Book Beat; 89
We're talking about Stilwell and the American experience in China. The book which is of course about the late General Vinegar Joe Stillwell it's written by Barbara Tuchman published by McMillian. And we'll be back with Mrs. Tuchman in just a moment. This is a book B. Each week introducing you to leading authors and critics this program is made possible in part by the National Book Committee and the American Booksellers Association. Your host is Robert Crumb a daily columnist for The Chicago Tribune and a contributing editor of book world the Sunday Literary Supplement of the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post. I don't suppose you've been invited to be the visiting lecturer at the University of Taiwan or anything like that yet have you now. No I don't think I will. It's a very frank very frank book and I'm surprised at the amount of behind the scenes majority of us have had GREAT. Well you're saying your forward still will let you use his diaries.
Oh yes his diaries his wartime diaries had already been excerpted and published as you remember by Teddy White. But there was an additional huge archive that he left which Mrs. still possesses. Of all his papers prior to Pearl Harbor and diaries and supplementary diaries because he was a man who took out all his frustrations and agonies and thoughts in writing he wrote you know and he would write in this little pocket diary and then he would at the evening sometime he would start writing all over again supplement what he thought expanded loose sheets of paper and he kept everything. So there it was with nicknames for everybody that's right General chunk. Do you suppose the general knew that his nickname and still it was peanuts. I'm afraid so. Yes it was common talk. As Marshall scolded him at one time saying you know this is all over China. You must stop doing these things because you could defend that because that was also the code name.
That's right. As a matter of fact his son in law Gen. Easterbrook pointed this out to me that one reason I'm one for so many of these nicknames is that it's a commonplace among military men to use a code name for people and places and operations. And that from code names he took to. Two nicknames. Although he had done that early in life to some of his nicknames for the generals and World War One was just. A very colorful and Uncle Sugar of course was Uncle saying. Some of the names I I didn't use I thought would be better not. What's really astonishing that that still became a general isn't it. In view of his he was a complete maverick or almost not really. I think the maverick quality comes out because I've used in
and because of his diaries and papers have been used now extensively but in real life you have to remember that this was not open and that his comments and his as sort of big attitude were were just that acerbic but not so really maverick. He was a very regular West Pointer. What was different about him I think was his independence of temperament and his scorn for pretension for pomposity and also for people slower and less less efficient than himself or less. He was a man I'm impatient with. Well with people who didn't do their best and all that was very outspoken he would say it is very
abrasive to on occasion. Yes. But on the other hand he was a very with people he liked a very jolly men and surprisingly enough there's a marvelous picture of him in there taken inside a. The body of a plane flying the home. Oh yeah they're almost laughing like hell of course politics. Yes there were Teddy White. That's right and brooks and consider Jack Belden there no it wasn't a Norman song as still is just as you could see the position he's having such a good time and I don't really think of him as a maverick. If he had been he really wouldn't have suited the theme I chose him because he really represented. But he was American attitude he was bypassed for promotion. Many times because he had offended the people over him well again he was by he was bypassed toward the end when he was a colonel because he was at odds with this one chap who ran the m id with military intelligence.
But it really wasn't so many times in fact it was just this one situation. And he felt that if he was to be made a general one star it would have to come then. And it did as soon as George Marshall Marshall of course was his great friend and you have a very amusing episode. Unfortunately as you say there was no tape recording in which this new one star general walks in to see the Colonel who had given him such bad efficiency reports. Yes in the Pentagon and everybody kept the doors open down the corridor the listener thought he would certainly be ready. Yes he must have. Which surprised me a little I didn't think he would have I would have thought he would have ignored that. Well no he that was a very long and and unfair quar all that was conducted between him and the Cape Cape was really had it in for me you know he had a little black book I was told this by the wife of one of his colleagues colleagues
SLB book. He was very apparently strange character who himself at the time got a promotion and still was not one of what was called the attachés clique. The McKay was trying to provoke him into resigning. And I think so we'll have every reason to. Be angry. Whether he really chewed him out I can't say because nobody knows what he said he just put in his diary and I I think you forgot what he said. It said something to infer that he let him have it up to some extent still was great use in World War One during one of the American offenses as a planner. He was in G2 in intelligence and he worked out the plan for the offense of it. SAM Yeah 1018 I spoke perfect French and Spanish Spanish and probably actually Chinese.
