John S. Service

John S. Service

John Stewart Service (3 August 1909 - 3 February 1999) was an American diplomat who served in the Foreign Service in China prior to and during the World War II. Considered one of the State Department's "China Hands", he was an important member of the Dixie Mission to Yan'an. Service correctly predicted that the Communists would defeat the Nationalists in a civil war, but he and other diplomats were blamed for the "loss" of China in the hysteria following the 1949 Communist triumph in China. In the immediate postwar years, Service was indicted in the Amerasia Affair in 1945, of which a Grand Jury cleared him of wrongdoing. [cite book
last = Tuchman
first = Barbara
authorlink = Barbara Tuchman
title =Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45
publisher =Grove Press
pages = pg. 526
id = ISBN 0802138527
] In 1950 U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy launched an attack against Service, which led to investigations of the reports Service wrote while stationed in China. He was fired from the State Department but reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Early life

John Service was born in the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China, on August 3rd, 1909. The son of missionaries working for the Y.M.C.A., Service spent his childhood in the Chinese province. [ [ Biography of Service by Oberlin College via John Service Papers.] ] By the age of eleven, Service had mastered the local Chinese dialect, and then attended the Shanghai American School for high school. The Service family moved to California, where John graduated from Berkeley High School in [Berkeley, California] ] at the age of fifteen. Those who knew him say he always went by "Jack" and he never used his middle name.

In the fall of 1927, Service entered Oberlin College. [ [ Biography of Service by Oberlin College via John Service Papers.] ] He majored in both art history and economics, and still found time to be captain of the school's cross-country and track and field teams. After graduation, Service took and passed the Foreign Service Exam in 1933. In 1977, Oberlin awarded him an honorary degree.

Career in China

Service was first assigned to a clerkship position in the American consulate in the capital of the Yunnan province, Kunming. Two years later, Service was promoted to Foreign Service Officer and sent to Beijing for language study. In 1938, he was assigned to the Shanghai Consulate General under Clarence E. Gauss. When Gauss was promoted to ambassador, he made Service Third Secretary of the American Embassy at Chungking. As time progressed, Service was eventually promoted to Second Secretary.

During the early war years, Service wrote increasingly critically harsh reports on the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek. Service criticized the Nationalist government as "fascist," "undemocratic," and "feudal," [Senate Internal Security Committee, "The Amerasia Papers: A Clue to the Catastrophe of China", January 26, 1970, pp. 577, 592, 1015] . This caught the attention of John P. Davies, a Foreign Service Officer working as a diplomatic attaché to General Joseph Stilwell. In the summer of 1943, Davies managed to have Service, among two others, assigned to him to assist him in his duties. When the U.S. Army Observation Group, also known as the Dixie Mission, was formed to travel to the Communist territory, Davies selected John Service to be the first State Department official to visit the region.

The Dixie Mission and Yan'an

John Service arrived in Yan'an, the capital of the Communist Party of China, on July 22, 1944. This had a impact on the rest of Service's life. In Yan'an, Service met and interviewed many of the top leaders of the CPC, such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. Service wrote many reports over the next four months that praised the CPC, and described its leaders as "progressive" and "democratic." ["Ibid.", pp. 406, 410, 577, 579, 589, 1014] Once, Service wrote that "The Communists are in China to stay and China's destiny is not Chiang's but theirs." ["Amerasia Papers", pp. 113, 112] He continued to criticize the Nationalists or KMT under Chiang Kai-shek as corrupt and incompetent in writing. Service and the other American political officers eventually advocated a policy of support for the CPC as well as the Nationalists. They believed a civil war was inevitable and that the CPC would triumph. If the U.S. supported the CPC, then the U.S. would be able to work with them when they came to power.

The new U.S. Ambassador to China, Patrick Hurley, rejected the recommendations of Service and the other Foreign Service officers. Instead, he maintained support for the Nationalists exclusively, because he believed that the CPC could not be brought into a unified government. Service, and all the political officers, were recalled from China at Hurley's request. Hurley blamed them for his diplomatic failures in China. [Carter, "Mission to Yenan", 131.]

