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I never knew.

The Life of John Birch - Robert Welch

I saw this in a used bookstore and got it because I've heard the name, but have no idea who he was or what he did. I must admit that the name triggers a vague knee-jerk association with racism, because of the eponymous "John Birch Society" , which I must have heard somewhere, from somebody, is racist, although I recall no details about it now.


So I was thinking to myself, "What was this guy? Like in the KKK or something? Did he like burn crosses in the South?"


Turns out: no. He was a Baptist minister/missionary in China in the 1920's and 30's. When war broke out against Japan in 1941, his language skills made him a valuable asset to the O.S.S. (Office of Special Services... the forerunner of the modern CIA).  He gathered a lot of intelligence about where Japanese occupation forces had weapons and supplies- which he passed on to Army Air Force intelligence to target. Among the Chinese- long oppressed by the Japanese in Manchuria- he became something of a folk hero. He earned a Bronze Star and Legion of Merit ribbon, which are pretty impressive decorations for somebody so young (he was 26 at the time).  General Claire Chennault personally named him to his staff, and called him the "single most valuable combatant in the China theater". It's all pretty positive. 


Then, just 10 days after the war, he was murdered by Chinese Communist forces. This was regarded in diplomatic circles as a "shot across the bow" on the part of Mao Tse Tung and his Peoples' Working Party- a message that the honeymoon between Chinese and Americans was over, now that the Japanese were defeated. That American military presence in China was no longer welcome.  More importantly, it was a message from Mao to Chinese citizens that collaboration and support of Americans from that point on was forbidden. Grounds for treason and execution, in fact.


The author is obviously quite taken with Jonn BIrch... maybe even "fawning" in parts, but I get the sense that whatever has been done in his name since, the actual guy John Birch sounds like he was pretty decent, and from what I can tell, not racist.


I hope this isn't going to be a "thing" in the comments section; I'm not defending whatever the John Birch Society did/didn't do (I don't know anything about them, really) and I'm tired of fighting on the internet.