Stilwell Museum
Address: Jialing Xin Cun 63,
Transport: Bus: no. 104, 215, or 261 to Liziba stop
Phone: 023-6387 2794
Price: ¥5 (65¢)

After Pearl Harbor, then-U.S. President Roosevelt sent Gen. Joseph Stilwell (1883-1946) to Chongqing as commander-in-chief of Allied forces in the China-Burma-India theater of the war. Unfortunately, "Vinegar Joe" and the KMT general he was supposed to advise -- Chiang Kai-shek -- had rather different agendas, not to mention temperaments, and in 1944, at Chiang's urging, Stilwell was relieved of his post.

Nonetheless, his contribution to the Burma Road campaign was significant -- reason enough for the local government to continue to maintain a museum honoring him. His disdain for Chiang must also have endeared him to the party. The museum, housed in Stilwell's Chongqing residence, has a collection of newspaper clippings, photographs, letters, and Stilwell's personal belongings. A video tells the Chinese version of Stilwell's tour of duty and includes rare clips. Explanations are in English and Chinese. The Stilwell and Flying Tiger T-shirts sold here make unique gifts.

Joseph Stilwell

General Joseph Warren Stilwell (March 19, 1883 – October 12, 1946) was a United States Army four-star general best-known for his service in China and Burma. For his purported concern for the average soldier and forthright manner, he was nicknamed "Uncle Joe" and "Vinegar Joe."

Early life

Stilwell was born 19 March 1883 in Palatka, Florida of patrician Yankee stock. His parents were Doctor Benjamin Stilwell and Mary A. Peene. Stilwell was an eighth generation descendant of an English colonist who arrived in America in 1638, whose descendants remained in New York up through the birth of Stilwell's father. Named for a family friend, as well as the doctor who delivered him, Joseph Stilwell, known as Warren by his family, grew up in New York, under a strict regimen from his father that included an emphasis on religion. Stilwell later admitted to his daughter that he picked up criminal instincts due to,"...being forced to go to Church and Sunday School, and seeing how little real good religion does anybody, I advise passing them all up and using common sense instead."

Stilwell's rebellious attitude led him to a record of unruly behavior once he reached a post-graduate level at Yonkers High School. Prior to this last year, Stilwell had performed meticulously in his classes, and had participated actively in Football (as quarterback) and Track. Under the discretion of his father, Stilwell was placed into a post-graduate course following graduation, and immediately formed a group of friends whose activities ranged from card playing to stealing the desserts from the senior dance in 1900. This last event, in which an administrator was punched, led to the expulsions and suspensions for Stilwell's friends. Stilwell, meanwhile, having already graduated, was once again by his father's guidance, sent to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, rather than to proceed to Yale University as originally planned.

Despite missing the deadline to apply for Congressional appointment to the military academy, Stilwell gained entry through the use of family connections who knew President William McKinley. In his first year, Stilwell underwent hazing as a plebe that he referred to as "hell." While at West Point, Stilwell showed an aptitude for languages, such as French, in which he ranked first in his class during his second year. In the field of sports, Stilwell is credited with introducing basketball to the Academy, and participating in cross-country running (as Captain), as well as playing on the varsity football team. At West Point he had two demerits for laughing during drill. Ultimately, Stilwell graduated from the academy ranked 32nd in a class of 124 cadets.

Military career

Stilwell later taught at West Point, and attended the Infantry Advanced Course and the Command and General Staff College. During World War I, he was the U.S. Fourth Corps intelligence officer and helped plan the St. Mihiel offensive. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in France.

Stilwell is often remembered by his sobriquet, "Vinegar Joe", which he acquired while a commander at Fort Benning, Georgia. Stilwell often gave harsh critiques of performance in field exercises, and a subordinate - stung by Joe's acidity - drew a caricature of Stilwell rising out of a vinegar bottle. After discovering the caricature, Stilwell pinned it to a board and had the drawing photographed and distributed to friends.

Between the wars, Stilwell served three tours in China, where he became fluent in Chinese, and was the military attaché at the United States Embassy from 1935 to 1939. In 1939 and 1940 he served in the 2nd Infantry Division and from 1940 to 1941 organized and trained the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, California. It was there that his leadership style - which emphasized concern for the average soldier and minimized ceremonies and officious discipline - earned him the nickname of “Uncle Joe.”

