly myself, hadn’t
imagined previously, and with implications for
many issues that, not just we in the United States,
but we across the world are dealing with today. So with that, Dan, let
me turn it over to you. And thank you for coming today. Thank you so much. Sure. [APPLAUSE] Thank you so much, Ed,
and everyone at Watson for having me. Thanks to all of
you for being here. Let me say a special thanks to
Kathryn Dunkelman, who may not be in here yet, but she
will be, and to Ellen, who helped organize this, also
to the Brown Journal of World Affairs, which is
co-hosting, but also helped turn my wife into a great
editor as she read draft after draft of my book. She was an editor at
the journal a little– a few years ago. But it prepared her well
for reading my book. And I should also say, the
Foreign Affairs Editorial Staff right now is teaming
with Brown alums, so I come here owing a
huge debt to both Watson and the journal for the
training you all do. I promise that I won’t spend
the next 45 minutes talking about Donald Trump, because
I imagine all of you hear enough about him as is. But I do want to start,
before I get to the history, with a quote from
Donald Trump, something that he said quite frequently
through his campaign into his presidency. “We used to win,”
says Donald Trump, “but we don’t win anymore.” This is something that we
might kind of write off as usual Trumpian bluster, the
kind of thing we hear from him all the time, but it’s
really striking to me, because it represents what I
see as maybe the only point of disagreement between
Trump and the foreign policy establishment. Because as all of
you know, there is not a lot of agreement
between most foreign policy makers and Trump and
his administration, but I think they do
share this sentiment, if for somewhat different
reasons, that we used to win, but we don’t win anymore. Both of them, both the foreign
policy establishment and Trump, look back with a kind
of nostalgia at a time when America, as they see
it, used to do great things. Trump’s story of decline might
be a slightly cruder version of the narrative you
hear from a lot of people in the foreign policy world, but
I would argue that, in a sense, they both have this sense
of a lost golden age. And I say all that
because the story I tell in this book,
The China Mission, takes place in the height
of that supposed golden age. And it is about
the individual who, more than probably
any other, embodies our conception of what greatness
was during that golden age. I’m talking about the World War
II and the years immediately afterward, the time of
the greatest generation, and the wise men,
the time that we think of as the start of the
American Era, this time of kind of bold American leadership
that gave us the doctrines and towering accomplishments
that we still invoke today. There is the
Marshall Plan, which may be the most
successful example of American foreign
policy in our history, saved Europe from
poverty and despair. The construction of
America’s global alliances took place at the time, the
birth of the containment strategy that
defeated the Soviet Union over the course
of the Cold War, the democratic renovation
of Germany and Japan. You can go on and on to tell
the story of American power and purpose in this
period reshaping the world and ultimately leading us
to victory in the Cold War. And George Marshall is really
at the center of that story. He was the World War
II general who helped lead the Allies to victory. He then became the
Secretary of State who helped drive
the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan is, of course,
named after George Marshall. And as the story goes, this was
a time when an ambitious united America did great things. And Marshall was the one who
really helped drive that. But the story I
tell in this book really cuts against those myths. It’s the story of one
of the greatest generals and diplomatic figures in
American history taking on one of the
hardest ever problems in American foreign
policy and failing. It’s a story of a failure. Marshall is the
great army leader of World War II, right after
the war, goes on his mission to China, which,
as I had mentioned, is meant to stave off
a communist victory, to resolve the Civil War
between two sides that had been fighting for
20 years at this point, and to make China a
democratic great power allied to the United States. Now, as we know, that’s not
the course that history took, but what comes of that year-long
mission and its failure not only defines Marshall’s
career and the way he approached American foreign
policy going forward in really powerful ways, it
also really set the course and shaped American foreign
policy for decades to come and in ways that we can see
really up to the present. So we look back now and
we say, we used to win. We point to this era as
this kind of golden age. But back then, the
question was not why is there so much
winning, but who lost China? That was the question
that grew out of Marshall’s China mission. And again, contrary to the
myth of the era and the man, it really became one of the
most poisonous politics, one of the most poisoned
eras in the history of American politics. And I say that even
compared to the present. But because Marshall’s
transmission cuts against the usual depiction
of the man and the time, it’s tended to be left out
of the story altogether. A lot of people know about
Marshall in World War II. A lot of people know about
Marshall as Secretary of State afterwards. But this 13-month
period in China tends to get left
out of the story. Now, what kept me going on
this book for five years was really the
human texture of it. It’s a kind of
amazing story where you have some of the really
most towering figures of the 20th Century, from
Marshall, and Eisenhower, to Mao, and Zhou Enlai, and
Chiang Kai-Shek, and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, all
kind of amazing figures, trying to work out
history on this very human scale at a moment
when the course of the world was really unsettled. The Cold War hadn’t started. World War II was just over. And you see these
individuals kind of face to face over cocktails, and
card games, and croquet. There is a point when they’re
all playing Chinese checkers in China, even though Chinese
checkers is not a Chinese game, as you may know. And you see in this
moment how history almost could have turned out
completely differently. But I want to focus
on a few elements that I think make the
mission such a central part of the story of
that period, that would explain how it came to
shape American foreign policy in that era. And then I’ll come back
to the present at the end to make the case that it
deserves a more central place in the narrative of this
mythologized era in American foreign policy. Now, the first point is that
the China problem in this moment threatened America’s entire
vision for the post-war peace. So the story begins
in November, 1945. World War II had
ended in August, 1945, a couple of months before. And George Marshall
at this point is really one of the most
towering figures on Earth. He’s just spent six years
as Army Chief of Staff, the senior-most army general. He started that job the day
that Hitler invaded Poland, so he’d had a pretty busy
and stressful six years. But in that time,
he’d become really one of the most renowned figures in
the United States and globally. When you read public
profiles of him at the time, there was this
comparison, that someone calls him a cross between
Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln, which seems
somewhat impossible, but kind of captures
the acclaim that was attached to him at the time. There was a draft
Marshall movement trying to persuade him
to run for president. He was Time Magazine’s
Man of the Year at a time when that was a
really influential accolade. You read accounts
of him from the kind of great figures of the era,
whether Winston Churchill who would go on and on
about his big brain, or FDR who thought that Marshall
was the greatest diplomat he’d ever seen, all of
them go into raptures when talking about Marshall. But he has spent six years
leading this very, very involved war effort. He’s exhausted. He’s about to turn 65 years old. His wife Katherine has been
planning their vacations for years just waiting
for the war to end. So once World War
II is finally over, Marshall goes to President
Truman, his boss, and says, I just really want to retire. All I want at this point, having
led the army for six years, is to retire. And so Truman finally agrees to
let Marshall step down and go off into his retirement. He has a retirement
