The Most Important Event of Modern Post-World War II History - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Most Important Event of Modern Post-World War II History
Chaing Kai-shek signs the charter of the United Nations, Aug. 24, 1945 (Wikimedia Commons)

To the End of the Earth: The US Army and the Downfall of Japan, 1945
John C. McManus

(Dutton Caliber, 448 pages, $35)

The best historians use hindsight to place events in a clearer perspective than heretofore understood. Military historian John C. McManus in his new book To the End of the Earth: The US Army and the Downfall of Japan, 1945, makes a compelling case for treating the “loss” of China to the communists in the late 1940s as the “most important event of modern post-World War II history.” 

McManus’ book is the final volume of his trilogy on the U.S. Army’s role in the Pacific theater of the Second World War. The first volume, Fire and Fortitude, covered the years 1941 to1943. Volume two, Island Infernos, followed the army’s fighting in 1944. To the End of the Earth begins with the the fighting on Luzon and other islands in the Philippines, the Battle of Okinawa (which involved Army, Marine, and Naval forces), and fighting in the China-Burma-India region. After Japan surrendered, the fighting in China shifted from the war against Japan to a civil war between the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists led by Mao Zedong. 

The importance to the United States of the Nationalist resistance to Japan during the Second World War has mostly been underappreciated. “The Americans,” McManus writes, “… deeply valued China’s participation in the war in order to tie down as many Imperial Army soldiers as possible.” Nationalist forces did the bulk of the fighting against the Japanese. Contrary to communist propaganda, Mao’s army, McManus notes, did “little besides observing mutual back-scratching truces with the Japanese.” Mao’s primary goal was to seize power in the war’s aftermath. He focused, McManus writes, “on enhancing the political position of his movement and preserving his military strength to fight Chiang and the Nationalists.” 

McManus calls Chiang “a flawed but respectable, patriotic figure who had managed to preserve the notion of an independent, modern China through nearly a decade of war.” U.S. General Albert Wedemeyer, who replaced General Joseph Stilwell (who hated Chiang), believed, with Ambassador Patrick Hurley, that Chiang was the best anti-communist leader in Asia at the time. But Japan’s Ichi-Go offensive showed that Chiang’s army was “underfed” and “overmatched.” A recent biography of Chiang, Victorious in Defeat, by Alexander Pantsov also favorably reappraises China’s World War II leader. China suffered nearly 20 million dead in its war with Japan, but under Chiang’s leadership refused to surrender. 

When the war against Japan ended and the civil war was renewed, U.S. officials gradually attempted to act as a mediator between the Nationalists and the Communists instead of backing Chiang unconditionally. Meanwhile, Chiang’s depleted and war weary army suffered defeat at the hands of more rested and better motivated communist forces. Pantsov places some of the blame for this on Chiang, but also blames U.S. officials for their unreasonable and ultimately self-defeating “adherence to the idea of universal democratization,” which played “into the hands of … the CCP, who cynically deceived the world, including many Chinese liberals, by the alluring concept of Mao’s New Democracy.” What American policymakers in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations failed to understand was that, in McManus’ words, “Mao and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP) envisioned no real endgame that did not include the triumph of their revolution, inevitably at Chiang’s expense.” 

McManus contends that as bad as Stalin’s victory in Eastern Europe and the resulting spread of communism there was, Mao’s victory in China had “much worse effect in Asia.” The CCP’s victory in China’s civil war, McManus explained,

solidified within the world’s most populous, and previously fractious, backward country an extraordinarily murderous but highly effective regime, one that modernized this sleeping giant and cast off its historical shackles of Western imperialism, even as it consistently devised effective new means of inhuman repression. It also exported communism to much of Asia and its environs and sparked enormous bloodshed. 

The CCP’s victory, McManus writes, led to “postcolonial wars,” “instances of genocide, from Indonesia to Manchuria, that cost some ten million lives.” Maoism in the form of political persecutions, state-created famines, and the Cultural Revolution caused even more appalling casualties in China. And McManus contends that without the CCP’s victory in China neither the Korean War nor the Vietnam Wars would have occurred. 

The legacy of the Pacific War described in McManus’ history is still with us today in China’s challenge to the U.S.-led world order. In that sense, argues McManus, the “dominant American cultural narrative of World War II, heavily influenced by the triumphal residue of the Europe First strategy that struck down the horrendous evils of Nazism, [and] that tended to see China as a tertiary, backwater theater, [is] an interpretation that, in retrospect, seems very wrongheaded, perhaps even precisely backward.”

Sign up to receive our latest updates! Register

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: The American Spectator, 122 S Royal Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314, You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Be a Free Market Loving Patriot. Subscribe Today!