A FORCE SO SWIFT by Kevin Peraino


Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949
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A study of the Communist victory in China in 1949 and the American role in the events leading to that triumph.

The McCarthyites who charged that Harry Truman gave China to Mao Zedong’s Communist regime had a point, at least of sorts. By former Newsweek senior writer and bureau chief Peraino’s (Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power, 2013) solid, if not groundbreaking, account, the Truman administration was simply outmaneuvered at several critical turns, with Mao and his lieutenants exploiting divisions among the Western powers. “The American interest in China was slightly amorphous, owing more to spiritual concerns than to material ones,” writes the author, whereas the interests of Great Britain were decidedly material. While Winston Churchill advocated building a Pacific pact to shore up China’s Asian neighbors, some elements within the Truman administration were in favor of direct intervention, even as Dean Acheson and other officials in the State Department shared Churchill’s stance. The U.S. was also seriously played by Madame Chiang, the jet-setter wife of Chiang Kai-shek, who instructed her to finagle $1 billion dollars per year to support his nationalist regime, soon to be exiled to Taiwan. Though the administration had plenty of misgivings about Chiang, “by publicly outlining his qualms about the Nationalist government, Truman would ensure its total collapse.” An inexperienced Cabinet did not help matters. Peraino competently navigates through a labyrinth of backroom deals and intrigues, and he is good at placing the China question in the larger context of the unfolding early Cold War and America’s fixation on communism, which served Chiang particularly well even as Truman’s representatives tried to steer him from making a fortress of his island refuge. In the end, writes the author, Mao’s diplomatic and military victories encouraged him to confront American forces in Korea, with reverberations that continue to sound today.

Provides useful context for the troubled, tangled history of U.S. dealings with China, a timely topic.

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-307-88723-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2017


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