New Commanders in a Split Theater
As in January 1942, so again in October 1944, the United States of America ordered one of its general officers to act as a chief of staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, then Supreme Commander of the China Theater in the war between the United Nations and Germany, Italy, and Japan. On both occasions, Japanese successes in the field alarmed the U.S. Government and preceded the step. But events had not been static during the intervening thirty-four months, and so the two officers concerned, Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell in 1942-1944, and Lt. Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer in 1944-1946, faced situations whose differences are as enlightening as their similarities.
The Japanese in December 1941 and January 1942 had overrun American and British possessions in the Far East with a speed that appeared to the United States to spread gloom and despondency in China and aroused anxiety that China might make peace with Japan. On the positive side, the U.S. War Department hoped that a revitalized Chinese Army might offer a defense of China effective enough to ease pressure on the United States and the British Commonwealth in the Pacific. So General Stilwell was sent to China to be chief of staff to the Generalissimo in the latter's role as Supreme Commander, China Theater; to reassure the Generalissimo of United Nations' interest in and support for China; and to carry out the specific added mission of improving the combat efficiency of the Chinese Army.
After he took up his mission, Stilwell found it difficult to persuade the Chinese Government to undertake those steps which he thought essential to create a potent Chinese force, such as reducing the number of divisions to a total within China's ability to support, bringing the remainder to strength, providing them with professionally qualified officers, and giving them the bulk of China's arms. Stilwell's task of persuading the Chinese -- for he could not order them -- was complicated by the Japanese seizure of Burma, which lent force to the argument that China could do nothing for itself until its Allies broke the Japanese blockade. Among those who opposed Stilwell's plans was Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault, the senior American air officer in China, who believed that by stressing reform of the Chinese Army, and de-