Spence 18 – Fall of the GMD

So on this latest re-read I am struck by parallels to Europe at the same time.  Isn’t this what was feared?  Confusion and disorder and the rise of a radical communist revolution.  Where were the Truman Doctrine and Marshall plan in China?  In Europe Marshall said “the patient is sinking while the Dr’s deliberate”.  Where were the Dr.s in China?  Of course Marshall himself goes to China and desperately tries to get the CCP and the GMD to co-operate but fails. Why?

Cruelties all around.  Neither the Nationalists nor the communists can claim in these pages to be great humanitarians.  In fact Prof Pickowicz at UCSD claims that the land reform struggles against the land lords that often resulted in murder, orgy like feasts, and then murderous redemption, almost lead to the collapse of the CCP.  Had the CCP not pulled back on the reins of the frustrated peasants in that time, then their support might have collapsed.

Bonus question.  What do the stars stand for?  Extra secret double bonus question.  How do you reconcile the answer to the first question with your understanding of Marxism?

Terms in this chapter that I count;

Guomindang                 CCP (again)               Chiang Kai Shek (again)

Mao Zedong                George Marshall           Lin Biao                       fabi

Deng Xiaoping       PRC                Liu Shaoqi                Zhou Enlai

So ask yourself, what did Lin Biao do here?  What about Deng Xiaoping and George Marshall?  Keep focused on the terms and their relation to the chapter and you’ll be fine.  Good luck!


Spence 17 – WWII


How was “China’s War” our war?  You’ve been here before.  This is WWII.  How is that we have posters such as these seeking relief for the Chinese?

There was another one I couldn’t save that showed a portrait of a Chinese soldier saying “This man is your friend.  He fights for your freedom.”  So what’s up with all these English language relief posters for China?

First off, get your players straight.  Chiang Kai-Shek is head of the Guomindang (GMD) or nationalist government.  We’ll watch a video that will help with the background here.  The Japanese are the Japanese, and Mao Zedong leads the communist party (CCP) which was technically aligned with the GMD during WWII in the “united front” against Japan, but which was really in the thick of a civil war with the GMD for control of China.

One thing that struck me on this latest re-read is how Spence portrays the the Japanese occupation of China, as not so much of an occupation in Chinese eyes, at least not one with any perceived permanence.  The Chinese are waiting to see, who in the end, will rule China, the communists or the nationalists.

The role of Germany, briefly mentioned, is also very interesting to me.  Chiang lost his “finest German trained troops” is his tragic assault on Shanghai.  But Germany of course is aligned with Japan, and the USSR with China, at least at some point.  This flipping of alliances would be a really interesting study I think.

There is lots of great stuff in this chapter.  If you feel lost try to focus only on the terms.  Your terms are, in this chapter;

Guomindang                 CCP                Marco Polo bridge                   Chiang Kai Shek

Long March*               Burma Road     united front

“New Fourth Army Incident”                Gen Joseph Stillwell                  “Hongkew”

Mao Zedong                    fabi

So, place each of them in context in the chapter, the fabi is the Chinese currency, part of their nationalism, that the Japanese seek to undermine.  The “united front” is the alliance of the nationalists and the communists against the Japanese which is effectively ended with the “New Fourth Army Incident.”

There are other things that you should catch just because of context or humor.   What was Stillwell’s nickname for Chiang?  Hysterical.

See you on our return.  Happy 2016!

Keep an eye on those terms.  They should make life easier here.  Questions, comments, confusions?

Ambrose on Korea


Korea is one of our biggest news stories today.  The recent missile tests, the back and forth threats between Washington and North Korea are of course unprecedented.  Where things go from here is a big unknown, but know their origins can only help understand today.

A&B portray the events in Korea a wee bit different than Dr K.  I don’t recall Kissinger painting Truman as needing this crisis in Asia in the same way that A&B insist on.

Also interesting for me here is this little voice going off in my head about the 1950s and “Leave it to Beaver”.  The economic vitality of 1950s America that we can all picture with 3BR 2 Ba houses spreading into suburbia, tail fins on Cadillacs and TVs selling us soap…  well A&B say it shouldn’t have happened or at least they say there were voices saying it wouldn’t happen, but the passage isn’t very clear

If permanent containment was to come, and it did, than America would have a “permanent postponement of the social and economic promises of the New Deal”. (124)

So what’s up?  The economic promises of the New Deal, stability, low unemployment, rising GDP all happened.  Why?  We were spending all our money on defense.  How did everything go so “well”?