ceremony at the Pentagon, which is a brand-new
building at the time. And the next day, Marshall
and his wife Katherine drive off to Leesburg,
Virginia, where their house is, to start their retirement. Marshall walks through the
front door of his house. And within minutes,
the telephone rings. It’s President
Truman on the phone. And he says to
Marshall, General, I’m really, really sorry
to interrupt your rather new retirement, but I need
one last little favor. I have one last thing
I need from you. Now, for Truman at
this point, China is a problem that threatens
his whole vision of what the postwar peace is
supposed to look like. At the time, China was seen
as one of the big four powers that were going to together
make sure there was not another dissent into World War. Remember that there had just
been these two terrible world wars. 400,000 Americans had just died. The idea was that the United
States, the United Kingdom, the USSR, and China
would together keep the peace to make
sure that there was not a descent into war again. It was the four policemen,
these four powers that would make sure that
disputes were resolved peacefully, that institutions
were built that would take care of problems so there
was not another descent into this terrible warfare. But the problem was
that China didn’t really look like a modern great power. It was supposed to
be a pillar of peace, but unfortunately, it looked
a lot more like a failed state than the kind of country that
could really take on this role. So Truman looks at this world. There is a sense of
communist menace spreading around the world. In China, there is
a central government led by Chiang Kai-Shek
and the Nationalists, but it’s being
challenged for control by Mao and the Communists
at a moment when that represents a real
threat to this whole vision. And Truman says,
you know, there is only one person I know of who
I think can solve this problem. And that’s George Marshall. People would say that Truman
had greater regard for Marshall than anyone else,
that in Truman’s eyes, Marshall would do no wrong. So when he thought
of someone who could take care of this problem,
the only one he would think of was someone who would
probably done more than any other American
to win the war. And he was now going to
ask to go save the peace, so that’s why he placed
the call to Marshall. And he knew that
Marshall would say yes, because he had such a kind
of profound sense of duty. Truman felt bad
about this decision, which is why he insisted
that it would take just a couple of
months for Marshall to go to China to patch things
up between the Nationalists and Communists, to make sure
that the Communists did not win, and to build this
democratic China that would become a US ally in
the way he had called for. And it ends up taking 13 months. Marshall failed. And starting a whole new
phase of Marshall’s career– he ends up spending
six years back at work rather than going
off into retirement. He becomes Secretary of
State afterwards, later Secretary of Defense. Katherine, his wife, is
furious every time he gets a new job offer, but
Marshall just can’t say no. Now, the second
element that made the story of this mission so
central to the foreign policy and politics of this era has
to do with just how swept up in the potential of the mission
Marshall and others of him were in the first month. So Marshall goes to
China in December, 1945, a few weeks after Truman
interrupts his retirement and asks him to go. And Marshall’s a
pretty hard-headed guy. He has no illusions about
how easy this is going to be. He’s well aware that the
Communists and Nationalists have been fighting for 20
years on and off at that point. But because he has
a sense of duty and this sense of
commitment, he really throws himself into this mission
in a really staggering way for a 65-year-old
man who has just spent six years
running the biggest war effort in the
history of humankind. So he goes and he spends the
first weeks of his mission just listening. He meets with everyone who
will sit down with him. And he asks them
what they think. He sits down with Communists,
with Nationalists, with Chiang Kai-Shek,
with Zhou Enlai, who is representing
to the Communists in Chongqing, where the
capital is at this point. He meets with activists, with
professors, with missionaries. And he just listens. He just takes information in. But once he starts
to move, because he’s so commanding both in China
and on the world stage– Stalin looks at him and
says, if the Americans have sent Marshall
there, they must be really serious about this. The Communists
better play along. So Stalin, even Stalin
is backing Marshall. And Marshall manages in this
first stretch of his mission to get, first, a peace
agreement between the two sides. So he stops the Civil War. He gets an agreement to
combine their two armies, a plan worked out
in great detail to combine the Communist forces
and the Nationalist forces into one army. And then he even
gets them to agree on the blueprint for a new
democratic constitution, for a new democratic China. And you see, as this starts
to fall into place, a fervor for democracy promotion that
looks a lot like the United States in the run up to
the Iraq War, for example. It’s something that feels
very familiar to our time. So you see this
hard-headed Marshall going around and reading
Benjamin Franklin speeches to Chinese Communist officials. You see him lecturing the
Chinese about baseball. At one point, he hands Chiang
Kai-Shek a draft Bill of Rights and tells him it’s just a
dose of American medicine for the Chinese. He even goes and
talks to the director Frank Capra who is about to
start making a movie called It’s A Wonderful Life. And he asked Capra
to make a series of instructional videos for the
Chinese on how democracy works. And it’s this moment
when, for Marshall, there seems to be this whole other
future spread out before him, but it wasn’t just Marshall. It was journalists in the US. It was Harry Truman. It was even Stalin
and Mao saying, China’s going to take a
very, very different course. We see a different future here. So Mao is telling his
followers that they have to start to learn
how democracy works. They have to start to
learn how to operate in this new political system. The path of revolution is
no longer going to be war, but it’s going to be politics. At the height of this, at
this moment of success, Marshall goes on what’s sort
of a victory tour around China. He has been there for
a couple of months. He’s gotten these three
agreements in place. He has this blueprint for
the new democratic China. And he starts to travel
around to these places that have been at war for
decades at this point. The Japanese, remember,
had been occupying China through World War II. Hundreds of thousands,
if not millions of people had died over the course
of this occupation. And Marshall appears
in these places. And the crowds hail him
as this God a peace. So you see these images and hear
these recordings of Marshall being hailed by bands and
schoolchildren clapping, and families kind of mobbing
him as he travels around. And all of them look
around and see this path to a different future. And at the kind of culminating
moment of this tour around China after Marshall has been
there for a couple of months, he goes to a place called
the Yan’an, which is the revolutionary headquarters
for the Communists, a place where Mao has been
holed up in kind of very remote terrain and far away from other
troops since the long march. It’s where he ended up after
fleeing the Nationalists. And it’s this very
remote place that looks a bit like Southeastern Utah. Mao has been there for the
duration of Marshall’s mission. And Marshall arrives
in this place. And he and Mao spend
this incredible 24 hours talking about the
future of peace within China, but also between
the United States and China. And they have these
long conversations where they talk about
everything that the Communists are going to learn from the
United States, all the experts and economic aid that’s going
to flow from the United States to China to really build the
foundations of this new state. But in a sort of eerie
historical coincidence, on the same day that
Marshall is sitting there with Mao talking about
the future of global peace and peace within
China, the Communists are also watching very carefully
a visit in the United States. They’re watching
Winston Churchill, who has just stepped out as
Prime Minister of the UK, touring the US and
going to Fulton, Missouri on this very day that
Marshall’s in Yan’an talking to Mao and giving a speech
about the Iron Curtain dropping between the Western