Yes he was Mandarin Chinese Yes. He was the first language officer sent to represent the army. You know we have the system of the State Department always had language office yes but the army and the Navy started it in the Far East in one thousand eight when we thought we were going to have a war with Japan. But the Army didn't do anything about it until after World War One because prior to that we really had virtually had no intelligence corps leader going to China first in 1911 in time to see some of the revolution. That's why he arrived in the month of the revolution and requested reassignment there later and that was when he went to Los Angeles for the start of his language course San Francisco so exactly. Yes but there's a funny story. Then when he got there he and the other officer went to have the head of the language class said you have very bad accents and told them a story about his asking these two peasants you might guess this. You repeat their story. Well actually that was when he got to Peking and it was all
missionary I think he said who spoke perfect Chinese and who said that when he was referring to Stillwell's poor accent what typically an accent because of course Chinese is done by tone you know and that he stopped a peasant and asked him the way to chang job. And the peasant couldn't tell him anything. And finally he went on his way and he heard the peasant saying to his companion It sounds just as if that foreigner was asking the way to chunk shop. That's one of my favorite stories in the book. There's a lovely story. What do you think that that without Stillwell chunk I should have wound up in the same place he was still a kind of a help to him in the long run or hindrance because he didn't admire junk I shared and I think quite properly. But would junk I should have had more power less without So I don't think it would have made I don't think it matters now because still what was not
was not able to do what he had been sent to do which was to energize and revitalize the Chinese army and make it as the missions head to raise the combat efficiency of the Chinese armed forces. He wanted to do this through. He was a great maker of Sultans was one of his but he was a good soldier. He was but he was also a great trainer and may carry. He made the seventh division Ford just before the Pearl Harbor. He wanted to because he believed in the Chinese soldier. There's that lovely story about his. Well I got fired from the point he believed that the Chinese soldiers with proper leadership and proper training and in food above all could be made the equal of any soldier in the world if he had if he felt the worth of his own function and didn't want that Chiang Kai-Shek wanted
American materiel because he wanted to store it away and use it against the communists. And he was he was literally afraid of still was making a good effective Chinese armed force because he was very shrewd about the intricacies of Chinese politics and he felt that any force which owed its energy and its motive to someone else would might come under other leadership not necessarily stills but the leadership of some of the Chinese. Well the communists actually was what not what I was going but you know I don't think he was. You see we all think only now in terms of communism as well. The trouble is with People don't always think in terms of how things were then. There were there had been for the whole history of John's regime was one of. Conflict with other groups or John
the war lords of the Southern group especially since Still it was operating in his training schools were in the south and the men in his under that came out of his command were from that area of China and nothing to do with the communist rep in the north I think. But John was afraid of was that the forces trained by Stillwell would come under rival leadership which would then threaten his position and of course to very many other reasons to still want to pay them properly. We want to pay the soldiers directly instead of giving the money to commander who then held out part of exactly but the whole system of the Chinese system was that of a general. O nd his armies. I mean armies in China were not the military system was not. Institutionalized up to Commander in Chief. It was really owed its allegiance almost to the media general who received the pay from the central
government and then paid it to his soldiers. Well actually you know the amount the state unless you paid them more stayed in his pocket. Well it was a funny remark after Stillwell finally had at least pretty good success in Burma after having been driven out once because he couldn't get any help from Liberty for anybody else. He went back to the states and some Chinese general said oh I got so much land or something for winning it's always so hard to give him 10 counties. This was when he was recalled and. Wally said to General Garner was then still he was very sad about this recall he said when I had my victory was called a Hundred Victories way because he and a lot of fighting against the communists in the thirties he said. They gave me the taxes of four counties. Surely when General Stilwell gets home to get the taxes it take out that's a phony and that's a lot of things that are the Chinese
