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  • General "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell

    I was reading a book about the war in Burma during WW2...One American General was mentioned that I have never read very much about...General "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell....according to the book he was one of the few American high ranking officers during WW2 that actually earned his CIB the hard way and was known as "the soldiers General"......Anybody know much about this officer?????

    per ardua ad astra

  • #2
    Read Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman

    Here is a short review by Birgitte Regier

    Tuchman's voluminous narrative history intertwines the biography of Joseph W. Stilwell (1883-1946) with the history of America's relationship with China from 1911 to 1945. The author provides a wealth of detailed information, spiced with anecdotes and pungent remarks from Stilwell's diaries. Her analysis reveals how America's romantic enchantment with China and the idealized, false image of Chiang Kai-shek's regime as a democracy evolved, causing far-reaching consequences for America after 1945. Slightly more than half of the study is taken up by the period 1939 to 1945 when Stilwell was commander of the China-Burma-India theater until President Roosevelt gave in to Chiang's persistent pressure and recalled Stilwell in late 1944. Mirroring the fact that America had no official relations with the Chinese Communists during Stilwell's time (and perhaps also that it was still problematic to write about them in 1970), Tuchman's book deals with the Chinese Communist movement only marginally.

    A major source for Tuchman's Stilwell biography were his diaries, both those which had already been edited by Theodore White and published as The Stilwell Papers in 1948 as well as earlier, hitherto unpublished diaries and letters. Other important primary sources were numerous interviews with people who had known Stilwell and worked with him as well as documents from military archives and private papers of some of Stilwell's contemporaries. The extensive bibliography of secondary sources lists many English-language works written in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, among them a number of memoirs and biographies. Tuchman complemented her study with copious notes.

    Stilwell and the American Experience in China, which won its author her second Pulitzer Prize, is a well-researched and well-written history. Since the book was first published twenty-four years ago, new documents have become available, but Tuchman's work remains a valuable reading for everybody interested in the period and/or America's Far-East policy in the twentieth century.

    Tuchman also wrote The Guns of August, about the beginning of WW I
    and A Distant Mirror, about the effect of the plague on Europe in the middle ages, using it as a rough parallel to the potential effects of a nuclear war on society.
    "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." - Albert Einstein

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    • #3
      Originally posted by w john spurrell View Post
      Read Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman

      Here is a short review by Birgitte Regier

      Tuchman's voluminous narrative history intertwines the biography of Joseph W. Stilwell (1883-1946) with the history of America's relationship with China from 1911 to 1945. The author provides a wealth of detailed information, spiced with anecdotes and pungent remarks from Stilwell's diaries. Her analysis reveals how America's romantic enchantment with China and the idealized, false image of Chiang Kai-shek's regime as a democracy evolved, causing far-reaching consequences for America after 1945. Slightly more than half of the study is taken up by the period 1939 to 1945 when Stilwell was commander of the China-Burma-India theater until President Roosevelt gave in to Chiang's persistent pressure and recalled Stilwell in late 1944. Mirroring the fact that America had no official relations with the Chinese Communists during Stilwell's time (and perhaps also that it was still problematic to write about them in 1970), Tuchman's book deals with the Chinese Communist movement only marginally.

      A major source for Tuchman's Stilwell biography were his diaries, both those which had already been edited by Theodore White and published as The Stilwell Papers in 1948 as well as earlier, hitherto unpublished diaries and letters. Other important primary sources were numerous interviews with people who had known Stilwell and worked with him as well as documents from military archives and private papers of some of Stilwell's contemporaries. The extensive bibliography of secondary sources lists many English-language works written in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, among them a number of memoirs and biographies. Tuchman complemented her study with copious notes.

      Stilwell and the American Experience in China, which won its author her second Pulitzer Prize, is a well-researched and well-written history. Since the book was first published twenty-four years ago, new documents have become available, but Tuchman's work remains a valuable reading for everybody interested in the period and/or America's Far-East policy in the twentieth century.

      Tuchman also wrote The Guns of August, about the beginning of WW I
      and A Distant Mirror, about the effect of the plague on Europe in the middle ages, using it as a rough parallel to the potential effects of a nuclear war on society.
      Stillwell hated Chiang Kai Shek, all of his warlords and all of the rampant corruption that was endemic to China. He openly referred to the bald headed Chinese Leader as "Peanut" and didn't care who heard him say this. Needless to say, Stillwell wasn't on Chiang's "best friend list" either.
      "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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      • #4
        Much like Slim in India, Stilwell got the short end of the stick when it came to supplies and men. He was doing a thankless task in an almost forgotten part of the war.