and Communist worlds. And it’s a moment when both
the Communist and Nationalists in China look at what is
becoming the Cold War. There is this new
tension out in the world. Rather than the
One World Vision, the peace that we thought was
going to follow World War II, there is growing tension. There is a new sense that the
US-Soviet competition is really going to be the defining
factor of this new era. And this is really
the moment when the progress of these first
couple of months for Marshall start to change. Rather than the
Nationalists of Communists coming together as part of this
vision of a new global peace with China as one of the
great powers helping keep it, they see themselves as part of
the first battle of World War III, between the Communists
and Western worlds. And that that’s when things
really start to change, as the Cold War starts. You see people in
Washington at this moment start to talk about
what will happen if China falls to communism. And they start to talk
about what we would later know as Domino theory,
if China falls, then we’re going to see
country, after country, after country fall to
communism as well, which would of course become a
really powerful analogy during the Cold War. They can’t quite come up
with the analogy at the time, so they talk about communism as
a baseball game, for example. And they say it’s going to
reach first base in China, then second base in India,
and third base in Africa, and home base in
the United States. There is a senator who
starts talk about communism as a snowball. And he says, it’s going to
roll down the hill from China and eventually take
out the United States. You kind of want
to shake these guys and tell them they’re looking
for the analogy of dominoes, but it takes them
a few more years before they really
come up with it. But as the two sides in
China see these new tensions and see this new way of
thinking in the United States, they say to themselves, peace
is not the right path in China. Instead, we are going
to be the first battle of this new global war. And that’s when
things really start to shift in Marshall’s mission. And finally, let me skip ahead
a bit to the end of the mission. The significance
going forward really stems from just how and how much
the year of the China mission– Marshall ends up spending a
year trying to make this peace and failing. But this year really shaped
both his own thinking about grand strategy
going forward and also US foreign policy
thinking for decades, most powerfully
during the Cold War, but really leading up to today. So Truman, as Marshall is in
China, sees Marshall at work and decides to make
him Secretary of State. So at the beginning of 1947,
Truman brings Marshall home. He accepts failure
of the China mission. And he becomes
Secretary of State. He spends a week on
vacation in Hawaii, but basically goes straight
from this very intensive 13 months of diplomacy in China
to another very, very big job, again, to his wife’s anger. As Marshall gets back to
Washington in January, 1947, he sees a whole
world really in tumult. The Cold War is really starting
to take shape in a new way. He’s been in China working
on one very specific problem. And all of a sudden,
he looks around and sees problems everywhere. And what is really,
really striking as you trace Marshall’s
thinking through this period is that, as he works towards
what becomes the Marshall Plan– a few months later,
he gives a speech at Harvard announcing the Marshall Plan. That comes directly from what
he was trying to do in China. So as he looks around and sees
starving populations in Europe, he sees democratic
governments that are about to collapse because
the people don’t have jobs because they can’t
feed their people. He starts to think
about what he can do. And it’s exactly
what he was trying to do in China in the final
months of his mission. It’s the same framework,
the same language. He starts to talk about the
need for a foreign policy that puts humanitarian
needs at its center and for a model of
American leadership that is not just
about military might, not even just about diplomacy,
but really puts concerns for poverty, and hunger,
and desperation, and chaos, as he would say in his speech
announcing the Marshall Plan, at its center. This is language he starts
to use on the China mission. This is the kind of thing he
starts to recognize as really central to political
dynamics in this new world when he’s in China, but only
when he gets to Western Europe and looks at the
desperation there does he think it’s
going to work. But you can trace his
thinking, the thinking that becomes the Marshall
Plan, straight from what he’s trying to do a
few months earlier in China. But the second way it really
shapes Marshall’s thinking during this period is that it
gives him a sense of restraint when it comes to what
the US can do in China, a real sense of the limits of
the powers of US intervention. So as Mao’s victory starts
to come closer and closer– he wins finally in 1949– there is this wrenching
debate in the United States about what should be done
about the impending communist victory. And there are
proposals that sound a lot like what we
would get in Vietnam 15 years later in the early 1960s. So there is a call to it– Douglas MacArthur, the World War
II general and, at that point, Proconsul of Japan in charge
of the Nationalist troops. There is a proposal to put
10,000 American advisors in China and send
them into combat with the Nationalist troops
to stop the Communists. There is this whole slew of
proposals that Marshall thinks would not only be futile– they
wouldn’t really get the job done– but they would start to create
an American commitment in China that would lead us to
something much greater, again, something that will look a
lot like the intervention in Vietnam not that
long afterwards. And so Marshall as Secretary
of State at this point is the kind of key
opponent to this kind of creeping intervention
in the Chinese Civil War. And while there is a certain
amount of military support, there is a lot of economic
support, he at every point says, we should never
make a commitment that is going to have us responsible
for the Nationalist Chinese government, because
that will end up sucking us in in ways that
are going to be both– that will not be
successful, but we’ll also be very, very dangerous for
American foreign policy. And that’s what gets us to
the who lost China debate that looms over Marshall’s
final years, but also over American
politics for decades. So we probably know the McCarthy
line, the Joseph McCarthy line about a conspiracy so
immense and infamy so black that became the kind of slogan
in McCarthyism in the 1950s. That began as an
attack on Marshall when Joseph McCarthy
starts to attack George Marshall for having
lost China to the Communists. That’s really a kind
of extraordinary thing, even in light of
our politics today, that someone who was the kind
of leading general of World War II, was this great
Secretary of State, could be accused of being a
front man for traitors or even a traitor himself by a
US senator on the floor of Congress a few years later. And it’s easy to
kind of write off McCarthyism, which becomes
this very powerful force through the 1950s, as a
kind of strange relic, but it really was kind of–
it’s amazing to go back and see just how powerful it was,
not just for those few years, but even going forward. A really striking
anecdote to me is the way it affected Dwight Eisenhower. Dwight Eisenhower was one of
George Marshall’s proteges. He was someone whose career
was really made by Marshall. During World War II,
Marshall turned– gave Eisenhower the command
of the D-Day invasion. He helped him become a general. So Eisenhower really owed
everything he had to Marshall. When Eisenhower was
running for President for the Republican
nomination in 1952, Joseph McCarthy is at
his height in denouncing George Marshall as a traitor. Eisenhower thinks about
defending Marshall as he’s out on the
campaign trail, but decides it’s going to
be so costly that, instead of denouncing McCarthy
for attacking his mentor, he stands on stage
and embraces McCarthy and talks about the deceit
that led to the loss of China. It’s not because Eisenhower
was a particularly McCarthyist character, but just
because it was so politically toxic for him to be seen
opposing McCarthy at the time. Marshall was very forgiving
of Eisenhower in this case, but Katharine Marshall,
again, was much tougher than her husband was. And you see this going forward
into Vietnam in the 1960s when the who lost
China debate really looms over policy debates
