One of the bitterest debates in American history took place at midcentury, when the Republic of China, our friend and ally in World War II and the object of our most vigorous Protestant missionary enterprise, went over to "the enemy": atheistic communism. Americans could not believe that China had made this choice freely. Its adherence to the "World Communist Conspiracy," many thought, must have been coerced both by Soviet manipulation and by the treasonous actions of American diplomats and politicians. We had "lost" China because some Communist mastermind in the American government had deliberately sabotaged the efforts of Chiang Kai-shek (a Methodist) to defeat Mao Tse-tung in the Chinese civil war. After Mao won the war in 1949, the same Communist mastermind tried to influence the U.S. Department of State to recognize Mao's People's Republic and sell the remnant Nationalists on Taiwan down the river.
The "Who Lost China?" debate intensified in 1950, when Kim Il-sung attacked the South Korean government under Syngman Rhee. South Korea was an American protectorate in the same sense that China had been. MacArthur's successful early prosecution of the Korean War lessened the scapegoating over China, but when the Chinese armies joined the North Koreans and smashed the U.S. Eighth Army in December 1950, American fear and outrage became uncontrollable. The search for a scapegoat expanded: whoever had lost China had also lost Korea.
Harry Truman caught much of the blame, and the damage to his popularity because of these disasters in Asia seared the consciousness of American politicians for a generation. He was not the only person to suffer from the loss of China. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, General George Marshall, Ambassador Philip Jessup, and a handful of China specialists in the foreign service also came under attack. But a prominent China scholar who had never been in the State Department at all caught most of the blame when the American inquisition escalated in 1950: Owen
Lattimore. Lattimore was dead center in the gunsights of the politicians, journalists, Chinese Nationalist operatives, American Legionnaires, professional anti-Communists, internal security alarmists, and religious leaders who made up the China lobby. Lattimore was alleged to be the shadowy Communist mastermind behind American policy in Asia.
Two decades after the attack on Truman, Acheson, and Lattimore, a Republican who had been part of the attack, Richard Nixon, reversed course and began negotiations with the People's Republic of China. Nixon could do so because he could not be outflanked on the right.
Four decades after the midcentury attack on Democratic treason, another Republican president, George Bush, came full circle, defending continued friendship with a repressive Maoist government in Peking against almost universal outrage over the slaughter in Tiananmen Square. Lattimore did not live quite long enough to savor the irony. He died in May 1989.
Lattimore, a Johns Hopkins University professor specializing in China and Asia, became a headline figure when Senator Joseph R. McCarthy charged him with being the "top Soviet spy, the boss of the whole ring of which Hiss was a part" in the United States. Lattimore at that time was persona non grata in the Soviet Union, and this canard would not fly, even in the cold war atmosphere of the times. McCarthy downgraded Lattimore to merely "the architect of our Far Eastern policy," which still made him responsible for the loss of China. Lattimore was not only the alleged mastermind of U.S. Asian policy but also a heretic for advocating diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China. For those who did not buy the conspiracy charge, the heresy was sufficient damnation. The charges against him have never died; they are enshrined in our tribal memory.
Now that records of behind-the-scenes maneuvering during the mid-century Red Scare are becoming available, it is time that the full story be brought out. Our tribal memory needs correction. Nowhere in print are the corruption and viciousness of the forces behind Lattimore's persecution exposed. Even reputable scholars accept the conclusion that where there was so much smoke, there must have been some fire. According to this reasoning, since Hiss and the Rosenbergs were found guilty by juries of their peers, Lattimore was probably guilty also, even though never convicted.
To understand the United States since the 1950s, one must understand the pathology of that decade. A major symptom of that pathology was
the U.S. pretense that the rump Chinese Nationalist government on Taiwan was the legitimate government of China and that we should therefore refuse to recognize the People's Republic. It was the furious argument over the recognition of Peking that drew me into the China policy arena. In 1954 1 was directing the intercollegiate debate program at the University of Pittsburgh. College and university debate coaches that year selected as the national debate topic "Resolved: That the United States Government should extend diplomatic recognition to the Communist Government of China." College debating is not usually a high-profile activity, but in 1954 the choice of the recognition topic attracted the wrath of a vast constituency. Hearst, Scripps Howard, and McCormick Patterson newspapers began a crusade to shut down this subversive activity. The Chiang Kai-shek bloc in Congress joined in. The conservatives partially succeeded: West Point, Annapolis, teachers' colleges in Nebraska, Catholic colleges in Ohio, and other skittish institutions canceled debates on this topic.
On Pearl Harbor Day, 1954, the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph , a Hearst paper, published a column by E. F. Tompkins under the headline "Coddling Communism: Campus Propaganda." Tompkins attacked the University of Pittsburgh for holding a tournament on the recognition topic. In each of these terrible debates one team would have to "advocate the Communist cause." Pitt trustees read the Sun-Telegraph , and some of them phoned Pitt's acting chancellor, Charles Nutting, inquiring, "Who's the subversive professor indoctrinating Pitt debaters?"
A strong believer in First Amendment freedoms, Nutting fended off the nervous trustees, and so far as I know, my career was not damaged by the Hearst attack. But the view that debating a topic such as recognition was a subversive activity stimulated anguished reflection, leading me to a six-year investigation of U.S. China policy and the publication in 1961 of Recognition of Communist China? A Study in Argument . I concluded that the arguments in favor of recognition were strong.
Not until 1977, however, did my path cross that of the preeminent advocate of recognition: Lattimore. As we talked, it became clear that this man not only had been a fearless opponent of the American inquisition but also had led a fascinating life. He began to tell me about it. When his Freedom of Information documents began to come from the FBI in 1978, he was living in France, and he commissioned me to read and evaluate them. This work led to a decade of correspondence, hundreds of hours of interviews, and access to Lattimore's private papers.
This book is the result. Lattimore had begun his memoirs but never finished them. I have had access to his manuscript and have borrowed parts of it, but the basic story and the judgments of his career and opinions are my own.
This book is not just a biography; it is a study in American political demonology.