For my write-up today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician, I'd like to use as my starting-point how Ambrose characterizes the Old Guard of the Republican Party, which was influential during Richard Nixon's time in Congress.
On page 230, Ambrose characterizes the
Old Guard's stance on foreign policy as follows: "the Old Guardsmen were
a strange breed of isolationists----they wanted to get out of Western
Europe, liberate Eastern Europe, and fight all out in Asia..." In
Ambrose's characterization, the Old Guardsmen were isolationists in
that they were critical of foreign interventionism and foreign aid
programs such as the Marshall Plan, and yet they desired a hawkish
policy in terms of addressing Communism in Asia, for they wanted for the
Korean War to be expanded into China. Moreover, they were
concerned about Communist infiltration into the U.S. Government, and
they thought that this had contributed to the Communist success in
According to Ambrose, Richard Nixon overlapped with the Old Guard on some things but not others.
Unlike the Old Guard, Nixon was a supporter of the Marshall Plan of economic aid to Europe. In
contrast to Old Guardsmen within the China Lobby (and General Douglas
MacArthur), Nixon supported Truman's policy of fighting Communism in
Europe rather than focusing in Asia: "Nixon was not advocating sending
more troops or tanks to Korea----he wanted to send more ships and
planes, with the troops and tanks going to Europe" (page 243). And yet,
like the Old Guard, Nixon supported a tough stance on Asia, for he
wanted the U.S. to allow Chiang Kaishek to attack Red China from Formosa
so as to divert China's attention from Korea, to use "strategic bombers
to destroy targets inside China", to pressure the British to cease
their selling of goods to China, and to "impose a naval blockade on Red
China" (page 241). At the same time, Nixon was open to the U.S.
withdrawing from the Korean War if the UN did not supply enough troops.
Nixon also overlapped with the Old Guard in his concern about Communist
infiltration into the U.S. Government.
In 1952, when Nixon became
Dwight Eisenhower's running mate, Nixon altered some of his stances.
First, Eisenhower disagreed with MacArthur's desire for complete victory
in Asia, and so Nixon said that it was too late to pursue that sort of
policy, with "truce talks already going on" (Ambrose on page 269).
Still, Nixon supported "bombing across the Yalu" if China failed
to agree to an armistice, as well as blockading Red China. Second,
instead of supporting containment of Communism, Nixon agreed with the
1952 Republican platform, which called for the liberation of Eastern
Europe, something that Ambrose said that the Old Guard wanted. Nixon
moved away and towards the Old Guard, depending on the issue.
I'd like to make three points.
1. Did all of the Old Guard support a hawkish foreign policy in Asia? According to this article,
conservative Republican Senator Robert Taft, often an isolationist, was
critical of sending U.S. troops to fight Communists in Asia, saying:
have never felt that we should send American soldiers to the Continent
of Asia, which, of course, included China proper and Indo-China, simply
because we are so outnumbered in fighting a land war on the Continent of
Asia that it would bring about complete exhaustion even if we were able
to win... So today, as since 1947 in Europe and 1950 in Asia, we are
really trying to arm the world against Communist Russia, or at least
furnish all the assistance which can be of use to them in opposing
Communism. Is this policy of uniting the free world against Communism
in time of peace going to be a practical long-term policy? I have always
been a skeptic on the subject of the military practicability of NATO.
... I have always felt that we should not attempt to fight Russia on the
ground on the Continent of Europe any more than we should attempt to
fight China on the Continent of Asia."
Nixon may have overlapped
with Taft's concern in that Nixon believed that the U.S. should withdraw
from Korea if the UN did not provide enough assistance, even though
Nixon was more hawkish than Taft and did not proceed in the direction of
isolationism. I wonder if Taft supported means to fight Communism in
Asia that did not entail sending U.S. troops, such as offering aid to
Chiang Kai-shek or anti-Communist nations.
exactly was the total victory in Asia that MacArthur and many
conservatives desired? Was it ending Communist rule in China, or simply making all of Korea a non-Communist nation?
On page 228, Ambrose says that conservative Republicans "wanted to do to Communist China what they had done to Nazi Germany and militarist Japan." If the conservative goal was to overthrow Communism in China, then I consider such a stance to be problematic, not because I'm
for Communism in China, but because my hunch is that such a goal would
have been unrealistic----we'd be biting off more than we could chew.
In my opinion, it's one thing to bomb across the Yalu River because
China was using that river to send supplies to North Korea (as MacArthur
proposed); it's another thing to attempt to take down Communist China
entirely. The former is just doing what it takes to win the Korean War,
whereas the latter is getting into a whole new ballgame.
It was interesting to read about the Truman Administration's
perspective on certain issues, especially since I grew up reading the
right-wing anti-Truman side. Why did Truman issue an executive
order banning the executive department from releasing "loyalty and
security files to congressional committees" (page 234)? Was it because
he had something to hide? Actually, Truman said it was because he
didn't want for HUAC to exploit any "rumors and unverified charges" that
those files contained (Ambrose on page 234). Why did George
Marshall question U.S. aid to Chiang Kaishek in China, whose regime was
being assaulted by the Communists? Was Marshall a traitor? Marshall's
problem was that he didn't think that Chiang was effectively using that
aid. As Nixon said, however, Truman supported aiding Greece in
its battle against Communism, even though the Greek government was
"weak, corrupt, and had an army that was not properly organized"
(Nixon's words, page 240).
Book Plunge: Science and Religion
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