in the Johnson and Kennedy administrations. So they think about
what to do in Vietnam. There is a line that I find
really chilling from LBJ as he’s thinking about
putting troops into Vietnam. He says, I don’t think
this is going to work. It seems like a real
long shot, but you know, what happened
to those guys who lost China– and I apologize
for language here, but it’s LBJ, so it can’t be helped. What happened to
those guys who lost China is going to be
chickenshit compared to what they do to us if we
lose another Asian country to communism. And this is very,
very front and center in the minds of these
politicians who, 15 years earlier,
10 years earlier, had seen American
politics torn up over who lost China question. And you see this most
prominently in Vietnam, but even into the 1980s,
you can go and look at debates over intervention
in Central America. And they are still
referenced back to this question
of who lost China. It’s seen as an argument for
intervention by Cold War era as– really through the
end of the Cold War. And when you look
at framing over who lost Iraq today,
debates we have now, you still see this basic
frame that really starts with the Marshall mission. Now, to close, let me talk
a bit about the President. And when I started thinking
about this book in 2010, I had no way of knowing
how resonant much of this would seem when I
finally published the book eight years later. But so much of the way we think
about both US foreign policy and then also the
US-China relationship is really based on myths. And in my view, we get a lot
wrong because of those myths. So with China, we’re at a
moment in the foreign policy world of sort of
collective dismay over the perceived
failure of China to develop as Americans
expected it to. There is this sense that there
were certain hopes for what engagement would bring,
what capitalism would bring to China,
how it would change Chinese political behavior. And now there is this
moment of betrayal when we suddenly discover
that Chinese realities had not changed the way we
expected them to. And this is really a pattern,
as you can probably see. It goes back to Marshall’s
experience in the China mission, where he goes. There is projected hopes
under Chinese realities at the beginning. There is wishful thinking,
given up very, very reluctantly as he goes on, and then
this furor of recrimination and charges of betrayal
afterwards once it turns out that China has not gone
the way we expected it to. One lesson that I find very
resonant and a bit distressing as I think about it, is that
the debate over who lost China can be just as or even
more damaging than whatever mistakes of judgment
or perceptions that were made at the beginning. So what we do now may be even
worse than whatever mistakes were made over the
last few decades when it comes to China policy. And I think there–
you can kind of see that happening in
the trade war debate, or other debates over
the US-China policy now. And if we look back to
the who lost China debate the first time around, I think
there is a bit of a warning there. More broadly, as
I noted, Marshall more than probably anyone else
embodies heroic American power and leadership in this period. He’s the wisest of the wise man. The greatest generation
thought he was the real great of their time. But the story here presents
another side of Marshall, to the prudence, the attention
to the limits of power, the dangers of intervention. And my view is, if we
want understand Marshall, but also if we
want to understand the model of American
foreign policy he built, we need to look, not just at
World War II and the Marshall Plan, but also at the story of
failure, this story of limits. And there is something a bit
bracing or dispiriting now, this moment when
America represented almost half the global economy,
when we just led the Allies to victory in World War II. Even then, we couldn’t
solve every problem. Even then we couldn’t go
into someone else’s civil war and find a way out of it. But I think there is also
something rather reassuring in that for Marshall. And that’s really
that, accepting that every problem
can be solved is essential to finding ways to
solve those problems that we can. That was what Marshall
took from this. It was not that America
shouldn’t try to do anything on the world stage,
but that recognizing where our power couldn’t
fundamentally change something was as much a part of
leadership as looking for places where we could do some good. So with that, I look
forward to questions. Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] Should I sit? Or– Whatever you prefer, if
you would like to stand. All right, happy to stand. If I may just ask
the first question– Yeah. –and I’ll try not to make it
too long-winded a question, but I thought that
the book is great. The talk is great. And I thought your point,
Dan, about a level of humility in policy makes a lot of sense. There is another
piece of the story though that I wanted
to ask you about. And it also has ramifications
for US foreign policy. Before Marshall arrived in
China, the US was involved. I mean, I guess the
Third Marine Amphibious Corps landed in Tianjin in
September, October, 1945. The Marines were
sent in to move KMT, the Republic of China
troops into cities to take the Japanese surrender. And that’s a completely
understandable policy, because the KMT government was
the rightful and legitimate government of China. But by inserting the US military
to move soldiers into cities, and fired upon sometimes
by communist forces, there was no way
the US could be seen as an impartial broker,
whatever we think of the policy. And so I guess that leads
to a broader question about, can the US simultaneously
be an impartial broker at the same time it’s
very obviously partial? And the analog I’m thinking
about now isn’t China, it’s the Middle East, Israel
Palestine, where there some parallels like this. So maybe that’s
just the question. Yeah, no, it’s a great point. And it’s something that Marshall
really focused on, but so do both sides, both of the
Chinese sides really note this. So Marshall says, I’m
going to do everything I can to be impartial, but
I recognize that we have certain commitments to the
Nationalist government, to the KMT government
that have been in place for a long time that
were part of our alliance during the war. And we cannot throw those out. So Marshall is aware
of this problem, but tries to kind
of wish it away. It’s this very kind of American
ingenuousness, the sense that we can just declare
ourselves in partial and others will
take it this way. But both sides in China
are very well aware of American commitments. They’re well aware that there
are 100,000 American troops who have been there since
the end of World War II helping keep the peace,
and as you as you note, helping Nationalist
troops take back territory that the Japanese had
held that they don’t want the Communists to get. They’re very aware that
it is a declared policy United States to help the
Nationalist government re-establish power. What Marshall believes
is that, by containing the desire of Chiang
Kai-Shek and the Nationalists to have complete control
over the politics, he can offer the
Communists an opening and use that as leverage
against the Nationalists while inducing the
Communists to play along. And so there is
this moment when– and he’s attuned to
this inconsistency and thinks about it very hard. But he says, look, if I can
guarantee the Communists that they will have a
role in this government, I can use American leverage
to give them political space, then I can say to them,
this is what you will trade. The trade will be, you
get this political power. In exchange, you
put down your guns and you stop the insurgency. The problem is that the
Nationalists look at Marshall and say, look, he
might be telling us we have to play along. He might be telling us we have
to give up political power, but we know that, when
it comes down to it, the Americans are
going to back us. And there is a really
chilling moment in the story when a conversation
that Marshall has leaks. So there was a moment
when he’s preparing to come to China when
he meets with President Truman in the White House. And Marshall says
to Truman, look, I know that my job is to
be an impartial mediator, try to bring the
two sides together. What should I do
if it doesn’t work? What should I do, especially if
our allies, the Nationalists, don’t play along? Can I really withdraw support? Is that a threat I can make? And Truman says,
well, you’ll figure it out when you’re there. It’s fine. And Marshall, because
he thinks this way, says, no, no I really want to