        Here's the last paragraph from the entry on him from the Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography:

        "Stilwell was opinionated and sometimes irascible(hence the nickname "Vinegar Joe"), and he did not suffer fools gladly; he was also a perceptive and farsighted strategist; and a flexible and innovative tactician; he was energetic and encouraged initiative in his subordinates; he also showed deep concern for the welfare of his men and had a fine, wry sense of humor."


        On the deep concern for his men, I've read that some of the men from Merrill's Marauders felt he overused them, using them so often that they never had time for rest or replacements. I've only found that view in one book and I can't really remember the title just now. Sorry.
        Last edited by R. Evans; 27 Sep 07, 12:28.
        Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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        • #5
          Stillwell did not like the British either (I wonder if there was another country he did like?). Part of his problems in Burma was related to his staff. I don't think they always told him the truth, or at least he did blame them on occasion. Just about every Special Raiding unit at one time or another was misused by higher authority, especially if they did not have enough Infantry around. Bernard Ferguson had some interesting things to say about Stillwell in his biography.

          Stillwell did see active service again on Okinawa when Simon B. Buckner got killed. He was already suffering from the cancer that claimed his life immediately after the war was over.

          I liked the guy and thought he was one of the better qualified and astute generals we had available in 1941. I would have liked to have see him in North Africa or more likely under MacArthur in the Pacific. He was definitely NOT a political general!

          Pruitt
          Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

          Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

          by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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          • #6
            I second Pruitt on Stilwell not being a political general. He was also from the old school of soldiering. He went where he was told and did what he was told with little complaint. The only real complaining he did was over the Chinese. Chiang Kai-Shek in particular.
            Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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            • #7
              Stilwell, like Patton, was one of those polarizing officers whom General Marshall protected because of Marshall's confidence in his abilities. Given Marshall's high standards, that says a lot.
              "There are only two professions in the world in which the amateur excels the professional. One, military strategy, and, two, prostitution."
              -- Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

              (Avatar: Commodore Edwin Ward Moore, Republic of Texas Navy)

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              • #8
                It seems he didnt get on with many people. He fell out with Slim I believe when Slim told him his chindits needed a rest and he demanded they have a medical examination to prove their fatigue. I'm sure that didn't go down too well. A colourful character no doubt about that.

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                • #9
                  Stillwell is susposed to have been on Marshalls short list for command of Torch. I wonder if he would have as patient as Ike with the French Governer Generals of the Africa colonies. Or if he would have shot them after a few days.

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                  • #10
                    Stilwells march out of Burma was nothing short of epic. A true leader of men.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Air Pirate View Post
                      Stilwells march out of Burma was nothing short of epic. A true leader of men.
                      Yes he was.He was,in my opinion,the best General that the U.S.Army had during World War II.While I understand Gen. Marshall's decision to send Gen. Stilwell to China, because of his service in China during the interwar period,it was a terrible waste of one of the foremost tacticians and trainers in the U.S. Army in 1942.
                      If you Ain't Cav,You Ain't S---

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                      • #12
                        Thanks! guys for all the information....I will look up B.Tuchman's book...I have read "The Guns of August"...very informative.

                        There always appears to be one general or another in every war who seems to get forgotten in the poltitical scheme of things for not being PC enough.

                        per ardua ad astra

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                        • #13
                          And Robert Stack's portrayal of him in "1941" was hilarious.

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                          • #14
                            The portrayal of General Stilwell in 1941 may not have been that far off either! He was in command of an Infantry Division in South California when Pearl Harbor happened. He wrote that he wanted to go into HQ and throw out all the papers being furiously typed.

                            Pruitt
                            Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                            Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                            by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Bow View Post
                              I was reading a book about the war in Burma during WW2...One American General was mentioned that I have never read very much about...General "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell....according to the book he was one of the few American high ranking officers during WW2 that actually earned his CIB the hard way and was known as "the soldiers General"......Anybody know much about this officer?????

                              per ardua ad astra
                              The fact that he earned the Combat Infantryman's Badge at all says alot about the man's character and intestinal fortitude. He was one hard charger! The story that I heard was that he literally walked out of Burma at the head of his men and told the world that they had gotten their asses kicked by the Japanese. He made no bones about it!
                              "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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