tv Book Discussion John Birch CSPAN April 24, 2016 10:00pm-11:31pm EDT
birch who is a namesake of the john birch society. >> good afternoon everyone. we'd like to get started. my name is eric, i'm from george washington university and i'm the cochair of the seminar along with my colleague chris of the history and public policy program here at the woodrow wilson center. the washington history seminar, as many, many of you know, is a joint product of the woodrow wilson center and to the national history center. we've now been going for a good number of years. as we do every week, we like to thank the people who make it possible behind the scenes.
these other folks that make sure these sessions come off without a glitch. [applause]. indispensable to our success, as is a number of individuals and institutions. they have generously underwritten the seminar for a number of years now as have the george washington history department. this is essential for the programming, feel free to join their ranks should you see fit. after our session today, there will there will be a reception outside of these doors.
there are books for sale. i highly recommend that you pick one up and perhaps get a signature on it. with that, i will turn turn over the introduction of our speaker today to christian. >> thank you eric. it's good to be here. welcome everyone to this washington history seminar at the center. it's wonderful to have terry back. he is an alumnus of the wilson center and spent part of his work on the book here at the center. we are delighted today and welcome him back with the final product. let me just say by way of introduction, he is the interim director of the east asia program at syracuse university and a former vice president of the henry lewis foundation and that capacity has supported a tremendous amount of good work
all around the globe. he's a trustee and chair of the harvard institute, and also involved with u.s. china relations. he graduated from harvard college, served with the army in vietnam and holds phd degree from stanford university. his book has been reviewed in the new yorker and wall street journal and we are all very much looking forward to his presentation today on john birch, the life. >> thank you very much it is a special privilege to be here because as christian mentioned, this is where the project started. i really want to take this opportunity to not only thank you for being here but to express my heartfelt thanks to all of the staff of the wilson center, to christian for his
encouragement and support for this project and other work, to lee hamilton who was director when i was here as public policy fellow in 2010 and to bob hathaway who's here with us today, a former director of the asia program here at the center. i also want to express appreciation to bill brown who is the person who introduced me to chinese colleagues in the city of shoe joe where john birch was laid to rest. more on that in a little bit later. it's a great privilege to be here today for a variety, for all of those reasons. when i started this project back in 2010, i had no idea who john birch was, like most americans. his name to me was synonymous with right wing anti-communist politics in the united states.
and i was a kid growing up in michigan, there was a satire of the birch society and a trio, if you remember that and there was a line that said we only help the hero from we got our name. he's our hero even though were not sure what he did. [laughter] that may be kind of curious about who he really was, but never curious enough to actually dig into it and find out. lo and behold, when i read and stumbled upon the information that he had been a missionary and a military intelligence officer in china, i was really quite astounded and quite curious. one of my first trips was up to the national archives in college
park and there was a thick oss file that had been declassified on the death of john birch. a lot of interesting new information on that and i'll talk about it a little bit later but it made me that much more curious. then the question was could i really bring john birch to life and explain who he was? i was fortunate to be able to meet three of his brothers who are still alive. it was a large family and they were very generous in sharing their letters and memories and photographs. i found materials in a variety of archives. i can say more about that later. let me provide just a little bit more context for the society which was established, i should explain this membership card features john birch on the left and robert welch, the founder the founder of the society, on the right. the slogan for the society was less government, more responsibility.
