THE 'LOSS' OF CHINA, McCARTHY, KOREA,
AND THE NEW RIGHT
NEW CRUSADE TAKES FORM
In March 1947, President Harry Truman
announced his Doctrine of "containing" communism by giving
aid to all nations, anywhere, resisting it. The proposal he set
before Congress was an aid package to defeat the Communist-led insurgency
in Greece and promote the security of Turkey. In a reversal of later
ideological stereotypes the main opposition to this grandiose policy
came from right-wing Republicans who had not yet forgotten the "isolationist"
assumptions which came to them from classical liberalism and republicanism.
Congressman Frederic C. Smith (R-OH) said that we were "launching
upon a program of imperialism," while Congressman Howard Buffett
(R-NE) called the Truman Doctrine "the most dangerous scheme
ever considered by an American Congress."
bill passed, but the bloc of unreconstructed Republican "isolationists"
remained a thorn in the side of the Cold War Liberals. Supporters
of the Marshall Plan in late 1947 gained the votes of those rightists
known as the China Lobby by promising aid for dear old Chiang Kai-shek
to the tune of $570 billion in general aid and an additional $125
billion for military purchases. China Lobbyists thus played a role
in making the Cold War Liberals' imperial policies possible; they
also contributed thereby to a metamorphosis of the American Right.
For that transformation the critical
years were probably 1949-1950. McCarthyism played a role, but McCarthyism
itself derived much of its believability from American shock at
the "loss" of China. Collapse of the Nationalist regime
(Kuomintang) in December 1949 was, as historian William L. Neumann
wrote, "an even greater disaster for American policy than Pearl
Harbor." For proponents of the Open Door a program of
state-supported penetration of world markets by US businesses
loss of the fabled China Market nullified the purpose of the Pacific
War. The interest of some Republicans in Asian markets went back
to 1898, when William McKinley's Spanish-American War gained us
the Philippine Islands as a forward position for entry into the
Nationalist Army had been good mostly for squeezing the peasants
and not very good at fighting either the Japanese or the Chinese
Communists. His government rested on the landlords and its runaway
inflation of the money supply ruined the urban capitalist wing of
the Kuomintang party and drove the middle classes into the arms
of the Maoists. This was the regime extolled by the China
Lobbyists like Senator William Knowland (R-CA) and Congressman Walter
Judd (R-MN) as a wonderful "freedom-loving" ally. The
"fall" or "loss" of China was essentially due
to internal causes. For once, a State Department White Paper showed
a nodding acquaintance with the truth. But the two basic options
for US policy prior to December 1949 get out, or commit US
forces to the impossible task of saving Chiang had not been
squarely faced. The China Lobby was able to prevent rapid withdrawal
and its successes (noted above) provided billions of dollars to
pour down that particular foreign rat-hole (to use an Old Right
Between the Cold War Liberals, the China Lobbyists, and the "internationalist"
Republicans, there were enough votes to put Truman's various foreign
policy initiatives through, despite the persistence of the "isolationists"
ROLE OF McCARTHYISM
Much has been made of the evils of
something called "McCarthyism" apparently America's
close brush with "fascism" and something always to be
expected from the Right. Those who peddle these horror stories pass
lightly over the genuinely totalitarian repression undertaken by
Saint Woodrow, who, despite his great talent for self-deception,
knew down deep that the American people hadn't really been all that
keen on making the world safe for his abstractions and would therefore
need coercing. Nor do these talespinners worry much about the repression
during FDR's war rather milder than Wilson's because there
was more resignation than open opposition, the second time around.
I doubt that hundreds of Borsht Belt comedians got rooms on upper
floors of chic hotels and then defenestrated themselves, leaving
the curtains fluttering accusingly in the direction of Joe McCarthy,
as in the Woody Allen version of the period. Some of these Stalinists
and parlor pinks did fairly well in the end. It was Cold War Liberals once again who had taken the first steps in instituting "loyalty"
programs and rooting communists out of government, now that their
front had changed. Joe McCarthy, the junior Senator from Wisconsin,
who had never been especially right-wing or "isolationist,"
seized the issue of internal communist subversion and used it against
the Liberals. McCarthy's mass base believed that in attacking the
Northeastern elites McCarthy was attacking communism. Peter Viereck
and Carroll Quigley, among others, made this point, but from the
standpoint that it was bad form to attack these elites for any reason
real "isolationists" were ambivalent about McCarthy's
activities, but many supported him, for a number of reasons: as
payback for their troubles in 1940-45, because they shared his sense
that the enemy was at home, out of partisan use of a good issue
against the Democrats, and because there were communists
in government1, who had served in the
great antifascist coalition while Joe Stalin was our avuncular and
loveable ally. (And who did promote that Major?) In the end, some
Old Rightists concluded that McCarthy had missed the mark by focusing
on communism rather than generic statism, which had many forms.
