Freedom Betrayed, by Herbert Hoover
As Hoover has made clear, and as many other revisionist historians have pointed out, there were many possible ways for the United States to have avoided entry into the war. In fact, had the U.S. stayed out, Hitler and Stalin likely would have worn each other out. Hitler certainly didn’t have designs on the west, other than wanting to be left alone in the east.
I have struggled in looking for the hidden reasons behind why Roosevelt drove the country into war – why he worked so hard at getting Germany to strike the first blow, and having failed that, why he then tried the same with Japan.
When I first began reading this book, I would sometimes glaze over at Hoover’s constant harping about the communists. However, I now appreciate that this constant harping has led me to perhaps the ultimate reason why this war was desired, why the deals were made with Stalin, and why the peace was resolved as it was. To get there, it is important to first understand the story of China.
In a draft copy of this case study, Hoover made clear his intention, as relayed by the editor of this current volume:
The first paragraph of his introduction began: “The purpose of these chapters is to demonstrate the step-by-step American policies which lead [sic] to the downfall of Free China to the Communists and also to show the stupidity of the free nations in their participation in China’s affairs.”
Hoover here outlines the relationship of the United States to China – before, during and after the war. Some portions of this have been previously relayed, but in this section Hoover ties much of it together in a China-specific narrative.
Hoover comments on the years prior to the war:
- A century and a half of encroachment of foreign powers on the sovereignty of China
- The infiltration of Russian Communists beginning in 1920
- The annexation of parts of North China by the Japanese in 1905
However, Hoover counts as the largest betrayal that which came at Yalta, where Roosevelt secretly agreed to various concessions to Stalin at the expense of Chiang Kai-shek. At the time, of course, Chiang Kai-shek was in two fights – one against the Japanese and another against the communists led by Mao Tse-tung.
To the extent that the United States made Europe safe for Stalin with its entry into the war, it did no less with this conclusion for Chiang’s China. What was the point of fighting Japan if the end result was to be to hand over much of what Japan had conquered to the communists? According to Hoover:
…it was an abandonment of the justification for our quarrel with Japan. After the burial of a multitude of American boys and vast treasure, instead of restoring Manchuria to China we, in fact, gave it to Russia.
Hoover himself recognizes that Chiang was no saint – that the United States didn’t befriend China or defend China because Chiang represented liberal democracy in the finest western tradition. In an appendix to the book, the editor includes various writings of Hoover’s not elsewhere incorporated in the magnum opus. One of these, written in February, 1942 is entitled “Going to War With the Yellow Races”, and includes the following:
It was never America’s business to dictate the government of Asia….
The first step in that course was the demagogic claim that Chiang Kai-Shek’s government in China was a “democracy” fighting for “democracy” in Asia. That we must support our brother democracy against military dictatorship. That was never true in the remotest light. Chiang Kai-Shek was the war lord leader of a military oligarchy based upon a secret society, the Kao Ming Ting. There was never an election in China; there was never a representative government in any Western concept. There was never the remotest “freedom” of the Western variety.
In other words, Hoover recognizes that going to war against Japan (including blockades and sanctions) to save a democratic China was a false justification, as there was no such thing as a democratic China.
When the secrets of Yalta were finally revealed, one year after the conference, there were those who spoke out in indignation. For example, from the New York World Telegram of February 12, 1946:
If there was ever a more sordid deal by the United States than the needless bribery of Russia to enter the Jap war, we can’t recall it.
In giving the Kuriles and South Sakhalin to Russia, it violated the first and second pledges of the Atlantic Charter against territorial aggrandizement….
Besides giving Russia the Jap territory, the pact invaded the rights of our Chinese ally….
The deal was stupid because no bribe was needed…. We could lick Japan without her help – and…did anyway.
Stalin, meanwhile, played his role to perfection; claiming indifference regarding the Mao communists and full support for Chiang Kai-shek. According to Ambassador Hurley, after a meeting with Stalin:
He spoke favorably of Chiang Kai-shek and said that while there had been corruption among certain officials of the National Government of China, he knew that Chiang Kai-shek was ‘selfless’, a ‘patriot’ and that the Soviet in times past befriended him….
…we would have his complete support…with full recognition of the National Government under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek….
The utter foolery of Stalin’s and Molotov’s statements to Ambassador Hurley was made clear by George Kennan, our able Charge d’Affaires in Moscow, who sent a cable to Ambassador Harriman on April 23:
…it caused me some concern to see this report [of Hurley] go forward.
…I am persuaded that in the future Soviet policy respecting China will continue to be what it has been…the achievement of maximum power with minimum responsibility….
