The Man Who Planned The Victory

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My wartime experiences with the Communists, including my personal acquaintance with Mao and Chou En-lai, who had occasionally been my guests in Chungking, had convinced me that these men were not simple “agrarian reformers.” They were thoroughly imbued with Marxist-Leninist ideology and committed to revolution. They would accept coalition as a step toward absolute power but had no intention whatsoever of sharing power in a liberal democratic state. The Nationalists knew this and had no intention of voluntarily relinquishing power to their mortal enemies. Hopes for a foreseeable solution to the war through coalition therefore seemed to me an unrealistic basis for U.S. policy.

Events of the months following Japan’s surrender confirmed these views. With the collapse of Japanese authority in Manchuria and North China, a scramble ensued to fill the vacuum. The Soviet Union—which had joined in the war against Japan in its closing days—rushed into Manchuria to assert the rights it had been granted (at China’s expense) by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at the Yalta Conference. It soon became clear that the Soviets were throwing their unequivocal support to the Chinese Communists in violation of their recent treaty agreements with Chiang. Within the limits of my authority and available resources, I continued to aid the Nationalist government in disarming the Japanese and in moving Nationalist forces up to facilitate the generalissimo’s reassertion of control over north and east China.

And this was the point at which your old boss, General Marshall, came out to China to negotiate a coalition of the Nationalists and Communists?

My meetings with Mao and Chou En-lai convinced me they were not simple “agrarian reformers.”

I met General Marshall at the airport in Shanghai in December 1945. He showed me his directive from the President, and I expressed the view that the job he had been given could not be done. I explained that the Nationalists had most of the power in China and were not prepared to relinquish one iota of it. The Communists, with the strong support of Moscow, were determined to seize power and were not prepared to compromise in any way.

How did General Marshall react?

For the first time in our long relationship, he seemed displeased. “Well,” he replied, “it will work, Wedemeyer, and you are going to help me.” I was taken aback. I emphasized that I was prepared to do everything in my power to help him, as I always had, and had already made two of my best staff officers available for that purpose. The general had always encouraged me to speak up and to give him my full and honest views. But now it appeared that the rules had changed.

In spite of this strain in your relationship, General Marshall nonetheless suggested—later on —that you be made U.S. Ambassador to China.

That was in the spring of 1946, when the general was hard at work in China on his mission of engineering the coalition. I had come home in April to have some surgery done, and he recommended to Washington that I return to China to replace Ambassador Patrick Hurley, who had resigned. General Marshall changed his mind on that, however, when news of the proposed appointment leaked and the Chinese Communists voiced loud objections on the ground that I would not be impartial as between them and the Nationalists.

You did not go back to China then, in 1946. But you did return in 1947?

Yes, and much water had gone over the dam in the meantime. General Marshall had returned to the United States late in 1946, frustrated in his efforts to bring the warring factions together, and reportedly feeling “a plague on both their houses.” U.S. aid to the Nationalists had dwindled, even as we pressured them to negotiate. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, continued to give open and unreserved support to the Chinese Communists. General Marshall became Secretary of State in January of 1947—and, incidentally, renewed the suggestion that I return to China as ambassador, which I declined. As the months wore on, China policy became an increasingly sharp issue in American politics. It was in these circumstances that I was asked —in July of 1947—to return to the Far East as a special representative of President Truman and to take a fresh look at the situation.

Were there any hopeful signs?

There was little cause for optimism. The situation had deteriorated drastically in China during the previous year. The Communists had gained strength, the morale of the Nationalist government had plummeted, the economy was a shambles. It seemed quite clear that, without substantial aid, the Nationalist government would have no chance of holding out indefinitely. It was questionable, however, whether any aid we might have decided to send them at that late date could be delivered, assimilated, and used.

So what did you recommend that the United States do?

In brief, I recommended in my report to the President that the United States commit itself at once to a program of selective economic and military aid to the Nationalist government. To prevent the Soviet Union from consolidating a permanent grip over Manchuria, I also recommended that we urge the United Nations, in accordance with the charter, to establish a five-power trusteeship over that area.