As you might have guessed I sort of think the answer is in the question.  We were spending all our money on defense.  If you like things that fly or go fast or are secret or all three read this;

one of my favorite books about the era.  The military industrial complex as it has come to be called includes Lockheed, Boeing, and our own General Atomics.  These domestic industries get fed billions of government dollars and those employees go and buy Cadillacs and TV and soap.  It’s all connected.
“Why are things so bad today when we’re spending even more billions on defense? ”, you might ask.  I don’t know.  Last year I would have said ask Strebler.  I think though, that the economic doldrums of the 1970s and the post 2007 era, haven’t stopped the ever banking up of the GDP.  I frankly worried about the trillions in cuts known as the sequester, because those cuts mean cuts in contracts, cuts in jobs, and less people buying Cadillacs, TVs and Soap.  From an environmentalist standpoint I praise less consumption, but from the desire for a stable economy I’m concerned.
As far as Korea is concerned and the portrayal of the war here the end of the chapter is a bit eerie.  Truman took, or witnessed, a people in 1948 who wanted to return to pre-war normalcy, non-intervention, to a people in 1952 apparently wanting or at least tolerating a permanent American military presence around the globe.
And I have a new question for you.  “To what extent was the Cold War caused by fiction?”  George Orwell not only wrote Animal Farm and 1984 but coined the very phrase “Cold War”.  Did movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Invasion of the body snatchers” continue this narrative of good vs. evil that we then used to assess our own reality?  I think I may have another book in the making.

Kissinger on Korea


So what was MASH about?  There was a 1971 movie, in the waniing days of the American war with Vietnam that was good, with Elliot Gould, but then the TV show in the late 1970s – 80s was simply great.  It was about Korea, nominally, but it was also very much about Vietnam and the futility of war.  Kissinger is doing something similar here.  He’s writing about Korea, but he’s saying a lot about Vietnam.

He brings up Saddam Hussein of course and this is a reference to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, wherein the US “kicked the Vietnam Syndrome” according to President GHW Bush, and Kissinger is comparing N. Korea and Iraq’s surprise at the US reaction. Neither believed the US would act if they invaded.

They shouldn’t have been surprised though.  In 1946 Truman wrote a letter asserting we needed to make a strong government in Korea.  Though in 1950 American planners (like German and Russian planners we saw earlier) were only really planning on the possibility of a general war and a general war in Europe no less.   That they were able to keep Korea from going general was of course a great thing.  Despite claims that our line of defense did not include the Korean peninsula (look at a map) that was only in relation to a general war, but in this now limited war, the US and the UN would and do respond.

A wider war in China of course according to General Bradley would be “the wrong war with the wrong enemy at the wrong time”.  It was MacArthur’s landing at Inchon behind enemy lines which turned the tide of the war so definitively but it was also his insubordination in wishing to advance the escalation of he war which leads to his being relieved of command.

Another interesting question is the use (or not) of the bomb.  Why didn’t we use it?  The USSR had way fewer and no real means of delivery.

One curiosity, and almost oversight (dare I say)(or does it just not fit with Kissinger’s narrative of Truman) is an absence of a discussion of Eisenhower.  Truman doesn’t run in ’52, partly due to frustration with the continuing war in Korea and its under Eisenhower’s watch in the summer of 1953 that the war is wrapped up.

The struggle between Truman and MacArthur, China and Taiwan, N Korea and Stalin and the USSR all bear some consideration.  Any reference to Indochina/Vietnam should also be noted.  You also know, that N Korea is very much in the news today.  Getting a sense of the origins of the conflict over 60 years ago I hope gives some insight to the situation today.

There never was a peace signed in Korea.  It is still a hostile border.  Looking back at my blog from four years ago year I was pointing to the then current event of N Korea shelling S Korea and killing four persons.  Today with Trump and his twitter rants and the recent test of a North Korean missile that could potentially hit any point in the USA the study of history being the study of today has rarely been clearer.

