Remarks of Representative John F. Kennedy at the Philip J. Durkin Testimonial Dinner, Salem, Massachusetts, January 30, 1949

Over these past few days we have learned the extent of the disasters befalling China and the United States. Our relationship with China since the end of the Second World War has been a tragic one, and it is of the utmost importance that we search out and spotlight those who must bear the responsibility for our present predicament.

When we look at the ease with which the Communists have overthrown the National Government of Chiang Kai-shek, it comes as somewhat of a shock to remember that on November 22, 1941 our Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, handed Ambassador Namuru an ultimatum to the effect that: (1) Government of Japan will withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and Indo-China; (2) the United States and Japan will not support militarily, politically, economically, any government or regime in China other than the National Government of the Republic of China.

It was clearly enunciated that the independence of China and the stability of the National Government was the fundamental object of our Far Eastern policy.

That this and other statements of our policies in the Far East led directly to the attack on Pearl Harbor is well known. And it might be said that we almost knowingly entered into combat with Japan to preserve the independence of China and the countries to the south of it. Contrast this policy which reached its height in 1943 when the United States and Britain agreed at Cairo to liberate China and return to that country at the end of the war Manchuria and all Japanese-held areas, to the confused and vacillating policy which we have followed since that day.

At the Yalta Conference in 1945 a sick Roosevelt, with the advice of General Marshall and other Chiefs of Staff, gave the Kurile Islands as well as the control of various strategic Chinese ports, such as Port Arthur and Darien, to the Soviet Union.

According to Former Ambassador Bullitt, in Life Magazine in 1948, “Whatever share of the responsibility was Roosevelt’s and whatever share was Marshall’s the vital interest of the United States in the independent integrity of China was sacrificed, and the foundation was laid for the present tragic situation in the Far East”.

When the armies of Soviet Russia withdrew from Manchuria they left Chinese Communists in control of this area and in possession of great masses of Japanese war material.

During this period began the great split of the minds of our diplomats over whether to support the Government of Chiang Kai-shek, or force Chiang Kai-shek as the price of our assistance to bring Chinese Communists into his government to form a coalition.

When Ambassador Patrick Hurley resigned in 1945 he stated, “Professional diplomats continuously advised the Chinese Communists that my efforts in preventing the collapse of the National Government did not represent the policy of the United States. The chief opposition to the accomplishment of our mission came from American career diplomats, the Embassy at Chungking and the Chinese Far Eastern divisions of the State Department.”

With the troubled situation in China beginning to loom large in the United States, General Marshall was sent at the request of President Truman as Special Emissary to China to effect a compromise and to bring about a coalition government.

In Ambassador Bullitt’s article in Life, he states and I quote: “In early summer of 1946 in order to force Chiang Kai-shek to take Communists into the Chinese government, General Marshall had the Department of State refuse to give licenses for export of ammunition to China. Thus from the summer of 1946 to February 1948 not a single shell or a single cartridge was delivered to China for use in its American armament. And in the aviation field Marshall likewise blundered, and as a result of his breaking the American government’s contract to deliver to China planes to maintain 8 and 1/3 air groups, for three years no combat or bombing planes were delivered to China – from September 1946 to March 1948. As Marshall himself confessed in February 1948 to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, this “was in effect an embargo on military supplies”.

In 1948 we appropriated $468,000,000 for China, only a fraction of what we were sending to Europe, and out of this $468,000,000 only $125,000,000 was for military purposes. The end was drawing near; the assistance was too little and too late; and the Nationalist Government was engaged in a death struggle with the on-rushing communist armies.

On November 20th, 1948 former Senator D. Worth Clark, who had been sent on a special mission to China by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, in his report to that committee said: “Piecemeal aid will no longer save failing China from communism. It is now an all-out program or none, a fish or cut bait proposition.”

Clark said this conclusion was confirmed by Ambassador J. Leighton Stuart and top American Army officers in China.

On November 25th, 1948, three years too late, the “New York Times” said: “Secretary of State, George Marshall, said today the U. S. government was considering what assistance it could properly give to the Chinese government in the present critical situation.”

On December 21, a Times headline was: “ECA Administrator Hoffman, after seeing Truman, discloses freezing of $70,000,000 program in China in view of uncertain war situation”.

The indifference, if not the contempt, with which the State Department and the President treated the wife and the head of the Nationalist Government, who was then fighting for a free China – Madame Chiang Kai-shek, - was the final chapter in this tragic story.

Our policy in China has reaped the whirlwind. The continued insistence that aid would not be forthcoming unless a coalition government with the Communists was formed was a crippling blow to the National Government. So concerned were our diplomats and their advisors, the Lattimores and the Fairbanks, with the imperfections of the diplomatic system in China after twenty years of war, and the tales of corruption in high places, that they lost sight of our tremendous stake in a non-communist China.

There were those who claimed, and still claim, that Chinese communism was not really communism at all but merely an advanced agrarian movement which did not take directions from Moscow.

Listen to the words of the Bolton report: “Its doctrines follow those of Lenin and Stalin. Its leaders are Moscow-trained (of 35 leading Chinese communist political leaders listed in the report, over half either spent some time or studied in Moscow.) Its policies and actions, its strategy and tactics are communist. The Chinese Communists have followed faithfully every zig zag of the Kremlin’s line for a generation.”

This is the tragic story of China whose freedom we once fought to preserve. What our young men had saved, our diplomats and our President have frittered away.

Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. House of Representatives Files. Series 02. Speeches, 1946-1952. Box 95, Folder: "China: Salem, Massachusetts, 30 January 1949 and Congressional Record, 21 February 1949".