Archive for July, 2008

The Vietnam War in Global Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2008 by John Murnane

The Cold War lens distorted American and Soviet views of history. Here is an example:

Puppets and History?



DBQ Rubric

Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2008 by John Murnane

US-China Relations

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2008 by John Murnane

China and the United States: On a Collision Course? 


Jesse Zaitchik 

A cursory view of historical and current events might lead one to believe that the future of U.S.- China relations is rosy. A more critical, and informed view of these same facts, however, might lead an astute observer of U.S.- China relations to have a more pessimistic view of the future. The U.S and China have always had differences in their philosophical views and foreign policy, and they no longer have the common enemy of the USSR. Also, the Chinese economy is growing faster then any other, causing them to be less reliant on their economic connection with the U.S. Since President Nixon opened the door for renewed U.S.-China diplomacy, Americans have assumed that virtually all is well between the two countries. We assumed that Chinese needed us so much that they would never risk severing ties with the U.S. There are signs that we have misread Chinese intentions historically, are turning a blind eye to current signs of trouble, and will pay in the future for our naivete.

For centuries, China was the most powerful nation in the Far East. Long before Europeans made contact with China, China was the predominant economic and cultural power in the region. Before the late 1700’s, China had little contact with the West. As European nations pushed for more trade, China resisted the impact of foreigners, both culturally and economically. Because of China’s great natural resources, Western merchants and diplomats pressed the issue and tried to open trade. They realized that the only way that they could succeed in fully opening potential markets was to work at changing traditional Chinese trade laws and customs. It was not until the international narcotics trade flourished that the impediments to trade between the West and China diminished. The Opium War signaled an end to Chinese isolationism, as the British forced open Chinese markets to trade. What is equally important, however, is that the Treaty of Nanking (1842) and several subsequent treaties, were viewed as disgraceful by the Chinese. The Treaty of Nanking, which gave the British the island of Hong Kong as a colony and forced the Chinese to open five “treaty ports” for trade which became foreign settlements, brought closure to the Opium War. It was a treaty that clearly benefited Britain at the expense of the Chinese. According to the Chinese, it served as the beginning of a 100-year period of “unequal treaties” or the “century of dishonor.”

The Treaty of Wangshia, formed in 1844, is an example of a subsequent “unequal” treaty. Following China’s defeat in the Opium War, China was too weak to handle other western demands. The U.S. took advantage of the weakness of China by demanding that it should receive the same trading rights as the British and also that they should receive any privileges granted to other countries in the future. This granted the U.S. “favored nation status.” China referred to this demand of the U.S. as “jackal diplomacy,” expressing its belief that the U.S. was acting like a jackal, which feeds on the carrion after another animal makes a kill.

Another concession forced upon China by the West was that it must allow Christian missionaries to “spread the gospel.” Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries fought a “holy war’ against the “pagan” (i.e., non-Christian) religions of China. Eventually, Christianity seemed to be just another form of imperialism to many Chinese. In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion began. The Boxers were a “secret society” which encouraged attacks on foreign diplomats, missionaries and merchants. In June 1900, they killed the German Minister and then laid siege to a foreign settlement in Beijing. The Chinese government did not aid them and they were eventually squashed by an international army that included American Marines. Although the Boxers were a small group, their rebellion led to even greater sanctions by the west on China. China had to pay money and had to allow more foreign troops to be stationed on its soil. In the years leading up to World War I, then, a clear pattern of western imperialism and belittling of Chinese culture had emerged.

World War I caused a period of disarray, not only in Europe, but also in the Far East. China had to deal with its own internal struggles as well as resisting Japanese attempts to increase its imperialism in China. When Yuan Shih-k’ai died in 1916, it created a tremendous internal conflict. His death led to the collapse of the central government in China. The “warlords,” regional militarists, took over the provinces with their private armies. The “warlords,” however, were only concerned with their own interests. They taxed heavily and even received bribes from foreign countries. Simultaneously, the Chinese were fighting off the Japanese. The U.S. sided with the Chinese to help remove Japanese influence from China and prevent them from increasing its imperialism. Although, the two countries were allies during the war, it was after the war when Wilson formed the League of Nations that there was hope for the Chinese that the U.S. policy of imperialism would change. The League of Nations was formed on the premise that open economic competition would end the need for war and imperialism. Theoretically, Wilson believed that this “open door” policy would be good both for the West, which would continue to prosper, and to the developing countries who could improve their economies by selling goods on the open market. China’s hopes were dashed, however, when Wilson agreed to allow Japan into the League of Nations and he conceded control of Shantung province to them. China felt betrayed by this agreement, and it was in 1919 that the May 4th Movement began. This was a group of students who protested the U.S. Japan agreement. The May 4th Movement was the first anti-imperialist movement in modern China.

