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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
Through a friendship formed with General Shang Chen, commander of the 2oth Army Corps in Honan, Stilwell was able to leave again, this time for Kaifeng and Hsuchow, western and eastern ends of the Lunghai line. He was so glad to be leaving the miasma of Hankow that a last-minute message from the War Department suggesting that he go to Lanchow “on the way back” from Kaifeng caused more of a shrug than an explosion. He merely commented, “I wonder if they know where it is.” Lanchow, port of entry for Russian supplies coming across central Asia, was close to the border of Inner Mongolia, six hundred miles northwest of Kaifeng.
In Honan his confidence in the Chinese revived. They were gaining experience, organizing and improving the flow of replacements, and he began to believe that if they could reach the point of taking the initiative and attacking, which might be within the year, “the turning point will be reached.”… Accompanied to Hsuchow by Shang Chen, whom Stilwell considered one of China’s dependable commanders, he was finally able to see China’s army at the front, upon which his pessimism returned. He decided “the offensive is not in them.”…
A talk with a Kuomintang officer, General Liu, recorded with Stilwell’s remarkable gift for catching character in dialogue, distilled for him the attitude of the governing class. Yes, losses had been heavy, General Liu admitted, about six hundred thousand, but that was “really a good thing. … The Chinese soldiers are all bandits, robbers, thieves and rascals. So we send them to the front and they get killed off and in that way we arc eliminating our bad elements.” Asked how much pay a soldier received, he replied eight dollars a month and “if he got any more he wouldn’t fight.” As to the duration of the war General Liu thought at least one year or two. By that time the Japanese would be broken financially, their soldiers would be homesick, and the foreign powers would have entered the war. Actually the more ground Japan occupied the better, because they would be that much more easily absorbed. “In the long run the Japanese will disappear, absorbed by the Chinese as were the Mongols and the Manchus.” Asked what China would do for salt and motor fuel if blockaded, he replied that the more territory-Japan occupied the smaller would be the part left to China, “so we won’t have to move around so much then” and would need less gasoline.
Asked why greater use was not made of the educated class as officers, General Liu replied that “University students and graduates are all cowards. They would run. I know because I am a University man.” Besides, “The Chinese learned long ago to make the lower classes do the fighting. At first the nobles fought but they soon got over that and made the people do it for them.” The English used Indians to fight for them, he pointed out, the French used Moroccans and Annamites, and now the Japanese were using Mongols and Manchurians.
Knowing and talking to the China of General Liu, Stilwell was not prone to see the country as fighting democracy’s battle, the favorite theme of ideologists like Carlson. Of Carlson himself, whom he came to know in Hankow, his opinion was kindly. He was “a good scout, not overeducated … but a solid citizen and a soldier.” … Privately he called him Captain Courageous and was not impressed by Carlson’s glowing reports of the 8th Route Army’s military training methods, which Stilwell told him he had seen in practice under Feng Yu-hsiang fifteen years ago.
Though it was the fashion to say “aren’t the 8th Route wonderful,” Stilwell was skeptical but professionally interested. Through Agnes Smedlcy he became acquainted with Chou En-lai, one of the Communist governing triumvirate and its representative in Hankow, and with Yeh Chien-ying, the Communist chief of staff. He thought the Communists’ political demands for “liberalization of military policy” and “mobilization of the masses” were “very vague—the usual slogans”; but personally, after visiting and dining with Chou En-lai and his entourage, he found them “uniformly frank, courteous, friendly and direct, in contrast to the fur-collared, spurred KMT [Kuomintang] new-style Napoleon—all pose and bumptiousness.” Chou En-lai was handsome and cultivated and a favorite of foreigners. Yeh Chien-ying made the select category of “good egg, like most reds.” Talking to these intense and energetic men, pursuers of China’s old unsatisfied need of revolution and asyet uncorrupted by power, Stil well realized t he “wide chasm” between them and a man like General Liu. He felt sure that if China emerged from the war with Japan, “there will be trouble again internally.”…