In the meantime, McCarthyism, as Justin Raimondo remarks, "blurred
the distinctions" between the declining Old Right and the rising
reading of the Chinese Revolution, which blamed a handful of communist
sympathizers in academia and the State Department for Chiang's downfall,
was of great importance in shifting the heretofore noninterventionist
Right to an aggressively interventionist policy in Asia. It seemed
to validate everything the Cold War Liberals had been saying in
support of their policies in Europe, but revealed the Liberals as
inept and compromised by the enemy, especially in Asia. This reading
also fit very closely the line taken by the China Lobbyists.
KOREAN WAR AND 'ASIA FIRST'
Into this already seething cauldron
fell the Korean War. While Taft and other Old Right spokesmen denounced
Truman's mad dash into that "unlicensed slaughter house"
(as Frank Hanighen put it) as unconstitutional and unwise, as patriots
they felt they had to support the war. Taft and other "isolationists"
were all over the ballpark, demanding attacks on Manchuria and generally
supporting the political line of the brilliant but erratic General
Douglas MacArthur. During these wild cycles, they seemed more like
"Asia Firsters" (as Selig Adler called them) indistinguishable
from the China Lobby than America Firsters. Taft, it must be added,
partly recovered and his last speech, in May 1953, warned of the
dangers of intervention in Indochina.
Most of the Right shifted, willy-nilly, to the New Right position,
which accepted the interventionist Liberals' description of the
world but derided their "weak" implementation of their
own policy. The Korean War, with its unsatisfactory outcome, seemed
In effect, we had two interventionist
parties with a sort of division of labor between those who preferred
intervening in Europe and those whose hearts were in Asia. In practice,
the Asia Firsters had to accept the administration's European policy
to get what they wanted. Since the architects of that forward position
had no objection to intervening elsewhere, in the end we got general
intervention with little nuanced differences in direction depending
on who was in office.
the candidate of the internationalists (the "Anti-Taft"
so to speak), disappointed some by his reluctance to really risk
war, even as his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles described
by Winston Churchill as "a bull that brought his own China
shop with him" blustered about the globe, looking for
more forward positions for the Empire. Eisenhower's moderation won
him the criticisms of John F. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater, representing,
respectively, the just-do-it school of Cold War Liberal activism
and the New Right. Goldwater's visionary Atlanticism, as revealed
in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination in
1964, must have been a rude awakening for any lingering Asia Firsters,
much less America Firsters in the GOP.
LOBBIES, THEN AND NOW
The China Lobby's story was almost
told around 1960 in Ross Y. Koen's The
China Lobby. But the Lobbyists' were still powerful enough
to suppress the book. It reappeared, rather symbolically, in the
early 1970s, when the unhappy consequences of the Liberals' proactive
stance in Vietnam made it briefly possible to debate the origins
of American policy in Asia.
the meantime, the old China Lobby had become the Anti-China Lobby
with respect to the Communist Dynasts on the mainland. The US held
the Kuomintang occupiers of Taiwan to be the only legitimate government
of all China up to 1972, when Richard Nixon and Henry the K played
the China card. An embarrassing interlude followed in which there
were said to be Two Chinas. That is past and now we have a new China
Lobby (Henry Kissinger and a lot of Democrats) and a new Anti-China
Lobby (pretty much all of today's Official Right). There seems to
be some interchange of personnel between the two. I can't keep up
with it, but fortunately Justin Raimondo and some others do.
Buchanan, generally a sound noninterventionist since 1989, has gotten
sidetracked, or has sidetracked himself, with nightmares about the
Chinese threat. As a friend of mine said the other day, what would
be so hard about treating the Chinese with respect.... and nothing
else? No special treatment, toadying, or manicures, but also no
Yellow Peril, paranoia, or gunboats in the Taiwan straits (much
less up the Yangtze like the Panay). It might well be a workable
plan and one likely to preserve the peace, but there is nothing
in it, I admit, for unbridled Open Door enthusiasts or their successors,
the New China Hands, whether they are partisans for or against the
present regime. Either way, they aim to meddle and, either way,
there's borrowed trouble in it for us.
As right wings go, I like the pre-transformation
Right much better. There on the Old Right you had
people like Felix Morley, who could write in March 1948 that "The
lives of our youth are not the property of the State, to throw on
a rubbish heap in Korea or Yugoslavia as some brass hat may ordain";
or Howard Buffett, who said in May 1947, of the Greek-Turkish aid
bill: "I would rather put a fully loaded machine gun in the
hands of a delinquent than more opportunities for international
destruction in the hands of our State Department."
 See, for example, M. Stanton Evans, "Joe McCarthy and the
Historians," Human Events, Janurary 1, 1999, 9-16.
R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since
1973, including The Individualist, Reason,
of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the
and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He is a part-time
lecturer in History at the college level. You can read his recent
Cold War," on the Ludwig
von Mises Institute Website. His column, "The Old Cause,"
appears each Tuesday on Antiwar.com.
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