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  • Writer's pictureJody Ferguson

The China Mission; George Marshall's Unfinished War 1945-47

Well researched and well-written account of the attempt by Harry Truman to bring peace to China in the years after WWII. Unable to comfortably repatriate large numbers of US troops who occupied large swathes of northeastern China at the war's end, Truman dispatched America's foremost soldier George C. Marshall to try to bring the warring sides together. Marshall, who had recently led the United States to its greatest triumph over Germany and Japan, had retired from the Army on a Friday in late 1945, only to receive a phone call Monday morning from the president, asking him to become a diplomat with the toughest of missions. Marshall, the most respected man in America--and perhaps the entire world--was given a Herculean task. He left the United States in December 1945 for China, hoping to return in 2-3 months. He stayed for thirteen months, returning home only once during this time in the summer of 1946 to bring his wife back with him to China. They remained until early 1947. Kurtz-Phelan eloquently describes the back and forth between the two sides and Marshall's role, first as diplomat and then as reluctant arm-twister. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Nationalist Party, was the face of China during the Second World War. His American-educated wife Soong Mei-ling, was the voice for China to the American people. As effective as they were at diplomacy and image-making, they could never bring to heel the corrupt politicians and generals who led the Nationalists down the path of dissolution. Meanwhile, Communist leader Mao Zedong had his own golden tongue: shadow foreign minister Zhou Enlai, who would become the counterpart 25 years later to Henry Kissenger during normalization talks. Marshall became close to both Zhou and Chiang, but he could never get them to see the larger picture. Chiang was convinced the communists would never give up their arms. Mao and Zhou knew that to give up their arms risked destruction at the hands of Chiang's American-supplied army. Ultimately, the mission failed and the accusations of "Who lost China?" reverberated across the American political spectrum for years to come.


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