Courtesy Reuters

Who Lost Patagonia? Foreign Policy in the 1980 Campaign

Thirty years ago this October the United States "lost" China. When Mao Zedong and his followers came to power, the new regime seemed to represent not only communist control of the largest single country in the world but the embryonic formation of a massive Sino-Soviet bloc, cemented by the treaty signed in Moscow in February 1950. And almost at once there followed the Soviet-backed North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950. American ground forces were nearly thrown off the peninsula, recovered dramatically, and then were hit on their way to the Yalu by the massed forces of China, which inflicted the worst single defeat in American military history and, with the North Koreans, were only driven back to the area of the original 38th parallel boundary in bloody fighting that went on until the armistice of July 1953.

The internal political debate that accompanied these events soon took the nastiest possible form. Republicans charged that Democratic administrations, in power continuously since 1933, had been directly responsible for the communist victory in China and for the Korean War. President Truman and Secretary of State Acheson became, in the words of a Congressman just turned Senator named Richard Nixon, the professors at a "college of cowardly Communist containment," a cry taken up by many other Republican Senators led by William Knowland and supported by Robert Taft. And, in fairly short order, these leaders condoned (or more) the accusations of still another Republican, Senator Joseph McCarthy, that the "loss of China" was due to the disloyalty of key individuals who had participated in policy decisions regarding China and to the toleration (or worse) of top officials for such individuals. The depredations of the Senator persisted for nearly five years, from early 1950 to late 1954, attaching his name to an era in American politics.

The story remains vivid both to those who lived through it and to later generations. Almost all historians-not to mention recent writers on their own experiences-have joined in condemning what happened at that time

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