Congratulations to Professor Zach Fredman on his first book, The Tormented Alliance: American Servicemen and the Occupation of China, 1941–1949 (UNC Press, 2022). This book examines the U.S. military presence in China during World War II and the Chinese Civil War.
Read more about his book below:
Could you tell us about your new book and what inspired you to write it?
Like a lot of writers, I wrote the book I wanted to read. More than 120,000 American servicemen deployed to China during World War II and the Chinese Civil War, making this military presence the largest encounter between Americans and Chinese that ever occurred in China. But nearly all of the scholarship and popular writing on wartime U.S.-China relations focused on senior military commanders or diplomats. I wanted to learn about these soldiers, the Chinese people they interacted with, and how their day-to-day engagements influenced the larger politics of the Sino-U.S. alliance.
The first five chapters of The Tormented Alliance examine interactions between American servicemen and five key groups of Chinese: the hostel workers who housed and fed them, the interpreters who enabled them to communicate with other Chinese, and then Chinese soldiers, civilians, and women. The final chapter looks at the Chinese Civil War, when 54,000 U.S. Marines deployed to formerly Japanese-occupied cities like Tianjin, Beijing, and Qingdao and everything came undone.
The book argues that the U.S. military presence in China became a widely loathed occupation that achieved the opposite of its declared aims by undermining Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government and helping Mao Zedong’s Communists seize and consolidate power. The U.S. military presence in China was also crucial to the transformation of American imperialism: it set patterns that have followed the U.S. military around Asia ever since.
What made you interested in studying diplomatic and military history?
I’ve always been interested in the history of warfare. In elementary school, I spent as much time reading about the Holocaust as I did riding my bike or playing video games. I subscribed to Newsweek and Time magazine as a nine-year-old after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in 1990 and followed the conflict very closely. I learned about the perspectives of regular soldiers by writing to pen pals who were stationed in Saudi Arabia. The social and cultural sides of war intrigued me more than battles or weaponry, what scholars call operational military history.
My interest in U.S.-China relations developed later, as a result of working in China after graduating college in 2003. I planned to stay one year but enjoyed China so much that I stayed for five. But even back then Sino-U.S. relations were tense and complicated. The simultaneous hostility and admiration toward America that I observed in many of the Chinese people I interacted with really fascinated me. Chinese college students or young adults I worked with would openly tell me how much they hated the United States for supporting Taiwan, or how much they admired Osama Bin Laden for launching the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But the exact same people also bragged about their Nike Air Jordans or love for American TV shows like Friends. And almost all of them were trying to get into graduate school in the United States. I wrote my own graduate school application about wanting to explore this paradox.
What is something you learned in the process of writing this book?
You learn a lot about yourself when writing a book. I learned how much I rely on the help of other people, including family, friends, colleagues, mentors, and total strangers. Almost everyone I turned to during the research and writing process helped me in some way. I’m tremendously grateful as a result of this experience and hope that I can be as helpful to younger researchers in the future.
What are your next projects?
My next project is a history of the U.S. military’s rest and recreation program during the Vietnam War. Between 1965 and 1973, any American (and many allied soldiers) serving a one-year tour in South Vietnam was given a five-day holiday to one of the following destinations: Taipei, Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney, or Honolulu. I have completed a good portion of the research in Taiwan and Australia.
Zach Fredman, Assistant Professor of History at Duke Kunshan University, is a diplomatic and military historian whose research focuses on the United States in the world, modern China, and US-East Asian relations. His first book, The Tormented Alliance: American Servicemen and the Occupation of China, 1941–1949 (UNC Press, 2022), examines the U.S. military presence in China during World War II and the Chinese Civil War. He has begun research on a second monograph, tentatively titled R&R: The US Military’s Rest and Recreation Program during the Vietnam War . R&R explores the political work women’s bodies did for the state during the Vietnam War, when American servicemen’s access to sex and good times underpinned the US war effort, capitalist economic development and anti-communist state-building in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Australia.
He has published scholarly articles in Diplomatic History, The Journal of Modern Chinese History, Modern American History, Frontiers of History in China, and Diplomacy and Statecraft . His writing has also appeared in The Washington Post and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
He was previously a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding (2017-2018) and Nanyang Technological University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences (2016-2017). His research has been supported with grants and fellowships from the Institute of International Education, the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and the Association for Asian Studies.
He earned his Ph.D. at Boston University in 2016. In 2017, he received the Edward M. Coffman First Book Manuscript Prize from the Society for Military History and the Betty M. Unterberger Dissertation Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.