Just prior to World War II, Stilwell was recognized as the top corps commander in the Army and was initially selected to plan and command the Allied invasion of North Africa. However, when it became necessary to send a senior officer to China to keep that country in the War, Stilwell was selected, over his personal objections, by President Franklin Roosevelt and his old friend, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. He became the Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, served as the commander of the China Burma India Theater responsible for all Lend-Lease supplies going to China, and later was Deputy Commander of the South East Asia Command. Unfortunately, despite his status and position in China, he soon became a pawn in the political game of U.S. Lend-Lease aid and Chinese politics.


Stilwell's post in the China-Burma-India Theater, while a geographical command on the same level as the commands of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, was a more complicated one due to the lower priority of the Theater for supplies and personnel and the greater need to balance political and military activities. The British and the Chinese were ill-equipped and more often than not on the receiving end of Japanese offensives. Chiang in particular was interested in hoarding Lend-Lease supplies for later use during the inevitable civil war, which put him directly at odds with Stilwell who wanted to use the supplies to prosecute the war. Chiang's reluctance was reinforced after watching two of his best armies crippled in Burma under foreign control. Furthermore, after fighting and resisting the Japanese for five years, many in the Nationalist government felt that it was time for the Allies to assume a greater burden in fighting the war. However, the first step to fighting the war for Stilwell was the reformation of the Chinese Army. Contrastingly, such a maneuver would have upset the delicate balance of political and military alliances, which kept Chiang in power. Reforming the army meant removing men who maintained Chiang's position on top. While he outwardly gave Stilwell command of some Chinese troops, Chiang preferred that the war in China be fought in the air by General Claire Chennault's air force, something Chennault assured the Generalissimo was feasible. This, in turn, pushed Chennault and Stilwell into competition for the valuable Lend-Lease supplies arriving over the Himalayas from British-controlled India — an obstacle referred to as "The Hump." George Marshall, in his biennial report covering the period of July 1, 1943 to June 30, 1945, acknowledged he had given Stilwell "one of the most difficult" assignments of any theater commander.

Arriving in Burma just in time to experience the collapse of the Allied defense of that country, which cut China off from all land and sea supply routes, Stilwell personally led the American forces out of Burma on foot. This courageous walkout from Burma and his bluntly honest assessment of the disaster (he called it "a hell of a beating") captured the imagination of the American public, badly in need of candor and an American hero at that stage of the war.

After the Japanese occupied Burma, China was cut off completely from Allied aid and materiel except through the hazardous route of flying cargo aircraft over the Hump. Early on, the Combined Chiefs of Staff had determined that Allied ground forces would not be sent to China; they realized that there was an inability to support them adequately. Conceptually, the Allies' strategy was that China would supply the ground forces to fight the Japanese, and the Americans would provide logistical and air support.

Convinced that the Chinese soldier was the equal of any given the proper care and leadership, Stilwell established a training center for two divisions of Chinese troops in India. Stilwell's primary goals were the opening of a land route to China from northern Burma and India, so that greater supplies could be transported to China, and to organize a competent Chinese army that would fight the Japanese. Strategically, this was the only area at that time where the possibility existed for the Allies of engaging large numbers of troops against their common enemy, Japan.

Disagreements with Chiang

Stilwell was constantly embroiled in disagreements with Chiang - whom Stilwell labeled "Peanut" in his official reports - about engaging Chinese forces against the Japanese. Stilwell would press Chiang to fight, while Chiang, with some legitimacy, preferred to preserve a defensive posture for political and military reasons. Chiang was concerned that his troops lacked training and supplies, and he also wanted to keep Chinese Nationalist forces ready to fight the Communists, under Mao Zedong after the end of the war with the Japanese. Infuriated by what he regarded as Chiang's corruption, incompetence and timidity, Stilwell constantly filed reports to Washington complaining of Chiang's inaction. Eventually, Stilwell’s belief that Chiang and his generals were incompetent and corrupt reached such proportions that Stilwell sought to cut off Lend-Lease aid to China. In his diary, which he faithfully kept, Stilwell began to note the corruption and the amount of money ($380,584,000 in 1944 dollars) being wasted upon the procrastinating Chiang and his government.

