Sunday, August 30, 2015

Poisonous Legacy of China Mirage

Review by Bill Doughty

The first shocker revealed in James Bradley's "The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia" (2015; Little, Brown and Company) is how much the Delano/Roosevelt family fortune was based on opium smuggling in China in the 1800s.

Other revelations: President Theodore Roosevelt's strong ties with Japan and support for Imperial Japan's incursions in Korea; FDR's simultaneous support for the China Lobby and Japan (before Dec. 7, 1941); and the Nationalist Chinese connection threading through World War II, Korea War and Vietnam War.

Bradley, author of "Flags of Our Fathers," shows how earlier administrations were led to believe – and became convinced – that millions of Chinese wanted to be "Americanized." That mirage led to misunderstanding, misinterpretation and war, he contends, and made America (with strong influence by Time magnate Henry Luce) to choose between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong.
"American misunderstanding of China caused the nation to support Southern Methodist Chiang, bring on a world war that didn't have to be, oppose the bandit Mao, and go on to fight two bloody Asian wars. About one hundred thousand Americans died in World War II in the Pacific. About fifty-six thousand Americans died in Korea, and another fifty-eight thousand in Vietnam. The total cost of America's wars in Asia is staggering. Millions of lives terminated, trillions of dollars devoted to rifles, airplanes, and napalm, rather than to roads, schools, and hospitals. America's fabric was stretched and then torn by the latter two Asian wars, which challenged its citizens' belief that their country was a beacon of freedom."
Commodore Matthew C. Perry
The passion runs deep in the pages of this book. Bradley's father, John Bradley, was one of the six men in the iconic photograph showing the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. His brother was nearly killed in Vietnam.

This book is bound to be upsetting to people who see the world in black-and-white, but it's a must-read for those who want to understand the nuances of diplomacy, human nature and lessons of history. And it's helpful to see how other nations see us.

Japanese artist depiction of Perry.
Bradley reminds readers how Commodore Matthew C. Perry, father of the steam-powered United States Navy, opened Japan and helped the feudal Japanese government begin industrialization. Bradley describes how American missionaries traveled to China and attempted to convert so-called "heathen" Asian nonbelievers.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy
There are few heroes in this book. Among those depicted in a positive light are John Service and John Davies, persecuted by the FBI for speaking truth to power but later vindicated. The outright "villains" include Joseph McCarthy, Luce, Chiang, members of the Soong family and Dean Acheson, among others.

Acheson, in particular, is revealed as having a role in bringing about three wars. While FDR secretly tried to keep Japan's moderates in power by supplying Nippon with oil, Acheson found a way to impose a total oil embargo, thinking it would make Imperial Japan bow to the United States, according to Bradley. 

But: "Instead of empowering moderates in Tokyo, Washington's demands resulted in the fall of the moderate government and the military taking full control. The chief of the mad dogs, General Hideki Tojo, now became Prime Minister."

President Truman and Acheson, an architect of war in Korea.
Acheson next lobbied for war in Korea, which would eventually pit Douglas MacArthur against Mao and set McCarthy against Truman, leading to an inevitable one-term presidency of Harry Truman and cries by McCarthy and others of "Who lost China, Who Lost Korea?" Acheson's machinations for war in Vietnam would lead to another one-term presidency, that of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Bradley quotes David Halberstam, author of "The Coldest Winter": "Acheson urged Truman not only to go to war in Korea with no congressional consultation, but also to send covert military aid to the French in Indochina for their war against Ho Chi Minh."

Another revelation: How much Harvard University was a hub into – and eventually away from – the China Influence. Connected to Harvard: Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Baron Kaneko (friend of T.R.), T.V. Soong (friend of FDR), Thomas Corcoran (ran FDR's covert operation), McGeorge Bundy (stepson of Dean Acheson and advocate for expanded war in Vietnam under LBJ), Henry Kissinger (eventually led efforts toward normalized relations with China), and Daniel Ellsberg (who "revealed his evidence of executive war crimes and his belief that in a democracy the public had a right to know.")

Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon each warned about the spread of Communism causing a "domino effect" in the region, something that did not happen.

Opium is not the only poison contributing to the mirage of the true believers. The China Lobby was tied to Southern Tobacco, and the War in the Pacific was brought on by an embargo of crude oil. Thoroughly researched and annotated, this book contributes to a sober understanding of how blind faith and hubris can lead to war and more war.

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