John S. Service: American diplomat (1909 - 1999) | Biography
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John S. Service
American diplomat

John S. Service

John S. Service
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American diplomat
Was Diplomat
From United States of America
Field Politics
Gender male
Birth 3 August 1909, Chengdu, People's Republic of China
Death 3 February 1999, Oakland, USA (aged 89 years)
Star sign Leo
Oberlin College
Berkeley High School
The details (from wikipedia)


John Stewart Service (August 3, 1909 – February 3, 1999) was an American diplomat who served in the Foreign Service in China prior to and during 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: he and other diplomats were blamed for the "loss" of China in the domestic political turmoil following the 1949 Communist triumph in China. In June 1945, Service was arrested in the Amerasia Affair in 1945. The prosecution sought an indictment for espionage, but a federal grand jury unanimously declined to indict him. 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. Secretary of State Dean Acheson fired Service. In 1957 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered his reinstatement in a unanimous decision, finding that Acheson's action had been illegal because "it violated Regulations of the Department of State which were binding on the Secretary." Service was cleared by numerous loyalty boards. Only a final one suggested there was "reasonable doubt" as to his loyalty. It was this opinion that forced Dean Acheson to dismiss him.

Early life

John Service was born on August 3, 1909, in the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China, the son of Grace Josephine (Boggs) and Robert Roy Service, missionaries working for the Y.M.C.A. Service spent his childhood in the Chinese province. 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. He majored in both art history and economics, and was 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". 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

Last Page from Service's First Report from Yan'an. Page One, Two and Three here.

John Service arrived in Yan'an, the headquarters of the Communist Party of China, on July 22, 1944. There 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 Mao and the Communist Party of China, and describing its leaders as "progressive" and "democratic". Once, Service wrote that "The Communists are in China to stay and China's destiny is not Chiang's but theirs." 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 in a coalition with the nationalists, they felt, the U.S. could steer the communists out of the Soviet orbit, where they might be pushed if antagonized by the United States.

The new U.S. Ambassador to China, Patrick Hurley, also tried to bring unity between the communists and the nationalists, but he failed to understand the political dynamic that caused the rift between the two parties, who would later become the two Chinas. Hurley initially accepted a five-point plan that would have brought the communists into a power-sharing arrangement with the nationalists. Chiang rejected this plan and countered with a three-point plan that would leave the communists with no real power in a government run by Chiang and his supporters. Hurley came to support Chiang's view exclusively. He rejected the recommendations of Service and the other Foreign Service officers to accept the growing power of the communists and to accommodate this power. Hurley eventually had Service and the rest of the political officers recalled from China. Hurley later blamed them for U.S. diplomatic failures in China.

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. However, a grand jury declined to indict Service, finding that the materials were not sensitive and were of a kind commonly released to journalists. 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 U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor, and he was reinstated at the State Department. In between his initial legal success in the Amerasia matter in 1945 and his dismissal in 1950, Service had three overseas assignments. He was briefly posted to Douglas MacArthur's staff in Tokyo. He served in New Zealand from October 1946 through early 1949. Finally, he was assigned to India, but he never made it to the post with his family. In March 1950, he was ordered from his ship docked in Yokohama to return to Washington, where he would answer charges leveled against him.

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." 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.

Service had numerous meetings with Jaffe. 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."

Eventually FBI investigators broke into the offices of Amerasia, and found hundreds of government documents, many labeled "secret", "top secret", or "confidential", Service was arrested as a suspect. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote that he thought he had an "airtight case" against Service. However, when the Justice Department submitted its evidence to a Federal Grand Jury, they elected to indict Jaffe, but, by a vote of 20-0, refused to indict Service.

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 disloyalty or other wrongdoing. Charles Yost was one of the State Department officials, and friends, who testified on Service's behalf.

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 were blamed for the fall of China to the Communists, and were forced out of the State Department.

Beginning in 1952, Service appealed his dismissal from the State Department. Service was eventually hired by Sarco International, a steam trap company. In 1955, Clement Wells, the owner who had hired Service, appointed him president of the company. Meanwhile, Service's case eventually came to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor unanimously. 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.

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".

Jonathan Mirsky, in his review, in the Wall Street Journal, of the 2009 biography of Service by Lynne Joiner states that: "In two phone interviews with me shortly before he died a decade ago, Service admitted that in the 1940s he had given Jaffe a top-secret document revealing the Nationalist Order of Battle, which showed the exact disposition of the forces facing Mao's troops." Mirsky observed to Service that some people might consider this treason, to which Service replied that he knew that. Service also stated, "I want to get this off my chest" and "I was gullible, and trusting, and foolish." Service also said he had purposely ignored Mao's persecutions and executions of his perceived enemies in the Yan'an period. Why had he done this? "I wanted them to win. I thought they were better than the Nationalists and that if we always opposed them we would have no access to the next Chinese government." Lynne Joiner, the biographer, responded to these allegations in a letter to the editor: "I conducted extensive interviews with Service during the last year of his life and he never mentioned this to me or to others who knew him well." Joiner added, "Service was never able to see the evidence being used against him during his lifetime — and so it continues a decade after his death."

Return to the State Department

Consulate of the United States in Liverpool, one of Service's last posts.

Service returned to active duty in the State Department in 1957. First, he was assigned to State's transportation division. In 1959, he was given a security clearance after a new internal hearing. Undersecretary of state for administration Loy Henderson approved the clearance, but noted that Service's "action in the Amerasia case was reprehensible and has brought serious discredit upon the Foreign Service..." Henderson's qualified approval allowed Service to continue his career but prevented him from ever being promoted again. To avoid a Senate fight over a Service confirmation, the State Department decided to assign Service to head the consulate in Liverpool – "but without the associated title or pay grade". Though Service continued to get excellent performance reviews in every position he held, the State Department refused to promote him. He retired in 1962 and 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 Richard 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.


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. 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. The scenarios that Service envisioned in his reports from Dixie Mission about CPC's future management of China were rose–colored, or incomplete. Mao's implementation of his economic plans was harsh, and undemocratic. Service hoped that the CPC would adopt free market and democratic reforms if they were pushed in the right direction, with U.S. support. Later, Service wrote that he believed an American relationship with the CPC might have prevented the Korean War and Vietnam War, or lessened their gravity.

In 2013, the story of the Dixie Mission served as the historical basis for a new World War II novel called Two Sons of China, by Andrew Lam (author). John Service is portrayed as a prominent historical figure in the book. It was released by Bondfire Books in December 2013.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 15 Apr 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who was John S. Service?
A: John S. Service was an American diplomat and sinologist who played a key role in shaping U.S. policy towards China during World War II and the early Cold War.
Q: What role did John S. Service play in China?
A: Service served as a Foreign Service officer in China and played a crucial role in U.S. wartime diplomacy during World War II and early Cold War policies towards China.
Q: What was John S. Service accused of?
A: Service was accused of passing classified information to the Soviet Union during his time as a diplomat in China, which led to his suspension from the State Department in 1951.
Q: What was the outcome of John S. Service's trial?
A: Service was tried and acquitted in 1952 in an espionage trial. While he was cleared of espionage charges, he was found guilty of unauthorized possession of a document containing top-secret information and was fined $500.
Q: What was John S. Service's legacy?
A: Service's case became a cause célèbre for civil libertarians and some members of the foreign policy establishment. His ordeal led to reforms in the State Department's security clearance processes and raised questions about the impact of McCarthyism on the U.S. government.
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