In Memory of John Birch, 1918-1945

By:  JBS Staff

altThe following article, "John Birch: In the Story of One American, the Ordeal of His Age," by Patricia Hurley originally appeared in the June 16, 1986 issue of The New American magazine. We are posting this article today in memory of John Birch, namesake of The John Birch Society, who was killed in China on this day 65 years ago.

In 1945, ten days after the end of World War II, a young American soldier was brutally murdered in a deliberate attack by Chinese Communists.

The young man was Captain John Morrison Birch. He was born on May 28, 1918, the oldest of seven children. It was a close, loving family with few worldly goods — but where an abiding faith in God and Jesus Christ and a willingness to work hard and get an education were preparation for his remarkable life.
From the age of seven, he planned to be a missionary. After hearing that Communists beheaded a missionary and his wife and baby daughter in China, he knew where he would go. The pastor who told him the story cautioned, "More will be killed." John replied, "I know the big enemy is Communism, but the Lord has called me. My life is in His hands, and I am not turning back." He became a Baptist missionary in China in 1939.
The Japanese had invaded China, torn by civil war, in 1934. The Japanese were crushing an almost helpless and starving people.
altSeeing the need, this young man learned to speak Chinese, tinted his hair black, and, wearing the loose cotton clothes of a coolie, traveled by bicycle and on foot through the provinces where, years before, other missionaries had brought the gospel to the people.
This meant going through Japanese lines, living with the people as one of them, and preaching the word to all who could come together. He came to be loved and respected to such an extent that all of China mourned his death when he was murdered.
One April evening on the edge of "no man's land," he was taken to meet five Americans in hiding. One of them, Colonel James Doolittle, said, "The boys and I just delivered a little present to Tojo, and we are having a bit of trouble getting home." John Birch personally worked to see that the crews of the twelve bombers reached safety. He did the job so well that General Doolittle recommended he be given a medal.
Hearing of his bravery and abilities, General Claire Chennault of the Flying Tigers asked him to join them. Although John wanted to be a chaplain with the Army, General Chennault told him that, if he would gather intelligence during the week, he could preach on Sundays. So John became a Second Lieutenant in the China Air Task Force of the American Army.
For the next two months, John traveled more than 1,000 miles through the war-torn country, gathering information and preaching most Sundays. At the same time, he was preparing an intelligence network manned by his Chinese friends. Also, one of the most important and dangerous parts of the mission was finding the caches of munitions and gasoline that had previously been hidden and constructing emergency airstrips.
As time passed, John Birch agreed with "Big Tiger" when the general said, "Some of the 'gentlemen' in Washington have written off China. They seem to forget that the Generalissimo [Chiang Kai-shek] has kept a million Jap soldiers tied down here, a million who would otherwise be in the Pacific fighting American boys."
He also found that the few supplies to China were usually taken by General Stillwell so that he could, sometime in the future, avenge his past defeat in Burma. The U.S. commander, General "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell, had, in the beginning of his tour of duty in China, used the best of Chiang Kai-shek's troops and matériel to fight the Japanese in Burma. He lost everything and had to walk out. He spent the rest of his time in China planning revenge. Most of the supplies were not given to Chennault or Chiang Kai-shek for the defense of China against the Japanese. So John Birch continued building his intelligence network on foot and developing even closer ties to the Chinese people.
In 1944, General Patrick Hurley, as directed by President Roosevelt, arrived in China, as the U.S. Ambassador, to clear up the mess. He fired Stillwell and brought in General Albert Wedemeyer, who was able and fair. General Wedemeyer immediately formed a warm rapport with the Chinese and sent Stillwell's pro-Communist advisors packing.
Things started to change in China. The Flying Tigers controlled the area from the Great Wall to Indo-China. No ships moved along the coast or on the Yangtze without coming under fire.
As the Japanese were retreating, John Birch said, "The Commies are dodging around now so that when peace comes they'll be able to kill their brothers who are loyal to the Generalissimo. I keep telling people this, but sometimes I feel like a sparrow twittering in a tree at a tornado forming in the distance."
Using the Russians as their petitioners, the Japanese tried for months to surrender, finally doing so on August 14th. Now that peace was won, the Russians and the Chinese Communists moved rapidly to make quick gains. Russian troops rolled across Manchuria, meeting little opposition and capturing huge quantities of weaponry that they would later turn over to their Chinese comrades. The Chinese Communists were already moving to exploit the inevitable chaos and confusion by accepting the Japanese surrender wherever they could be first on the ground.
Ten days after the end of the war, a party of twelve men (four Americans, six Chinese, and two Koreans) were on an official Army mission to Suchow when they were stopped by a group of Chinese Communists. Two men (one American and one Chinese) were taken away behind some buildings where they were shot. The shots were heard by the rest of their party.
The Chinese, Lieutenant Tung, lived (minus a leg and an eye) to tell what happened. He related that Captain Birch said before his death, "It doesn't make much difference what happens to me, but it is of utmost importance that my country learn now whether these people are friend or foe."
The evidence at his autopsy showed that, after he was shot in the leg, his arms and legs were tied behind his back. He was made to kneel as he was shot in the back of the head — Chinese execution style — and his face was violently disfigured by bayonets and knives.
The murder of Captain John Birch was covered up. No reporter mentioned it, and neither did the State Department or the War Department. The State Department didn't want the American people to learn that Mao's Chinese were Communists, not agrarian reformers.
altFive years later, in 1950, Senator William Knowland of California rose in the Congress to say, "If the members of Congress had had this information in August or September of 1945, is there any person here who feels that they would have tolerated the subsequent activity of the State Department in trying to force a coalition between the government of the Republic of China and the same Communists represented by the man who shot Captain John Birch in cold blood?" But the State Department demanded that Ambassador Hurley force a coalition. An ambassador must obey his government's policies. Therefore, Hurley resigned in anger, condemning his superiors in the State Department. In his resignation, he stated: "A considerable section of our State Department is endeavoring to support Communism in general, as well as specifically, in China."
In 1954, Robert Welch, in his study of Captain John Birch, looked into this matter carefully and collected many written accounts. He wrote a small book, The Life of John Birch. It tells the story of the life and the murder of this extraordinary young man.
In writing the book and in naming The John Birch Society after this patriotic young man, Welch hoped to do two things: Ensure that John Birch did not die in vain and show us the face of our enemy.

 This "prose poem" was written by John Birch four months before his death.


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