know what my real leverage. What is plan B if
that doesn’t work? And finally Truman says to
him, look, ultimately, we’re going to have to back
the Nationalists. There is no chance
that we’re really going to fully withdraw support. Marshall thinks this is
a private conversation he and Truman are having. Somehow that detail
leaks to Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists. So the nationalists know that,
even if they don’t play along with Marshall in
the end, they’re likely to get a high
degree of American support. And ultimately, that
means that, when Marshall threatens Chiang and says,
if you don’t, you know, as a negotiation
starts to fall apart, if you don’t comply
with my demands then there will be
consequences, Chiang says, I know there won’t
be real consequences. I know that, ultimately, the
Americans will come to my side. And the Communists start
to see that over time too. So as things fall
apart, especially as the Cold War
really takes shape and they see the shape of
the international system, they’re well aware that
the Americans are not truly impartial
mediators in this case. And as far as the
contemporary resonance goes, you’re absolutely right. That was one thing
that I thought a lot about as I both came to
this topic and wrote the book. You know, it’s not just
in the Middle East, but also in Afghanistan,
for example, where there is supposed to be
an American-led negotiation with the Taliban even as we back
the central government they’re fighting in the sense
that, somehow, we can overcome that contradiction
despite our involvement. And it kind of
seems to be deeply ingrained in American thinking. I mean, to your
point, the tenacity of both the KMT
and the Communists, and the determination
to do what they wanted to do regardless
of outside pressure was confirmed in 1949. When Mao stood atop Tiananmen
and declared the People’s Republic, the Soviet
Ambassador was in Guangzhou with the
Nationalist government. It goes to your point
about the magnitude of this struggle and an
unwillingness to bargain. Do you want to take
questions directly? Yeah, sure. Go ahead and start there. So I have an interest
in this subject. I’m not a expert,
but is your book arguing that we lost China? I know there is a lot of reports
that the Nationalists were very corrupt, and they
didn’t treat the people well. I also read that the Soviet
Union was helping China a lot, as well. But do you have a different
sort of thought that, it’s– you know, we could
have done something. We did it wrong. Or do you think that there
were other forces involved besides us? It wasn’t just US and China. Yeah, you got git right
with the closing there. My view is that the
story of Marshall here is going in thinking
that there was something that could be done and learning
over time that there were greater forces at play
that he could not overcome. So in the beginning,
there is this sense that the right application
of American diplomacy, of economic incentives,
of American aid could really shape
the course of China. But Marshall, over the
course of these 13 months, spends a lot of time
thinking about what can be done to both stop
the Communist victory and find some kind of
peaceful solution in China. And his conclusion
ultimately is, there are forces that go
way beyond American power at this point and his own power
that are going to determine the course of China. So when the who
lost China debate comes, and there
people that say, well, if only Marshall had handled it
slightly differently this never would have happened,
Marshall says, no, it was never ours to lose. We did we didn’t lose China. China took its own course
because of greater forces that went way beyond us. But because, especially
in this moment, there was such a sense of the
potential of American power to shape the world– and in the politics of
that day especially, people didn’t accept that answer. You know, there were a lot of
people in the ’50s even who were not in the McCarthy
camp who really bought this notion that there was
something that we could have done, truly there
was something we could have done to save China. But Marshall really
came to see it as a case of these greater
forces driving events. And I think the historical
evidence bears that out seven decades later. And also [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, so you know,
the Marshall– Mao is a fascinating character. There are a ton of fascinating
Chinese characters in this. But Marshall came to have
just incredibly high regard for Mao’s abilities
as a military leader. He just saw him as an
incredibly canny strategist and also a great propagandist. There was this debate
at the time over whether Mao was really
a communist or not. And Mao liked to
give the impression to American journalists
especially that he didn’t really believe in communism. He was just kind of a
Jeffersonian Democrat. There was a sense
that they were just– agrarian nationalist was
the term used at the time. And Marshall looked
at him and said, no, I think he believes in a
Bolshevik Revolution. That’s what he says. There is no reason to
believe that he’s not truly ideological. But he’s a great
military leader. He’s a great propagandist. He clearly has legitimacy
among the people. He leads in a way that
the other side does not. And that ultimately was
a really critical factor. I think Jeff [? Colgan ?]
had a good question. Great, thanks, thanks
so much for the talk. I wondered about–
these days, there is a lot of thinking
about the liberal order and how it’s changing now. You wrote a great piece
for Foreign Affairs on it. Thank you. It’s getting built
right at this time. In fact, just a
little bit before, there is this moment before
the end of Cold War– or at the end of
the World War II but before the Cold War really
gets boy, the liberal order is being built. Bretton
Woods, the IMF, the World Bank, [? that ?]
is being put on the table. And George Marshall is maybe
a little bit apart from that while he’s off in
China, but then comes back to the Marshall
Plan, which becomes a part of that liberal order. So I wonder whether– you say how the China
machine shaped his thinking about the Marshall Plan. Is there anything that we
can take from his experiences then into thinking
about that now? I mean, it’s really
amazing tracing. I mean, you’ve done a
lot of this work in– through a slightly
different lens. But during World War II,
there is still this sense that there is a world order
being built for one world. That there is one
unified system that will be supported by the four
powers, including the Soviets. And that really
defined the shape of the international
system going forward. That’s still the case as
Marshall goes to China in December, 1945. He comes back in January, 1947. And all of a sudden, that
one world is split in half. And we’re in an
Iron Curtain world. We’re in a Cold War world. And there is this thinking about
how you take the institutions and structures of a
one-world system, that kind of international
order, and what that means in a Cold War system. And Marshall has to kind of
catch up when he comes back. He hasn’t been–
you know, he’s been tracking some of the thinking. He’s been reading
George Kennan’s memos. But he’s been so focused
on the struggle in China that, when he gets back to
Washington in January, 1947, he has to kind of catch up with
the changes in US politics. And it really takes him
kind of two or three months to accept that that
one-world system is broken. So it’s only when he goes
to Moscow in March, 1947 and meets with
Stalin, and only then does he accept that the vision
of the order that had sustained the US during the
war and sustained the Allies during the war
has really come apart. But he then looks at
structures like the Marshall Plan, the alliance
system that he starts to build when he
is Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. And he sees that
as a way to deepen the pieces of that order
in the Western world, the non-communist world. And he sees that as really
the most important thing the US can do to stop the
spread of Soviet communism. So he’s well aware of the
importance of military power, but also really attuned to
its limitations, in part from his experience in China. But he sees the Marshall–
the aid under the Marshall Plan, which is a trillion
dollars as a percent of GDP in today’s dollars, which is
pretty striking, the alliance structure that was
being built, as really the most important
parts of American policy during that period. Yes? Yeah? Did Truman view Wendell
Willkie as a potential player in terms of shaping
policy along these lines even though he died
