4-254 Memorandum for the President, February 15, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 15, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the President

February 15, 1944 Washington, D.C.


Colonel McCarthy informed me last evening that Steve Early had telephoned him your direction to have a commission issued immediately as a First Lieutenant in the Air Forces for Joseph Wright Alsop, Junior; that General Chennault had recommended it and that General Stilwell was agreeable.

General Arnold received a letter dated December 28th from Chennault submitting this recommendation.1 He brought Chennault’s letter to me some ten days ago along with another communication to which I am about to refer. I had held the matter, endeavoring to determine the best course of procedure.

Now, in compliance with your direction a commission will be issued to Alsop, but I wish you to be aware of certain facts and of my opinion as to the result of such action.

You will recall that Dr. Soong on his last trip out to China, during a meeting with Admiral Mountbatten and General Somervell in New Delhi, demanded the relief of Stilwell and stated that the Generalissimo did not desire him to be continued in command. Soong gave as his basis for the demand, Stilwell’s incompetence, and on Mountbatten’s insistence on knowing the grounds for such a statement, he, Soong, produced a letter to him from Joe Alsop giving a critical resume of conditions in the theater, almost all referring adversely to Stilwell’s exercise of command, to his staff, and to conditions generally. Soong stated that this was the basis for his demand for Stilwell’s relief.

The letter, which was given to Mountbatten in great confidence, is attached hereto.2 It means to me that Alsop is either more competent as a commander than Stilwell or as a General Staff expert than the officers we have out there (which would continue him in the class with some other columnists and commentators), or that he is a seriously destructive force. Commissioning him in a command under Stilwell means definitely the undermining of that commander, who has already had an extremely difficult time with the sluggish British action in India and with the idiosyncracies of the Generalissimo in China, together with Chennault’s methods of circumventing his, Stilwell’s authority, whenever it is not agreeable to him.

In Cairo I found that Stilwell was unaware of what brought about the sudden and determined effort to have him relieved from command. He has therefore finally acquiesced in Chennault’s desire for the commissioning of Alsop. I am of the opinion that we will be placing our command and control in the Burma-China theatre on a foundation of sand if we accept subordinates who are determinedly critical and disloyal to the commander whom we charge with the responsibility for our soldiers and operations in that theatre.3

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. Joseph W. Alsop, Jr., a newspaperman and author, had joined the American Volunteer Group as an aide to Major General Claire L. Chennault. He was captured by the Japanese at Hong Kong and repatriated; he had “executed a number of important, confidential assignments with entire success,” wrote Chennault. Alsop currently served as Air Force liaison officer of China Defense Supplies, and “he knows my requirements, and he has an unusual special knowledge of leading Chinese personalities, and of the situation here as it affects our effort.” (Chennault to Arnold, December 28, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

2. Alsop’s letter to T. V. Soong, typed single-spaced six and one-half pages in length, reported his findings after interviewing “two or three old friends , .. who have high places in Stilwell’s ground force organization, yet are personally close enough to me to talk rather freely.” From their testimony and “other reliable sources,” Alsop had “compiled the following admittedly fragmentary but still depressing data on the character and quality of Stilwell’s personal set-up. I shall report their facts and their opinions without obtruding my own, since I dislike the old gentleman so much that I hardly trust my own judgment where he is concerned.” He thereby criticized Stilwell’s staff organization, the inadequacy of its intelligence section run by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Stilwell, Jr. (U.S.M.A., 1933), the ineffective methods of preparing Chinese troops for the Burma campaign, and the poor condition of the airfields and short supply of airport materiel. “My conclusion, I will tell you frankly, is that we have here more evidence for my theory that military services are only reformed by disaster. It is a little unlucky, however, that if there has to be a guinea pig, the guinea pig chosen is to be China, which can so ill afford mischances.” (Alsop to Soong, July 12, [1943], GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

3. President Roosevelt wished the commission to be issued, believing that Alsop had been in the line of duty when he wrote to Soong. Alsop was immediately appointed a first lieutenant and assigned duty in the headquarters of the Fourteenth Air Force. (McCarthy Memo for Record, February 17, 1944, and Ulio Radio to Stilwell, February 17, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) Alsop’s mother, Corinne Robinson Alsop, was a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt and first cousin and childhood friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, and a distant cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Stewart Alsop, Stay of Execution: A Sort of Memoir [Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1973], pp. 34-38.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 302-304.

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