Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45

Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45

Book - 2001
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Barbara W. Tuchman won the Pulitzer Prize for Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 in 1972. She uses the life of Joseph Stilwell, the military attache to China in 1935-39 and commander of United States forces and allied chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek in 1942-44, to explore the history of China from the revolution of 1911 to the turmoil of World War II, when China's Nationalist government faced attack from Japanese invaders and Communist insurgents. Her story is an account of both American relations with China and the experiences of one of our men on the ground. In the cantankerous but level-headed "Vinegar Joe," Tuchman found a subject who allowed her to perform, in the words of The National Review, "one of the historian's most envied magic acts: conjoining a fine biography of a man with a fascinating epic story."
Publisher: New York : Grove Press, [2001]
ISBN: 9780802138521
0802138527
Characteristics: xv, 621 p. :,map ;,23 cm.

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Janice21383
May 18, 2018

Barbara Tuchman often writes her entertaining books through the perspective of a single person. In the case of the relationship between China and the U.S. in the key years 1911 to 1945, it's General Joseph Stilwell. We could debate about whether this is culturally insensitive or lazy. But it's a fact that though this is a vital history for us in the 21st century, to most Westerners, it is as distant as a fairy tale. A sympathetic Westerner is probably necessary to introduce us to it. And Stilwell is, as he might put it, "a peach". He had all the best qualities often associated with Americans: energetic, honest, open-minded, realistic, blunt to a fault. To my surprise, he did not learn Mandarin Chinese by being the child of missionaries; he learned it as an adult, via a military school, and more importantly,via his love and interest in the country. Even more to my surprise, despite the use of the occasional racial slur, he was mostly free of the racism and sexism endemic to his time. But even Stilwell had some of naive optimism that mislead the U.S. in China, which after his time became destructive folly in Vietnam and beyond. Overall, he is a much better guide, and his story should be much better known, than the stories of those relentless self-promoters Patton and MacArthur.

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