Wednesday, July 20, 2005

KMT - CCP Civil War History I

An article in last Tuesday's Taipei Times ("Re-writers of History Ignore Truth") got my attention and my goat. My eyebrows always rise upon hearing that a professor or two has hold of that truth thang, and sure enough, this is a classic example of historical scholarship in the service of politics. The authors are introduced as Tai Da profs in journalism and political science respectively. Well, at least they're not history professors.

What seems to be bothering them is that the Communist Party in China is modifying its self-serving reading that the CCP had a virtual monopoly on resistance to the Japanese and now is conceding that there was joint cooperation. Having attacked the CCP for politicizing history, they then fall into the trap of feeling compelled to present an equal and opposite politicized version of history. "To this day, Chinese schoolbooks still maintain that the CCP was the main actor in the resistance. But the following facts show that it is possible to clarify the fact that the CCP did not direct the war effort against Japan," (and here’s the overreach) "and even that talk of a 'joint' resistance is a joke." Having adduced their facts, they conclude "Any talk of joint resistance is a shameless lie." They seem to be threatened by the history of joint resistance because they believe it would give credibility to today's KMT-CCP "united front". It's faulty reasoning and even worse history. The tragedy of Chinese modern history is that after the promising start by Sun Yat-sen, neither of the leaders who claimed his mantle presented the Chinese with a viable model of liberalism. Why in the world should it be threatening to democratic Taiwan that these two failed children of Sun's KMT cooperated in the war. Besides, it is simply a historical fact that there was extensive cooperation, albeit in an atmosphere of mutual distrust.

My coming across that article coincides with working my way through Jonathan Fenby's excellent Chiang Kai-shek bio, so I decided to do a little cross checking of facts.

"War histories from both Japan and the Republic of China clearly indicate the scale of the CCP's 'participation'. From 1937 to 1945, there were 23 battles where both sides employed at least a regiment each. The CCP was not a main force in any of these. The only time it participated it sent a mere 1,000 to 1,500 men, and then only as a security detachment on one of the flanks." Ming Chu-cheng, Flora Chang, Taipei Times

Autumn and early winter 1937: "Units of the Communist Eighth Army under the Long March veteran Lin Biao scored the one notable Chinese victory in the north… The Communists riddled the Japanese with gunfire and hurled down hand grenades, killing 3,000 men for some 400 casualties of their own. Bingxingguan went down in Communist history as a triumph for Mao's guerrilla tactics, but was hardly mentioned by the Nationalists." –Jonathan Fenby

"The Japanese seized cities and towns, main roads and railways, and launched regular, murderous expeditions to grab crops and try to pacify the countryside where guerrillas operated. For all their armed strength, however, their forces were badly overextended. One metaphor used was of China as a net with the strings and knots representing Japanese positions around the much larger holes. The parallels with the war in Vietnam are evident, underlined by the reflections of the Red Army commander Zhu De: "They cannot use animal transport, or human labor as our armies can. They cannot take advantage of the hill country, but must follow the easiest and most level route…So we always fight in the hills, not in the open country." –Fenby

The assertion of no CCP participation above regimental level by Ming and Chang seems factually incorrect, but I have no doubt that the accurate statistics would reflect that a vast preponderance of the fighting in major battles was conducted by the KMT. Mao's tactics, which he adhered to pretty consistently, were to live in the hills, attack only when there was a clear numerical advantage, then dissolve back into the country-side. The CCP during most of these eight years was indeed quite a bit weaker than the KMT, which is another reason why the KMT would predominate. There was significant cooperation, but the CCP would never have been the "main force" in most of these operations. Their growth was backloaded to the last years of the war and after. The CCP contribution was not negligible, however.

Prior to 1938, Chiang's (misguided) strategy was to engage the Japanese in major frontal battles in the Chinese urban heartland. KMT troops fought bravely, but it was a strategy which played to Japanese strengths. First Shanghai fell, then (notoriously) Nanjing, finally Wuhan. Only in 1938, forced to retreat to Chongching, did Chiang adopt a strategy that sounds a lot like Mao's: "Calling his principle commanders to a conference in November 1938, Chiang told them that, after sixteen months of war, the first phase was over. Instead of defending each position, they should adopt 'mobile front resistance'using guerrilla tactics to trap the adversary and hit its weak points." Both Mao and Chiang came to the conclusion that this was the best way to fight the Japanese, only Mao knew it from the start, whereas Chiang had to learn it the hard way. Even when Chiang adopted this strategy he was less effective than Mao. The guerrilla strategy required the enthusiastic support of the peasants. Where Mao integrated his military strategy with social policy by implementing land reform in the countryside, Chiang was resolutely against land reform and allowed warlords and local leaders to use coercive methods that alienated the peasants. Surely effectiveness should be a part of the calculus of who contributed to the resistance, not just counting up major battles. As General Patton said in the famous opening of the movie, the object is not to die for your country, but to make the other guy die for his.

The one time Mao departed from this strategy was explicitly because he was goaded by comments from the KMT Secretary General that the Red Army "has not participated in any great battles." The Hundred Regiments offensive was Mao's answer. The Communists made some initial impressive gains, then were beaten back, taking heavy casualties. "Though it petered out by the end of 1940, Mao sent a cable to the commander at the front pointing out that the publicity it had generated was needed as a weapon against Chiang." The parallel is unavoidable with the Tet offensive: a major military defeat that was undertaken for its propaganda value. Mao hadn't used this approach before, and he didn't use it again,because it was militarily ineffective. But it's hard to see how the sources of Ming and Chang missed the Hundred Regiments Offensive and Bingxingguan. One wonders how many others they may have missed.