- Historic Sites
Japan Strikes: 1937
In Part Two of her new series on General Joseph W. Stilwell, Barbara W. Tuchman describes the brutal beginnings, at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peiping, of a war we would all eventually have to fight
December 1970 | Volume 22, Issue 1
Beyond Shanghai, two hundred miles up the river, was Nanking. Drawn in more deeply than they had planned, and sensing the growing danger of becoming overextended, the Japanese determined to end the adventure at the capital. Their statements of the necessity of “subduing completely China’s will to fight” took on a frenzied tone. The Nanking government having “embarked on an anti-Japanese campaign of the most vicious kind,” Premier Hirota told the Diet, it must be “compelled to mend its ways” and to “act in unison for enduring peace in East Asia through sincere cooperation between Japan and China.” Air raids on Nanking, Canton, and twenty cities of east China followed, “in order to conclude hostilities as soon as possible,” according to the Japanese announcement. Chiang Kai-shek, still unswerving, chose to defend Nanking in a decision that was militarily indefensible, since equal time could have been bought, tremendous sacrifice spared, and a firmer stand made behind Nanking than in it. Again his purpose was to engage world attention and possibly foreign involvement because of the presence in Nanking of the embassies.
In Peiping, where streamers from Japanese balloons floated overhead announcing the capture of Chinese cities along with the legend “The Japanese Army Preserves the Peace of East Asia,” Stilwcll faced the professional necessity of getting on with north China’s new masters. To have to ask their permission to visit the front was almost too much for his temperament. “Arrangements generally seemed to go wrong when he was with them,” sighed his friend Goctte. To improve the situation Stilwell asked for a Japanese-speaking assistant and was loaned one of the language officers from Tokyo, Captain Maxwell Taylor, a Leavenworth graduate, then thirty-six, who twenty years later was to be United States Chief of Staff. Warned that he would find his new chief an unusual officer, able but irritable and hard to get along with, Taylor was surprised to find Colonel Stilwell waiting to meet him on his arrival at the railroad station. Appreciating the courtesy and confounding predictions, he discovered a man he liked. He saw Stilwell as a man of emotion and action rather than reflection, a doer who, when he saw something wrong, wanted to correct it right away. He thought Stilwell used bad judgment when in a bad temper but had the soldier’s virtues of bravery and determination.
Taylor could act as a buffer and make arrangements, if not control results. Conducted by a Japanese colonel on a tour of Kalgan after its capture, Stilwell confessed to having been thrown out of General Suzuki’s office for asking embarrassing questions. He steeled himself to the necessity of professional relations, but after a call on General Takashita, his wife Win recorded, Joe was “quite ready to retire.” Peiping under the control of the “arrogant little bastards” was hard to bear. They buzzed the American Embassy in planes at 150 feet “to show us what they think of us.” They forced students to march in parades “celebrating” the fall of Paoting so that the Japanese could take pictures of the enthusiastic support of the population. “They are more insufferable than ever and I have to deal with them and smile.” Duty required that he persist even to the point, to which he was persuaded by Taylor, of giving a lunch for five Japanese officers. Two accepted the invitation but failed to appear, one neither replied nor came, and of the remaining two Stilwell’s only comment was, “The hell with them!”…
Since the Chinese preferred their war to be observed through the medium of official communiqués, Stilwell could not get to the front with them or with the Japanese, and his repeated “blasts” to Washington to exert pressure brought no results. He had to make do with a Japanese-conducted tour of Paoting, where his hosts, according to their own statement, had killed 25,800 Chinese in the course of taking the city. Stilwell could find no damage to the walls or other evidence to indicate that the Chinese had put up a strong, or any, defense. Annoyed at being kept from the active front fifty miles away, he considered himself “practically in arrest the whole time and told them I realized it.” Not surprisingly, he was informed three days later, when another tour was arranged for the foreign attachés, that he was not to be included, “so I guess I am washed up for this war. I am spotted as a friend of the Chinese and a moral leper.” He felt let down, too, and unreasonably nagged by M. I. D. [Military Intelligence Division], “the pack of fools in Washington” with whom his relations were to grow steadily worse in the coming months. Taken altogether, he wrote to his two oldest daughters, then in America, “I have released enough bile since July 8 to float a battleship.”…