Shortly after the Russian Revolution, Chinese Communism began to take hold. China was clearly a country ripe for such ideas, and a growing Communist influence was growing. Chiang Kai-shek, however, was an ardent anti-Communist and he managed to take control of the government by 1925. He did not receive much aid or support from the U.S. at this time and, in fact, was initially supported by the Soviets. At the same time, Japan had been rising as a major power in the region since the end of the 18th century. By the late 1920’s, Japan was beginning to impose its will regarding Chinese politics. In 1931, the Japanese drove the Chinese out of the provinces in northeast China. The U.S., deep in an economic depression, did nothing. Until 1938, the U.S. would do nothing to help China except express its regret.

As World War II loomed, however, it became clear to the U.S. that it was in their interest to support Chiang and the Chinese in their struggle against Japan, who was allied with Germany and Italy. In 1937, Roosevelt finally went public with the U.S. position that it was important that China hold off Japanese aggression. The U.S. went all out to support Chiang, but did so in exchange for Chiang’s allegiance to the U.S. Chiang was still coping with internal struggles against the Communists. By 1944, Roosevelt knew he had to bring unity between the factions within China so that unified China could fight off Japan. He hoped that this unity would last after the war and that a Chinese Civil War could be avoided. U.S. support of Chiang, however, would not be forgotten by the Chinese Communists.

By the time of the “Cultural Revolution” and the victory of Mao over Chaing, almost two hundred years of history had made it nearly inevitable that the U.S. would be demonized. From President Tyler to President Truman, from the Treaty of Nanking to the Yalta Conference, the U.S. had only supported China when it was in its self-interest. U.S. imperialism had given way to U.S. leverage to use China against Japan, but China was never treated as an equal partner. After the Cultural Revolution, China again isolated itself and Mao did whatever he could to violently erase all the vestiges of Western imperialism and influence. The U.S. and China would not reestablish any diplomatic or economic relations until Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

However, much was occurring in the world during this time that had an impact in the short-term and long-term relationship between the two countries. After World War II, it became clearer to American politicians and to the American people that we had “lost” China. In August, 1949, the Truman administration issued the “China White Paper,” which presented the view that Chiang had brought defeat upon himself due to incompetence and corruption. A “Cover Letter” attached to the report (written by Dean Acheson, Secretary of State) ironically denounced the Chinese Communists for abandoning their “Chinese heritage” by announcing their “subservience to a foreign power, Russia.” Although it was true that Mao had said that he favored socialism over imperialism, the Cover Letter did not note that China had been, in essence, subservient to the West for over a century. Also, the U.S. made overtures to Japan hoping that they could turn Japan into a pro-American base in the Far East. Mao called the American policy toward China a “fraud” and in 1950 he signed a Friendship Treaty with Joseph Stalin and Russia. Although many American citizens were shocked by the reversal of fortune in China (thinking that China wanted to move toward a more Western style of life), the Chinese reaction to the “hypocrisy” of the U.S. policies toward China should not have been a surprise. By the end of 1950, the U.S. and China would be at war in Korea. In the Korean Conflict, the U.S. went to war to protect its interests in South Korea, Nationalist China, and French Indochina. Americans were told to be frightened of Communism, both overseas and at home. Senator Joseph McCarthy began his notorious attack on Communism in the U.S. by “rooting out” Communists who worked for the U.S. State Department. As the “Red Scare” escalated at home, so too did the conflict over Korea. Even after the end of the conflict, the Eisenhower administration chose to keep tensions high with China. His administration continued to provide support to Chiang and Taiwan and it started SEATO, a group of anti-Communist countries that bordered China. The administration also maintained a trade embargo against China. Eisenhower hoped to isolate China from all Western contact and, therefore, rely on the Soviet Union for economic help. Eisenhower believed that Russia was not equipped to provide the kind of help that China needed and that China would eventually get frustrated and return to the U.S. for help. The U.S. continued this anti-China policy throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s with restrictions in travel to China, the training of anti-Chinese terrorists, and CIA-sponsored raids against China.

