(COLD WAR: 1945-49 – continued)

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COLD WAR: 1945-49 (8 of 8)

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Communists win China's Civil War

During China's war with Japan, Chiang Kai-shek had moved his forces deep into the interior, leaving a political vacuum in the east to be filled by the Communists. And Communist forces confronted the enemy, the Japanese, beginning with the "Hundred Regiments Campaign" in North China in 1940, led by Peng Dehuai. When the war ended in 1945 the Communists had (according to Wei) about 2 million men in militia units and more than 900,000 regular troops. note12

During the war, China had lost 2.2 million military men, and it had lost more than 20 million civilians. More than 100 million Chinese had been made refugees. Families had been torn apart and a countless number of widows were left to make do as best they could, many of them destitute with children. The war had traumatized the Chinese people, creating a passion for peace and stability, but the nation was divided between opposing political camps.

In 1946, President Truman sent George Marshall to China to prevent a civil war between Chiang Kai-shek's forces and the forces led politically by Mao Zedong. The Truman administration was hoping that the Communists would accept Chiang's authority and that Chiang would allow them their rights to participate in elections, as Communists were doing in France and Italy. The Truman administration was hoping for a democratic China, but it did not work out that way. Talks between the two sides in 1946 broke down, and civil war erupted.

The Communists were appealing to poor peasants – China's majority – and to students, workers and others looking forward to change. Chiang Kai-shek's government was seen as a "landlord's government." At the end of the war it had lost prestige by using troops against students. By late 1948 Chiang's troops were suffering from demoralization and lack of discipline. People in Chiang's China were suffering from rising prices because of inflation, and corruption was siphoning off aid from the United States.

Chiang's forces had taken over Manchuria following the Soviet Union's occupation there, but they had been unable to hold it. Communist forces there pushed Chiang's forces out of  Manchuria. Communist forces were using weapons taken from the Japanese, and they were capturing an abundance of US weapons from Chiang's forces. In 1948, Communists won numerous urban areas north of the Yangzi River. By August Chiang's currency had inflated to 67 times what it had been in January. In December, Communist forces moved into Beijing unopposed, and by then they had advanced south to the Yangzi River. By February 1949 Chiang's currency had inflated 32,000 times.

In the US a few Chiang supporters hoped for US intervention to stop the Communists at the Yangzi. The Communists had no navy. Crossing the river heavily defended on its southern banks could be difficult. Stalin advised Mao and his associates not to cross the Yangzi. The US continued to send aid to Chiang, including air transport. The US had given Chiang two billion dollars in military aid since 1945, but it was unwilling and unprepared to send troops to prevent the Communists from crossing the Yangzi. In the summer of 1949, the Communist forces swept across the river. And as Chiang's forces began their flight to Taiwan, they rounded up and executed those they saw as enemies.

In Beijing, on 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People's Republic of China. In December, he traveled to Moscow. Against the possibility of an attack by what he called "the imperialist countries," he and his associates wished to align China with the "socialist countries." note13   Mao had discussions with Stalin, and Stalin was friendly and congratulated Mao and the Chinese. But Mao was reserved.  Back in 1945, Stalin had signed a treaty with Chiang in 1945, had advised Mao that the time was not ripe for revolution and had given the Communist movement in China little assistance. That Stalin did not now apologize for past wrongs Mao took as a sign that he wished to view China as a "little brother." But on 14 February 1950 the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union signed a "Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance. It included the Soviet Union promising to help China in its reconstruction.

In the United States a Republican Senator, Joe McCarthy, and his allies maintained that holding off the Communists in China would have required just a little more aid and perhaps some air power. People began asking who lost China. Truman's approval rating had risen to around 70 percent in 1949, but it dropped to half that. Manliness in foreign policy became an issue with some Republicans. Truman's secretary of state, Dean Acheson, was called a coward and General George Marshall, his predecessor, a traitor.

Chiang, a Christian, was well-liked in the United States. Henry Luce, publisher of Time Magazine was especially close to Chiang. The view among many in the US was that the Chinese Revolution was an extension of the Soviet Union's power and will. Dean Rusk, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, described the Chinese Revolution not as Chinese but as made in Moscow. Purges of people working for the State Department and suspected of communist sympathies, or suspected of homosexuality had begun. To many in the United States it appeared that Communism was on a successful march and that if something were not done Communism would engulf the world.


The Cold War: 1945-1987, by Ralph B. Levering

Memoirs: 1925-1950, Volume I, by George F Kennan, 1967

The Cold War: an Illustrated History, by Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing, 1999

Truman, Chapters 11-14, by David McCullough, 1992

Churchill's The Cold War: the Philosophy of Personal Diplomacy, by Klaus Larres, 2002

Conversations with Stalin, by Milovan Djilas, 1962

Iron Curtain, the crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944 – 1956, by Anne Applebaum, 2012

The Haunted Wood, by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, 1999
(about Soviet espionage in the US, drawn from research into Soviet archives.)

Reflections on a Ravaged Century, by Robert Conquest, 2001

A Military History of China, by David Graff and Robin Higham, 2002

China, Chapter 22, "The Sino-Japanese War and the Civil War," by J.A.G. Roberts, 2003

The Fifties, by David Halberstam, 1993

The Icarus Syndrome, by Peter Beinart, 2010

Churchill's entire "iron curtain" speech of 1946,

Marshall's Commencement address at Harvard, June 1947,

North Atlantic Treaty; April 4, 1949,

Additional Reading

Reagan in Hollywood

Blacklisted in Hollywood

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