During World War II the United States fought with China against Japan. Americans felt great sympathy and friendship as they saw news reels of the terrible damage Japan’s army inflicted, read of General Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers courageous defense of the poorly equipped Chinese army, and listened to pleas for support from the American-educated wife of China’s leader, General Chiang Kai-shek.
During the war and for years after, if American children complained about meals, parents reminded them of the children starving in China. Told the war-torn country sat on the other side of the world, many of us too little to understand tried to dig our way to China.
The end of WWII led not to peace and prosperity in China but to civil war. American attempts at mediation failed. So did the general we backed. Chiang Kai-shek and much of his army fled to the island of Taiwan in 1949. In October communist leader Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. He allied himself with the Soviet Union, our former ally and primary enemy.
Everyone said we had lost China. Who was to blame? Were they traitors? Accusations flew. Some of the wildest came from Senator Joseph McCarthy. He claimed the loss and even greater threats to our liberty came from communists hidden among our political and intellectual leaders. With plenty of help, he plunged the country into some of the most disgraceful days in American history, a witch hunt for communist sympathizers and the portrayal of anyone who had ever attended a communist meeting or read a communist publication as a traitor.
For several years false accusations, fiction presented as fact, and hysterical fear destroyed reputations and lives.
When we lost China, we lost a piece of our democratic selves.