isn't it. I think that's all of course that was a great. Stumbling block to all the allied efforts in China and around China for many many years and never really helped at all except that he was pushed into providing finally grudgingly a few divisions that worked out in Burma. The only thing that helped was by pinning down some of the Japanese divisions and all that was really a very central point to see the Chinese we mustn't forget been fighting in their way. The Japanese since one thousand thirty seven before Pearl Harbor and they had suffered a great deal in their country had been occupied and they'd been bombed and junk I say. Despite all kinds of pressure and not given in to the Japanese not sold out had not made a deal. We had even fought the much he no he hadn't except in places which would he hoped would involve the foreigners that's why he elected to fight at Shanghai and again at King although it was militarily useless but he felt these cities were where
it might involve the Western nations. But Eve did. He had held China together and he hadn't had surrendered or made a deal or collaborated. And by doing that he held down the Japanese army of an occupation force of a million men. And this was a tremendous service to us. When we got into the war because our we were very much afraid. You see that if these Japanese were released by Chang made a deal they would be turned against the Americans who are coming up the Pacific. Dick kept using it as blackmail. Let's try like a mail device and in fact he couldn't make a deal because he would have been finished with his own country if he had. But we never really believed that we somehow swallowed this blackmail about what he would might make a deal with the Japanese. What I liked about still was after he finally got permission to train the Chinese troops in
India over the great outcries of the British and finally got them into action in Burma flying the wounded out to hospitals which had never happened to them before and seeing that they got supplies and good weapons he really turned some of them at least good excellent soldiers. Oh yes for the first time. Well now again he had good material among many of the offices. We mustn't lump all Chinese as as inept and no he wanted the Communists he would rather have had the communists working with him when chunk I checked purely because they had better troops. That's right and so the rumor was I mean he he didn't know it at first hand you know there was nobody up there nobody could tell. And there was a lot of propaganda about the communist armies through Germany vs.. But he he supposed and he most people did that they were would be more vigorous fighters because they were more motivated. As the challenger always is more more
motivated than the than the dying regime which chunk Isaac's regime essentially was losing you know it was failing it was decaying It was corrupt and it was not functioning effectively and there was no spirit. Will you have one story. I can't quote it all closely but the idea is easy. But the Chinese general someplace and the story was that he wouldn't advance he wouldn't surrender he wouldn't fight he wouldn't he wouldn't do anything he wouldn't give up. You know I didn't run away and he wouldn't leave and that was that was the story told about the Chinese commander. I think of the Opium Wars. I can time you and somebody not not me but I quoted it applied it to Chiang Kai shek and it was very apropos. Yeah it was it was and yeah he wouldn't fight he wouldn't run away wouldn't die. Well Stillwell was able because of his actions during an attack and
during a campaign to get the undying loyalty of of the soldiers. Oh yeah especially Chinese soldiers by going up the front and one case he replaced a company commander who was killed in 11 attack and he didn't believe in doing having a stroke so I think he wouldn't know did he know that was that was very characteristic of him he would stand there. He would walk in Burma through these little narrow jungle paths up to the front. And this is one of his ways of galvanizing them into action because they knew if he was killed by a stray bullet their commander would be held responsible and he would they would beg him to go away and he would say stay there until they went into action. That was one way he kind of shame. I mean because they were under orders you know from John King all the time to hold back. You know that's what he was given one order and they were getting a lower by radio from from a journalist right. Yes. He also didn't get along too well with the British.
No he didn't he had a thing about the Limeys as he called them and I was never really able to find out where this came from because he had it even in World War One when he was when he got over there the first thing they did was to send him for experience into a British sector sector. Thank you. And he started out all full of these very prickly prejudices. I think you came from. You have a curious chip on his shoulder about the rich and the Tony and anyone who put on airs so that all the British did. I think they have some of them do. But the very curious thing was that as soon as he got into a French sector he was right at home. He got on beautifully. He was sent to bed you remember for the seventeenth Corps. And he knew French perfectly that was one reason they liked him because it was the first American they had who spoke French.
