Off the rack

“The making of foreign policy in World War II came out of the great Allied conferences dominated by the military where the military staffs were the working members, and the civil arm, except for the two chiefs of state, was represented meagerly, if at all. Pomp and uniforms held the floor and everyone appeared twice as authoritative as he would have in the two-button business suit of ordinary life. Human fallibility was concealed by all those beribboned chests and knife-edge tailoring.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Not the way to bring about co-prosperity, my friend

“On the borders of India the Japanese gamble had failed—although the fight went on—when Kohima was relieved and communications restored between Imphal and the Dimapur Road at the end of April [1944]. General Mutaguchi’s troops were left at the end of jungle trails without supply arrangements and with the monsoon pouring down. They fought on while they died of starvation and disease. By the end of June the fanatic offensive had crumbled into rain-soaked and putrefying chaos. When retreat was finally ordered in mid-July Japanese casualties including ill and wounded had reached 85 to 90 percent and the dead numbered 65,000 out of the original 155,000. On these same trails the refugees of the exodus of 1942 had dropped and died, now to be covered by the rotting corpses of their conquerors. The senseless tides of war rolled and receded impersonally over the shadowed uplands of Burma.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Hail, Britannia

“No nation has ever produced a military history of such verbal nobility as the British. Retreat or advance, win or lose, blunder or bravery, murderous folly or unyielding resolution, all emerge alike clothed in dignity and touched with glory. Every engagement is gallant, every battle a decisive action. There is no shrinking from superlatives: every campaign produces a general or generalship hailed as the most brilliant of the war. Everyone is splendid: soldiers are staunch, commanders cool, the fighting magnificent. Whatever the fiasco, aplomb is unbroken. Mistakes, failures, stupidities or other causes of disaster mysteriously vanish. Disasters are recorded with care and pride and become transmuted into things of beauty. Official histories record every move in monumental and infinite detail but the details serve to obscure. Why Singapore fell or how the Sittang happened remains shrouded. Other nations attempt but never quite achieve the same self-esteem. It was not by might but by the power of her self-image that Britain in her century dominated the world.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Calling all angels

“Standing on a truck at daylight to address the company, Stillwell explained the plan of march and laid down his rules. All food was to be pooled and all personal belongings discarded except for what each person could carry in addition to weapon and ammunition. A journey of some 140 miles lay ahead with a river and a mountain range to cross. The pass lay at 7,000 feet. They must make 14 miles a day; any slowing of progress would require more food than they had and would risk being caught by the rains. He warned that the party could only survive through discipline. Anyone who did not wish to accept his orders could leave now with a week’s rations and make his own way. He looked around; no one moved. ‘By the time we get out of here,’ he finished, ‘many of you will hate my guts but I’ll tell you one thing: you’ll all get out.’ At the head of the column he set the pace at the regulation Army rate of 105 steps a minute. . . . Imphal was reached on May 20. Through careful planning and relentless leadership Stillwell had brought his party out without a single person missing—the only group, military or civilian, to reach India without loss of life. Many of those who walked out under his command did hate his guts but all 114 knew they owed him their lives. He came out, reported a correspondent, ‘looking like the wrath of God and cursing like a fallen angel.’ He had lost 20 pounds. His already spare frame was worn down to a minimum, his hands trembled, his skins was yellowish with jaundice, his eyes sunk in their sockets.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

And then they set out

“The road gave out and all vehicles, except jeeps for carrying supplies, had to be abandoned, including the radio truck and the radio set itself which weighed 200 pounds. Last messages were sent. The sergeant bent to his work, tapping, listening anxiously and tapping again. The message to Brereton in India advised him of the route and stated ‘we are running low on food with none in sight.’ He was asked to send food and bearers and medicines to meet the party at Homalin and to alert the Indian Government that tens of thousands of refugees and Chinese troops were heading for India along the various trails as far north as the Hukawng valley and that it was urgent to stock the trails with rice and to send police and doctors ‘or thousands will die. . . . Large numbers on way. All control gone. Catastrophe possible.’ The Stillwell party should reach the Uyu in three days. ‘This is our last message.’ To the War Department via Chungking Stillwell did not admit the worst since they could not help anyway. ‘We are armed have food and map and are now on foot 50 miles west of Indaw. No occasion for worry. Chinese troops coming to India this general route. . . . Believe this is probably our last message for a while. Cheerio. Stillwell.’ The radio was then smashed with an axe and codes and file copies burned.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China (ellipses in original)

And some more than that

“Headquarters was moved 50 miles north of Mandalay to Shwebo, where the Japanese planes pursued. Among the staffs a sense was rising not only of military disaster but of personal danger. Some self-reportedly were in ‘a state of funk,’ others relapsed into passivity, not knowing what to do. The railroad was the worst problem. Stillwell was determined to get troop trains down to bring out the 22nd Division but Chinese organization was lax or nonfunctioning. Because none of his staff was technically authorized to issue orders to the Chinese he went back to Mandalay himself to try to stir up action. He returned over the bridge among the stream of retiring troops while below in the river others were crossing in ferry boats. On the road to Shwebo, clogged with trucks and caissons and the piled carts of refugees, the mass of retreats moved in dust and heat and the sour smell of fear. Once-proud Sikhs were dirty and disheveled in ragged turbans. Chinese soldiers marched with frightened eyes in a strange land where they could not shed uniforms and slip away into the countryside. Yellow-robed bodies of Buddhist monks lay on the ground, shot by the Chinese who believed them to be spies in disguise. Japanese Zeros flew over, strafing the road with machine-gun fire. Chinese generals in their cars, and British officers conscious of the ‘natives,’ were concerned not to lose face, but everyone was conscious that all had lost face.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Ballsy