with god's help, a better world. robert welch was a business executive for a candy company out of boston. he was quite successful and able to retire at the age of 60. he decided to get involved in politics. he however had decided not to run for political office. he actually tried that around 1949, 1950 he ran for lieutenant governor of massachusetts. he didn't do that well. he decided to set up an advocacy group that was very popular and widespread at the grassroots level. his agenda was opposition to communism and big government. they are in a sense two sides of the same coin, if you will. if you were driving around the highways of the united states,
in the late 50s or early 60s, you might very well have noticed signs, billboards saying save a republic, impeach chief justice of justice of the supreme court. you would also see signs saying get the united states added the united nations. the birch society and robert welch represented and is good for strict constitutionalism, state rights and this is why they opposed, he defended himself saying he was not a racist but he felt it was up to the states to make decisions. opposition to social security, you may have some residents with
contemporary contemporary political rhetoric and there are scholars who draw a line. they see continuity between the birch society and the contemporary tea party not to mention the libertarian wing. it's interesting to note that fred coke, the founder of the coke brothers, he was one of the founding members of the birch society. he was on their national council the birch society was effective at the grassroots level, but it was, in 1961, when it was revealed that dwight i eisenhower, hero of world war ii, president of president of the united states had been accused by robert welch, he had had written what he called was a private letter to about 350 people expressing the opinion that eisenhower was a dedicated conscious agent of the communist conspiracy. [laughter]
he said eisenhower knowingly accepted and was abiding by communist orders, serving the communist conspiracy for all of his adult life. he went on for something like 350 pages to prove his thesis. needless to say, this is what led to the british society becoming so notorious. it became an explosive topic in the u.s. media, magazines, newspaper commentary and so forth. it also became subject of satire, the same group that sang about the birch society said in their song you can not trust your neighbor or next of kin. if your mommy is a commie you need to turn her in. keep in mind, of course, we are
still in the throes of the height of the cold war. the second crisis was august august 1958, castro is on the move in cuba and the soviet satellite was launched about a year earlier. there was a consensus of concern and anxiety, if not fear. this led a lot of americans who were respectable middle-class americans who could've been your neighbors, i had a student earlier today and said my grandfather was a member of the birch society. it was not uncommon. so there were many advocates for the birch birch society. the question i wanted to get to in my book was who was john birch. here we have robert welch pointing to his picture.
i wanted to try to understand why his name was used after his death posthumously. was he really a hero and a martyr rush mark was he an anti- communists? would john birch have been a member of the john birch society and what does all of this tell us about u.s. china relations? he was one of seven children. he was the eldest of seven children. he was born in india where his parents were missionaries for three years. he grew up in new jersey which was mother's home and moved to georgia when he was a teenager
which was his father's home. he graduated from mercer university, a baptist institution, in 1939. he was a bright young man at the head of his class, nominated to be a rhodes scholar candidate. but he is following in the footsteps of his parents and decided early on that he wanted to be a missionary. so many americans aspired to go to china as missionaries. it was the largest country that received missionaries of men and a significant amount of women and it loomed large in the emotional imagination of americans who aspired to do something great with their lives and who were looking for some kind of adventure. so birch had decided that he wanted to go to china and in order to accomplish this, he hooked up with an evangelical
preacher who was by the name of frank noris and decided, this picture he is the second from the left. he's graduating from a small libel institute in fort worth texas. the leader of this bible institute was a man named frank noris who was the billy graham of his age. very charismatic. noris had met john birch in georgia and had promised him he could send him to china. he was recruiting young men like birch to go to china. here is john birch on the right with oscar wells from the bible institute. they had just arrived in shanghai in 1940. looking looking at this photograph, you would never imagine that china had been at war for three years, from 1937
on and china was still a refuge at this point. it had not been attacked and occupied. that wouldn't happen until after december 1941. looking at this picture, you would imagine birch and oscar wells are just getting ready to go out for a picnic or to go out to the race course with their white shoes and white suits. the reality was quite different, as they soon learned. like many missionaries they were full of idealism. they were totally unprepared. they really didn't know what to expect. his job was as a fundamentalist, he was an independent baptist missionary to convert the chinese to christianity.
here he is, with the congregation in shanghai and to his credit, unlike a lot of foreign missionaries, he did not isolate himself. in fact, he didn't remain in shanghai for more than a few months after he studied chinese, the chinese language but he moved on to hung joe. he was independent, he was stubborn and dedicated to what he was doing. he was really quite courageous. as i mentioned, he started off in shanghai and move down to hung joe for about a year where
he taught at a boys school. then that area was occupied by the japanese at this time and he decided to strike out on his own with two or three chinese colleagues and go to the city beyond japanese lines. it was quite isolated from the rest of china. initially he did all right. subsequently, he wasn't getting enough to eat and was suffering from malaria. he was not getting any money from his mission at home and after pearl harbor, the deputies attack on pearl harbor in december 1941, he wrote, he wrote a letter to the military mission and volunteered for the u.s. army. he wrote a letter which i quote in full in the book and he said i'm willing to do anything.
