From David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, 1972:
He learned to love China the hard way, for like Service and other sons of missionaries, there was a certain disillusion in realizing the futility of their parents' work. They knew that whatever else happened, China was not going to be saved and modernized by coming to Jesus Christ; China was China, and Christ was alien, Western, white. But if this was true, then their parents, selfless, decent people, were wasting their lives in at least one sense, and friends thought this accounted for much of the skepticism and irony which marked John Davies' outlook for the rest of his life. Growing up as a young American in China had already made him something of an outsider; now as a young man, jarred loose from the perceptions of his parents, he was even more intellectually and culturally independent at a surprisingly young age. From this would come John Davies the outsider, cool involved intellectually but uninvolved emotionally, the perfect reporter. If anything, he was brought up with a sense of the vastness of China, resistant to outside influence, be it Western Christian or Western capitalist or Western Communist, China determined somehow to come up with its own definition of itself formed on its own terms. It was a brilliant and far-reaching vision, but it did not necessarily serve him well. . . .
To his contemporaries he symbolized what the foreign service should be, expert, analytical and brave, and above all, perfectly prepared for what he was doing. He knew China, the people, the language, and he watched the revolution sweeping the country. It was, he would say then and later, an implosion, not an explosion, that is, the collapsing inward of a civilization, a nation shutting itself off from the world, determining within itself its destiny. He was with General Joe Stilwell in 1938 as the Japanese marched south, ravaging whatever was in their way. He was puzzled as to why a civilized people like the Japanese would commit such atrocities, and pondered it for some time. Part of the answer, he decided, was that the troops were simply motivated by duty to their emperor; the second reason, more interesting in the light of events thirty years later in Vietnam, was "the idealistic belief that the mission is also a crusade to liberate the Chinese people from the oppression of their own rulers." When the Chinese peasants showed signs of resenting this liberation "it is a shocking rejection of his idealism," and the Japanese soldier raged against "the people who he believes have denied him his chivalry."
Tags: David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest