America's Failure in China, 1941-50

By Tang Tsou | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII

DISENGAGEMENT
AND
CONTAINMENT
JANUARY, 1949
JUNE, 1950

A. The Moral Issues and the Practical Considerations

General Marshall left the thankless and perplexing task of disengagement from China to Dean G. Acheson, who became secretary of state on January 21, 1949. Acheson had served as undersecretary of state from August, 1945, to June, 1947, first under Byrnes and then under Marshall himself. He had been one of the chief contributors to the instructions given Marshall before the latter's departure to China.1 During Marshall's mission to China, he had been, by prearrangement between Truman and the General, the latter's representative, or to use Marshall's own words, "rear echelon," in Washington.2 To the hazardous task of disentanglement, Acheson brought his conviction of the correctness of Marshall's policy, his personal courage, and his diplomatic skill. But admitting the defeat of a policy would have been difficult for a nation under any circumstance. It was still more difficult when the policy had been surrounded by a cluster of myths3 and had remained the object of sentimental attachment, at least for a vociferous group of politicians. The difficulties were multiplied when many of the actions and omissions of the past could easily be distorted to serve a partisan purpose. It was difficult to see that for fifty years a nation had pursued a policy which was doomed to eventual failure by its inherent contradictions. But it was easy to attribute the responsibility for failure to individual officials. While it was embarrassing for critics of the administration to admit that at one time they shared the erroneous judgments of these

____________________
1
Herbert Feis, The China Tangle ( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1953), pp. 413-20.
2
Dean Acheson, Sketches From Life ( New York: Harper & Bros., 1959), pp. 149-54.
3
See chap. i, above.

-494-

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