Derechos | Equipo Nizkor
China Maintains Respect, and a Museum, for a U.S. General
Early in his tenure as commander of the United States' World War II mission in China, Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell expressed a grudging fondness for the damp, ramshackle capital deep in the country's southwest that would be his base for the next several years.
"Chungking isn't half bad when the sun shines," the plain-spoken general wrote in his diary, using the spelling of the period. But his tolerance for the underserviced, refugee-laden town perched high above the Yangtze River did not last.
A year later, he composed a five-stanza poem that went, in part:
"The garbage is rich, as it rots in the ditch, / And the honey-carts scatter pollution."
By the time General Stilwell was recalled to the United States in the fall of 1944, he grumbled that Washington was "as big a pile of manure as Chungking was."
Still, that unflattering take on Chongqing, now a metropolis of 30 million, has not stopped a wellspring of local pride and scholarship about General Stilwell, the American military hero who was sent by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help the Chinese battle the Japanese.
A museum dedicated to General Stilwell opened here more than 20 years ago in the gray-stone, flat-roofed house set in a garden of palm trees where the general lived and worked. Scholars in Chongqing say that when William J. Perry, then the defense secretary, came for the opening of the museum in 1994, his plane was the first American aircraft to touch down here since the victory of the Communists in 1949.
In a sign of the official respect for General Stilwell, the Chongqing municipal government runs the museum.
One of the epic personality battles of the war played out here: Two stubborn and hostile men, General Stilwell and Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader, vied for the affection of the American president, even though they were supposed to be allies. General Stilwell openly referred to Chiang as "Peanut" and railed against his corruption, complaining that it left conscripts starving in the streets of Chongqing.
Dark wood furniture, a sepia-toned wall map of the region in the conference area and a spartan dining table where General Stilwell entertained make it easy to envision what went on in the modest rooms. Other touches — a gray steel Remington typewriter, a glass-fronted bookcase behind the general's desk and a wood-framed bed — are of the period but did not belong to the general, according to his grandson, John Easterbrook.
The photos on the walls reflect the intrigue of a city that was not only an encampment for American military and government advisers who dealt with Chiang but also home to a small cell of Communists led by Zhou Enlai, later the first premier of the People's Republic of China, who stayed not far from General Stilwell's house.
It was, wrote Theodore H. White, Time magazine's correspondent in China, "as if the ablest and most devoted executives of New York, Boston and Washington had been driven from home to set up resistance to an enemy from the hills of Appalachia."
The most striking images in the Stilwell museum are grainy black-and-white shots of the grim-faced generals, Stilwell and Chiang, that capture their frosty relationship. They both stand ramrod straight, rail thin and staring ahead, with the fashionably dressed Madame Chian g Kai-shek sandwiched between them as a chic intermediary — though not always trustworthy, from the American's point of view.
After coming to power, the Chinese Communist Party refused to acknowledge the help the United States had given China in defeating the Japanese, a reaction to American support for Chiang during the civil war. But that attitude changed in the 1990s, and now the American role has become part of the standard version of the war.
General Stilwell's low regard for Chiang, who lost to the Communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949, has contributed to his high standing in China.
In the Stilwell papers, now housed at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the general refers to the Communist program as: "Reduce taxes, rents, interest. Raise production, and standard of living." The government of Chiang, he wrote, was riddled with "greed, corruption, favoritism, more taxes, a ruined currency, terrible waste of life, callous disregard of all the rights of man."
"Stilwell was very unhappy with the Kuomintang soldiers and the situation in the war," said Zhou Yong, the director in Chongqing of the Research Center for the Great Rear Area During the Anti-Japanese War, using the Chinese word for the Nationalists.
"But that was the reality of China at the time," said Mr. Zhou, who has visited the United States and Taiwan to pursue his research on wartime Chongqing. General Stilwell, he said, "had to find a new force to win the war, and the new force was the Communist Party."
General Stilwell, he noted, wanted the Communists under Mao Zedong to have a share equal to Chiang's of the American supply of fighting equipment, known as Lend-Lease. The sharing never came to pass: Chiang outfoxed the American he never trusted, and persuaded Roosevelt to bring the general home.
Among scholars here, the unforgiving attitude toward Chiang that prevailed in the early years of Communist rule has softened, and now, credit is given to his troops for helping to keep the Japanese at bay.
"There's a transformation in China's study of this part of history," said Tan Gang, an associate professor at Southwest University in Chongqing. "It used to be that if scholars mentioned the Kuomintang, they would criticize it. Now, we can see the Kuomintang more objectively."
It was understandable, Mr. Tan said, that Chiang loathed General Stilwell and worked to undermine him. "Stilwell often criticized Chiang Kai-shek publicly, and his words were very nasty," Mr. Tan said. "It embarrassed Chiang Kai-shek — that's why he didn't like him."
Though the general was known as "Vinegar Joe," and his language left an indelible image of a rough-talking boss, his diaries were mostly a means of letting off steam, Mr. Easterbrook said by telephone from his home near San Jose, Calif. The general would most want to be remembered as a stalwart supporter of the Chinese soldier, his grandson said.
Early in his stay here, General Stilwell wrote, "The Chinese soldier best exemplifies the greatness of the Chinese people — their indomitable spirit, their uncomplaining loyalty, their honesty of purpose, their steadfast perseverance."
[Source: By Jane Perlez, The New York Times, Chongqing, 23Feb16]
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|This document has been published on 26Feb16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|