“Government bureaus had departed for upper Burma, Indians of the police and clerical staffs were fleeing, Burmese employees melted into the population. Fires and looting, fifth-column groups and night-roaming marauders took over. All that remained of the civil administration were demolition squads awaiting the Governor-General’s last-minute order to blow up the docks. On the last night at Government House, the Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, and a residue of his staff dined in lonely finality with only the cook and the butler left out of 110 servants. The halls were emptied of the tall Chaprassis, Indian attendants in long white coats and scarlet and gold waistcoats whose only duty was to stand and wait as silent statues of imperial rule. After dinner the Governor and his aide and one or two others played billiards under the portraits of past Governors of Burma. The portraits’ clam, indifferent gaze seemed to irritate the aide, who took up a billiard ball saying, ‘Don’t you think, Sir, that we ought to deny them also to the Japs?’ and let fly. The others joined in, hurling balls wildly into ripping canvas, perhaps in frustration, perhaps in some dim recognition that their rule was passing. ‘It was a massacre,’ the Governor said afterwards, meaning the portraits, but the Empire, too, which had ruled by prestige, was in tatters.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

The Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

“Determined to make an example of the capital that would bring the war to an end, the Japanese achieved a climax to the carnage already wrought in the delta below. Fifty thousand soldiers hacked, burned, bayoneted, raped and murdered until they had killed, by hand, according to the evidence witnessed and collected by missionaries and other foreigners of the International Relief Committee, a total of 42,000 civilians in Nanking. Groups of men and women were lined up and machine-gunned or used alive for bayonet practice or tied up, doused with kerosene and set afire while officers looked on. Reports by missionary doctors and other dazed with horror and helplessness filled church publications in America. Much of the photographic evidence that later reached newspapers abroad came from snapshots taken by the Japanese themselves which they gave for developing to ordinary camera shops in Shanghai, whence copies made their way to the correspondents. In the Yangtze delta whole towns were devastated with acres of houses left in smoldering ruins or in rubble from bombing. In deserted streets the only living creatures were dogs unnaturally fattened by feasting on corpses or a few starving humans wandering like ghosts among the debris. The population that survived disappeared from the area in a mass migration. Rice crops rotted in the fields. Along the roads past blackened ruins and burned-out farms, Japanese troops moved, driving stolen donkeys and water buffaloes, artillery wagons tied with pigs and chickens, and carts loaded with loot pulled by peasants lashed between the shafts.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Defeat themselves is what they did

“On September 24 [1937] the Japanese took Paoting, Sung Che-yuan’s headquarters on the Peking-Hankow Railway. The fever of savagery bred by their own campaigns burst out in a week’s rampage of murder, rape and pillage, by 30,000 soldiers. A self-defeating ferocity accompanied them like a hyena of conquest, growing more ravenous by what it fed on. The Japanese knew that a hostile China must ultimately defeat their aim to become leader of Asia. Throughout their years on the mainland nothing so maddened them as the constant reappearance of ‘anti-Japanese’ sentiment. Annually they insisted on the necessity of forcing China to be ‘sincerely’ cooperative. Intending to attach China, they found themselves forced to conquer, arousing increasing hatred with each advance and employing increasing brutality in response. At Paoting in addition to physical terrorism they burned all the schoolbooks in week-long bonfires as well as the library and laboratory equipment of the Hopei Medical College. A decade’s records of crop statistics at the Agriculture Institute, the basis of its program for improved farming methods, were also deliberately destroyed.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Worn like a slicker in a storm

“Familiar with the plight of the Chinese peasant and unfamiliar with Marxism, Stillwell regarded the Communists as a local phenomenon and a natural outcome of oppression. ‘Carrying their burdens of famine and drought, heavy rent and interest, squeezed by middlemen, absentee landlordism,’ he wrote of the farmers, ‘naturally they agitated for a readjustment of land ownership and this made them communists—at least that is the label put on them. Their leaders adopted the methods and slogans of communism but what they were really after was land ownership under reasonable conditions. It is not in the nature of Chinese to be communists.’ “ – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Lines in the sands of their times

“The international horizon was darkening in 1936, with Fascism emboldened and the democracies infirm. In February extremist Japanese officers attempted a coup d’etat by multiple murder of elder statesmen which, though it failed, had a subduing effect on opponents of militarism. In March Hitler occupied the Rhineland unopposed. In May Mussolini annexed Ethiopia; the League’s empty sanctions against Italy were called off and the British fleet, not to be provocative, withdrew from the eastern Mediterranean. . . . In July rebellion of the right, supported by the dictators, brought civil war to Spain. Here resistance, abetted by the Communists, began. The passion of the world’s anti-Fascists focused on Spain, the ‘united front’ became an active force, and though the democracies behind a screen of ‘nonintervention’ tried not to look, sides were being drawn for the coming struggle.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Do something? Anything? Even if it’s the wrong thing?