Three months later Ambassador Hurley woke up. He now reported:
We are convinced that the influence of the Soviet will control the action of the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese Communists do not believe that Stalin has agreed or will agree to support the National Government of China under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek. The Chinese Communists still fully expect the Soviet to support the Chinese Communists against the National Government….
In the closing months of the war, Chiang was fully dependent on the United States in his battles against Japan. For this reason, he agreed to the wishes of the U.S. administration for various meetings and negotiations with the Soviets to resolve details regarding the issues that the United States already gave away at Yalta. Chiang saw little alternative other than to agree to some form of terms with Stalin. As Stalin was quite adept at understanding the nature of the relationships involved, needless to say the Russians were in no mood to compromise.
After the surrender of Japan, the United States Administration all but washed its hands of Chiang. On every opportunity, the administration suggested to Chiang to return to the bargaining table with the Russians or with the Chinese Communists – even threatening a withdrawal of support if Chiang did not agree to a governing coalition with the Communists. In any case, little material support was provided by the United States to China once Japan finally surrendered.
Meanwhile, Stalin allowed Mao to keep the arms captured from surrendering Japanese soldiers. Assets received by the Russians from Lend-Lease that were no longer needed were also turned over to the Chinese Communists.
The Americans continued to try to get Mao and Chiang to negotiate directly. However, Mao knew the score – that the momentum and support of the Russians would carry him to military victory. Such negotiations proved fruitless, as one could imagine.
Hoover goes on to list a dozen high level Administration and State Department employees responsible for this pressure on Chiang and the Chinese Nationalists – from Roosevelt on down. However, he fails to identify Truman, despite much of this pressure coming after Truman became President.
…I do not believe that President Truman could have possibly been informed of the full situation in respect to China either politically or militarily.
Truman certainly knew enough about Asia to drop two bombs on the Japanese. Truman certainly knew that Chiang was a Nationalist, while Mao and Stalin were Communists. Truman was not so ignorant not to know which side Stalin would support. The conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists went on for four years after the end of the war – surely Truman would have figured something out in this time!
An honest assessment by Hoover would not leave Truman blameless. Hoover recounts dozens of meetings, statements, and events post Truman’s inauguration that were all designed to place Chiang into a corner. Hoover identifies personal letters from Chiang to Truman, outlining the dire conditions that U.S. diplomacy is forcing the Nationalists into. Hoover identifies replies by Truman to Chiang, with further threats if the Nationalists do not come to terms with the Communists.
To claim Truman was not fully informed is a major flaw for Hoover. Truman kept this tone toward the Nationalists for more than four years after the Japanese surrender. How much time should a President require to understand that the Communist Stalin would likely not play fair when it comes to a battle of Communist Chinese vs. Nationalist Chinese?
In a brief but captivating moment, the perceived folly typical of U.S. foreign policy is brought into full view. In January, 1947 Marshall was nominated to become Secretary of State. Marshall had previously spent time in China trying to resolve the issues between the warring factions there. During a Senate hearing regarding China, the following exchange occurred:
Secretary MARSHALL….our Government exercised its influence toward the establishment…of a people’s government which [would] include the Communist regime.
Senator KNOWLAND….We did not suggest to the Government of Greece that they make a settlement by taking Communists into a coalition government.
Secretary MARSHALL….No, I am quite certain that we did not.
According to General Wedemeyer, Secretary Marshall
…seems to have failed to appreciate the ambiguity of his policy when he recommended that $400,000,000 be given to Greece to keep the Communists out of power, while continuing to deny military or economic aid to our Chinese ally unless and until Chiang Kai-shek should agree to take the Communists in.
For China’s Nationalists, as was true for Poland, their fate was sealed long before the decisions made at the conclusion of the war. In both cases promises were made, principals were established, lines were drawn in the sand. It seems that in both cases this was done only to create cause for U.S. entry into the war. Additionally, in both cases the most obvious victor ended up being Stalin and the Communists.
With the abandonment of Chiang, eventually the Communists were victorious in China. This led to Korea, and exposed what I believe to be the true objective and victor in this Second World War: the creation of a nebulous and perpetual enemy, for the purpose of continuous war for continuous state growth and the foundations (if not, in fact, the achievement) of a true world government – the United Nations, World Bank, and IMF were all born from this. The U.S. dollar was established as the world’s currency at Bretton Woods.
A perpetual enemy of Communism was created – an “idea” became the enemy – for the health of the state. This “enemy” lasted for 45 years, until 1991. Lather, rinse repeat. The U.S government has employed the same play book with a new enemy, another “idea” - an even more nebulous enemy, with even less possibility for the west to “win” via force. Fortunately, the laws of economics seem to indicate that this “war” cannot last for the same length of time.