Post China career

John Service returned to Washington in 1945, and was soon arrested as a suspect in the Amerasia Case. He was accused of passing confidential U.S. materials from his time in China to the editors of the Amerasia magazine. Service was later cleared of the charges, but five years later he was dismissed from the State Department after Joseph McCarthy accused him of being a Communist. The former foreign service officer challenged the dismissal in court. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in his favor, and he was reinstated at the State Department. In the second half of the 1940s he served in three overseas posts; he was briefly attached to Douglas Macarthur's Tokyo, and he spent a long period of time in New Zealand, and then in India. While stationed in India he was subpoenaed to testify before Congress.

Disloyalty charges

In D.C., FBI surveillance recorded that Service met with "Amerasia" editor Philip Jaffe on April 19, 1945 at D.C.'s Statler Hotel: "Service, according to the microphone surveillance, apparently gave Jaffe a document which dealt with matters the Chinese had furnished to the United States government in confidence." [Report of the United States Senate Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees, 1950, appendix, p. 2051] In China, Service had established a reputation for meeting with Communists, reporters, and anyone who might provide information for his duty. Former ambassador to China, Clarence Gauss testified later during the McCarthy era:

"In Chungking, Mr. Service was a political officer of the Embassy...His job was to get every bit of information that he possibly could...he would see the foreign press people. He saw the Chinese press people. He saw anybody in any of the embassies or legations that were over there that were supposed to know anything...He went to the Kuomintang headquarters...he went to the Communist headquarters. He associated with everybody and anybody in Chungking that could give him information, and he pieced together this puzzle that we had constantly before us as to what was going on in China and he did a magnificent job at it." [Esherick, Joseph W.," Lost Chance in China: The World War II: Despatches of John S. Service," (New York: Random House, 1974), p.xvi - xvii.]

Service had numerous meetings with Jaffe, ignorant of the ongoing investigation of the editor. Adrian Fisher, the senior legal officer at the State Department at the time, later commented, "It was like a scene out of "Heaven's My Destination". Jack Service went into a bawdy house thinking it was still a girls' boarding school." [Kahn, "The China Hands," p. 166.]

Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and FBI investigators broke into in the offices of "Amerasia", and found hundreds of government documents, many labeled "secret," "top secret," or "confidential," Service was arrested as a suspect. [ Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh, "The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism" (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996) ISBN 0-8078-2245-0, p. 131] None of the documents Service gave Jaffe were classified; the documents the government found with various labels of classification were given to Jaffe by another.Fact|date=October 2007 Nevertheless, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote that he thought he had an "airtight case" against Service. [ [ FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to Peyton Ford, Assistant to the Attorney General, re Philip Jacob Jaffe, was., et al., Espionage, May 4, 1950] (FBI file: Amerasia, Section 54)] When the Justice Department submitted its evidence to a Federal Grand Jury, they elected to indict Jaffe, but refused to indict Service by a vote of 20 - 0.

Service was subject to loyalty and security hearings every year from 1946 to 1951, with the exception of 1948. In each hearing, he was cleared of any suspicions of being disloyal to the United States. [Esherik,"Lost Chance in China," p., xix.]

Five years after "Amerasia", on March 14, Senator Joseph McCarthy accused Service of being a Communist sympathizer in the State Department. Service was cleared of the charges by the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees, also known as the Tydings Committee. However, a final review board found "reasonable doubt" as to Service's loyalty, and Secretary of State Dean Acheson ordered his dismissal. In the "red scare" turmoil of the early 1950s, John P. Davies, and other diplomats became scapegoats for the fall of China to the Communists, and forced out of the State Department.

Beginning in 1952, Service appealed his dismissal from the State Department and worked for a steam trap company in New York. His case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor unamanimously. [Carter, "Mission to Yenan", 215.] The Court held that Service's dismissal violated U.S. State Department procedures because the State Department's Loyalty Security Board found no evidence of Service being disloyal or a security risk. [ [ SERVICE v. DULLES, 354 U.S. 363 (1957) - SCOTUS Opinion of case.] ]

In "The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism", authors Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh state “ [a] ny lingering doubts about Service’s true position are erased by the evidence of the FBI surveillance. If he had been a secret Communist, much less a spy, some better evidence would likely have surfaced in the transcripts”. [cite book
author = Klehr, Harvey and Radosh, Ronald
authorlink =
title =The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism
publisher =The University of North Carolina Press
pages = p. 216
id = ISBN 0-8078-2245-0

Return to the State Department

Service returned to active duty in the State Department in 1957 but he was not given important assignments. First, he was assigned to the State's transportation division, and then he was posted overseas to the U.S. consulate in Liverpool, England. Sensing that he would not be allowed to advance again as a Foreign Service officer, he retired in 1962. He then pursued a Master of Arts degree in political science at the University of California, Berkeley. After earning his degree, Service worked as library curator for the school's Center for Chinese Studies into the 1970s, and then served as editor for the center's publications.