his feeling was it was necessary to stop the japanese before he could return to his work as a missionary. he couldn't be effective in his mind and he could do more if he were to join the military in some capacity. while he was waiting for reply from the u.s. army, he was on a small river in the province and he was told by a chinese where he was eating lunch that there were some americans tied up in a small vote along the river down below. birch was skeptical. he said how could there possibly be americans in that vote down there? so he went down, he knocked knocked on the door of
the cabin of the vote and he said are there any americans in there. the door opened up and lo and behold there was none other than jimmy doolittle with his crew of men who had just bombed tokyo. this is the famous tokyo raid. the doolittle raiders in april 1942. birch was, he was the first white man that any of them had seen. because he spoke chinese and knew the territory, he asked birch if he would accompany them and help them out which he did for a few weeks. this was his introduction to the military and this was the transition from missionary life to military life. birch was helpful to doolittle and his men who, as you may know had launched be 25 bombers with
a total of 80 men from the uss sprint. about 500 miles east of tokyo. i think they bombed five or six different city in japan. nobody had ever launched a bomber from an aircraft carrier. this had never been done and nobody imagined it could be done but doolittle was fearless and he imagined how to do this. the problem was you couldn't land an airplane the size of a bomber on an aircraft carrier. it was one thing to launch it, so the plan was to fly from japan down to the province. there is a miscommunication and they arrived in the middle of the night in a rainstorm instead
of the day as was scheduled. the chinese didn't know they were coming. they turned off the runway light thinking they were being attacked. so this was purchase introduction to the army. so robert walsh who founded the birch society claimed that john birch had single-handedly rescued doolittle and his men. he never would've made that claim, but this is one of the ways in which his name was misused and was inflated. birch then was in china and he was introduced to the army.
he quickly made the transition. in his mind there was no contradiction between his former life as an evangelist and joining the army. no need to reject or deny his past. he had rejected one passion for another. a battle against a different form of evil. a tierney that was temporal rather than spiritual. little did he imagine it was about to consume an entirely new identity, not as the preacher but as an intelligence officer. the famous commander of the tigers, who knew china quite well was in the process of setting up an intelligence
network and he recruited men like john birch to be field intelligence officers, to live and work in the countryside with chinese armies. people who could adapt to those conditions and knew the language and knew the territory and could eat chinese food, and he was the first of these intelligent officers recruited by chennault. he did this quite effectively, quite well. here is chennault decorating john birch with the legion of merit for exceptional service. he was quite close. people were drawn to john birch despite the fact that he was a hard line evangelical baptist,
those who knew him and met him in china were attracted to him. arthur hopkins has a pipe in his mouth in this photo and said john had an amazing grasp of the chinese language and understand the people. he was absolutely fearless, completely unselfish unselfish and never thinking of his personal and comfort or danger. i should add that it's clear from letters that burch wrote and from people who knew him that he matured during the course of the war. the circumstances of war lead young men and women to grow up very quickly. that's what happened to him. so he developed a more open view of the world and of other people
including the chinese. of the 25 gunner is shown on the right he wrote after the death, he was not a bigot. he was not a political person. while birch did not drink, smoke or sleep with women, he also did not self righteously criticize those who did. birch never had time for romance or for that matter, he didn't have much money. his family was quite poor and they faced a lot of hardship. they never had time for romance when he was in college or in fort worth. when he got to china, he decided it was time to settle down and get involved and meet somebody who he could marry and he was engaged to audrey nair shown here, the scottish nurse who
arrived with the british red cross in 1943 where birch was based with the radio intelligence team. he had a romance with the chinese america woman, martha ewing who worked with the 14th air force and he also had a very close relationship with marjorie tucker who was a nurse with el china association. on the left was a nurse and on the right, after it was occupied by the japanese in june of 44, she decided to join the u.s. army and served as a nurse. she was actually in the philippines at the end of the war. it took her, she wrote she was
much attracted to this young man with his devotion to china. to say nothing of his charm and appealing southern courtesy. >> birch worked with radio intelligence team and here he is and at this point he's a captain in the u.s. army. he coordinated bombing missions for u.s. pilots. he assisted, he and his men assisted u.s. pilots, he recruited and coordinated with chinese agents, intelligence agents, provided weather reports, gathered intelligence information and while he was not in combat, it was nonetheless risky and dangerous work, often close to or even behind enemy lines.
