The official story of what happened at the end of World War II doesn’t make any sense, Foseti notes. According to the official story, the war was fought to defend free peoples from tyranny, but if we’d just left Hitler alone to take over Europe, a lot less of the world would have found itself under tyranny, and a lot fewer people would have died.
This led him to Joseph McCarthy’s “lunatic” explanation, laid out in America’s Retreat from Victory:
Let’s start with US strategy in Asia. According to McCarthy, the overwhelming aim of US military policy in Asia should have been to keep the Soviets out of the actual fighting with Japan. Among other things, McCarthy digs up various intelligence reports (given to Marshall) that stated that if the Soviets joined the war in Asia, “China will certainly lose her independence, to become the Poland of Asia; Korea, the Asiatic Rumania; Manchuria, the Soviet Bulgaria.” He also finds a statement from Admiral Leahy (pre-dating Yalta) noting:
MacArthur and Nimitz were now in agreement that the Philippines should be recovered with ground and air power then available in the western Pacific and that Japan could be forced to accept our terms of surrender by the use of sea and air power without an invasion of the Japanese homeland.
In other words, a non-retarded US strategy would have been to keep the Soviets out of the war with Japan.
The early key to Asia was Manchuria, according to McCarthy. The US officially recognized Manchuria as belonging to the Republic of China. Yet at Yalta, Stalin asked for it and FDR obliged, in exchange for Russia agreeing to enter the war against Japan (which Stalin had already indicated he intended to do, which made sense given Stalin’s position, and which was probably detrimental to US interests anyway). McCarthy notes (apparently without humor) that Roosevelt was simultaneously enabling Soviet expansion while haranguing Churchill for the British empire’s control of India, etc.
Marshall next took interest in the Chinese Civil War between the forces of Chiang and Mao which was going on during China’s war with Japan. The US was allied with China and was arming China in its struggle against the Japanese. Here Marshall insisted that aid would only go to China if it suspended its civil war (Mao was delighted, as I’ve noted elsewhere).
Marshall then insisted that Chiang accept Communists into his government (again delighting Mao). He later vetoed the appointment of General Wedemeyer as ambassador to China because Zhou En-Lai (who was in rebellion against the actual government of China!) objected. Leighton Stuart (Zhou’s former teacher) was later appointed. The tide eventually turned and Mao eventually won. As Wikipedia elegantly puts it: “Marshall seems to have disagreed with strong opinions in The Pentagon and State department that Chiang’s success was vital to American interests.” I guess we might as well give the whole country to the Soviets then. Or, as Marshall put it:
As Chief of Staff I armed 39 [Chinese] anti-Communist divisions, now with a stroke of a pen [preventing the Nationalists from buying ammunition] I disarm them.
McCarthy sums up the results of Marshall’s Asia policy:
Suppose… we had not implored Russia to enter the war in the Far East, had not equipped her army [when the Communists eventually took China, they did so with US equipment via Russia], had not given her the right to take Manchuria–were would the sudden collapse of Japan on the 10th of August, 1945, have found the Russians? … Had we followed the advice of Admiral Leahy, instead of Marshall, the war with Japan would no doubt have come to its abrupt end with the Kremlin dickering with us for a bribe which they obtained with such miraculous ease at Yalta. The situation in the Far East — then and today — would have in that case looked something like this:
The surrender of the Japanese Kwantung army in Manchuria would have been made to the Americans and Chinese. The Americans would have held Manchuria–and all Korea for the Koreans . . . “
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that MacArthur almost screwed up the Soviet plans in Asia. Coincidentally, he was fired by Marshall and Truman.
Finally, it’s not like the correct policy in Asia was hard to discern. Wedemeyer had already spelled it out:
The result was the “Wedemeyer Report,” in which Wedemeyer stressed the need for intensive U.S. training of and assistance to the Nationalist armies.
Fearful the Nationalists may rise to challenge US hegemony in the Far East [?!?! but not fearful the Soviets would do so?], President Truman not only rejected the recommendations in the report, but imposed an arms embargo against the Nationalist government, thereby intensifying the bitter political debate over the role of the United States in the Chinese civil war. While Secretary of State George C. Marshall had hoped that Wedemeyer could convince Chiang Kai-shek to institute those military, economic, and political reforms necessary to defeat the Communists, he accepted Truman’s views, and suppressed publication of Wedemeyer’s report, further provoking resentment by pro-Nationalist and/or anti-communist advocates both inside and outside the U.S. government and the armed forces.
