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Home | Cold War Turns Hot | The Armed Forces Integrate | What the Experts Say

Who Lost China?

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Biewen: I'm interested in some other things that happened. The Soviets developed the atomic bomb, the Maoist revolution in China in 1949. And also, Klaus Fuchs was arrested when?

Stueck: He was arrested in January of 1950. He was a British physicist who had worked in New Mexico at Alamogordo on the atomic project during World War II, and he confessed to being involved in espionage on the atomic project in early 1950. This coincided with the conviction of Alger Hiss, an American member of the State Department during much of World War II, of perjury, in a case where he had been accused of being involved in espionage as well. The statute of limitations had run out on him regarding espionage so the Justice Department prosecuted him for perjury. His first trial in early 1949 ended in a split jury, a hung jury, but his trial in early 1950 ended in his conviction.

So we see the beginnings of a major increase in concerns about domestic security, internal security. And of course Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, made his first major address on the Communist-in-government issue at Wheeling, West Virginia in early February of 1950, which certainly magnified the attention that was given to this. So that by the time of the outbreak of the Korean War, there was a good deal of concern, especially outside the government and insofar as it was inside the government it was Republicans in Congress, about the loyalty of many of the people who worked in the government, especially members of the State Department.

And of course that concern was to be elevated with the Korean War as well - because a lot of the attention was devoted to the issue of China, and the fact that the Truman Administration had not intervened in the China civil war after World War II to the extent that it had intervened in Europe to prevent a Communist takeover. . It chose to support [Nationalist] Chiang Kai-Shek Check at a moderate level, which as it turned out did not succeed. . Many [Republicans] claimed that the fall of the mainland to Communism was the result of the fact that pro-Maoist, pro-Communist people in the State Department had given bad advice to the government.

Now, historians in looking back at this issue are virtually unanimous in saying that the Truman Administration did the right thing in not intervening further in the Chinese civil war, that such intervention could easily have been a Vietnam a decade and a half before the Vietnam War, only China being how many times larger than Vietnam would have been even a worse quagmire.

But that's not the way the Republicans argued at the time. And especially when the Koran War broke out and then China intervened in the war in the fall of 1950, more and more Americans had difficulty understanding how people in the administration would have permitted the Communist victory in China. So the Korean War provided a great stimulus to the internal security issue in the United States.

Next: Testing the Chinese