Out of the crooked timber of humanity
Nothing entirely straight was ever made.
When I prepared for this study, I had been determined to avoid writing old forms of military history focusing on operations, generals, and statesmen, inspired as I was by European military historians writing about the importance of warfare in the creation of identity, its impact on state making, and the formation of national memories. I had least expected to want to write extensively about Stilwell and the Nationalist military during the War of Resistance. To a graduate student at a time when the USA repeatedly backed nasty governments, when the Nationalists imposed a harsh martial law in Taiwan, and when Communist rule still retained the vestiges of promise, Tuchman's Sand against the Wind, The Stilwell Papers, and Theodore White and Annalee Jacoby's Thunder out of China were convincing and confirmed that the Nationalists had deserved their fate.
As I read around what I then still thought of as the Pacific War, initially with the restricted aim of providing a short synopsis, it became clear that the Stilwell story could not stand up. I concluded that a new presentation of Stilwell's activities, placed in the context of Allied strategy, was unavoidable. Only when a more complex understanding of the war, US and British strategies, the Nationalists' approach to it, and Stilwell's actions was established would the ground exist for the proper exploration of the topics that first drove me to undertake this study. This chapter, and much of the rest of the book, is the result.
To challenge Stilwell's views about Nationalist military incompetence, their refusal to gather up China's resources to fight Japan, and their blinkered failure to make use of the opportunities provided by the USA, it will be necessary to analyse the Burma War and the position of China in Allied strategy in detail. What I shall suggest is, first, that to understand Stilwell's role in China his actions have to be placed in the context of US strategy in the Second World War, generally, and in the Pacific War, specifically. Neither Roosevelt nor the USA's Chief-of-Staff, George Marshall, shared Stilwell's conviction that Japan had to be defeated in China and that therefore it was necessary to build a supply line through north Burma to equip National Army divisions with advanced munitions and to retrain them. The key aims of Roosevelt and Marshall were to avoid