Year
1951

John S. Service dismissed from State Department

Foreign Service Officer John S. Service is dismissed from the Department of State following a determination by the Civil Service Commission’s Loyalty Board that there was “reasonable doubt” concerning his loyalty to the United States.

Service was one of a number of so-called “China hands”—State Department officials who were experts on China and the Far East—who saw their careers ruined during the 1950s by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his cohorts. McCarthy targeted Service and several of his coworkers, including John Carter Vincent, O. Edmund Clubb, and John Paton Davies, for criticism and investigation. McCarthy charged that Service and other State Department officials had effectively “lost” China to the communists, either through incompetence or, more ominously, through sympathy with the communist cause. The case against Service centered on the 1945 Amerasia scandal. In that year, FBI agents raided the offices of the magazine Amerasia and found classified government documents concerning America’s policy in China. Service was implicated because he had given de-classified background information to the magazine’s editor. A grand jury, a House subcommittee, and the State Department’s Loyalty Board subsequently cleared him. In 1950, however, McCarthy singled out Service as one of what he called “the 205 known communists” in the Department of State. In short order, Service’s case was reviewed once again, and this time he was dismissed. Service declared that the decision was “a surprise, a shock, and an injustice.” Senator McCarthy exclaimed, “Good, good, good!”

Service fought the dismissal, and was eventually reinstated in 1957, but his career never recovered from the damage. Like the other “China hands” who were hounded out of the State Department, Service’s real crime was his unremitting criticism of the Nationalist Chinese government of Chiang Kai-Shek during and after World War II. All believed that Chiang’s government—due to corruption, incompetence, and brutality—was doomed to fall to the communist forces in China. Thus, Service and his colleagues became easy scapegoats for Red Scare promoters such as McCarthy. Their dismissals severely damaged the Far East division of the Department of State, destroyed morale in the Foreign Service, and effectively squashed any dissenting debate concerning America’s China policy. All of these factors assisted in the serious underestimation of communist China’s political investment in Korea and Vietnam and indirectly resulted in the military conflicts in those countries in the years to come.

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