Ambrose 6 – Containment tested


So this is about ten years hence, 1958-59, but an interesting event.  Here in this chapter, you read about the need to remilitarize or support west Europe and how part of that need was met with “American forward air-bases” with the B29 in England, but also American bases in Europe.  It also meant the re-institution of the draft.  In 1958, at the height of his popularity, Elvis was drafted.

Elvis could have served his duty entertaining the troops but he chose to be a regular soldier.  I was very lucky to meet and work with the author of this book, and Elvis’ commanding officer and friend Colonel William Taylor, over several days at an IB training.  If you click on the link you’ll see Bill passed away in 2014 after a long and distinguished career.

Bill was a curmudgeonly old guy, but as a Colonel in the army, a professor at Georgetown and West Point he held some influence and I liked his very straightforward style and his open admiration for what we do in IB history.  Its sad to see him go.  I’m glad he wrote this book (among many other more technical military briefs and manuals). He also wrote an editorial in the NYT re: North Korea in the early 90s and was subsequently invited by the North Korean Government to visit, which he did.

In so far as the chapter goes.  Truman goes from a series of wins (Berlin, NATO, Israel) to a series of losses, (China, Soviet Union getting the bomb, and McCarthy).  The big one, Korea, is just around the corner and the subject of your last two readings.

The decision to create a west german government, to form NATO, re-install the draft all harden the lines between East and West and in this time, exacerbate the threat of war.  Was Stalin being equated with Hitler at this time?  Its an interesting question but I think the lessons on appeasement were so close they couldn’t help but be.  We’ll look at some documents to support that when we see one another again.



Ambrose 5 – Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plal

truman in november

(click on above image to see it large in all of its early comic wonderfulness)

Two halves of the same walnut.

That which Truman was most proud of, that we thoroughly defeated our enemies and then helped them rebuild their economies, is the story here, and it almost didn’t happen.

Opposition for the TD/MP was almost universal in the Republican party with the exception of Senator Vandenberg who tells Truman he must “scare the hell” out of the American people. We know how things went of course but what is interesting is the way things might have gone.

What if communists came to power in Greece and Turkey?  What would really change?  What if communists were elected in Italy?  What if the CIA had never been given authority to conduct covert operations?

Ambrose’s little jibe at Truman being disingenuous and losing sleep over his decision is I think miss-placed.   I agree Truman had made up his mind as to what to do, but I think he struggled greatly at figuring out how to get it done.  How do you take a people that has been traditionally isolationist, and re-enroll them into an international struggle that could turn as ugly as any preceding World War, or even more so, and convince them to join the fray after four long years of devastating warfare?

Hope you enjoyed your break!

Kissinger 18 – The Success and the Pain of Containment

The man pictured above is George F. Kennan.  He is worth a google.  His influence, according to Kissinger, through the Long Telegram, and the “Sources of Soviet Conduct” published in “Foreign Affairs” under the pseudonym “X” not only were the foundation of the policy of containment but went so far as to predict what would happen under Gorbachev, namely, the dissolution of the USSR.

Was it just me or did anybody else think, wow, this kind of describes Putin, when you were reading excerpts from the long telegram?  Do you think Putin knows his rule is “archaic in form, fragile and artificial”? I sort of do.  It is fitting to remember Pipes’ claim that the distinction between Czarist rule and communist was communist brutality.  There were otherwise the same.  Is Putin a similar extension of Russian history’s “mechanical” rather than “organic” structure of state, as advanced by Pipes?

There is a lot here in this little chapter.  What if Lippman had been more influential?  What about Wallace?  Was Truman really returning to a style of Realpolitik (Is that why Kissinger likes him so much?) and merely couching the protection in moral codes, or did he really believe he was advancing collective security?  Did Acheson really believe NATO was not an alliance aimed at the Soviet Sphere?  The Matthews Memorandum is worth noting as is Clark Clifford.

Were the suggestions of Kennan really implemented or did he want them to be interpreted as they were.  In 1957, over a decade later he said where we should best apply our efforts to the Soviet threat was to our own American failings.  What do you think? Without getting off of too much of a tangent do you think our best strategy in the face of ISIS and Putin and Syria is to address our domestic problems?  Are ISIS, Putin and Syria even really similar threats?

For tomorrow dress up as a Cold War Spy for Extra Credit and get ready for a great day!