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The Stilwell Papers - 1972

An Iconoclastic Account of America's Adventures in China

TK Tim Kirsten Updated
The Stilwell Papers - 1972

The author has created the Stilwell Papers from the private diaries, notes and letters of General Joseph Stilwell (nicknamed “Vinegar Joe”). They offer an interesting perspective on the U.S. relations with China in the past and present (Nationalist and Communist China).

Stilwell was an U.S. general who fought vigorously on the China-Burma-India front in World War II. His full Biography can be read here: Joseph Stilwell

During his first years of contact with both the common citizens of China and leaders of wealth and position, General Stilwell developed an intimate understanding of the basic and under-lying psychology of China. Few people realize that General Stilwell throughout the greatest years of his career was almost blind. The explosion of an ammunition dump during World War I at Belrupt caused a severe injury to the left eye.

During the trying days in Chungking, and during the jungle campaigns in Burma, where lighting facilities were inadequate, it was often necessary to work by candlelight. His indomitable urge to do his job and do it well forced him to strain the remaining eye. He hoped that it would last long enough to see him through his mission.

General Stilwell's war journals were written so he might have a true and factual account of those years. He put them down for his own use. But his gallant spirit lives on, encouraging the author to bring his journals to publication.

The of a war theater of the United States Army is the most important and most lone-some of all men in whatever area he serves. He can have no intimates or friends to share his fears and worries. The pressures and strains that bear upon him are unrelenting; he must resolve them all in the clarity of decisions upon which the lives of men and the security of the Republic depends. The quality of introversion that such a terrible responsibility brings found its only release in General Stilwell in a series of papers, letters, and journal jottings which were found after his death among his effects.

The Stilwell Papers is a collection of these papers covering three years in the history of the last war—from the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, to the final relief of General Stilwell from command in China in October 1944. He wrote these papers for himself alone—they are presented in this book raw and unformed, torn from the privacy of his emotions. He wrote them in a sharp, hard language of command and bitterness; they present only one facet of his many-sided character. There is little reflection in them of the generosity, the kindliness, the warmth of love that won him so enduring a loyalty among those who knew him best. It would have been alien to his nature to record those many tenderness’s that so naturally complemented his vigor and directness in action.

In this book, we present his thoughts and reflections as he phrased them in his own words, at whatever penalty the book may suffer by peacetime canons of taste and convention. We have made no change in his text except for certain minor liberties detailed below. Editorial matter as is added for background and explanations are marked and distinguished from the text proper by this type face.

The papers brought together here come from three sources, each reflecting a lifelong personal habit of General Stilwell. The first source is his personal command journal, which was kept faithfully throughout the war. The journal entries are usually short, clipped telegraphic entries, serving more than personal symbols of memory than a narrative of events. Frequently, they are technical military notes. Only as much of the journals is used in this book as is needed to stitch the sequence of the story together where other sources fail.

The second source comprises longer essays and analyses usually written during periods of reflection when Stilwell, for his own satisfaction, attempted to summarize a situation, sharpen his perception of character, or think through a vexing problem. The editor has woven both diaries and reflective papers together into a single pattern, setting down both diary entry and reflective paper as a single section when they fall under the same date. When the reflective paper is undated, the editor has inserted it where, by the logic of text and events, he believes it properly falls.

The third source of material for this book is General Stilwell's letters to Mrs. Stilwell. The letters are clearly marked with the name of their recipient. Wherever the name of a Chinese friend of General Stilwell has appeared, and whenever, in the editor's opinion or Mrs. Stilwell, such a name exposes that friend to danger of reprisal at the hands of the Chinese government, the name has been deleted. Wherever Stilwell, as commanding general, records the shortcomings of United States officers, Mrs. Stilwell has requested that the names of such officers be deleted unless the history of the war makes it essential that the name be retained.

The editor has taken it upon himself to fill out the abbreviations of names or translations of code that Stilwell frequently used. The parentheses in the text are those of Stilwell; but whenever a bracket has been used, the bracketed material is an explanation or translation supplied by the editor. Footnotes also are worded by the editor. Occasionally, writing for his own eyes alone, Stilwell used the harsh descriptive expletives of the soldier. Knowing General Stilwell's reluctance to use such language publicly, the editor has cut or softened various easily recognized phrases.

Less than half of General Stilwell's wartime writings are embodied in this book; but what has been published is Stilwell's alone, and the liberties mentioned above are the only brief alterations of his original script.

Contents of the Stilwell Papers

  • IX - Foreword by Winifred A. Stilwell
  • XIII - Introduction by Theodore H. White
  • 1 - Chapter 1 - The Old Sinking Feeling: December 1941
  • 13 - Chapter 2 - This Was Washington: January-February 1942
  • 43 - Chapter 3 - Disaster in Burma: March-May 1942
  • 107 - Chapter 4 - Let's Go Back to Burma: Summer 1942
  • 160 - Chapter 5 - As You Were: Autumn 1942
  • 187 - Chapter 6 - The Battle of the Mud: Spring and Summer of 1943
  • 223 - Chapter 7 - The Ladies Lend a Hand: Autumn 1943
  • 242 - Chapter 8 - Mr. Roosevelt Clears Things Up: Cairo 1943 242
  • 268 - Chapter 9 - "Up the River, over the Hogback": Victory in Burma 1944
  • 315 - Chapter 10 - Chiang Kai-shekand His Government
  • 323 - Chapter 11 - Relief from Command: October 1944
  • 351 - Afterword by Winifred A. Stilwell
  • British Burma (1824-1948)
  • Republic of China
  • India (1880-1947)
  • United States
Catalog Card 76-185316
  • Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)
  • WWII (1939-1945)


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  • The Stilwell Papers
    An Iconoclastic Account of America's Adventures in China
    48 MB
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