THE CHINA MISSION by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan


George Marshall's Unfinished War, 1945-1947
Email this review


A comprehensive history of one of the United States government’s greatest diplomatic failures, presided over by one of the country’s greatest diplomats.

In December 1945, with China dissolving into civil war between Mao Zedong’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, President Harry Truman sent retired Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall (1880-1959) to fix matters. Unfortunately, his efforts failed miserably, and “many Americans would give Marshall and his mission a bitter share of the blame” for “losing” China, writes journalist Kurtz-Phelan, executive editor of Foreign Affairs, in this astute and surprisingly entertaining account. Everyone believed that if anyone could succeed, it was Marshall, who had overseen the largest military expansion in U.S. history, emerging from World War II as perhaps America’s most admired public figure. Most experts knew that Chiang’s government was a mess, but no one wanted American troops to become involved. Furthermore, “regime change” did not become the preferred policy for another 60 years, so the administration hoped to persuade Chiang's to reform and the Communists' to join a coalition government. To universal amazement, within weeks of arriving, Marshall achieved a cease-fire, followed by Chiang agreeing to end one-party rule and the Communists agreeing to dissolve their army and integrate troops into a national military force. Then progress stopped. Chiang and his party refused to share power. At first, Stalin supported Marshall because he believed the Communists would lose a civil war. As East-West hostility grew throughout 1946, he changed his mind. Although Marshall remained for another frustrating year, on his departure in January 1947, civil war was underway. A superb researcher, Kurtz-Phelan ably narrates an exasperating story featuring a genuinely peerless hero doing his best in a no-win situation.

The definitive history of a failure from which the U.S. seemingly learned nothing (civil war in Vietnam was already heating up).

Pub Date: April 10th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-393-24095-5
Page count: 484pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2018


NonfictionCHINA 1945 by Richard Bernstein
by Richard Bernstein
NonfictionTHE TRAGEDY OF LIBERATION by Frank Dikötter
by Frank Dikötter
NonfictionGEORGE MARSHALL by Debi Unger
by Debi Unger