The China Lobby - Cold war and the "two chinas"

At the end of World War II, China faced civil war, and U.S. efforts to mediate failed. The few Americans interested in East Asian affairs fell into two main categories. One group argued that American interests would be served best by a scrupulous neutrality, allowing Chiang and his communist enemies to work toward their own resolution of China's problems. Another group contended that the interests of the United States would be served best by providing whatever aid short of troops was necessary to maintain Chiang in power. Members of the former group generally warned that the communists enjoyed greater support among the Chinese people and would ultimately triumph. They contended that U.S. aid to Chiang left him unwilling to compromise while peace was possible and would prolong the war and the agony of the Chinese people once the conflict began. The latter group generally mistrusted the Chinese communists, fearing they would serve Soviet rather than Chinese interests and bring misery to the Chinese people. They argued that a communist-controlled China would be a negation of the ends for which the United States had fought in the Pacific. As fear of the Soviet Union increased in the United States in the late 1940s, anticommunist sentiment grew apace, and more and more Americans became receptive to the arguments of Chiang's supporters—that is, to the China lobby.

In the late 1940s the two major organizations calling for American aid to Nationalist China were the American China Policy Association and the Committee to Defend America by Aiding Anti-Communist China. The American China Policy Association was founded by Kohlberg; John B. Powell, one of the best-known American journalists in China during the 1920s and 1930s; and Christopher Emmett, a writer with decidedly liberal pretensions. The members worked to reveal what they considered the insidious nature of the Chinese communist movement, and, within the matrix of intense anticommunist feeling, the association began on a moderate note. Soon, however, it was dominated by Kohlberg, who was himself becoming increasingly irresponsible in his charges against diplomats and scholars critical of Chiang Kai-shek.

The Committee to Defend America by Aiding Anti-Communist China was run by Frederick McKee, who had long contributed to liberal causes and to the collective security wing of the peace movement. Since the late 1930s, he had contributed both time and money in China's behalf, joining existing groups and organizing his own. Unlike Kohlberg, McKee did not become involved in extremist activities. Restrained and responsible, McKee was easily overshadowed. Membership in the Kohlberg and McKee organizations overlapped, but McKee was able to muster the support of several prominent men not identified with Chinese affairs, such as the former Democratic National Committee chairman James A. Farley and the labor leader David Dubinsky.

If the Kohlberg and McKee operations could claim some degree of respectability, there were other operations that could not. The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., and a variety of more or less independent entrepreneurs like T. V. Soong and his brother-in-law, H. H. Kung, lobbied frenetically for aid. Although their operations appear to have remained within the law, there is evidence of some sleight of hand within the embassy, resulting in the disappearance of large sums of money, the disappearance of senior Chinese military officers attached to the mission who presumably had the money, and the appearance of Chinese documents revealing some of their operations and including extravagant claims of success with U.S. congressmen. These activities had no discernible effect on American policy, and only the Chinese government seems to have been swindled.

Another unsavory but legal Chinese activity was the employment of William J. Goodwin as a lobbyist. In the 1930s, Goodwin had distinguished himself by his affiliation with the Christian Front and with the American fascists Gerald L. K. Smith and the Reverend Charles E. Coughlin. Like the Chinese operatives in the embassy, Goodwin was probably most effective at obtaining money from the Chinese government while claiming to be influencing American politicians.

A majority of congressmen in both houses were sympathetic to the Chinese Nationalist cause and willing to vote for aid to Chiang in his fight against the communists. There is no evidence that any of these congressmen had been bought by the Chinese government or by Kohlberg or McKee. Virtually all of these people equated the Chinese communist movement with Soviet totalitarianism and looked with regret upon the likelihood of such oppression being levied upon their erstwhile Chinese allies. Most of these congressional supporters of the Chinese Nationalists were not committed to Chiang or his regime but rather to what they saw as a worldwide struggle against international communism. Furthermore, if the administration asked for funds to protect endangered Greeks and Turks against communist subversion, why not aid the Chinese as well? Having once conjured up fears of an international communist conspiracy for world domination, the Truman administration failed to convince Congress or the American people that China could be or had to be written off. When providing aid for a beleaguered Europe, Congress forced the administration to continue aid to Chiang Kai-shek and anticommunist China.

Despite congressional and public sympathy for Chiang, and the intimidating efforts of Kohlberg and his allies in the Hearst press, when the communists drove Chiang from mainland China, the Truman administration was prepared to recognize the People's Republic of China and to allow it to take the Chinese seat in the United Nations. Even in early 1950, when Kohlberg and Sokolsky found an ally in Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, the Truman administration proceeded with plans to thwart them and to come to terms with reality. The outbreak of war in Korea and the subsequent confrontation between troops from the United States and troops from the People's Republic of China accomplished what Kohlberg and his friends and the Chinese embassy could not have accomplished by themselves. It created a climate of opinion in the United States in which Kohlberg's charges of treason in high places could be taken seriously and in which an accommodation with the People's Republic of China proved impossible.

