Born to American missionaries in northern India, John Birch went to China in 1940 as an Independent Baptist missionary. Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Birch volunteered for the U.S. Army to fight the Japanese in China and was recruited by Claire Chennault, leader of the Flying Tigers and the U.S. 14th Air Force, as a field intelligence officer.
John Birch is better known today for what happened after he was shot and killed by Chinese Communist forces in the days immediately following Japan’s surrender. In the acrimonious debate over the "loss" of China, U.S. Senator William Knowland claimed that Birch was a martyr whose murder revealed the true intentions of the Communists. Thirteen years after Birch's death, a retired businessman from Boston named Robert Welch chose him as the figurehead of an anti-communist advocacy group, the John Birch Society.
In John Birch: A Life (Oxford, 2016), Terry Lautz, a longtime scholar of U.S.-China relations and director of the National Committee, unravels the mythology surrounding John Birch after conducting extensive archival research, interviewing Birch’s brothers, analyzing letters he wrote, and traveling to the places in China where he lived and died. In addition, Dr. Lautz explores the perception that John Birch is the personification of the longstanding American ambition to save and defend China. Terry Lautz discussed his book with the National Committee on February 11, 2016 in New York City.
Dr. Terry Lautz is a Moynihan Research Fellow and interim director of the East Asia Program at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. He is former vice president of the Henry Luce Foundation, a director of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, chair of the board of the Harvard-Yenching Institute, and member of the Council on Foreign Relations.