In the communist witch-hunt hysteria of the early Cold War period, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy attacked Service and other China Hands, including John Carter Vincent, John Paton Davies, and Oliver Edmund Clubb. Accused of being soft on communism, Service had in fact reported truthfully on corruption in Jiang Jieshi's Nationalist government. Service had also predicted a civil war that would lead to a communist victory if things were not changed.
Contrary to the charges made by the far Right, the China Hands did not welcome communism. They simply urged that U.S. pressure be brought to bear on Jiang and, failing that, advocated a policy of American neutrality in what was an inevitable civil conflict. Had their advice been heeded, the United States would probably have been able to maintain diplomatic relations with China. Certainly the charge that Service and other Foreign Service officials "lost" China was patently ridiculous. The Chinese themselves accomplished that.
In February 1950, Senator McCarthy specifically charged Service with being "a known associate and collaborator with communists." Although Service was subsequently cleared by a Senate committee, a Loyalty Review Board named by President Harry S. Truman said that there was "reasonable doubt as to his loyalty," and Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson dismissed Service the same day. In 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8–0 (one justice took no part in the case) that the board had no right to review the State Department's findings and that Acheson had no right to dismiss him. Service then rejoined the State Department, retiring from an obscure post in the Liverpool, England, consulate in 1962.
Service then earned a master's degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and became library curator of its Center for Chinese Studies. With the 1970s thaw in relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC), Service visited China, even meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in 1971. Service also published several books on China. He died in Oakland, California, on 3 February 1999.
Spencer C. Tucker
Service, John S. Lost Chance in China: The World War II Despatches of John S. Service. Edited by Joseph W. Esherick. New York: Random House, 1974.