Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek with American General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell shortly after the Doolittle Raid in April 1942.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the appointment of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to the post of Supreme Allied Commander in the China Theater. American General Jonathan Stillwell was assigned as Chiang’s Chief of Staff. Though the titles and roles of Allied leaders in Asia were quite complicated, Chiang was essentially serving as the equivalent of Eisenhower in the ETO, and MacArthur & Nimitz in the PTO. He would also be joined by the British Lord Louis Mountbatten, who would oversee actions in the Southeast Asia Command while Chiang remained the commander in China.
Chiang was always suspicious of American intentions in China; he feared the colonization of his country after the war was over. However, the Chinese had already been at war with Japan since 1937 (though many smaller skirmishes or “incidents” occurred throughout the years before), and needed an ally in the West in order to survive. The Allies wanted to keep China in the war for strategic purposes. In 1941, President Roosevelt had slapped an oil embargo on Japan in response to its continuing expansionism throughout Southeast Asia, namely the brutal seizures of Chinese territory beginning with that of Manchuria in 1931 and culminating with the Rape of Nanking in 1937. Despite its outward support of the Chinese cause, the US had repeatedly extended the Chinese Exclusion Act, forbidding the entry of most Chinese immigrants into the United States for decades beginning in the 1880s. Thus, the US-Chinese alliance of World War II was born of necessity more than mutual admiration, and was laced with distrust and suspicion throughout the war.
This post by Curator Meg Roussel