A Yankee Among The War Lords

PrintPrintEmailEmail After three hours of suspense in the station waiting for the train to move and a journey of agonizing halts and delays they came to a stop at 3 A.M. at P’eng Pu, still a long way from the Yangtze and possible foreign warships. Passengers were cleared out, it was obvious the train would go no farther, and they were left standing on the platform in the dark.

For the next thirty-six hours the sickening emotion of fear was to be Stilwell’s companion. Hungry and thirsty and stranded in a strange place, he and Chao did not know whether another southbound train would be coming through and did not dare ask questions for fear of drawing attention. They could not risk going to look for food or drink for fear of missing a train. They feared to wait until daylight brought new crowds and made Stilwell more visible, but they had no other choice. At 6 A.M. some freight cars were pushed onto the southbound track. Among new crowds they struggled on board, while trying to remain inconspicuous, and found places on the floor of an old coal car. Feeling the other passengers’ eyes on him, Stilwell expected at any moment the sudden shout “ Lao mao tze.! ” or the advent of a guard or official who would haul him off for examination. Baking in the heat, the car became “filthy with eggshells, snott, seeds, tea, water, spit, rinds and all the other trash that chinks can throw.” Mixed with “spitting, coughing, belching, nosepicking, sucking and grunting,” this was bad enough, but worse were the whispers and looks cast in his direction. Hunger and thirst increased, but they dared not get off at any of the stops for fear of not getting back on.

Fear materialized in the person of an inspector, “a truculent coolie, dressed in a little brief authority,” who on frisking Stilwell triumphantly discovered and took away his pistol, flourishing it before the passengers as if to unmask a criminal, a spy, an assassin come to kill Chiang Kai-shek. Murmurs rose. “What shall be done with him? Take him off and shoot him.” Disarmed, alone except for Chao, Stilwell felt hostility closing in. At the next stop the inspector got off to report, and the hostility became active. Umbrellas poked into him, tea was spilled on his leg, someone spat on his back. Suddenly the realization flooded over him: “They were trying to make me react. They wanted me to resist,” as an excuse for attack. It could end in murder. “Chao’s warning look proved it; he slowly turned his head back and forth to signal ‘No.’ He was deathly afraid, not for himself but for me.” The prodding and sly tricks and insults continued. With rage in his heart Stilwell contained himself. At a halt the crowd argued whether to “take us off now and shoot us or turn us over at P’u Kow,” the last stop. Catching at the straw, Chao demanded, “Yes, arrest us; turn us over to the authorities at P’u Kow. We demand it. The foreigner has great influence and there will be a great deal of trouble for anyone who harms him.” He was cursed for being a running dog for a foreigner, but before the crowd could take action, the train moved. Chao had found his cue. He demanded to be taken before Chiang Kai-shek himself. “We will make complaints; we will report everything.” The insults and the prodding stopped, but the threat of arrest at P’u Kow abided.

Stilwell decided to give the crowd no time to test its intentions. As the train pulled into P’u Kow, on the Yangtze opposite Nanking, he and Chao jumped off before it came to a stop, and pushing past astonished people, ran for the river, feeling pursuit at their heels but not daring to look behind them. They scrambled aboard a ferry and on the other side walked slowly past suspicious glances in search of lodging. Money persuaded a fearful innkeeper to give them a room where, exhausted and dehydrated, they drank pot after pot of tea. Stilwell was embarrassed to find his hand trembling when he held out his cup for more. Tension did not let down, for word of the foreign devil’s presence brought a crowd gathering in the street, and Stilwell once more imagined capture or lynching. Worry, bedbugs, and fleas allowed him little sleep. In the morning came another trial of the streets, but without interference they reached the station and boarded the train for Shanghai. The journey was hot and tense. On their arrival their eyes met a huge poster on the wall showing a fat and repulsive foreigner prone on the ground with Chinese soldiers sticking bayonets into him, blood spurting out, and a caption exhorting all patriots to kill the foreign swine.

Through the station exit, past the sentries, and across the square Stilwell could see the barbed-wire fence of the International Settlement and safety, one hundred feet away, a matter of thirty seconds. “We crossed the square with 50 pound weights on our feet, passed through the wire … and stood at last on our own side.” A sampan rowed them out to the cruiser Pittsburgh , where at the top of the gangway a Marine was standing guard, and “I, an Army officer, felt like throwing my arms around him and giving him a hug!”

It says much for Stilwell’s military objectivity that the report he submitted on his return gave the southerners a favorable judgment. Their morale, discipline, and confidence were high, he stated, they gave cheerful obedience, did not loot, and were welcomed by the populace, as shown by the reappearance of the women. Their company officers were students of eighteen to twenty-two, determined and convinced in contrast to the “trash” in the northern army, who at the company and battalion level were largely uneducated coolies.