For his part, Chiang would actually countermand orders to Chinese units issued by Stilwell in his capacity as Chief of Staff. Chiang demanded impossibly large amounts of supplies before he would agree to take offensive action. Since the amount of supplies that could be transported to China by air were inadequate, Stilwell constantly fought not only Chiang but also the American air forces in China under General Claire Lee Chennault, which demanded large percentages of the supplies for their own operations.

Stilwell was hampered in large part by the rampant corruption of the Chiang regime; often supplies never made it to the conscripts. the Cambridge History of China, for instance, estimates that some 60%-70% of Chiang's Kuomintang conscripts did not make it through their basic training, with some 40% deserting and the remaining 20% dying of starvation before full induction into the military. Similarly, as the war began to wind down much evidence was uncovered to lend credence to Stilwell's accusations; upon completion of the U.S. State Dept White Paper in 1949 on the Chiang regime President Harry Truman reportedly declared "They're all a bunch of damn thieves!" and pulled all economic and military support for the regime, thus leading directly to the KMT downfall and retreat to the island of Formosa.

Other Conflicts

Stilwell also continually clashed with Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, and apparently came to believe that the British in India were more concerned with protecting their colonial possessions there than helping the Chinese fight the Japanese. In August 1943, as a result of the feuding and conflicting goals of the British, Americans and Chinese and the lack of coherence of a strategic vision for the China Burma India theater, the Combined Chiefs of Staff split the CBI command into a Chinese theater and a Southeast Asia theater.

With the establishment of the new South East Asia Command in August 1943, Stilwell was appointed Deputy Supreme Allied Commander under Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. He built up the Chinese forces for an offensive in northern Burma and on 21 December he assumed direct control of operations to capture the Burmese city of Myitkyina. The city did not fall until August 1944. Among other reasons, Stilwell blamed the British Chindits for not obeying his orders promptly enough. When General William Slim, commander of British and Commonwealth forces in Burma, said the men were exhausted and should be withdrawn, Stilwell would not agree until the men had undergone a medical examination.

One of the most significant conflicts to emerge during the war was between General Stilwell and Claire Chennault, the commander of the famed "Flying Tigers". Chennault commanded the Chinese air force and was very close to the Chiang family, using this personal influence to push his vision of a strictly limited air offensive against the Japanese. Stilwell insisted that the idea was untenable, and that any air campaign should not start until fully fortified air bases supported by large infantry reserves had first been established. Chiang refused, instead following Chennault's advice, thus allowing him to once again hoard supplies and personnel. Consequently, in 1944 the Japanese launched the counter-offensive, Operation Ichi-Go, quickly overrunning the air bases and proving Stilwell correct. Ironically, however, Chiang manipulated the opportunity to blame Stilwell for the Japanese successes, demanding that the Americans recall him.

Despite these considerable difficulties, Stilwell did manage to lead the Chinese troops and British Imperial troops under his command to shorten the air supply route and finish the Ledo Road, which linked to the northern end of the Burma Road as the primary land supply route to China. The Ledo Road was later renamed the Stilwell Road in acknowledgment of Stilwell's efforts.

Return to United States

In October 1944 Stilwell was relieved of his commands by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He returned unceremoniously to the United States only to be met by two Army generals at the airport, who told him that he was not to answer any media questions about China whatsoever. A presidential election was coming up and Roosevelt did not want to take any unnecessary risks.

In her book Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, Barbara Tuchman wrote that Stilwell was sacrificed as a political expedient due to his inability to get along with his allies in the theater. Stilwell's removal was certainly a result of substantial political pressure by Chiang through diplomatic means and using influential American friends who supported Chiang's government. One such group, informally called the "China Lobby," included Time publisher Henry Luce and his wife Clare Boothe Luce as well as J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI.

Some historians have theorized that Roosevelt was concerned that Chiang would sign a separate peace with Japan, which would free many Japanese divisions to fight elsewhere, and that Roosevelt wanted to placate Chiang. The power struggle over the China Theater that emerged between Stilwell, Chennault, and Chiang reflected the American political divisions of the time.

