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Dragon’s War: Allied Operations and the Fate of China 1937-1947

I greatly enjoyed being challenged by his book, mainly because I’m one of those skeptical experts who feels that he knows what may have taken place in China and I’m cynical enough to doubt almost all authorities. Even though I believe I ventured into as many points of the compass in China, as all but a few other Americans, from French Indochina to north of the Great Wall, and from the mountains in the west to the South China Sea in the east, and had many singular adventures, I still quote Pearl Buck whenever I’m invited to talk about China. She said: “There are no experts on China, only varying degrees of ignorance.” I was provoked by this book and by Mr. Mu’s conclusions. Often, I talked back to him as I turned the pages. I’m not as ignorant as I was before I met Maochun Yu. He is a good teacher and he compelled me to question some of my comfortably soft-headed assumptions. You can’t ask for more than that.

His overriding conclusion based on his interpretation of historical records --I choose to let him state this in his own words – is: “In essence, this book attempts to illustrate how these foreign operations served to challenge the authority and legitimacy of the Chinese Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek to successfully handle and control foreign operations during World War II greatly contributed to its own demise four years after the war ended.” His conclusion warrants respect. But it’s hugely debateable. Although the British and the French had only one goal in their Chinese efforts: to secure their postwar, overseas empires, and they, in fact, pursued their own selfish goals in Nationalist China and Asia throughout the war, the United States provided substantial help in many sectors. Without our help, China might well have been totally defeated by the Japanese before the end of the war. After all, China was fighting two wars, one against the Japanese and the other against the Chinese Communists. This may be debatable, too. But it’s sensible to recognize that, despite so many lamentably poor diplomatic and military American leaders making a miserable hash of our joint work with the Chinese, we still made a noble effort. And, in its mysterious way, so did the Nationalist Chinese who fought from 1931 to 1945, and after the end of the Second World War, from 1945 to 1949, in fighting the Chinese Communists who were supported by the USSR. We know that we didn’t lose China. The Chinese lost China.

China, as we know, was a graveyard of reputations of some outstanding Americans. In his research, Mr. Yu adds President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morganthau, to the list of those leaders who, either by omission or commission, succeeded in shortchanging the Nationalists by making promises of funds and materiel they never kept. (China received 3.2 per cent of all countries receiving Lend-Lease material or $1,548,794, 966). We might recognize the accuracy of General Chennault’s observation after the war, quoted by Mr. Yu: “I always found the Chinese friendly and cooperative. The Japanese gave me a little trouble at times, but not very much. The British in Burma were quite difficult sometimes. But Washington gave me trouble night and day throughout the war.”

Professor Yu praises Admiral Milton Miles, the head of SACO, and his nefarious colleague, Tai Li, the head of Chinese intelligence. He gives a failing grade to General William J. Donovan and to Richard Heppner, the head of OSS in China. He gives a passing grade to Ambassador Patrick Hurley. (Who among us would salute Hurley, who, being introduced to Chiang Kai-shek, said, “Hello, Mr. Shek.”?) Hurley was undoubtedy soft in the head.

Professor Yu cites the German contribution to Chiang Kai-shek and the prolonged Nazi involvement with the Chinese forces. German military aid (arms and instruction) began in earnest in 1928 and lasted until 1938. I don’t know how Germany contributed to Chiang’s inability to fight the Chinese Communists. General Alexander von Falkenhausen made sure that Chinese forces learned to march in the German goose-step. Mu cites William Kirby’s book, Germany and the Republic of China, published by Stanford University Press in 1984. Read it and believe it.

To add to the ingredients of the cockeyed world of Chiang Kai-shek, we should not overlook his own involvement with Moscow. As a member of the “fledgling” (Yu’s adjective) Chinese Communist Party, Chiang traveled to Moscow to gain Russia’s political and military help. With Lenin’s approval, he came back to China with two million rubles. In 1927, with Lenin dead as well as the founder of the Chinese Nationalist Party,Sun Yat-sen, Chiang went on a mission to purge and kill Chinese Communists. He slaughtered thousands of Communists in Canton. To add to this bouillabaisse of history, Mao Zedong, who began his professional life as a librarian and ended it as the killer of 60,000,000 of his own people, learned his craft of killing during the Second World War.

The evidence is that the war in China was an indisputable and direct benefit to us. There were roughly 60,000 Americans (a high estimate) in China. Roughly fewer than four to five thousand Americans died there (my estimate). This was fewer than the number of Americans killed at Iwo Jima. How did we gain from helping China? The answer is that more than 1 million Japanese soldiers remained in China during the latter part of the war. Without being tied up in China, the great majority of Japanese troops would probably have been sent to fight us in the Pacific. And many more Americans would have been killed.

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