Joseph Stilwell - Recall From China

Recall From China

With the rapid deterioration of the China front after Japanese launched Operation Ichi-Go in 1944, Stilwell saw this as an opportunity to gain full command of all Chinese armed forces, and convinced Marshall to have Roosevelt send an ultimatum to Chiang threatening to end all American aid unless Chiang "at once" place Stilwell "in unrestricted command of all your forces." An exultant Stilwell immediately delivered this letter to Chiang despite pleas from Patrick Hurley, Roosevelt's special envoy in China, to delay delivering the message and work on a deal that would achieve Stilwell's aim in a manner more acceptable to Chiang. Seeing this act as a move toward the complete subjugation of China, Chiang gave a formal reply in which he said that Stilwell must be replaced immediately and he would welcome any other qualified U.S. general to fill Stilwell's position.

On October 19, 1944, Stilwell was recalled from his command by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Partly as a result of controversy concerning the casualties suffered by U.S. forces in Burma and partly due to continuing difficulties with the British and Chinese commanders, Stilwell's return to the United States was not accompanied by the usual ceremony. Upon arrival, he was met by two Army generals at the airport, who told him that he was not to answer any media questions about China whatsoever.

Stilwell was replaced by General Albert C. Wedemeyer, who received a telegram from General Marshall on October 27, 1944 directing him to proceed to China to assume command of the China theatre and replace General Stilwell. Wedemeyer later recalled his initial dread over the assignment, as service in the China theater was considered a graveyard for American officials, both military and diplomatic. When Wedemeyer actually arrived at Stilwell’s headquarters after Stilwell’s dismissal, Wedemeyer was dismayed to discover that Stilwell had intentionally departed without seeing him, and did not leave a single briefing paper for his guidance, though departing U.S. military commanders habitually greeted their replacement in order to thoroughly brief them on the strengths and weaknesses of headquarters staff, the issues confronting the command, and planned operations. Searching the offices, Wedemeyer could find no documentary record of Stilwell's plans or records of his former or future operations. General Wedemeyer then spoke with Stilwell’s staff officers but learned little from them because Stilwell, according to the staff, kept everything in his “hip pocket”.

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