All nations live by myths. That is, they paint a picture of the past that satisfies their present needs but does violence to the historic record. Some myths are beneficial. They are those that strengthen a nation's confidence in having been, and being, able to do what the tasks of the moment demand of it. The distorting remembrance of great feats, tribulations, and successes is of this kind.
Other myths are pernicious. They draw from a distorted reality lessons for the understanding of the past and the charting of future action which please collective emotions but lead judgment and action astray. They are a spell which the past casts upon the future, a curse with which the dead threaten the living.
The myth of Algeria being an integral part of France was of this pernicious kind. It impressed upon the French mind a wrong conception of reality and corrupted judgment and action. It not only made France pursue disastrous policies in Algeria, but it also afflicted the body politic of France with a seemingly incurable disease. It required the authority, courage, ability, and insight of a great man to restore reality to its rightful place. That man has performed similar operations on French parliamentarism and the Atlantic Alliance. Thus he has been hailed in France as the great "demythologizer," who has made the French to see reality again.
What most of us think about our relations with China partakes of the quality of myth, and it is indeed a pernicious myth. It meets our emotional needs but not the requirements of right judgment and correct action. The communization of China has indeed been the greatest single defeat the foreign policy of the United States has suffered. Yet the very expression, "we have lost China," points to the mythological element in our explanation of the event; for one can lose only what one possesses as one's own, and if one loses what is one's cherished possession the loss must be due to negligence or foul play.
The "loss of China" has been for our collective ego a truly traumatic experience, bringing forth neurotic and psychotic symptoms and calling to mind the story about the distinction between the neurotic and the psychotic: The psychotic believes that two and two make five, the neurotic knows that two and two make four but is unhappy about it. As far as China is concerned, the American people have split into a neurotic and a psychotic party. Only a small and almost inaudible minority has dared to