A Gem – The China Mission: George C. Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-1947

Despite the heroic efforts of General George C. Marshall and President Truman at the end of World War II, China fell to Communist rule. Why?

This book, an Economist Best Book of 2018 and New York Times Book Review Editor’s Pick, gives us a close-up view of the protracted negotiations between the warring parties and the sacrifice, of a well-deserved rest, by Marshall to attempt a unity government between Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Tse Tung. We are treated to excellent character studies of Marshall, Chiang and Zhou En Lai . From this book we know how Marshall got on extremely well with Chiang and Zhou on a personal level . We also know that Marshall’s wife became very good friends with Madame Chiang nee Soong Mei Ling. Sadly, these good friendships at a personal level could not translate to a united China.

Phelan said he took 5 years to research and write this book. The end product is a detailed, but highly readable study of the ” failure” of George Marshall’s mission to forge a democratic government in China governed by Chiang and Mao.

There were many reasons. The communists and the nationalists each thought they could win a civil war. The Nationalists were corrupted by power. Truman and Marshall were unable to use US forces to assist Chiang. Phelan highlights the refusal of the American public to ” fight for political gains” after winning the 2nd World War. The parents and wives of the soldiers were clamouring for their return. { p 91 and 92}

This book focuses on Marshall. Perhaps, more light should also be shone on the efforts by Truman and Americans like Henry Luce.

I ended reading this book with full of admiration of Marshall. As he told his aide in Sep 1946 in Nanjing ” You know, whenever I get discouraged over the difficulties that I am having, I always think of the 450 million Chinese people who will suffer if I am unable to work something out.” { p 266}

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