Soldiers of the White Sun
The Chinese Army at War 1931 - 1949
If you think the war in Afghanistan is a stinky mess, you should take a gander at the Sino-Japanese Wars from 1895 to 1945. Evidently the Japanese were trying to steal everything they could from mainland China, but everyone ultimately got involved and they ultimately got run off. The Germans came in on the side of the Chinese up to 1941; the Russians after 1937; the Americans, French and the UK after 1941.
To confuse things, there were several splits in China itself --- especially between the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-Shek and the Communists under Mao Zedong. And the old provincial warlords switched back and forth when it suited them.
Just the size of the armies alone is enough to make one want to sneeze. It's estimated that the IJA (Imperial Japanese Army) weighed in at 3,200,000 men. The Chinese National Revolutionary Army under Chiang Kai-Shek, who may have had as many as 4,300,000 soldiers. Mao's People's Liberation Army counted 1,300,000; and --- to confuse things further --- there was the Collaborationist Chinese Army who worked with the Japanese: they totaled 900,000 by 1945.
That's eight and a half million soldiers on either side (or in the middle) duking it out across a wide swath of China. And the conflict didn't end after the defeat of Japan. The Chinese civil war that burst out (again) between 1945 and 1949.
It is said that the Nationalists lost 3,200,000 men, the communists, 500,000 ... and the Japanese between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000. Civilian casualties range between 20,000,000 and 35,000,000. That's millions. The reason? The Japanese army could discern no difference between civilians and the military. Under General Yasuji Okamura, the policy was called sanko sakusen --- "kill all, loot all, burn all." 2,700,000 civilians died during that particular siege.
When it came to snuffing out lives, WWII was an all-time doozer. It is estimated that, all told, as many as 75,000,000 died. If those figures are correct, at least a third to a half of these deaths occurred in China. Only Russia suffered more.
Compared to this, the casualties for Americans during WWII were less than 1% of this. Even the imbroglio in Vietnam showed only (only!) an American loss of about 58,000.
Whatever you think about it, war is a beastly business and since 1945 most sensible countries like Russia, Germany, the United States, France, England and China have contented themselves with stirring up others do the fighting and dying for them.
To read through Soldiers of the White Sun --- the "white sun" was the flag of Chiang's Kuomintang --- is to be bombarded by over 500 photographs of poor Chinese soldiers who, for the most part, were paid with no more than a handful of rice for their sacrifices. They are a thin and sullen bunch ... as the rest of us would be if we were in their shoes: they were forced to fight after long, dusty treks, with little up-to-date weaponry, under incompetent leadership.
No wonder that more than a million deserted to fight with the far more capable, well-organized, well-supplied (and certainly more vicious) Japanese. As the author reports, "The vast majority of Chinese soldiers received little or no training and were totally unprepared for what faced them."
I found a couple of smiling visages on these otherwise dreary pages. One is of a girl guerrilla fighter "armed to the teeth with her C-96 automatic pistol ... she also has a grenade hung rather precariously around her shoulder on a piece of string."
Another is of a young man equipped with a complete parachute assembly, supplied by the Americans when we got involved after Pearl Harbor. Outside those few cheery spots, White Sun is about the worst advertisement you could find for the oft- favored policy of total war over peaceful negotiation.