just prior to the 1950s? And then secondly, I
was under the impression that Truman didn’t
trust the Madame. And if he didn’t trust Madame
Chiang Kai-Shek, how would that be connected into
his relationship in terms of telling Marshall
what to share to Chiang when he went to China? So you bring up two really,
really fascinating characters. Wendell Willkie had been
the Republican presidential candidate running against
FDR during World War II. And he played a really
central role somewhat earlier in US-China policy. He took a trip to
China during the war and ended up setting up a visit
for Madame Chiang Kai-Shek to the US during World War II. She was this really
amazing figure. She was married to
the generalissimo, to Chiang Kai-Shek, but had
been educated in the US. She spent some
time in the South, so she had a kind
of southern lilt. And she had gone to Wellesley,
was brilliant and charismatic by the account of everyone
who interacted with her. And she came to the
US during the war and went on this
speaking tour where she would speak to 30,000
people in Madison Square Garden, and the Hollywood Bowl,
with this amazing Southern accent, making the case
for Nationalist China, so really building up this image
of a democratic modern China. She was Christian as well,
so that really played into the sense of a China that
was going to develop according to an American vision. She spent much of
the war helping develop that vision
in the United States. Over time, people became more
and more suspicious of her as a kind of– what was the term
that people would use? You know, they would
talk about the kind of two-face quality of her. She would kind of come and say
one thing in the United States, and then go back to China and
preach a very, very different line. So I think it was Eleanor
Roosevelt that said, you know, she can
talk democracy, but she doesn’t live democracy. And as the kind of reality
of the Nationalist Chinese government became
more clear to people, she was seen as the kind of– one of the most
corrupt figures in it. Marshall had a very kind
of complicated view of her. She was one of the
key interlocutors in his interactions
with Chiang Kai-Shek, but she spoke this
great English. She knew how to
kind of interpret her husband to Marshall,
and Marshall to her husband. So he realized that it
was very, very important that he keep her close
and that he use her as a– in his diplomacy with
the Nationalists. But as she started pressing
him to give more aid, to commit to an American
military intervention, they– the tensions between the
two of them started to grow. And ultimately,
she never got what she wanted out of Marshall. They stayed personally close. She was very close to
his wife, who ultimately came to join him in
China, and developed a very, very close
relationship with Madame Chiang, her husband. But she never could quite
get the American support she wanted. And they blamed
Marshall for that. You know, she and
her husband saw Marshall as
ultimately the person who was responsible for
ending American support in the way they wanted. Yeah? Can you expand your comments
a little bit on present areas of economic contention
between US and China, specifically is
trade imbalance, does it make any difference or not? There is a lot of yelling
and shouting on both sides. Do tariffs make any sense? And is theft of
technology anything that aught to get held
up and pilloried, or is just normal economic
behavior that everybody does all the time? So let me preface this by
saying, I’m not an economist. But from the perspective of
the broader US-China debate, you know, my view
would be that there are certain pieces of this
that are worth focusing on and others that
are red herrings. The deficits is probably
not the right area of focus. Tariffs are probably not
the right kind of response. But some of the intellectual
property theft and technology transfer issues
are real concerns in the US-China relationship. It’s something that were part
of US foreign policy debates going back before
this administration. The problem is that, by
focusing so much on deficits and tariffs, we in some
ways undermine our ability to take real action on
some of those other issues. And that’s especially true
when it comes to the need to address those issues in an
international and multilateral context. So ideally, you would approach
some of the practices of China when it comes to
forcing companies to transfer intellectual
property, things like that, with a broad coalition
of allies and partners in the international system. By going after every trading
partner the United States has at the same time,
you make it harder to do that rather than easier. So in some ways, by focusing
on the wrong things, you make it harder to motivate
common action on the things that do really need attention. Question over here? How small or large do you
think the impact of the Henry Luce and the American
Christian missionary experience was to the way Americans
viewed Marshall’s work in China and the lost China argument. It’s a great question. So over the course of,
really, decades and decades, a large number of American
missionaries had gone to China. Henry Luce’s
parents– Henry Luce the founder of Time
Magazine and Life Magazine, and a really kind
of powerful advocate of the Nationalist cause
in the United States. He had been the child
of missionaries. So you had this huge number
of American missionaries who spent time in China,
really had this sense that China was going to become
the next great Christian nation. And the fact that Chiang
Kai-Shek and his wife Madame Chiang were themselves
Christians really helped support that vision. And during the war, as
I said, Madame Chiang spent a lot of time kind of
talking about this Christian China in the United States. It had very, very great
purchase in Time Magazine. It had a great purchase
among religious institutions. And so when Marshall
came back and said, that’s not how
China is developing. This is not the
real story of China. The real story is
very different. You kind of were
setting the stage for these charges of betrayal. And that, when you got to the
who lost China debate in 1949, became a big part of the story. We had this great
Christian ally. China was going to become this
new democratic power that was going to look a lot like us. There was an amazing quote
from a senator who said, you know, Shanghai is going
to look just like Kansas City when we’re done with it, which
had a very, very powerful hold on imaginations at the time. So when Marshall
comes back and says, that’s not really
what’s going to happen, and by putting 10,000
American troops there, we’re not really going
to make it happen, it really opened the
way for that community especially to pile on
Marshall when China went– did fall to communism. It was part of the sense that
there was this alternate option that, for some reason, because
he was a communist front man, or because he was tricked,
he had not really embraced. Yeah, on that note, maybe
you could say a word about the children
of missionaries who played such an important
role in providing expertise in the American
military, and of course, in the State Department. Yeah, it’s an it’s an amazing
element to this story. And I should say, you
know, the main characters are these kind of
historic figures, but the most useful sources and
some of the most interesting figures I came
across are actually the kind of young
assistants and aides who were sitting on the
sidelines of all these meetings and keeping diaries,
and writing letters to wives, and
mistresses, and friends, kind of not talking
about just what happens in the
official meetings, but also what’s said in
the hallway afterwards, and what the gossip
is at parties, and all of that, which really
gives a kind of richness to the story that you
don’t get from just the official strand of it. But some of the
key figures in that are this amazing number of young
Americans for the most part who had grown up in rural China in
many cases, who had grown up speaking Chinese, going to
Sunday school in Chinese, and then became journalists,
or missionaries themselves, or scholars, or American
diplomats in many cases, and really were some
of the key people hashing out American China
policy, in this case. Some of them, such
as John Service, who became very famous because
he was run out of the State Department by McCarthy,
John Paton Davies, others, were very sympathetic
to the Communists. They went to Yan’an,
met Mao, and said, we think he’s going to win. We see Chinese
history going his way. Others such as Henry Luce
became great champions of the Nationalist cause. [? John ?] [? Layton ?]
