After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Phil Saunders was sent to China as a combat liaison officer with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese Army, where he was responsible for advising the underfed and under-equipped Chinese army. Saunders was a leader of the finest order, motivating and inspiring his men through trying times, and author Stephen L. Wilson manages to capture both the totality of Saunders’ evolution as a soldier and a man.
Despite numerous books already written about World War II, ADVISING CHIANG’S ARMY offers a sincerity not often found in historical texts, with no shortage of examples of both camaraderie and adventure. Interspersed with technical documents and personalized with journal entries and letters from Saunders, ADVISING CHIANG’S ARMY offers a broad and personal view of Chinese culture as seen through the eyes of a United States soldier and offers a fascinating account of the most harrowing and pivotal battles in the China-India-Burma Theater, an often forgotten about battleground in World War II.
The author presents the glaring realities of war outside the sanitized version that is typically depicted in the media. Saunders writes, “[p]eople are starving to death by the hundreds just a few hundred miles from where we are—you probably have heard about it over the radio. The natives around here seem to think nothing of seeing a few dead bodies in the street[.],” the imagery resonates as it is tinged with the soldier’s subjectivity. His approach to his surroundings is the basis for his survival, he writes, “Getting so used to this life over here it really doesn’t seem like I have ever lived anyplace else. Isn’t it terrible?” Drama and humor are fluidly immersed within the historical context of the war, as Saunders learns to navigate the curious world he is suddenly thrust into. In one letter Saunders writes, “[A]fter the dinner, we attended a Chinese play, and I’ll be damned if they didn’t make us get up and sing some songs–4 of us. The worst voices in the whole of China, but we tore down the house nevertheless.” His letters home are engaging and give a sense of his personality outside of just being a soldier.
While the technical terminology and military documentation could prove tedious to those unfamiliar with the jargon, the detailed descriptions of battles and day-to-day life more than compensate. ADVISING CHIANG’S ARMY proves to be well-researched with the necessary documentation to support the facts of the events and the actions of Saunders and provides much-needed information on a topic that is often overshadowed by mainstream battles and perspectives.
ADVISING CHIANG’S ARMY is an epic tale exploring one man’s duty and experiences during World War II, outside of the mainstream depiction of the European Theater, and provides a well written and expansive history not commonly told.
~Chelsea Carrick for IndieReader