Stilwell and the American experience in China, 1911-45

by Barbara W. Tuchman

Hardcover, 1970

Call number

951 T



Macmillan (1970), 621 pages


Tuchman uses the life of Joseph Stilwell, the military attache to China in 1935 to 1939 and commander of United States forces and allied chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek in 1942-44, to explore the history of China from the revolution of 1911 to the turmoil of World War II, when China's Nationalist government faced attack from Japanese invaders and Communist insurgents. Her story is an account of both American relations with China and the experiences of one of our men on the ground.

User reviews

LibraryThing member broughtonhouse
Immovable force meets immovable object as Chaing Kai-shek and General George Stilwell struggle over American policy to develop a sustainable Chinese Nationalist army. Baraba Tuchman has explained in her lucid prose style a vitally important piece of modern history which led directly to the way modern China has developed and maintained its relationships with the west. In her introduction she apologises to the Chinese people for the way their leadership appears, pointing out this was a particularly low point.

Nobody really comes out well except George Sitwell, an irascible, upright person who obviously had the best interests of China at heart but was unable to carry with him either the American administration nor the wily Chiang.
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LibraryThing member cwhouston
This is another great book by Tuchman, author of the famed 'Guns of August'. Although lengthy, it gives wonderfully deep yet easy reading coverage of the history of the US and Chinese involvement in the China--Burma-India theater during WWII. In style and concept it is very similar to Bright Shining Lie by Sheehan about JP Vann in Vietnam.

With reference to Vietnam, I was staggered by the similarities between US involvement with Chaing KS and Diem 20 years later and would love this to have been discussed in this book.

The writing style is engaging and often very humorous owing to the cantankerous nature of the main protagonist. I particularly enjoyed Stillwell's constant references to CKS as 'the Peanut'. Good as it is, it does not touch on the ensuing civil war and the Kuomintang exile to Formosa - Mao is barely mentioned at all.

I wish I had read this before trying to understand US involvement in Korea, the debacle of McCarthyism and the ultimate disaster of Vietnam - all of which can be seen as a continuum from US involvement with the Peanut.
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LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Barbara Tuchman deservedly won a Pulitzer for this biography of an outspoken US WWII general fighting in, for and against Kuomintang China. As an officer of the China-based 15th US infantry and later as military attaché and US military pointman on China, Stilwell was an eyewitness of the end of the Chinese empire up to the Chinese Civil War.

The biography is especially valuable regarding the management and subtle power plays of client rulers. Stilwell as US emissary was flatterred, challenged, ignored, played and frustrated by China's homegrown dictator Chiang Kai-Shek (codenamed "peanut" by Stilwell). The negative influence of US domestic politics on a consistent foreign policy is also highlighted by Tuchman who is a master in writing history books (here: WWII) as a commentary on current affairs (here: the Vietnam War).
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LibraryThing member Scapegoats
This is a classic work that has become definitive about the experience of Joseph Stilwell in China during World War II. Tuchman uses his experience as a window to view US-China relations. For Tuchman, Stilwell is a tragic hero. He was a rising star with the War Department, and particularly George Marshall, but was denied command in North Africa at the start of the war because he was the best man to serve as Chiang Kai-shek's Chief of Staff. He went reluctantly but with determination to help China in the fight. He slowly became disillusioned with both Chiang Kai-shek and the War Department. Chiang was completely unwilling to fight the Japanese and the War Department continually withdrew supplies promised to China to other theaters of war. So Stilwell got nothing but moral support from Washington and not even that from Chiang.

His main goal was to reopen the Burma Road to give a land supply route to China. Towards the end of the war, he began a campaign to do that. He was successful in his offensive, but was recalled to Washington, at Chiang's insistence, before finishing the job. His success to that point allowed the air supply of China a much easier route than directly over "the Hump".

Tuchman's view of Stilwell is extremely sympathetic. She acknowledges that he lacked tact, but gives him the benefit of the doubt in all other areas. She puts his sense of duty and honor above all else. For example, when he performs poorly in a meeting with Roosevelt, she suggests that he refused to self-promote. She routinely comments on how he accomplished so much with so little, particularly in regards to the Burma campaign. She also credits him with understanding the situation in China better than most at the time. His predictions of Chiang's collapse would soon be proven out, although he would not live to see it.

She concludes that Stilwell was fighting a war to modernize the Chinese military when the Chinese didn't want it. Much like the US attempt to modernize China was doomed to failure without strong Chinese support, Stilwell's agenda could gain no traction if it was imposed from the outside.

This is a great book. It is easy to read and you won't find more information on Stilwell and China anywhere. Take her depiction of Stilwell with a grain of salt, but otherwise this is a must read for US-China historians or historians of the Pacific War. Tuchman's writing style is to smooth that it will appeal to a lot of non-historians as well.
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LibraryThing member bookblotter
For quite a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I took Barbara Tuchman (well, her books) with me on successive vacations. While I enjoyed each of them, Stilwell was the toughest for me to plow through, probably because I knew the least about the topic going in. One things I've liked about her books is the sometimes unusual view she takes... For example, the American Revolution from the Dutch point of view.

Unfortunately, she passed away before I ran out of vacations. Alas.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
1185. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, by Barbara W. Tuchman (27 Sep 1972) I found this an excellent and muchly moving reading experience, tho I confess this was partly because it was confrmatory of much I so passionately argued in 1952--when I was not sure that I was sure I was right, altho the book only covers events till Stilwell left China and India on Oct 26, 1944, he having been recalled at Chiang's demand. It paints a clear picture of the deficiencies of Chiang, and shows that the Chiang regime could not last in China, just as I claimed in 1952, at the height of the McCarthy years.… (more)
LibraryThing member jamespurcell
interviews supplemented by photos and a personal visit by the author to Guadalcanal create a good memoir for the coastwatchers
LibraryThing member antiquary
Depressing account of a talented but disagreeable soldier who was definitely the wrong man in the wrong place for Chinese-American relations in WWII.
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
One of my favourite Tuchman books. I have a prejudice against "Vinegar Joe", caused by an early read of "Defeat into Victory", by William Slim, who rose to being the commander of the British XIV Army on the Burma Front. Stilwell's operatic style, and the real failure to obtain any useful result from goading the Nationalist Chinese Army seem to bear this out. The Indian army had its considerable success in defending India arising from a long relationship and interweaving of British culture into the Indian Army. Stilwell got very little mileage out of his missionary from the top down methods. Tuchman does come to see this, and how little the efforts of American foreign relations were having on the unfolding of Chinese history in the first half of the twentieth century.
The Chinese were not galvanized into action, and didn't share America's goals for them anyway.
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