John Birch: Real, or pipe dream?
January 20, 2006 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I need a link to support the allegation that John Birch, the U.S. Army intelligence officer supposedly killed by the Chinese in 1945, did not exist.

Birch was the hero of the far-right-wing John Birch Society, founded by grape juice mogul Robert Welch.

I can't find any reputable source for the fictional-character story.
posted by Kirth Gerson to Society & Culture (15 answers total)
I don't know how I mangled that link. Here: John Birch.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:39 PM on January 20, 2006

There's some discussion of the subject here.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:41 PM on January 20, 2006

He supposedly graduated from Mercer College, here in Georgia. They don't list him as one of their notable alumni, but I'm sure a phone call to them could confirm if he really graduated from there. Alumni Services: (478) 301-2715 or 2189.
posted by ewagoner at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2006

Faint of Butt: There's some discussion of the subject here.

Damn, that is a funny article. I want to buy two tin foil hats after reading it.

I used to work with this older guy who was a born again Christian. He was in Nam but not as a fighter so he used that as his credibility factor. He was dead set against the commie menace and worshipped the JBS. (Hmm, sounds like an acronym for jebus….) He was always on about how the commies were all evil people, hell-bent on taking over the world so they can subject everyone to totalitarian slavery. Needless to say I didn’t believe any of the shit he spouted.
posted by JJ86 at 2:21 PM on January 20, 2006

The link by Faint of Butt is to the talk page from Robert W. Welch, the founder of the John Birch society (and biographer of John Birch?). Another wikipedia page of (marginal) relevance is the talk page about John Birch.
posted by WestCoaster at 2:23 PM on January 20, 2006

Wow--If John Birch never existed, and you could prove it, that would make a really interesting article for some grad student to write up. You'd be interviewed on NPR!
posted by LarryC at 2:35 PM on January 20, 2006

Try Googling "John Birch hoax" (without quotes). It brings up a bunch of sites. However, the first one seemed to be some sort of anti-semitic, white power site. That left a bad taste in my mouth and I decided not to check out the others, since some of the descriptions seemed to be along the same vein. I am not in any way suggesting this is your way of thinking! But there might be something credible further down in the results.
posted by acoutu at 2:57 PM on January 20, 2006

Nono, I was thinking about amending the Wiki page about JBS that speaks of him as a real person. I remember reading long ago that he was a fiction of Welch's, but I don't want to put anything in Wiki that I am not sure of.

I have always thought Welch, and the Birch Society, and their publications were a bad influence on the gullible.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:07 PM on January 20, 2006

John Morrison Birch seems to have relatives. He died without children, but had half-a-dozen siblings, one of whom still lives.
posted by dhartung at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2006

From the autobiography of James "Jimmy" Doolittle, after landing in China following the infamous Tokyo raid:

Outside was a tall, gaunt white man ... his name was John M. Birch, age 27, an American missionary... He was as delighted to see us as we were to see him.... he agreed to join us, translate for us, and get us on our way.

Having seen what the occupying Japanese were doing to his beloved Chinese, he wanted to join the American forces in some capacity, preferably as a chaplain.... Birch met other crew members and acted as their interpreter.

Birch was given the $2000 in Chinese money I had left [in case of] ransom, and was asked to buy a burial plot [and] obtain as much information as possible about the [other bomber crews] still missing. Birch's information was not wholly accurate, but reflected his ability to get information from Chinese sources.

When I arrived in Chungking, I told Colonel Claire Chennault, leader of the Flying Tigers, about Birch and how he had helped us. Chennault said he could use an American for intelligence duties who could speak Chinese and knew the country well. I never saw this fine young man again but learned that Chennaul commissioned him as a first lieutenant on July 4, 1942.

Although Birch served as an intelligence officer, he was still a chaplain at heart. Wherever he was on Sundays, he conducted religious services for Chinese Christians, often at the risk of his life behind Japanese lines. Chennault, fearful that Birch would crack under the strain of continual clandestine activities, urged a leave of absence. Birch refused, saying "I'll leave China only when the last Jap is gone."

Birch was killed on August 25, 1945, by Chinese Communists -- 10 days after World War II was officially over. He had no way of knowing that the John Birch Society, a highly vocal postwar anticommunist organization, would be named after him because its founders believed him to be the "first casaulty of World War III". I feel sure he would not have approved.

posted by dhartung at 4:48 PM on January 20, 2006

From this (admittedly biased, but supposedly extensively researched) book:

John Birch is known today mainly by the Society which bears his name. Few other tokens of his life exist. A World War II casualty monument stands at the top of Coleman Hill Park overlooking downtown Macon, Georgia. John's name is on the bronze plaque thereon, along with the names of other Macon men who lost their lives while serving with the Armed Forces. He is further honored by a plaque on the sanctuary of the First Southern Methodist Church of Macon. It was built on land given by his family, taken from a tract purchased with the money John sent home monthly. A building at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, where J. Frank Norris was pastor, is named The John Birch Hall. A small street in a housing development in a suburb of Boston is also named for him.

Sounds like a real guy to me. In fact, I haven't seen any websites yet claiming that he isn't.
posted by designbot at 5:05 PM on January 20, 2006

This guy (also admittedly biased) claims to have interviewed someone who knew John Birch.

In preparing this article, it was this writer's privilege to interview one of the last people alive who knew John Birch personally, and his glowing account verified absolutely all of the claims made about him by his biographers. This source, now 80 years old and living in California, was a radio man and a Major in the Army Air Corps with General Chennault's Flying Tigers.
posted by designbot at 5:11 PM on January 20, 2006

A quick read of some of the sites googled by acoutu indicates that the John Birch Society "hoax" is that the founders and/or present leadership were or are in reality controlled by an international conspiracy, which may or may not be heavily Jewish. (I'd read more, but I have to run off to a Trilateral meeting.)

A short bio was also in The People's Almanac, that venerated predecessor of Wikipedia: Part 1, Part 2.
posted by dhartung at 5:27 PM on January 20, 2006

OK, so either my memory is bad, or it contains a hoax in the other direction.

Thanks for the research.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:04 PM on January 20, 2006

As a researcher working on American interactions with the Chinese Communists in World War Two, I've come across multiple references to Birch in different sources.

In Carolle Carter's Mission to Yenan (Used Amazon to bring up the precise page on Search Inside), she offers about three pages to the events surrounding his death. Its based entirely on reports, memorandums, etc, found at the National Archives. Here's a citation she uses:

Statement of First Lt. Tung Chin-sheng, Oct. 3, 1945, OSS, NARA, RG 226.

(NARA = National Archives) ) (RG = Reading Group)

If you take the above to the College Park, Maryland, Archives building, they'll help you find the original report. She also uses other reports from the same section as well. I was looking through the RG last summer and I believe I glanced over them myself briefly.

Sorry to dash your hopes, but the guy existed.
posted by Atreides at 7:46 AM on January 21, 2006

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