But the curious thing was that they all just just apparently adored him. They had a very very chummy relations and they gave him a dinner party and they gave him decorations and they all had their pictures taken with him in the center I have it in the book and wrote their names on the back I couldn't put that in. But that picture of him with the French 17th Corps you know as the name of every French officer written personally on the back. They give you a farewell party. That's right. I think you're right. Tim Well I think the general is Samoan and Madame Chung probably didn't like him because he saw through them and he refused to be influenced by her obvious allure as a woman. That's right. Which is more than you could say for the president and some of the other people on whom she used it. Well I think the president really charmer wasn't she. Oh yes. Yeah. She was apparently devastating when she tried and she she just as she did on Wilkie was apparently sucked in. If not seduced and a number of the others and it was they want for a
little at least. I'm not so sure really you know I couldn't. I try very hard to get her nuances Di was just out of University of Iowa but they were holding it back for someone who is now working on it. But the gentleman out there who I wrote now seen it he says there's nothing personal about the trip to China. I still like Mad at least in between but I mean I when she was being friendly but he said mark now realize that she was part of space. But she was a great. Snow job she was great at the snow job. Well he finally wound up of course out of his chair like a man because of the great pressures put on by the journalist and he died rather tragically didn't have I mean of cancer I would have understood him dying of an ulcer
after everything that happened to him but he died. How old was he was 63 63. Well yeah excuse me. He came back home you know when he was going well you know I mean when the war was going on I came back to China and they gave him this command because he had four stars by that time was very hard to fire a shot for him. So he went out he got that really by getting himself out there to the Pacific on that on his own. MacArthur gave it to him. Well yes but it was pure luck because the commanding general good commanding general was killed in the Tenth Army just whilst I was there and MacArthur had offered him I asked him would he be his chief of staff and said no I want to feel command. Well it was just then you know it was killed well in a sense this is a story of a of a potentially great general. We never had a chance really to prove it on a large scale. That's right you know and he would have been the commander in Europe because he was he
was summoned right after Pearl Harbor to come to Washington and be given he was given the command of the first American offensive overseas which was then supposed to take place in North Africa you know. And he was to command it. But then that was turned out to be so much wrong with it and so they delayed it they decided not to do it at that time to postpone it. And just then all this practice broke out in China. And since he was the China expert in the Army he was obviously as Stimson said to him the finger of destinies pointing at you and you've got to go with Stimson's offended and well I marshal but the president kept listening to Chung. Well the president I have I think had a point. You know he he was he had restored the extravert the treaties of things that interfered with Chinese sovereignty his and his whole policy
was to restore the Chinese sovereignty intact and to treat junk I sack as a genuine head of state. And. If Chung. Didn't like Stillwell Roosevelt figured he had a sovereign right not to like him. I mean and Chang made it an issue of his sovereignty said I surely have a right to decide who is to be my advisor and I think the mistake really was a longer one and an old one. Our overall overestimate of junk I say Well in general a small coursework for General Shelton and believed him when he said that with how many two hundred in my words I don't think I'm in a place he could go to the Japanese. I've never understood why she doesn't seem to be the paranoid if not paranoid but I mean megalomania. Yeah he was I mean to say that he could defeat Japan. Well he had a pretty good published demand and
he certainly did but that letter as I said I think it was phrased was the self annunciation of a military Messiah only was he said if you make me commander in chief instead of Stillwell then we can do this. Well essentially the reason Chiang Kai shek liked him was because he offered to do what Chiang Kai-Shek wanted which was to fight the war with American mean. Well he was an employee of Chiang Kai shek for some time before before his army or before his fliers were put in the army. Right. But afterwards his whole point was. He could he could be this surrogate in other words American airman and American planes would fight the war in China. This is exactly what John wanted it meant that his ground troops would not have to fight which is what he did. One way he had figured it and he was a Chinese at least showing and so many other generals apparently regarded their troops and their divisions
as almost as if they were irreplaceable treasures which mustn't get hurt that's why they wanted to have them always on hand but never to use them for fighting. Well that's a chunk I would say distilling all the time you know the defense in depth I mean in one division there and then in the other one behind and the other one behind it because he said if we lose if we lose one then we'll have more left but if we lose them all at once we won't have any. So of course he would feed feed through even tanks and using one tank at a time you know to feed this in usually one of the time or too late. In a way that wouldn't couldn't accomplish anything going to chuck up one by one or saving a chance to save it so I guess it was a funny thing at the end of the war and what she said that he knew of that. Still a lot of it to get the calmest having come down and capture Shanghai. Well this is another one of these weird things you know that you can't believe we how mad it was HIS Americans were during the McCarthy era I mean the kind of
accusations we flung at each other are so fantastic. She got up in the investigating committee. You know one of those Senate investigation committees this was the period when we all have hysterical about. I've got about 20 seconds. Oh and claim that I still was going to take you know you send a command of the Tenth Army which is to invade and take the army to China and open up the area to the communists and so they could defeat Chiang Kai shek. Well it's a fascinating book about a fascinating man we've been talking with Barbara W. Tuchman author of Stillwell and the American experience in China a book published by McMillian which will give you a great insight I think into the end of the period of the male of the era what you didn't have before I Bob called me from the Chicago Tribune. Thanks for being with us and I hope we will have you back next weekend. Mrs. Tuchman thank you so much for coming.
I enjoyed reading it very much. Has been made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is the national educational radio network.
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- Book Beat is a literary radio program hosted by Chicago Tribune columnist Robert Cromie and made possible in part by the National Book Committee and the American Booksellers Association. In each episode, Cromie interviews an author about a specific book theyve written or translated. Authors discuss the books background, topics, and themes as well as their research and writing process.
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