In 1971, preceding President Nixon's visit to China, Service was one of a handful of Americans invited back to the country, as relations with the U.S. were normalized. He met with Zhou Enlai again during his visit, and he and his wife Caroline appeared on the cover of Parade Magazine.


On February 3, 1999, John Stewart Service died in Oakland, California. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=John Service, a Purged 'China Hand,' Dies at 89 |url= |quote=John S. Service, the first of the "old China hands" purged from the State Department in the McCarthy era, died yesterday in Oakland, Calif. He was 89. |work=New York Times |date= February 4, 1999|accessdate=2008-08-13 ]


The two main themes of Service's reporting were that (1) the nationalists were incompetent and likely to lose in a power struggle with the CPC, and that (2) the CPC seemed to be worthy successors with whom the U.S. should try to establish relations. Most commentators, even those critical of Mao, agree with Service's appraisal of the nationalists. Prior to the outbreak of the Chinese Civil War in 1946, Service had predicted that the CPC would prevail, thanks to their ability to stamp out corruption, gain popular support, and to organize grass root organizations. [John Service, Report No. 1, 7/28/1944., to Commanding General Fwd. Ech., USAF – CBI, APO 879. “First Formal Impressions of Northern Shensi Communist Base.” State Department, NARA, RG 59. , or lessened their gravity. [cite book
last = Service
first =John S.
authorlink =
title =The Amerasia Papers: Some Problems in the History of US-China Relations
publisher =Center for Chinese Studies, University of California
pages = pp. 191-192
id =
] It is difficult to say whether the United States would have been able to foster reform or restraint had the U.S. engaged the Communists in 1944-45, as was recommended by Service. It also entirely unclear whether U.S. recognition of Communist China in 1949 would have changed Mao's conduct toward his own people or toward the United States. But since the recommendations of Service and others were rejected, it is unfair to blame them for the 'loss of China', CPC's takeover of China, or the tragedies that occurred in the following decades.


*cite book
last = Service
first =John S.
authorlink =
title =Lost Chance in China: The World War II: Despatches of John S. Service
publisher =Random House
id = ISBN 0394484363

*cite book
last = Klehr
first =Harvey
last =Radosh
first =Ronald
authorlink =
title =The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCartheyism
publisher =University of North Carolina Press
id = ISBN 0807822450

*cite book
last = Service
first =John S.
authorlink =
title =The Amerasia Papers: Some Problems in the History of US-China Relations
publisher =Center for Chinese Studies, University of California
id =

*cite book
last =Kahn
first =E. J.
authorlink =Ely Jacques Kahn, Jr.
title =The China Hands : America’s Foreign Service Officers and What Befell Them
publisher =Penguin Books
id = ISBN 0140043012

*cite book
last = Buckley
first = William F.
authorlink = William F. Buckley, Jr.
year = 1954
title = McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning
publisher = Regnery Publishing
id = ISBN 0-89526-472-2

*cite book
last = Evans
first = M. Stanton
authorlink = M. Stanton Evans
year = 2007
title = Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies
publisher = Crown Publishing Group
id = ISBN-13 9781400081059


External links

* [ FBI recording summary, May 31, 1950: Philip Jacob Jaffe, June 10, 1945-April 19, 1946] (with cover memorandum, Ladd to Hoover, June 30, 1952)
* [ An obituary for John Service]
* [ Photo of Service in his later years]
* [ Oberlin College biography of John Service and spouse.]
* [ A short biography of Service.]
* [ Interview of John Service by CNN.]
* [ Extended Interview hosted at George Washington University. ]
* [;jsessionid=dfjoeLmOfz8VZxMe?&brand=oac John S. Service papers, 1925-1999. The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley. BANC MSS 87/21]
* [ John Stewart Service and Charles Edward Rhetts Papers. Truman Presidential Museum and Library]

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