After the fall of China to Communist forces, General Wedemeyer would testify before Congress that while the loss of morale was indeed a cause of the defeat of the Nationalist Chinese forces, the Truman administration’s 1947 decision to discontinue further training and modernizing of Nationalist forces, the U.S.-imposed arms embargo [i.e. Marshall's policies], and constant anti-Nationalist sentiment expressed by Western journalists and policymakers were primary causes of that loss of morale. In particular, Wedemeyer stressed that if the U.S. had insisted on experienced American military advisers attached at the lower battalion and regimental levels of Nationalist armies [rejected by Marshall] (as it had done with Greek army forces during the Greek Civil War), that aid could have more efficiently been utilized, and that the immediate tactical assistance would have resulted in Nationalist armies performing far better in combat against the Communist Chinese. Vice-Admiral Oscar C. Badger, General Claire Chennault, and Brigadier General Francis Brink also testified that the arms embargo was a significant factor in the loss of China.
I recently read Barbara Tuchman’s Stilwell and the American Experience in Chinea, 1911-45, which adds to the picture.
“Vinegar Joe” Stilwell earned his nickname by dishing out caustic criticism to soldiers who didn’t live up to his high standards. Because of his reputation as a brilliant tactician, he was initially selected to plan and command the Allied invasion of North Africa — but, because he spoke fluent Chinese, he was sent instead to China, to serve as a liaison to Chiang Kai-Shek.
The Americans wanted to keep China in the war in order to tie up Japanese troops — and seemed perplexed that Chiang Kai-Shek didn’t get around to sending his troops into combat against the Japanese, despite all the aid they were giving him.
Chiang Kai-Shek, of course, had other priorities. He was saving up his forces for the coming civil war against Mao and the Communists — whom FDR and others tended to call “so-called” Communists. Even Stilwell, a Republican anti-Communist, respected the Reds, because they actually fought the Japanese on occasion, and because they treated the common people decently, unlike Chiang’s utterly corrupt government.
In trying to reform the Chinese Army, Stilwell seemed oblivious to the political implications of removing officers who were vital to keeping Chiang Kai-Shek in power. He also seemed surprised that the Chinese generals took orders from Chiang, even when he was put nominally in command.
What Chiang wanted far more than American ground troops and advisers was American air power. He vastly preferred General Claire Lee Chennault and his “Flying Tigers” — who promised to more or less fight the war for him, without risking any of Chiang’s hoarded materiel.
In 1944, with China’s position crumbling, Stilwell convinced Marshall to have Roosevelt send Chiang an ultimatum threatening to end all aid unless Stilwell was placed in charge of all Chinese forces. That didn’t go over well. Stilwell was recalled and replaced by General Albert C. Wedemeyer.
To the American people, who had been fed constant propaganda about how Stilwell had been leading the brave Chinese soldiers in their fight against the Japanese, none of this made much sense, and Chiang found his regime painted in an unfavorable light compared to the brave Communists:
Right before Stilwell’s departure, New York Times drama critic-turned-war correspondent Brooks Atkinson interviewed him in Chungking and wrote, “The decision to relieve General Stilwell represents the political triumph of a moribund, anti-democratic regime that is more concerned with maintaining its political supremacy than in driving the Japanese out of China. The Chinese Communists… have good armies that they are claiming to be fighting guerrilla warfare against the Japanese in North China — actually they are covertly or even overtly building themselves up to fight Generalissimo’s government forces… The Generalissimo naturally regards these armies as the chief threat to the country and his supremacy… has seen no need to make sincere attempt to arrange at least a truce with them for the duration of the war… No diplomatic genius could have overcome the Generalissimo’s basic unwillingness to risk his armies in battle with the Japanese.”
Atkinson, who had visited Mao in Yenan, saw the Communist Chinese forces as a democratic movement (after Atkinson visited Mao, his article on his visit was titled Yenan: A Chinese Wonderland City), and the Nationalists in turn as hopelessly reactionary and corrupt; this view was shared by many of the U.S. press corps in China at the time.
The negative image of the Kuomintang in America played a significant factor in Harry Truman’s decision to end all U.S. aid to Chiang at the height of the Chinese civil war, a war that resulted in the communist revolution in China and Chiang’s retreat to Taiwan.