Ironically, it was the Democratic senator Pat McCarran of Nevada, an archconservative whose reelection McKee had earlier tried to prevent, who chaired the congressional committee that investigated the Kohlberg-McCarthy charges against the Institute of Pacific Relations. The 1952 hearings were used to discredit and intimidate American critics of Chiang Kai-shek. But from 1951 to 1953 it was McCarthy—advised by Kohlberg, Sokolsky, and Roy Cohn—who succeeded in driving some of the State Department's ablest men from Chinese affairs and from the foreign service. Whether from McCarran or McCarthy, Kohlberg or Sokolsky, the story was always the same: China had been lost to the communists because disloyal Americans had prevented Chiang from receiving the aid with which he could have won; and American boys died in Korea because they had been betrayed by disloyal and stupid liberals who had turned China over to the communists. It was not until the marked change in the climate of opinion that came with revulsion against the war in Vietnam that some of the men vilified during the McCarthy era were vindicated.

By 1952, the legitimate concern some Americans had for the future of China had been transformed into an instrument with which the extreme right tried to destroy liberalism in the United States. Sokolsky, whose earlier writings showed him to be unusually well informed about the history of the Chinese communist movement, consistently misled his readers, in keeping with his assumed role as a spokesperson for the extreme right. The success that he and his colleagues enjoyed in discrediting Dean Acheson, George C. Marshall, John S. Service, and Owen Lattimore demonstrated the validity of George Washington's warning about the consequences of "excessive partiality" for a foreign nation. In the 1950s, when criticism of Chiang Kai-shek invited charges of disloyalty to the United States, foreign service officers and scholars were intimidated, with a consequent crippling of both national policy and scholarship.

There were reactions against the work of Chiang's friends even at the height of their power, but to no avail. The Truman administration tried to neutralize them in 1951, promising friendly senators that it would cooperate in an investigation of the China lobby. In Congress, however, there was little interest in the investigation and the administration's own effort could turn up nothing to stimulate interest on Capitol Hill or in the press. In April 1952, the Reporter published two long articles that named some of the participants (Kohlberg, McKee, and Goodwin), implied more shady dealings than could be proven, and provided less than a model example of investigative reporting. Nonetheless, the articles contributed to the notoriety of the China lobby, and there were reports that mysterious Chinese were buying enormous quantities of the issues of the Reporter, in which the articles appeared. In April 1952, the Republican senator Wayne L. Morse of Oregon introduced into the Senate Chinese documents outlining the plans of the Nationalist regime to influence American policy. Some of the documents referred to cooperation with Goodwin, Judd, and Knowland, who was sometimes referred to as the senator from Formosa. Although the authenticity of the documents was never proven, the Chinese embassy admitted that they were cables sent from its offices, but denied that the counselor of the embassy had sent them, as alleged by Morse. There was little to be learned from the documents, which contained merely evidence of the deceits the embassy was practicing on its principal—and its agents were practicing on it.

As a result of the Korean War, American determination to keep the People's Republic of China out of the United Nations intensified, and a powerful new pressure group was created to retain the seat for Chiang's rump regime. Beginning with a petition drive, a Committee of One Million Against the Admission of Communist China to the United Nations emerged in 1953. After collecting the requisite million signatures, including those of prominent Democrats and Republicans, the organizers disbanded in 1954, only to reorganize as the Committee of One Million in 1955. Liberal Democratic and Republican senators lent their names to the new committee, including the Democrats Paul Douglas of Illinois, William Proxmire of Wisconsin, and Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, and Republican Thomas H. Kuchel of California. As with earlier organizations, anticommunism rather than approval of Chiang's regime explains the widespread support for the Committee of One Million, run by Marvin Liebman, an ex-communist.

In 1960, Ross Y. Koen, a young professor in California, prepared to publish his dissertation, The China Lobby in American Politics, but the book was not distributed. The Chinese embassy reportedly threatened legal action against the publishers for defamatory statements in the book, and it was widely assumed that the power of the China lobby had succeeded in frightening them. That power continued to seem impressive as President John F. Kennedy shied away from a rapprochement with the People's Republic, secretly promising Chiang that the United States would veto any effort to seat the communist regime in the United Nations. Lyndon Johnson's presidency brought no hope of change, although McCarthy, Kohlberg, and Sokolsky were dead, Judd and Knowland had lost their national offices, and the reality of the Sino-Soviet split had finally penetrated the American consciousness.

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