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The World War II Diaries of General Joseph W. Stilwell (1941–1945)

General Joseph W. Stilwell
General Stilwell in Northern Burma, 1944. Joseph W. Stilwell papers, Hoover Institution Archives
Diaries of General Joseph W. Stilwell
Some of General Stilwell's many diaries. Joseph W. Stilwell papers, Hoover Institution Archives

Transcribed Diaries:

Maps

Related Resources:

Project Information:

  1. Introduction
  2. Principles of Transcription
  3. Copyright Statement
  4. Collection Information
  5. Guide to the Stilwell Papers
  6. Source Materials Elsewhere
  7. Select Bibliography

1. Introduction

The Hoover Institution Archives is pleased to make the World War II diaries of General Joseph W. Stilwell available online.

Stilwell's diaries have been an invaluable source for historians for decades. To use this resource, however, scholars have had to travel to the Hoover Archives in person to study the originals or else rely on incomplete published versions. Now, for the first time, the wartime diaries can be read in a complete and reliable transcription.

I am grateful to all those who contributed to this very special project, in particular Deborah Bunce and John Easterbrook for their years of dedication and hard work in transcribing their grandfather's diaries. Without their insider's understanding and detailed knowledge of General Stilwell's family and career, the project could not have been undertaken. I would also like to thank Linda Bernard and Janet Gardiner for their expert proofreading and editing skills.

-Elena S. Danielson
Former Director of the Hoover Library and Archives


The war diaries of Joseph W. Stilwell (December 7, 1941, through October 15, 1945) deepen our understanding of his life and times. The blunt, forceful, and irreverent “Vinegar Joe” comes through on virtually every page. Illuminating Stilwell's personality, achievements, and foibles, his cryptic daily notes also increase our appreciation of this complex general's place in history. Their faithful transcription and publication on the Internet open up for a new generation of researchers one of the major sources for The Stilwell Papers (1948) and Barbara Tuchman's Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–45 (1970). The Stilwell family and the Hoover Institution have done a great service to all those seeking to explore the legacy of this extraordinary man.

-John W. Lewis
Haas Professor of Chinese Politics, Emeritus, Stanford University
Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for International Studies


The World War II diaries of General Joseph W. Stilwell, my grandfather, are a subset—albeit a historically very significant subset—of his diaries that span the period from 1904 to 1946 and form part of the Stilwell papers at the Hoover Institution Archives. Stilwell wrote these private diaries not intending them to be seen by anyone else. In fact, not even his family saw them until after his death. As such, from time to time, and especially during World War II, he used the diaries to vent his daily frustrations in sometimes very blunt language. As he put it, they were his outlet to “keep from biting the radiator” in exasperation.

Over the years, some people have assumed that the language Stilwell used in his diaries reflected his daily behavior. This, however, is not the case. As Eric Larrabee has written in his book Commander in Chief, “An assumption is almost irresistible that what someone sets down at nightfall in the privacy of the bedchamber is the 'real' person, the authentic individual concealed from others during working hours. The assumption is quite unwarranted. Diaries, too, have their distortions, especially when they are used—among World War II leaders, by Stilwell and, for another, Brooke—as an emotional outlet, a dustbin for the psychological dreck that accumulates during a day of putting up with ignorance and folly.”

My grandfather's World War II diaries were first transcribed several decades ago, when his widow—my grandmother—and a daughter-in-law, Bettye Stilwell, manually typed them. The diaries, along with the rest of Stilwell's papers, were deposited at the Hoover Institution in stages from 1951 on. In 1998, my cousin Deborah Bunce started entering the manually typed transcriptions into a computer database. Several years later, Elena Danielson (director of the Hoover Library and Archives) came up with the idea of putting them on the Hoover Archives Web site. With this goal in mind, I then began proofing the computer database text against the original diaries. Deborah input the corrections I noted, and Stefanie Diaz (a Hoover Archives staff member) rechecked the revised transcriptions. Janet Gardiner (an independent editor) compared these updated transcriptions with the original diaries, in order to make final corrections. Heather Wagner (audiovisual specialist, Hoover Archives) scanned Stilwell's maps of military maneuvers, and Polina Ilieva (technical specialist, Hoover Archives) pulled everything together and created this Web page. For their generous support and friendly encouragement, we are also indebted to both Elena Danielson and Linda Bernard (associate archivist, Hoover Archives).

-John Easterbrook

2. Principles of Transcription

Every effort has been made to replicate accurately Stilwell's spelling and punctuation, superscripting and dash length, underlining and abbreviations—however unconventional or inconsistent in usage. Sometimes Stilwell deliberately used inventive spelling to poke fun at the accents of British military top brass and diplomats and of the Australians or West Africans. At other points, he wrote under such time pressure and preoccupation with the campaign that he inadvertently omitted terminal quotation marks, periods, and parentheses. Whatever the reason for the idiosyncrasies in the text, the transcribers have respected them.

That said, this online presentation of the World War II diaries uses larger text pages than those in Stilwell's 2 ¾ x 4 ¾ inch spiral-bound notebooks. In addition, 1.5 spacing has replaced the single spacing of the original text, and entries are separated by line spaces, rather than by terminal line rules. Dates are in boldface and set off from the text with extra space, while preserving their original format. Stilwell's miscellaneous and undated jottings at the beginnings and ends of some of the volumes have been aggregated at the end of each year of entries, with their provenance indicated.

-Janet Gardiner

3. Copyright Statement

Joseph W. Stilwell's diaries are covered by the copyright law of the United States.

Please refer all requests to publish excerpts or quotations to the Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Stanford, California, 94305-6010, or to archives@hoover.stanford.edu. Such requests will be forwarded to the Stilwell family, who owns the rights to the diaries.

4. Collection Information

Consisting of diaries, orders, memoranda, messages, literary writings, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia, the collection covers General Stilwell's childhood, his early days in the army, his service in World War I, his service in China in the 1920s and 1930s, and his service as commanding general of the China-Burma-India theater during World War II. Included in the collection are some 7,000 photographs from his childhood through his army career, covering primarily the World War II period.

5. Guide to the Stilwell Papers

Please browse the guide to Joseph W. Stilwell's papers at the Hoover Archives.

6. Source Material on General Joseph W. Stilwell Available Elsewhere

Claremont Graduate University (Claremont, California) has Stilwell material in the W. B. Pettus Collection. Pettus was president of the College of Chinese Studies in Beijing, which Stilwell attended when he was the army's first Chinese-language student. Pettus and Stilwell maintained a friendship through World War II, and correspondence between them is contained in the collection. Topics include the honorary PhD awarded to Stilwell, instructions in Chinese for the military during World War II, and Pettus's assistance to Stilwell's daughter Alison—a painter in the Chinese style—in arranging exhibits for her across the United States.

The United States Military Academy (West Point, New York) has a collection of 25 items (letters, photographs, and clippings) concerning General Stilwell. These items were a gift from William R. Wigley in 1964.

7. Select Bibliography

Dorn, Frank. Walkout with Stilwell in Burma. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1970.

Haith, Michael E. “Joseph W. Stilwell as Attaché, 1935–1939: Foundations for Command in the CBI.” Thesis submitted to the Temple University Graduate Board, April 1985.

Larrabee, Eric. Commander in Chief. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.

Romanus, Charles F., and Riley Sunderland. Stilwell's Mission to China. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1953.

Romanus, Charles F., and Riley Sunderland. Stilwell's Command Problems. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1956.

Schaller, Michael. The U.S. Crusade in China, 1938–1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Tuchman, Barbara. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–45. New York: Macmillan Company, 1970.

White, Theodore H., ed. The Stilwell Papers. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1948.