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January 08, 2010

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Adam Daniel Mezei

This was sensational again, D. I can really get used to History Fridays...

The contretemps you outline involving Stillwell/Chennault/the G-mo and then latterly when the fighting was all said and done, the juggling Truman had to do to appoint the US Ambassador who was suspected to be either Stillwell, then onto General Albert C. Wedemeyer, with the eventual nod going to General Patrick J. Hurley indicating just how muddled the US' "strategy" was in the post-WII Chinese arena.

With the Red Army squatting (literally) on prime real estate in Manchuria and controlling all of its key (read: surviving) rail lines in conjunction with a Soong clan-controlled Nationalist holding company, and with Stalin offering up the juiciest of plums (sans Port Arthur and Dairen/Dalian) to Mao and his and Chou's newly-christened PLA, what were the Americans to do but to gawp and gasp like the hare in the proverbial headlights?

Again, this is perhaps 20/20 Man talking. Did the intoxicating mania of being able to unleash The Bomb (again) persuade the one-time haberdasher to dispense with his inside team's key advice?

What Hannah Pakula posits in THE LAST EMPRESS is that it was the magnetic, mercurial charisma of the M-issimo that kept Stillwell on way beyond his freshness date, and perhaps -- deeply psychologically -- what perhaps kept Chennault's bomb 'em to smithereens ("give 'em more planes, dammit!") approach so front and center in Chiang's mind. Lest we forget what Vinegar Joe's nickname for the G-mo was: "Peanut."

Taylor's book is coming soon. You're so money, and you don't even know it.

Adam Daniel Mezei

Deeply psychologically for Chennault because it was well-known how Madame spoke with her Southern drawl.

stuart

These forays into the past are interesting to me because they broaden my rather limited view of the episodes under consideration.

They also set me to thinking 'what might have been':

"The General was left with a choice: try and change Chiang's thinking, forcing him to set aside his domestic rivals and focus on the invader ..."

Could it be that this policy enabled Mao to consolidate support and strength without which the Communist Party would never have ascended to power? And where would China be now?

Such questions remind me of the late Lord Howard de Walden's recollection of running down a politician in his car while a student in Munich in the 1930s. As he always mused, if only he'd been going a bit faster he'd have changed the course of history.

No prizes for identifying the politician.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Bill Chennault

Great essay. I especially liked the idea, "The CBI theater lacked the depth of leadership that would have compensated for the weaknesses of Stilwell and Chennault, allowing them to play their roles but ensuring that their failings never stood in the way of success." I am almost finished with Pakula's great book and the one thing that struck me early on was the fact that there was no Chinese political leadership at the national level.

CKS was doubtless a successful warlord, but that mentality does not equate to leadership on the national level, especially when a warlord's success is solely based on their own need for power. But, that is the nature of the beast.

I have merely a layman's knowledge of the events, but, lately, I have come to appreciate General Stilwell's dedication and military expertise.

As Mr. Wolf implies, political leadership was necessary and lacking on all fronts.

Michael

I'm not very well read on the CBI, but I got the impression that Stillwell was not even much of a commander of troops. The only real battle he fought was for Mytikyina, and he seriously underestimated the tenacity of the Japanese in that fight. Looking back, the CBI seems to have been a litany of inspited leadership of wrong-headed projects - Stillwell and Merrells Merauders, Chennault and the failed B29 Chengdu-based bombing strategy, General Pick rebuilding a redundant Burma/Ledo Road, and Wingate and his noamdic but ineffective Chindits. The only leader to come out of the CBI with much credit seems to be Slim and his push back of the Japanese from Imphal to Mandalay. The Allies may have won the war, but the US subsequently 'lost' China (and Indo-China) and the British 'lost' Burma. At least Chiang Kaishek got Taiwan.

David

Michael, I would hardly call myself an "expert" in the region, so take the following with a healthy grain of salt.

I make no excuses for Stilwell, but I think his failings and those of all of the leaders in the region are not entirely of their own making. What I have learned about CBI was that it was the individual valor of small units of men who were under-supplied, under-supported, and under-led that carried the day for the Allies, not generalship. All formations had their triumphs and their failings, and no commander comes out of the region smelling better than rotting jungle.

(As for Slim, his unimaginative defense of the Imphal plain - the decisive fight in the theatre - was a Somme-like meatgrinder saved by individual valor, air support, and the enemy's overextended lines of supply.)

There are endless reasons for this, but they all come back to CBI having been a sideshow, shorted on troops, supplies, equipment, and leadership. Thus, character meant more there than anywhere else, and what the region revealed was the best and worst of the Allies, the Japanese, and the men who led them.

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