Despite the aggressive nature of U.S. policy toward China, the bond between

China and the Soviet Union showed more and more stress over time. It became clear that the Chinese model of Communism was very different than the Soviet version, and Mao did not like that fact that China was treated as a poor cousin by the Soviets. At the same time that Chinese-Soviet relations showed strain, the U.S. and the Soviets were improving their relations gradually. The U.S. and Russia were at least attempting to come to agreements about arms control and they began to work together to control the growth of Chinese nuclear capability. An undercurrent of mutual fear existed between the Soviets and China, in large part due to their proximity. By the time of John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963, his administration believed that the Chinese-Soviet “monolith” had split apart. Then came the War in Vietnam.When many factors indicated that the U.S. and China might begin a dialogue, the conflict in Vietnam erupted. The French had occupied Vietnam for over a decade when the U.S. began giving them aid. The Chinese were supporting the rebel troops of Ho Chi Minh. In 1954, the French troops lost a major battle to the rebels. The Geneva Conference of 1954 split Vietnam in half, giving the North to the Communists and the South to the pro-French Vietnamese. There were elections scheduled for 1956 that were supposed to unify the country once again, but Ho Chi Minh did not support this plan, who believed that he should control all of Vietnam. The U.S. was trying to strengthen an anti-Communist government in South Vietnam. The U.S. began to espouse the “domino theory” of Communism, which stated that Communism would move from one vulnerable spot to an adjacent one on the globe and gradually gain power.

Keeping Vietnam, then, became very important. American involvement grew over the 1950’s and by the time Kennedy became President in 1961, Americans began to go to Vietnam as “advisors.” Ho Chi Minh began to be seen as a villain by Americans and the U.S. eventually sent thousands of troops to save South Vietnam from Communism. President Johnson escalated American involvement at least in part because he believed that “the shadow of China” was looming over Asia.

It was very ironic that the President who finally opened the door to U.S.-China diplomacy was Richard Nixon. He had become famous as ardent anti-Communist and, later, he supported that war in Vietnam. But by the time he became President, he understood that the relationship with China was a complicated one and that it was important to include China in diplomatic debate in the future. By 1972, Nixon had decided to deescalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam and to reestablish diplomatic relations with China. The increasing tensions between China and Russia helped move China toward discussion with Nixon and the U.S. After twenty years of blatant hostility, the U.S. and China began talking again about “peaceful coexistence.”

Over the course of the next two decades, the U.S. and China became involved in several joint ventures and appeared to be well on the way to peaceful coexistence. Nixon’s goal of “normalized relationships” between China and the U.S. seemed attainable. The illusion of shared values and goals was created because over most of these years the U.S. and China needed each other for various reasons. China needed the U.S. in order to improve its economy, to provide needed technology, and to buffer tensions with Russia. The U.S. was well aware of the huge potential market that China represented and also welcomed an ally (albeit a Communist one) against the Soviets on many issues.

It may be naive, however, to only look at the past twenty years of relatively stable and friendly relations to come to the conclusion that the U.S. and China will avoid major conflict. Over recent years there is evidence that many of the same tensions and differences between the two countries have never truly disappeared.

After China took over Hong Kong in 1996 they began to replace the democratically elected legislature with one that they have appointed. Also, China gave the police the power to ban demonstrations and they suspended several labor laws. China made it abundantly clear that they wanted to gain control of Taiwan, as well, and made inroads in Taiwan’s economy. China has given support to several enemies of the U.S. in recent years, including Iran, Sudan, and Nigeria. China has developed its nuclear arsenal over the past decades. Chinese officials have made statements that reflect the belief that the U.S. is the “enemy” of the Chinese people. By these actions, China has demonstrated that their goals and values do not reflect the goals and values of the U.S. As shown, the U.S. has already been engaged in three armed conflicts in order to prevent any domination of Asia by a superpower.

The U.S. has historically misread the intentions and aspirations of China. At times, the U.S. has wrongly believed that China wished to become Westernized and at other times the U.S. has overreacted to Chinese policy because of its phobia about Communism. It appears that the U.S. is currently misreading signs that China has divergent goals from its own. One would hope that as China makes aggressive economic and military moves in the region, the U.S. will not be blind to the potential for future political and military conflict