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John Birch is a totemic figure in American life, and the society named after him is one of the most famous right-wing organizations in American history. The John Birch Society was founded in the midst of anti-communist hysteria during the early years of the Cold War, and its influence on the American far right to this day remains significant. Indeed, traces of its influence are clearly evident in the Tea Party. Yet despite the fame of the society that bears his name, Birch himself remains an obscure figure - until now.
Terry Lautz, a distinguished scholar of US-China relations, has combed obscure archives, spoken with Birch's remaining relatives, and marshaled his deep knowledge of mid-century China to produce a definitive account of the mysterious-and dramatic-life of John Birch. After growing up steeped in the South's burgeoning Bible Belt culture in the years after World War I, Birch became a missionary in China in the tumultuous era of the 1930s and 1940s, when it was rocked by civil war, a long conflict with Japan, and-finally-revolution. Along with his missionary work, he fought with Claire Chennault's famed Flying Tigers against the Japanese amidst a series of on-again and off-again romances. After the war ended, he re-committed himself to his missionary activities but was killed by communist guerrillas in an altercation a couple of weeks after the war ended, in September 1945. No one could have predicted what happened next to this truly obscure figure. A few years after his death--after China fell to the communists and anti-communists in Congress looked to cast blame-his afterlife as a martyr began. Robert Welch-a candy manufacturer in New England-formed the John Birch Society, an extreme right-wing organization whose influence is still visible in the Tea Party movement.
In John Birch: A Life, Lautz covers Birch's life in full and places it in the broad contexts of religious revival in the American South and chaos in interwar and wartime China. He also explores his afterlife as a paragon of the far right, juxtaposing the myth with the reality. A critical biography of a legend whose fame arrived only posthumously, Lautz cuts through the mythology to expose John Birch-the man and the political phenomenon.
Terry Lautz is a visiting professor at Syracuse University and former vice president of the Henry Luce Foundation. He graduated from Harvard, served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and received his Ph.D. at Stanford University. He has also lived and worked in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.