Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Butterworth) to the Acting Secretary of State

Subject: Ambassador Bullitt’s42 Comments in Life Magazine Regarding General Marshall’s Mission to China43

In discussing General Marshall’s mission to China, Ambassador Bullitt conveys the mistaken impression that General Marshall went to China for the purpose of forcing Chiang Kai-shek44 to come to terms with the Communists and to bring them within the framework of the government. He omits significantly, to point out that prior to General Marshall’s departure the basis for political collaboration between the Nationalists and the Communists had been established at meetings in Chungking in August and September of 1945 and it had become the announced intention of the National Government and the Communists to settle the issue between them by peaceful political means. It would, therefore, have been more accurate to describe General Marshall’s mission as an attempt to assist the contending factions in carrying out this intricate and complex operation.

In his indictment of the Marshall mission, Ambassador Bullitt makes the following points:

Had General Marshall gone to China with other instructions, his advice to the Generalissimo plus American military supplies then [Page 476] abundant in the Pacific “might have produced the rapid expulsion from Chinese soil of all armed Communists”. This is a conjecture in support of which he adduces no cogent arguments. He pays tribute to General Marshall’s military judgment and General Marshall has stated that he repeatedly warned the Generalissimo that to defeat the Communists by force of arms alone was beyond the capabilities of the Chinese armed forces. This advice was disregarded as, in general, has been the advice of other American military authorities. There is no reason to believe that had General Marshall gone to China for the purpose of giving military advice to the Generalissimo, that advice would not have been similarly disregarded.
If General Marshall had succeeded in his mission, Stalin45 would today dominate China as he dominates the states of central and eastern Europe.” This statement can hardly be called a reasoned conclusion, for it is not evident from the article that the author has taken into account the complex factors obtaining in China which lead many qualified observers to doubt that Stalin could succeed in dominating China. No consideration is given to the intense nationalism and ethnic pride of the Chinese; no weighing of indications which have arisen in eastern and central Europe of the difficulty which Stalinist Communism is having in coping with forces of nationalism in Communist controlled countries; and no appraisal of the extent to which forces of the Red Army in Austria and Germany have contributed to Soviet domination of countries lying between these forces and Russia itself.
General Marshall used the arms embargo as a form of pressure against the Nationalists—a step as damaging to the security of the US as it was to the immediate security of China. The purpose of General Marshall’s mission was to assist the Nationalists and Communists to achieve their announced objective of reconciling their differences through peaceful political means. An essential step in approaching this objective was to bring about a cessation of hostilities. After assisting in bringing about an agreement by both sides to cease firing, General Marshall found himself in an untenable position in that the US was continuing to supply war matériel to one side. Consequently shipment of arms to China was suspended from July 29, 1946 (became effective with respect to shipments from the Pacific area about two months later) until May, 1947. This so-called arms embargo was not, as Ambassador Bullitt erroneously states, a form of pressure against the Nationalists, but rather it was a logical corollary to the truce agreement. Transfer of materials to China under the “8⅓ Group Program” was suspended for the same reason.

From a review of the record, it would appear that Ambassador Bullitt has considerably overemphasized the handicap which the arms embargo placed on the National Government. At the end of the war, 39 American-trained Chinese divisions were largely equipped with American arms. The Chinese Government obtained the arms and ammunition of surrendering Japanese armies totalling approximately 1,235,000 men and of Japanese-armed Chinese puppet troops estimated [Page 477] at 780,000 men. Furthermore, the Chinese Government had arsenals in operation which represented a small though effective addition to its military potential. The Chinese Communists obtained through Soviet connivance large stocks of Japanese arms in Manchuria, but the total of surrendering Japanese troops in Manchuria was estimated at 700,000 men, and only part of these arms were, according to the best information, made available to Chinese Communists. Consequently, at the time of the arms embargo, the Nationalists appeared to be overwhelmingly better armed and equipped than the Communists. Following the lifting of the arms embargo in May of 1947, the Chinese Government did not avail itself of the opportunity to place large commercial orders for arms and ammunition in the United States. Viewed objectively, there seems to be little doubt that Nationalist forces have, at least until very recently, had a decided superiority over Communist troops in terms of arms and military equipment. That they have not been more successful should be attributed, in a large measure, to weaknesses in command and morale.

  1. Former Ambassador to the Soviet Union and to France.
  2. Article on “How We Won the War and Lost the Peace” (pt. 2), Life, September 6, 1948, pp. 97–100.
  3. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, President of the Republic of China, was President of the National Government of the Republic of China until May 1948.
  4. Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Soviet Prime Minister.