Another review of a Taiwan-related book from David Frum at the National Review:
It all started in China. It was here in the 1930s and 1940s that the United States was first presented with a dilemma that has recurred again and again over the decades since: a strategically important country; a tradition-minded authoritarian ruler, at the head of a corrupt and incompetent government; a violent insurgency led by a totalitarian and anti-western movement. What to do?
This question, so haunting and difficult, is well illuminated by Jonathan Fenby's fine Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the China He Lost.
In China, the US never could quite make up its mind, and Fenby helps us to understand why.
Understandably, the Chiang problem flummoxed the Americans who had to deal with him. While a few Americans (Edgar Snow, John S Service, John K Fairbank) disgraced themselves either as apologists for Mao or as easy dupes, most of the US government and military badly wanted to defeat Mao - but were absolutely baffled by the problem of how to do it. Arm and aid Chiang? And when Chiang allowed his family and friends to steal the arms and aid and then begged for more - what then?
Fenby raises one interesting historical might have been. The US never seriously considered intervening against Mao on the ground: US military forces were fully committed to the defense of Europe. But as late as May 1949, the Chinese Nationalists securely held the territory south of the Yangtze, including the cities of Shanghai and Canton. What if the US had used air and naval power to prevent the Communists from crossing the river? The richest parts of China might have joined South Korea, South Vietnam, and West Germany as one of the divided nations of the Cold War.
Interesting counterfactual there. Discuss amongst yourselves.