John Birch is a totemic figure in American life. The society named after him is one of the famous far-right organizations in American history. It was also a paradigmatic example of anti-communist hysteria during the Cold War, and its influence on the American far right to this day remains significant. Yet despite his posthumous fame, Birch himself remains an obscure figure. Terry Lautz, a longtime scholar of US-China relations, has spoken with all of Birch's remaining relatives, found shoeboxes filled with letters from one of his former lovers, and visited the various sites in China where he worked. The result is the first authoritative biography of this fascinating figure, who continues to haunt the political fringes of American life. Birch grew up in the rapidly growing Bible culture of the post-World War I period, and then became a missionary in China in the tumultuous period of its war against the Japanese and the escalating conflict between nationalists and communists. He fought with Claire Chennault's famed Flying Tigers and had a number of romantic relationships with women along the way.
After the war ended, he committed himself to resuming his missionary activities in China, but was killed by communist guerrillas in an altercation a couple of weeks after the war ended in September 1945. A few years after his death, when China fell to the communists, anti-communists in Congress latched onto his life and promoted him as a martyr. Within a few years, Robert Welch, a candy manufacturer in New England, formed the John Birch Society, an extreme right-wing organization whose influence is still visible in the Tea Party movement. Lautz covers Birch's life and his afterlife, and also places him not merely in the context of the American far right, but in the revolutionary war that consumed China in the 1930s and 1940s. In this critical study of a figure who has reached near-legendary status, Lautz cuts through the mythology to expose John Birch-both the man and the political phenomenon.
Terry Lautz is a visiting professor at Syracuse University and former vice president of the Henry Luce Foundation. He graduated from Harvard, served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and received his Ph.D. at Stanford University. He has also lived and worked in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.
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