Wednesday, May 15, 2019

China in WW2

China's WW2

Today's headlines scream a warning about the current trade war between China and the USA.  A mutual misunderstanding seems to have placed two economic giants on a collision course while the world holds it breath and trembles.  It is, therefore, all the more important to remember a time when China and the US fought together as allies during the Second World War.

In order to understand the USA one must understand a bit about World War II history.  That is why all American high school students are taught about World War II.  The same is true for China as well.  In order to understand China today one must understand a bit about her experience in the Second World War.

China had a particularly long and brutal experience in World War II which can be explored in books, in films and even in computer games.

Madame Chiang
Song Meiling

Rana Mitter's Forgotten Ally (published in 2014 by Mariner Books) is an excellent work on China's war (  The war cost around 14 million Chinese lives, caused a massive refugee flight and led directly to Mao's Communist Party victory in 1949.  His book points out that there were three principal sides during the war.  First, there was the notoriously corrupt Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek (who became known as "Cash my check").  Chiang was supported by his American educated wife Song Meiling (Madame Chiang) who spoke English with a Georgia accent.  Then there was the young Communist revolutionary Mao Zedong who led his forces in the mountainous region near Yan'an.  In 1941 Chiang declared that "Communism is a disease of the heart, the Japanese are but a disease of the skin."  Finally, there was a significant third Chinese group that did not really object to a mild skin condition.   This group favored collaboration with the Japanese invaders and was led by Wang Jingwei who formed a collaborationist or Vichy style government based in Nanjing from 1938.

World War II in China started early following the Marco Polo Bridge incident of 1937.  The Imperial Japanese army killed and raped its way through Nanjing in 1937 about two years prior to Hitler's September 1939 invasion of Poland.  In order to slow the Japanese advance through Chinese territory Chiang ordered the destruction of dams along the Yellow River.  The flooding caused by these demolitions (blamed falsely on Japanese bombers) seems to have claimed the lives of around half a million Chinese most of whom were civilians.

American sympathy for the suffering of the Chinese led to the imposition of economic sanctions on Japan.  This, in turn, led to the Japanese gamble of the Pearl Harbor attack.  The entry of America into the war brought men such as "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell and Claire Chenault (Flying Tigers) to China.  FDR, whose family had participated and enriched themselves in the China trade (including opium), insisted that China be represented at the Allied conference in Cairo in 1943. Roosevelt, more than Churchill, envisioned a major international role for China in the postwar world.

In April 1942 FDR authorized the bold Doolittle Raid that bombed Tokyo.  Following the attack, most of the B-25 crews that participated in the raid flew on towards bases in China with most of them crash-landing in eastern China (a few wound up in the Soviet Union).  The brutal Japanese hunt for the Doolittle Raiders and those Chinese that supported them cost the lives of over ten thousand Chinese civilians.  A romance between an American B-25 pilot and a Chinese war widow forms the basis of the 2017 film The Chinese Widow (aka In Harms  The luminously beautiful Crystal Liu plays the role of the Chinese widow (her husband was killed while fighting in the Nationalist army) who befriends the American captain played by Emile Hirsch.  While this film is a bit sentimental, it is mostly accurate and it does shine a light on Sino-American cooperation in World War II.  The Japanese forces even employed poison gas on the Chinese forces -- a barbarity unequalled by the Wehrmacht in the course of the war.

Arthur Chin
First American Ace of WW2

American Lend Lease supplied vast amounts of money, equipment and planes such as the P-40 to Chinese forces in the war.  Americans also sent pilots to fight in China.  In the China chapter of America Invades we noted the unusual tale of...

"Arthur Chin, a Chinese-American (Chinese father, Peruvian mother) from Portland, Oregon, volunteered for service in the Nationalist Air Force and became the first American fighter ace (five confirmed Japanese planes shot down) of World War II."

Paradox Interactive, a Swedish computer gaming company has created Hearts of Iron IV -- an amazing strategic simulation of WW2 in which players can control the destinies of every country (from the smallest to the largest) in the war (  Players research technologies in order to build armies, fleets and air wings that will bring victory to their side.  A 2018 expansion, Waking the Tiger, deepened the games' coverage of the Sino-Japanese conflict in WW2.

Playing Hearts of Iron IV as Nationalist China helps one to understand the tremendous historic challenges faced by Chiang Kai-shek.  The Chinese have no navy to speak of while the Imperial Japanese Navy, with its aircraft carriers and super heavy battleships, was one of the most formidable in the world at the time.  The Chinese player must guard his extensive coastlines from a Japanese attack from the sea in addition to worrying about Japanese strongholds in Korea and Manchuria.  The Chinese player has vast manpower but, in order to win, requires the technology and economic assistance that US Lend Lease can provide.  Players can even hire Madame Chiang as a political adviser to help lobby the Americans . -- the Wellesley College graduate really did address a joint session of the US Congress in January 1943.  The only detail missing from Hearts of Iron IV is a Chinese option to blow the dams of the Yellow River!

Books, films and even computer games can help us to remember the vast sacrifices made by China and US when they were allied in a war that led to the creation of our modern world.

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