Sometimes regarded as the first casualty of the Cold War, Captain John Birch died seventy years ago. Born in 1918 in India to American Baptist missionaries, he followed in his parents’ footsteps by becoming a missionary in China in 1940. After the Doolittle Raid he helped rescue some of the raiders who landed in China. He was commissioned a First Lieutenant, later promoted to Captain, in the Fourteenth Air Force. General Chennault, legendary founder of the Flying Tigers, got him to accept the commission by telling him that he could still function as a missionary in his off hours. He performed intelligence missions behind enemy lines for the Army Air Corps and the OSS. While on these missions he would conduct services for Chinese Christians. He was utterly fearless, despising both the Japanese and the Chinese Communists. He built up an extensive network of Chinese who passed along information to him about Japanese troop movements and shipping that he passed on to Chennault for bombing attacks.
On August 25, 1945, as he was leading a group of Americans, National Chinese and Koreans to liberate Allied personnel in a Japanese POW camp, he was ordered by a party of Chinese Communists, who had intercepted his group, to surrender his revolver. Birch refused and was murdered by the Communists. He was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Medal. Dead at age 27, he had led a short but eventful life.
The John Birch Society was founded by businessman Robert Welch in 1958. Never large in numbers, the Society, as a result of its frequently bizarre claims, was useful for critics of American conservatism in their ongoing effort to portray conservatives as paranoid crazies. Denounced by most mainstream conservatives, the organization continues to exist but with little influence. Jimmy Doolittle, who met Birch, thought that he would not have been pleased to have his name used in this fashion. However, both of the parents of Birch joined the Society as life members.