[? Stuart, ?] who was ambassador under Marshall,
was another missionary. All of them were very,
very central players. But what was fascinating
to me, despite having this kind of common background,
they came out on other– on all sides of this dispute. So you had some missionary kids
who saw the Nationalist cause as totally corrupt
and hopeless, and Mao is the inevitable victor. You had others who were
in the Henry Luce camp, and said, if only we give
them the right backing, then the Nationalists
will become the great Christian power
we imagine them being. And those wars were fought
for, not just until 1949 when Mao won, but really
for decades afterwards, when all these figures were part
of these great controversies, whether they had been taken
in by Communists, or traitors, or overly sympathetic
to the Nationalists– so a really kind of amazing
human strand to this. Just a quick story
that one of my mentors, a senior colleague at my
previous place of employment– I was at MIT– was Lucian Pye, a very
famous political scientist. Lucian was born in
China, grew up in China. And as a 23-year-old, I
think, maybe a 22-year-old, he was a first lieutenant
in the Marine Corps. He was the interpreter
when the Marines finally moved into Beijing,
Beiping at the time. And so the story
jumps forward to when I was a young junior
faculty member at MIT, Lucian was a very
[INAUDIBLE] and his wife, very generous, and invited
my family to his home. And on Lucian’s wall
were two samurai swords. And my son, who was
very young at the time– I was too embarrassed to
ask, but my son asked, what are those samurai swords? And Lucian explained
that when he was a 23-year-old lieutenant,
when the US Marines entered Beiping in October,
I think, of 1945, the city was still under the
control of Japanese forces even though the
surrender had happened. And the Japanese
general and his staff put on their full dress
uniforms and lined up to do a formal surrender. But the marine general wouldn’t
honor them with a surrender, so wouldn’t put on
a dress uniform, and also wouldn’t
take the surrender, because the Nationalist
troops weren’t in Beijing yet. So the 23-year-old lieutenant
took the surrendered swords. And those were the samurai
swords of the occupying force– of the Japanese forces. Yeah, I mean, two
other missionary kids who became very, very central
figures, not just in story, but in American history– John Birch– Yeah. So we talk about the John Birch
Society now as kind of the– one of the kind
of central forces in American conservatism,
or far-right conservatism over the last several decades. John Birch was a missionary
kid who was on an OSS mission around this time, who was killed
by Communists in an encounter with– an encounter in China. And that became the
John Birch Society. That became the kind of
beginning of the McCarthy conspiracy theory here. Also, John Hersey, who wrote
Hiroshima, about Japan, was another missionary
kid who had grown up in China, and in the
first part of this book, is reporting from China, and
interviews Marshall, and writes these kind of
accounts where he just raves about Marshall’s
command of the situation and understanding
of Chinese dynamics after having been
there for a few months. Great– Are there questions? Yes? Your first remark
is haunting to me, we don’t win anymore,
and sort of accepting that as the default posture
in looking at diplomacy over this long period. Why is it that we
have to focus– why is that the default notion? You’re asking a really
profound question about American
political thinking that I don’t have
a clear answer to. You know, there is this– I think we’ve become
really kind of enthralled to the myths of this
period, especially. And I think part of
the value of this book, or part of the
interest of this story is that, it really
cuts against the notion that, in this period where
we supposedly won, we won every battle, or there was
not the kind of acrimony and controversy that we
have today– you know, this is really a
story of someone who is associated with winning
more than anyone else. But here, his real
his real contribution is accepting that
failure is inevitable. Yeah? I thought this was
a really good book. And I grew up in the ’50s. That’s when I went
to high school. I was a child in the
anti-war movement, I guess, because they were
going to send me off to Vietnam. And I didn’t want to go. I mean, and I felt– I feel very keenly that many of
these foreign policy decisions that are presented as
architectural grand schemes of things, that a lot of this
is contingent on domestic political considerations. And people are always making
this stuff up as they go along. And it gets filtered
through politicians who see how the House
is going to make our, my re-election better,
or my political vision, or whatever. And we’re more ignorant– I think, in certain respects
also, we prize our ignorance. I mean, the most important
thing that– well, the thing that I admire the
most that people like Marshall and Kennan is,
they actually tried to understand the countries
that they were dealing with. Whereas now, we see– I mean, I read
Ronan Farrow’s book. I read Michael Lewis’ book. We seem to be trying to destroy
any knowledge of anything that would allow us to make any kind
of [? guess ?] [? in ?] policy. Yeah, two related
thoughts just keying off that– you know, the moment
when Marshall is selected, the moment he gets
this phone call the day after his
retirement ceremony from President Truman, what
had happened that day is that a previous American
ambassador to China had quit in this
kind of, in a huff. And Truman was
worried that it was going to create bad headlines. It was a political
problem for him. And so when they said, what
should we do about this? It wasn’t a discussion among
foreign policy officials or strategists about
who to send and why. It was political
advisors saying, we’ve got a mess
in the headlines. How do we make this go away? George Marshall’s really famous. We better go to him. You know, it was not– you kind
of imagine these things being crafted by these
Olympian thinkers, but it was really about
the domestic politics in that moment. And then, you know,
Marshall, and kind of trying to understand
China, and trying to understand the
perspectives, not just of our allies in China,
the Nationalists, but also the Communists–
it was really kind of striking
when you see him in these first few
weeks in China. And people are kind of spooked
by it when he gets there. Everybody sees this kind
of incredibly commanding famous figure. And they expect him
kind of step off a plane with pronouncements
about the future of the world, and the future of China. And he just refuses
to say anything. You know, people ask
him for his thoughts. And he just says nothing. And he spends weeks just sitting
and letting people talk to him, and taking in the information. And only after
he’s done that does he start to come up with
a plan and kind of enter the diplomatic process a bit. That process of
getting to know what, how this problem
looks from the– through the eyes of both
allies and adversaries is the first step for him. [INAUDIBLE] you argue that
the scapegoating of the people involved in the lost China
question were inevitable given the history? We have Luce and the KMT
on one side pumping up the US public opinion. We’ve got all these– you know, every
church in the country has been raising money
for the starving children in China for the last 10 years. You have Marshall
thrown in there. He doesn’t speak Chinese. Maybe he’d been on
the ground once. [INAUDIBLE] before
the war– or Japan, but I don’t know that he
[? knows about ?] in China. So he’s an obvious target. What does he know
about China, right? I mean, he’s been [INAUDIBLE]. So Marshall actually spent
three years in China. I should have said this. Earlier in his career, he
spent three years in China when there was a detachment
of an American army regiment posted there in the 1920s. So he was actually pretty
familiar with the history, and had studied the
language, and didn’t come to this totally
naive or totally fresh. But your broader point
is totally right. We had spent so much time
building up this image, especially during World
War II, where there was this kind of
perceived propaganda need to talk about
our great ally. And so when that
image turned out to be hollower than
people thought, it paved the way for
the charges of betrayal and the kind of furor of
recrimination that came later. Because if that, all
that propaganda was true, then the only explanation
for failure could be, it has to be some
kind of betrayal. And– [INAUDIBLE] That’s right. And you know, you kind of see
it starting during these years. Even though it’s a few years
before Mao wins in 1949, you see Henry Luce
coming to China. And you watch Luce
through Marshall’s eyes. And you see him getting
just kind of snowed by his Nationalist
interlocutors. They give me these
supposed secret briefings about how well things are going. And Luce comes and talks
to Marshall, and says, well, the Nationalists are
really about to win, huh? Another few weeks and
this thing is over? And Marshall just kind of
shakes his head, and says, you know, I have personal
sympathy for this guy, but he’s clearly being
taken in by them. And he recognizes the kind of
momentum of that propaganda as it builds up over time. Yeah? I was wondering, was there
any connection in the early ’50s there when the who
lost China was [? talking ?] [? about, ?] the famous
general had the Flying Tigers, Claire Chennault and his wife,
who I believe was a Chinese national? And I know they
had some connection with this famous
lawyer from Pawtucket, Thomas Corcoran who was a part
of Roosevelt’s Brain Trust. And I just thought I
remember reading somewhere that they, those three had