at the end of the war, the japanese where withdrawing their forces toward the north and birch moved from the south of china up to another area which really was behind japanese lines. in this area, keep in mind the forces were primarily in the southwest where they had to retreat or withdraw after fighting so long and hard with the japanese. the communists were forced up after the long march but their power increased through world war ii. so he is in contact with communist forces from time to
time and the policy of the united states government is a very pragmatic policy and that is to cooperate with communist forces if necessary when there is a good reason to do so. he didn't have any particular sympathy for the communists or their cause, nor did he have any sympathy for the nationalists. his loyalty really were with the chinese people. there was great relief on his part at the end of the war and here he is in the middle of the back row. he was ready to go home. he had been in china for five years. he had suffered from malaria, he had refused a 45 day leave to
were documents that the japanese had left behind to see what was going on. but on the way they're in the market town he runs and 28 attachment has orders to detain and disarm any intruders birch refuses to be disarmed she carries a 45 pistol on his hip they're not expecting trouble and birch says in chinese to the communist wiry trying to disarm the? denied a states of america has just won the war. i will not give you my weapon then tempers flare and he shot and killed.
>> the death of john birch cable as a shock to americans. those of the commanding officer received news a few days after a radio a telegram. and he was deeply concerned the death of an american soldier the three americans with him were taken by the communist attachment to make their way to the headquarters and and they were deeply concerned where they were shifty their policies.
what does this mean? and doesn't send a signal to the united states? the gesture doubt by coincidence that the chairman of the chinese communist party had arrived with the embassador william hurley. he was colorful indian and erratic and problematic but he arranged to fly on an american plane. this was his first trip on an airplane the first time in his life he was on an
airplane. you can see the quizzical look what to make of all of this. >> this is a digest of photo op and then with a compromise with the nationals nothing much came of it. with the very delicate point hoping to avoid civil war with those accommodations but taking advantage of his presence to be at the home of the ambassador
august 30, 1945. and he says to now that he is in formation of the death of an american officer and points to a map and he says that this is a very serious and grave incident. why was he there? he was sent there by be several weeks ago to obtained information about the japanese. i feel i can is and must send them to carry on a mission anyplace yes. pc to be caught by surprise we cannot say the chinese communist troops killed him or not but if this is true
they shot this american officer i extend my deepest apologies like assurances will not occur again debut did the leader i'd like insurance i cannot have americans killed by chinese communist i'm directed by the president of united states to use whatever force i required to protect american lives in china. you can see it as a very tense conversation the record of this is in the archives. mao is apologetic at the time that we learn from other sources that he was angry and felt humiliated the way he was lectured by a mao but at this onetime the united states position is
from neutrality which is impossible as they recognize the nationalist of the republic of china trying not to get enmeshed so niedermayer says touche mao it will not become involved in a civil war but those factions could settle their differences we have republicans than democratic party's lead to violent differences that do not resort to the force of arms. [laughter] we will see. attending a memorial service
for their son was done the right and was attended that her son had been shot on the railway and was killed as a result of stray bullets. that wasn't the full story of course, . and as they dug into the story to find out what actually happened she dkb increasingly skeptical and frustrated about the real issue was also a great because she felt she was denied recognition as the
cold war develops over the loss of china takes hold that her son deserved recognition or credit but that never happened she was open to the idea that her son was wrong to this leads us to the us senator from california as senate majority leader after the outbreak of the korean war he stands upon the floor of the senate and delivers the speech to breathe fresh life into the story of john birch.
