On Aug. 25, 1945, ten days after the end of World War II, a slender, 27-year-old captain in the Army Air Forces named John Birch was kitted in China by a band of Communists. Sixteen years later, John Birch lives on as the rallying symbol of the archconservative, anti-Communist John Birch Society. Yet Birch himself remains a shadowy figure. Who was he? How did he live? And how did he die?

JOHN BIRCH was born in Landour, India, to a husband-and-wife team of missionaries. When John was two years old, his family returned to the...

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