Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Earl and the Duck Hunter

From The Burma Road by Donovan Webster. From page 287. Describing the interactions between the Allied leaders, front and rear-echelons. Joseph Stilwell was the American commander of the Burmese theater, tasked with managing the Alliance with both Imperial Britain and China, and with carrying the war to the Japanese with the barest of resources.
Stilwell, however, had grown tired of Mountbatten's show. (Though, in truth, Stilwell the Yankee blueblood also took great pains in managing his image as a straight-talking, rough-and-ready ground soldier.) When Stilwell arrived by air transport at Kandy, he was not wearing the formal and pressed uniform of the SEAC deputy, but his own unadorned battle fatigues. As usual, Stilwell's clothes were devoid of all general's stars, insignias, medals, and ribbons, which often left Vinegar Joe, in William Slim's assessment, looking "like a duck hunter." After being met at the "Kandy Kids" airfield by Mountbatten's black Cadillac - which was festooned with official pennants - Stilwell took one look at the car, shook his head, and said: "Get me a jeep." Then he stowed his bags in the Cadillac and drove himself up the mountain toward Kandy and headquarters, his left leg hanging out of the jeep as it followed the state car to Mountbatten's residence at the king's pavilion.

For a week, Stilwell sat in on SEAC meetings and took meals at Mountbatten's table. ("I've got to quit eating with Louis," he wrote. "I actually like those rum cocktails.") More often at Kandy, Stilwell made a point of being bored by the crisp and on-date international newspapers flown in from around the world, the leather club chairs, the platoons of barefoot servants, the grand library, and the constant motion of a staff of three thousand, which — much to Stilwell's displeasure —included numerous British female officers. (The women's staff at Kandy actually included a young American OSS worker named Julia McWilliams, who would later marry and become famous as television's "The French Chef," Julia Child.)

Stilwell, though, never was comfortable at SEAC HQ: "Something wrong with Headquarters at Kandy ..." he later wrote in his diary. "I al-ways felt half asleep."

While visiting Ceylon, Stilwell made no secret of his indifference at every afternoon's full-dress meeting, where long-range staff planning and the tiresome bookkeeping of rear-echelon logistics left him blank. To spice up the days, as he was effectively the military governor of Burma, Stilwell took devilish pleasure in loudly contemplating orders designed to upset the country's former colonizers, such as "freeing the Kachins, etc."

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