so the story of a lone american officer said the nation could find out if they were enemies. it was one of the most significant indications in china. the senator when john to ask rhetorically if members of congress and misinformation through the end of the work is there any person here with a subsequent activity from the state department to force of coalition between
the government of the republic of china from the man who shot john birch capt. in cold blood. he was willing to sacrifice to test the confidence to pretended to be cooperating with the united states. so this is a rewriting of history. it would have been different if only the truth was revealed that the time. he gave a speech in september a couple of months before the chinese enter the korean conflict but the
chinese communist and general and he gave so many speeches and it wasn't robert welch but because he read a speech in the congressional record it was in the congressional record three years later he read this speech today get much attention americans were dying by the hundreds they didn't get much attention a
lone american officer what would that signify? but then he would latch onto that. he went to make in georgia to visit with his parents he believed their son was a great pair attrit -- page read and compared him to david hale. and said he would bring the recognition to their son that he deserved despite the u.s. government had refused to give him a purple heart because the u.s. was not at war he never met birch and
then to hold the portrait we're open to this proposition russell cave welch material she was collected for her own biography he wrote his own political platform there are no footnotes or no documentation. welch calls and a heroic young patriot who recognize is the dangers they he said said death was deliberate and unjustified killing that he sacrificed his life as a warning to others about the true intentions of the communist so to establish
the john birch society in 1958 to become one of the most influential and controversial organizations of this time the platform was anti-communism welch had decided that john birch was the ideal symbol for his new movement founded date 1958 that birch represented the epitome of those values he was a missionary and up military officer and was described as the first casualty the first victim at
the hands but equally important is the idea that there was a conspiracy to cover up the death of john birch. and was not released until 1972 as a result of a freedom of information request robert welch realized it was that geopolitical context that gave the greater significance he headnote governments ordinations so with a crossroads of civilization with one and of darkness in toward greater
freedom and more enlightenment the battle lines are drawn if perchance sacrifice his life in another country with greece and india would have mattered to view the event with much more read the because it was so disorienting that china's rejection represented a profound failure of u.s. leadership played the treatment administration to appeasement and even trees and huge transform a foreign policy problem into a potent
discussion and question and answers but please wait for the microphone to reach you please identify yourself so that everyone can hear you and i was the vice counsel and my question concerns the chinese sources that surely given the high profile of pollen him their best offensive kind of investigation? >> yes. in response to this the chinese did investigate the commander of the military
forces gave a report based on the information the country this report said that burch was responsible for his own death the he had pulled his weapon and had threatened the deal will communist commander and that communists had retaliated self-defense. it is hard to imagine because they lost his temper in you disagree so it does come to the conclusion that he did bear some responsibility and was provocative but nevertheless
it was classified as a murder but no justification and i did try to get into some archives archives and china have been much more restrictive for the chinese as well so i couldn't obtain any further information but so a as a result of this incident with the chinese, this party to decayed and disarm specifically to treat them very carefully.
and then to risk another incident. in with those delicate policies of this time. >> i cannot wait to read the book. to track down how they got a hold of the story? those papers at the university of california berkeley and it turns out he was informed of the incident by william miller. is convinced he had done wrong to.
there should have been more attention given to his death in a sense that had not happened he wrote to nolan who could gain access that no one chose to interpret that as a revision of history. had we known we would have known better. >> since we're talking about archives with what kind of documents with access
conclusion he never would have joined. >> there was no other purpose. there was no connection in he was interested in religion and politics. >> i had a similar question about the sources of the archives and the society itself. what the cable of the society insignificance? >> does still exist you can go online. and talk about getting access to the archives
apparently they are available to members i did not take out a membership. [laughter] i don't know what the numbers are at the height of the birch society to pay their dues meeting on a regular basis. if i could use some extended quotations ballistic review my manuscript which i declined. and it was prolific and at the age of 17 attended the u.s. naval academy portieres
question. i am surprised about the difficulty to fine a publisher because it is an engaging story. from start to finish you do recover john birch very different from one that was appropriated and put to political use. that is my question is about to appropriate this figure of john birch to impress upon political service with the assistance of a mother. he may not have been one but mom was. [laughter] it to do his version of the biography.
us china connection with the largess of the imagination as a way points to evidence of conspiracy and why it is so often known it should have been called the of rock robert welch society not the john birch society and to establish the society he says to the group i will not talk much about john birch basically go read the biography and you will understand.
not listed. why isn't john birch on this sheet? she said you mean john birch? [laughter] i said yes. i don't know. thank you should investigate. she did. e-mail me back to weeks later to say i thank you are right. du want us to put john birch at the top of our list? [laughter] after all the first casualty of the cold war. i said that isn't my business. yes. you should put it in a form i sit idle the cameraperson you should talk to the family. this was two years ago i was there a couple weeks ago still not on the listed i
conservative issues to live a very different times the weighted birch society was treated at the time by william buckley. and with eisenhower being gay communist what is out of the conservative movement? the way the conservatives "national review" has said donald trump is not a real conservative. there is an interesting parallel.
