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 China.
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:
“I 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.
2. What 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.
3. 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).