Podcast: The Life and Death of John Birch

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Episode Guests
  • Elizabeth C. Economy
    Senior Fellow for China Studies

Show Notes

When most Americans hear the name John Birch, they immediately think of the John Birch Society: an anticommunist, right-wing advocacy group that flourished in the 1950s and 60s. But who was John Birch, and what did the society have to do with him? On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast I speak with Terry Lautz, visiting professor at Syracuse University, about his new book, John Birch: A Life. Lautz delves deeply into Birch’s story, recounting how he spent five years as a young Baptist missionary and U.S. intelligence officer in China in the 1940s. On his final mission, after a tragic miscommunication and scuffle, Birch was shot by Chinese communist troops. In the ensuing decades, the John Birch Society became a popular yet controversial organization that sowed the seeds of some elements of today’s modern conservative movement—even though Birch himself never espoused political views. Listen below as Lautz tells the exceptional story of the real John Birch, and describes what his life and death represented, and misrepresented, for American politics and U.S.-China relations through the twentieth century.

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