The Specter of Yalta: Asia Firsters and the Development of Conservative Internationalism

In: Journal of American-East Asian Relations
Author: Joyce Mao 1
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  • 1 Middlebury College

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During the 1940s, conservative leaders in the United States turned to the emerging Cold War in Asia both to condemn the moral bankruptcy of liberal globalism and to establish their own brand of anti-Communist internationalism. “Asia Firsters” such as Senators William F. Knowland, John W. Bricker, and Robert A. Taft evoked the specter of Yalta and Roosevelt’s betrayal of Nationalist China as a signature issue which extended far beyond the question of who “lost” China. Yalta served as a touchstone for the right’s ideological and political development during the Cold War. Focusing on U.S.-People’s Republic-Taiwan relations during the early and mid-1950s, this article traces how initial criticism of the 1945 agreements quickly evolved into practical legislative proposals that addressed executive overreach, legislative oversight, collective international peacekeeping, opposition to Beijing’s admission to the United Nations, and constitutional principles vis-à-vis active global interventionism. Although Asia Firsters failed to substantively change China policy, their approach was an inspiration for the most enduring American political movement of the postwar period.

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