“[Stillwell] had been struck by the Taoist motto on the virtues on inaction which he had copied down from an example in the Great Audience Hall of the Forbidden City. Only the first two characters for Wu Wei, or ‘Do nothing,’ were given there, leaving the Chinese viewer to add mentally, ‘and all things will be done.’ Deciding that ‘Do nothing’ exemplified the Chinese character, Stillwell concluded, ‘They are constitutionally averse to influencing events.’ Though there were increasing exceptions to this proposition, his finding represented a fact of life in the Orient that made for infinite impatience among Westerners, as Kipling noted when he wrote the epitaph, ‘A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.’ By contrast, Europeans and their American descendants had been driven by the impulse to change the unsatisfactory, to act, to move away from oppression, to find the frontier, to cross the sea. They were optimists who believed in the efficacy of action. The people of China, on the other hand, had stayed in one place, enclosed by a series of walls, around house and village or city. Tied to the soil, living under the authority of the family, growing their food among the graves of their ancestors, they were perpetuators of a system in which harmony was more important than struggle.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

It seemed like a good idea at the time

“After the seizure of Mukden the Japanese Army, regardless of divided councils at home, pushed ahead to attack Chinchow, Chang Hsueh-liang’s provincial capital just north of the Great Wall. They captured the city in January 1932, driving the Young Marshal out of Manchuria. The ‘independence’ of the new state of ‘Manchukuo’ was proclaimed in February and Henry Pu-yi, last relic of the Manchu dynasty, was installed as Regent in March. The Japanese Government, under the necessity of accommodating to the stranglehold of the Army and Navy ministers, was dragged forward by faits accomplis and by the blackmail of violent nationalism. Because it was anxious not to give the League of Nations or the signatories of the Nine-Power Treaty a reason to declare that a state of war existed between Japan and China, Tokyo attempted to legalize each forward move on the mainland as ‘self-defense’ and ‘self-determination’ by the people of Manchuria.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Xenophobia reaps its harvest

“Stillwell decided to give the crowd no time to test its intentions. As the train pulled into P’u Kow, on the Yangtze opposite Nanking, he and Chao jumped off before it came to a stop, and pushing past astonished people, ran for the river feeling pursuit at their heels but not daring to look behind them. They scrambled aboard a ferry and on the other side walked slowly past suspicious glances in search of lodging. Money persuaded a fearful innkeeper to give them a room where, exhausted and dehydrated, they drank teapot after teapot. Stillwell was embarrassed to find his hand trembling when he held out his cup for more. Tension did not let down, for word of the foreign devil’s presence brought a crowd gathering in the street and Stillwell once more imagined capturing or lynching. Worry, bedbugs and fleas allowed him little sleep. In the morning came another trial of the streets, but without interference they reached the station and boarded the train for Shanghai. The journey was hot and tense. On arriving, their eyes met a huge poster on the wall showing a fat and repulsive foreigner prone on the ground with Chinese soldiers sticking bayonets into him, blood spurting out and a caption exhorting all patriots to kill the foreign swine.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Madame est servie

“One evening [Stillwell] dined at the mess of Colonel Cantau, a bald, fat officer of sixty who wore enlisted man’s cap, rows of decorations, hazed the servants, ate well and ‘doesn’t give a damn.’ It being a meatless Friday, the meal consisted of two kinds of omelet, fish and rice, vegetable salad, white and red wine, champagne, two cordials and cheese. The orderly was made to salute and announce, ‘Madame est servie.’ When Stillwell asked why Madame, the Colonel asked in turn, ‘Are you married?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Where is your wife?’ ‘In the United States.’ ‘No, she is in your heart; therefore she is here. That is why I have him announce, “Madame est servie.” ’ ” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

The age of innocence

“In April 1917 the United States, with an army of 133,000 men, entered the war in which the belligerents had more that six million men engaged on the Western Front alone. The European national forces were organized into armies each containing three to five corps, each corps usually consisting of two divisions. The American army had no organized military unit higher than a regiment. Although the divisional structure existed on paper, no American soldiers since the Civil War had taken the field as a division, with all the coordination of infantry and artillery, of staff and field, of intelligence and operations, that that requires. All this had to be learned and put into practice. A national army fleshed out to ten times the size of its existing regimental skeleton had to be created, which meant recruited, officered, trained, equipped, shipped overseas, assembled, supplied, coordinated in its arms and branches, and further trained before it could fight. For this task the General Staff had made no arrangements or any general plan of mobilization.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Tho’ it mayhap be one hope forlorn

“The core of the military profession is discipline and the essence of discipline is obedience. Since this does not come naturally to men of independent and rational mind, they must train themselves in the habit of obedience in which lives and the fortunes of battle may some day depend. Reasonable orders are easy enough to obey; it is capricious, bureaucratic or plain idiotic demands that form the habit of discipline.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China