A highly different interpretation of events was that Stilwell, pressing for a more full engagement of Chinese forces, had made diplomatic inroads with the Chinese Communist Red Army commanded by Mao Zedong. He had gotten them to agree to follow an American commander. Because of the displeasure of Chiang Kai-Shek of being bypassed by the American general, he had Stilwell recalled to the United States. New York Times reporter Brooks Atkinson wrote at the time: "The decision to relieve General Stilwell represents the political triumph of a moribund, anti-democratic regime that is more concerned with maintaining its political supremacy than in driving the Japanese out of China. America is now committed... to support a regime that has become increasingly unpopular and distrusted in China, that maintains three secret police services and concentration camps for political prisoners, that stifles free speech and resists democratic forces... The Chinese Communists... have good armies that they are claiming to be fighting guerrilla warfare against the Japanese in North China -- actually they are covertly or even overtly building themselves up to fight Generalissimo's government forces... The Generalissimo naturally regards these armies as the chief threat to the country and his supremacy... has seen no need to make sincere attempt to arrange at least a truce with them for the duration of the war... No diplomatic genius could have overcome the Generalissimo's basic unwillingness to risk his armies in battle with the Japanese...Note that Mao Tse-Tong, the supreme leader of the Communist regime, had officially thanked the Japanese in later years for their invasion. Indeed without the Japanese invasion, Chiang Kai-shek would have demolished the Communists forces readily and history will be totally different!..."


Despite prompting by the news media, he never complained about his treatment by Washington or by Chiang. He later served as Commander of Army Ground Forces, U.S. Tenth Army Commander in the closing battle for Okinawa in 1945, and as U.S. Sixth Army Commander.

In November, he was appointed to lead a "War Department Equipment Board" in an investigation of the Army's modernization in light of its recent experience. Among his recommendations was the establishment of a combined arms force to conduct extended service tests of new weapons and equipment and then formulate doctrine for its use, and the abolition of specialized anti-tank units. His most notable recommendation was for a vast improvement of the Army's defenses against all airborne threats, including ballistic missiles. In particular, he called for "guided interceptor missiles, dispatched in accordance with electronically computed data obtained from radar detection stations."

Stilwell was never troubled by scandal in his private life. Of his disagreements with Chiang Kai-shek and his recall from China he wrote: "The trouble was largely one of posture. I tried to stand on my feet instead of my knees. I did not think the knee position was a suitable one for Americans." His trademarks were an old campaign hat, GI shoes, and no insignia of rank, portraying himself as a sort of "Soldiers' General." Despite this, he has been criticized for providing inadequate support and recognition to GIs of Merrill's Marauders operating in Burma.

Stilwell died of stomach cancer on 12 October 1946 at the Presidio of San Francisco, while still on active duty. His ashes were scattered on the Pacific Ocean, and a cenotaph was placed at the West Point Cemetery. Among his military decorations are the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit degree of Commander, the Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantryman Badge (this last award given to him as he was dying from stomach cancer).

Stilwell’s home, built in 1933-1934 on Carmel Point, Carmel, California, remains a private home with a plaque in front identifying it as the general's home. A number of streets, buildings, and areas across the country have been named for Stilwell over the years, including Joseph Stilwell Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida. The Soldiers’ Club he envisioned in 1940 (a time when there was no such thing as a soldiers’ club in the Army) was completed in 1943 at Fort Ord on the bluffs overlooking Monterey Bay. Many years later the building was renamed “Stilwell Hall” in his honor, but because of the erosion of the bluffs over the decades, the building was taken down in 2003.

Stillwell was portrayed on film by John Hoyt in Samuel Fuller's Merrill's Marauders (1962) and by Robert Stack in Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979).

On August 24, 2000, the United States Postal Service issued a 10¢ postage stamp honoring Stilwell.

The Ledo Road was later renamed the Stilwell Road in acknowledgment of Stilwell's efforts.

The award for the Outstanding Overall Cadet, Senior Division, in the California Cadet Corps is named the General Joseph W. Stilwell Award.

Awards and decorations

    * Distinguished Service Cross
    * Army Distinguished Service Medal with Oak leaf cluster
    * Legion of Merit
    * Philippine Campaign Medal
    * World War I Victory Medal
    * China Service Medal
    * American Defense Service Medal
    * Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
    * World War II Victory Medal
    * Combat Infantryman Badge (to date, Stilwell is the only soldier ever to receive a CIB as a general officer, through an act of Congress)
    * Chevalier Légion d'honneur

About Us Terms & Conditions Privacy Policy FAQs
 © Copyright Notice 2013 Travel China Planner Corporation and its licensors. All rights reserved.