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Warriors and Politics: The Bitter Lesson of Stilwell in China

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Journal article

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One of the Armys most bitter battles in World War II was waged not between American GIs and the Axis Powers, but between two renowned American fighters General Joseph W. Vinegar Joe Stilwell and General Claire L. Old Leatherface Chennault. The scrap was over which policy the United States would pursue in the wars most frustrating arena, the China-Burma-India theater. The referee was no less a figure than the President of the United States. And, each contestant had some important allies. The battle that raged over China policy was neither a contest over political objectives nor over strategy, but rather over political and military tactics. The objective was clear to make China a great power so that she could fulfill a strong postwar role as a principal stabilizing factor in the Far East. President Roosevelt envisioned China as one of the postwar worlds Four Policemen, along with the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. This objective required a strategy that would both promote effective cooperation between the United States and China and reinforce Chinas position so that she could emerge from the war able to assume her enlarged role. The President decided, therefore, that the United States would pursue a political strategy of supporting and strengthening Chiang Kai-sheks regime so as to keep China in the war against Japan and fully mobilize Chinas economic and military strength. In practical terms, this meant giving China the apparent status of a major power during the war, providing direct military and economic assistance to China and its armed forces, strengthening Sino-American military cooperation, and invigorating Chinese efforts to fight the Japanese. This story illustrates the extent to which war is a political enterprise in which it is increasingly difficult to separate what is military from what is political.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Humanities and History
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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