some connection with the who lost China movement. [INAUDIBLE] is that something? You’re absolutely right. And one thing that is really
striking and kind of personally infuriating is I was
digging into the research for this book, you see all
these characters, Henry Luce, the Chennaults, other people
associated with McCarthy later on, who say in the 1950s, well,
we told Marshall at the time that this was never
going to work. And they should have just back
the Nationalists to the hilt so they could have won. I found letters from
all of these people to Marshall, to one
another, saying, you know, we think what Marshall is
doing is exactly right. It’s clear that the
Nationalists can’t win. They have to negotiate. So I would come
across these letters in their personal papers and
just look around and want to kind of hit
someone because I was so angry about their betrayal. But all of those
people later claim that they were arguing for
full-fledged American support in 1946, when in reality,
they were all saying, we don’t see a path
forward other than what Marshall’s trying. And it might not
work, but this is the only real option we have. [INAUDIBLE] lived in
Washington DC for a year. She– She just died. She just died, yeah, just
a few months ago, right? Yeah. She was much younger then. And Madame Chiang died
maybe 10 years ago? Yeah, she was living
in New York until she was 105, or something. [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, exactly, exactly. Question over here. I wanted to ask, when listening
to the story of this American China mission, to me it very
much recalls the earlier failure or loss
of China, which is the failure of the Comintern
mission in China in the 1920s, when Sun Yat-Sen cried
for help and nobody would help him but the Soviets. And then they tried to fuse the
Communists and the Nationalists together into the
First United Front to try to get rid of warlords
which were actually backed by European powers who were
hiding in their concessions, basically extracting resources
and leaving the country to rot. And ultimately, that Comintern
mission completely failed. And in Moscow, it
was a big debate between Stalin
and Trotsky about, why did we fail to
hold these Communists and these Nationalists together? And actually, Stalin
blamed the Communists. And he never really liked
the Chinese Communists. You know, as far as
he was concerned, they weren’t even
really communists. And he blamed them
for not cooperating with the Nationalists, because
he liked Chiang Kai-Shek. And so I wonder, if Marshall
was in China in the 1920s– I presume he was on the Yangtze
Patrol or something like that– I wonder if this
history which he would have been aware of and
present of, how did that impact his planning for the
1940s China mission, which seems to have failed in
exactly the same [INAUDIBLE]?? Yeah, so you bring up a
really interesting history. There had been this
20-year cycle of attempts to bring the Nationalists
and Communists together, outside powers trying
to force them together and then it falling apart
for one reason or another over time. And they’d been through the
cycle two or three times, from the 1920s on. Marshall knew this. He’d seen this the
first time around. He’d been in China
stationed in Tianjin when Chiang Kai-Shek was
leading his expedition to the north in the 1920s. What Marshall
hoped was different in this time is that all
of the outside powers were supporting a united front,
that both Stalin was pressuring Mao to negotiate, the Americans
are pressuring Chiang. And he hoped that that would
change the basic calculation. And it did for a period
of time, for a few months. It’s when that
outside power started to shift that things came
apart again in exactly the way that you, as you point
out, that it did earlier. So Marshall was well
aware about history. But as he looked at
the policy options, if it was a matter of
withdrawing entirely and giving up on China, whether it
was a matter of backing the Nationalists fully without
any attempt to negotiate a solution, he thought that was
the only real thing that could changed the course of the war. Yeah? Do you think Winston Churchill
was ever aware of or understood how he might have thrown
a wrench in the works with the Iron
Curtain speech much. Do you think Marshall
might have told him? The Churchill speech was one
of a series of statements over that period that
indicated to observers in China and elsewhere that the
Cold War was really starting. But on a personal
level, Marshall came back to the United
States after a few months of the mission to lobby
for an assistance package to what he thought was going
to be a unified government, to the new Chinese government,
and to bring his wife Katherine back to China with him. And Churchill really wanted to
see Marshall during that period to kind of have a sit
down with Marshall to talk about how
he saw the world. And Marshall kept kind
of putting him off, because he was so busy lobbying
with Congress for this aid package. And finally, he just said,
sorry, I don’t have time to see Churchill. I just can’t see
him on this visit. So whether they ever
talked about it after that, I don’t know. But the fact that the same
day that Mao and Marshall were talking, they’re also watching
the speech in Fulton, Missouri and really registering it in
a way that seems surprising given the communications
at the time is quite eerie. Yeah? When you were talking about
the children of missionaries in China, I thought you were
going to say Pearl Buck. And she grew up in
China, spoke Chinese, and is familiar with it. And she wrote about that. Did you come across her much? I did. And you know, we were
talking about the kind of image of the Nationalist that
had taken hold in the United States at this point. And the kind of Pearl Buck
story was very, very much a part of that. The Good Earth had been
published in the 1930s, I believe. And it had been a
best-selling book. It had been a Broadway play. I think it had been a
movie at that point. So millions of Americans
had consumed these tales of the kind of
peasants of China that looked very kind of sympathetic
and familiar to Americans. And that played very much
into this notion of China developing in a way that– according to an American vision. And it was part of that
whole set of popular symbols that became very, very powerful. Did she go either way
in terms of which side? I think she turned– I believe she became very, very
critical of the Nationalists at this point. She wrote a story in the
New York Times Magazine, if I remember correctly, in the
1940s, that was very critical. And that was one
of the things that started to shift
some opinion away from the Nationalist cause. Her father had been a
missionary, I believe. I think it was her father. So she had grown up among
all of these people. But as the debates among
missionary children started to get more
vicious, she ultimately fell on the critical side. But earlier, when she was
writing The Good Earth and her fiction,
it was very much a part of a kind of sympathetic
picture of Nationalist China that was developing
over the ’30s and ’40s. [INAUDIBLE] question? I have a quick question. Dan, could you just
talk a little bit about how you came
to this story? I mean, what made
you think that you could do what you
ultimately did, shed new light on something
that seemed well-trod territory? It’s just, to me,
it’s really cool that you figured out a
way to open this up again. So I went into the
State Department in the Obama Administration. And I ended up working in
an office called the policy planning staff, which had been
founded by George Marshall when he was Secretary of State. And when you work in the
policy planning staff, George Marshall is this kind
of totemic figure that is just referred back to constantly,
specifically to the Marshall Plan, so that almost anything
you’re working on when you’re in policy planning,
either some outside columnist– you know, there’s like a
Thomas Friedman column– or one of your
bosses says, you know what, you should just come up
with a Marshall Plan for that. So if you’re working on
post-Arab-Spring Middle East, you read a column
that says, just come up with a Marshall Plan. Or you’re working on Southeast
Asia or Central America, every problem, the Marshall
Plan is the solution. I think now we’re
talking with a Marshall Plan for Middle America. So it’s even spread
beyond foreign policy now. As I was wrestling or rolling
my eyes with my colleagues at these calls for
a Marshall Plan and thinking about
the Marshall story, especially for a speech I
was writing at one point, it occurred to me that the
China mission, this other part of Marshall’s career, was in
many ways much more resonant when it came to the
kinds of problems we were facing the world today. It was much more similar to
what we were doing in the Middle East or Afghanistan. It was much more
similar to the ways we were wrestling with
constrained resources and problems around the world. And I figured out
that there was not a book, that I wanted to
read the book about the China mission and it did not exist. And ultimately, that’s
what drove me to the story. And it turned out
there are there are copious official
records that had been pretty well-plowed. So people have gone through
the intelligence archives, and the State
Department archives. But going and looking at
these kind of bit players, you know, characters who had
been forgotten by history in many cases, and looking
at their letters and diaries, you kind of get a whole
new level to the story that I did not think
had been well-told in the existing history. So that’s really
what persuaded me that there was new ground here. Great, fantastic– I
recommend the book. Please join me in
thanking Dan Kurtz-Phelan. And thank you for
your attention. [APPLAUSE] Thank you so much.

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