In The China Mission, Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, the executive editor of Foreign Affairs, skillfully tells the story of Marshall’s quixotic and forlorn diplomatic initiative. Deeply researched and written with verve, the book ought to be read by any U.S. foreign-policy maker practicing diplomacy in Asia. Marshall’s oft-forgotten experience in Asia has been covered before, notably in Forrest C. Pogue’s four-volume life (1963-87). But Mr. Kurtz-Phelan has performed a service in reviving this important episode with such aplomb, rigor and pace.
A new book recounts what he [Marshall] did between winning the war and securing the peace: he spent a year in China, trying to save it. He failed, leaving behind a bloody civil war followed by communist dictatorship. The China Mission, an account of the debacle by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, a former diplomat, is both a compelling portrait of a remarkable soldier and statesman, and an instructive lesson in the limits of American power, even at its zenith.
Kurtz-Phelan has written an engaging book ... With an eye perhaps on the tragedy in Syria, or the emerging nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, or relations with autocrats from Moscow to Beijing, Kurtz-Phelan has written a story 'not of possibility and ambition, but of limit and restraint.' This is history as allegory. Foreign policy 'is made by analogy,' he writes. 'The stories we tell matter. How we tell them matters.' The story Kurtz-Phelan tells is gripping ... To Kurtz-Phelan, who worked in the State Department during America’s troubled occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, a lesson lies therein. As he observes at the end of his book, even 'in its moment of greatest leadership, America did not have to solve every problem to show that it was strong.'
In the enthralling The China Mission, Kurtz-Phelan, executive editor of Foreign Affairs, uses archival sources and extensive research to give an in-depth look at Marshall himself, as well as a fascinating account of a little-known chapter in the history of that tumultuous era: Marshall’s difficult and complex postwar assignment in China ... As we approach the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, The China Mission is a timely reminder of the pivotal role George Marshall played in shaping the world we know today.
Thoroughly researched and compellingly written, it is at once a revealing study of character and leadership, a vivid reconstruction of a critical episode in the history of the early Cold War and an insightful meditation on the limits of American power even at its peak ... [a] finely detailed account.
Kurtz-Phelan’s account places equal blame for the failure of Marshall’s mission on Nationalist and Communist 'hardliners.' But that misses the point. Marshall’s mission was doomed before it began. As James Burnham and others pointed out at the time and later, even before the guns of the Second World War fell silent, communist forces in China shifted their focus from fighting Japan to preparing for the postwar struggle for power ... The China Mission is an important reminder about the limits of American diplomacy. Marshall, like many US statesmen before and after him, fell prey to the idea that the rest of the world could be persuaded to solve disputes through an American lens.
The book is at once a character study of the charismatic and dedicated Marshall; a narrative account of the mission’s miraculous early successes and prolonged, painful collapse; and a meditation on the impossibility of reconciling parties that are determined to remain enemies. In Kurtz-Phelan’s telling, most of the blame for the peace effort’s failure falls on the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek ... But a deeper obstacle was Washington’s inability to uphold the mediator’s core requirement of neutrality ... Marshall’s true purpose was to get the Communists to accept continued Nationalist rule so that China would remain aligned with the United States. This might have been a reasonable goal if one believed the Communists could not win the civil war.
A superb researcher, Kurtz-Phelan ably narrates an exasperating story featuring a genuinely peerless hero doing his best in a no-win situation. The definitive history of a failure from which the U.S. seemingly learned nothing (civil war in Vietnam was already heating up).