debriefed and then they went to india. i am sure there were told what to talk about this incident it was too sensitive at the time. >> i remember driving across the country. if we could save a bit more about the society itself i would be interested instead of how large of a membership. massachusetts is now a blue states but it was a stronghold but what other parts of the country tend to be areas of interest? >> the epicenter for the birch society for the right wing political movement, the
defense industry was growing after world war ii. many people moving from the midwest and did not have the deep roots so southern california redaction took place but the majority of the membership was western states like texas but they were members in other parts of the country and now writing a book of the past her book is called wrapped in the flag and she describes how they organized meetings in their home to
start the meeting with the pledge of the allegiance to the flag and discuss articles in defense of the day. so really it was quite right -- widespread. there were two congressman that i could identify with was working california's riverside. birch did not believe in institutional politics and did not think it was a part of what he described as the insiders to be conspiratorial many of whom were communist. so he did believe the most
effective thing was to advocate at the grass-roots level to infiltrate to investigate the books of public libraries. >> i am a trade lawyer bayou mention the young man john birch run day involved with the committee of 1 million? did they get involved in any way to support the john birch society and this legend?
>> as you say to be very close to birch and mutual admiration society but as you also know to become a strong supporter of the nationalist of taiwan's he never joined the birch society largely because because read about the time the society was established in 1958 he came down with lung cancer. to take part in to be very active for many years with this so-called china lobby not a member of the birch society nor to the best of when knowledge did they talk
about birch. but to be on the advisory council he came to believe he had misused or misrepresented there was no cover-up. i don't want anything more to do with the birch society >>. >> talk about his memory and a religious context? what about baptista lay claim is the important figure to them? >> there was a biography in the early '80s by a conservative christian couple.
no footnotes or documentation. however there is virtually no connection between john bertrand the society. and to feel that he is an important person as a missionary to china i don't think there are a lot of people that do appreciate the history of a religious figure rather than a political symbol. >> i wonder if you have any sense have you talked to
contemporary chinese? if there is not so much different as their best interest to read discovered? to rewrite that? >> i was extremely curious of the details of the story but up to this point john birch for the john birch society is not surprising. waldegrave of mccarthy may be well known or pretty well known in china the name of the birch society did not reach that same level.
mccarthy was in political office to have a different kind of platform for robert welch. if the book were to become translated and published there would obviously be more interest is extremely interesting to note there is more information and in the archives. so while they follow american in politics at a distance they are quite concerned and interested with the oppression of african-americans and the evidence of of capitalism not to mention imperialism it wasn't that much.
but because the birch society was so heavily focused on the conspiracy within the united states they were not that interested in the threat from abroad. welch imagined conspiracies were everywhere he thought that kennedy administration with the bay of pigs what the actual purpose was to reinforce the power of castro and reinforce the communist regime. he had a way of dallas in wonderland the principle of reversal. everything was the opposite. with the vietnam war was fought as a distraction so
this bill neck as envisioned the future are this wonderful institution it is growing of how people view libraries in general. as they were readily available they don't have to be in washington d.c.. the town in a reservation the high-school student in st. louis missouri. and to view abraham lincoln papers from his home computer with dreams of performing of the
collection. that they could for a class assignment in this would help libraries across the country a small library of arkansas with the modest budget can help patrons access primary study said george washington's papers and to connect to the national book festival to see and hear their favorite authors. a library of congress that can balance its role at a time when libraries throughout the world with that resistance is question the library of congress should continue to be a leader. i am honored to be part of a legacy of my predecessors
and to be a part of a continuing movement to open the treasure chest of the library of congress. this can be done without threatening the core responsibilities for those of the copyright office to assist researchers who benefit from that. if confirmed it would be my privilege to join the decade -- dedicated staff of the library to insure the treasures are secured and treasured for many years to come. . .>> we are now joined by bob streisand are who has written this book, incarceration nation a journey to justice and prison around the world. in your book you write america is the world's largest-- largest jailer?