the American journalist Martha Gellhorn wrote after trekking across much of China in 1940. No worse luck could befall a human being than to be born and live there, unless by some golden chance you happened to be born one of the .00000099 percent who had power, money, privilege (and even then, even then). I pitied them all, I saw no tolerable future for them, and I longed to escape away from what I had escaped into: the age-old misery, filth, hopelessness and my own claustrophobia inside that enormous country. Skinny, sweaty rickshaw pullers strained at their large-wheeled contraptions to provide transportation to the rich. The scenes of nearly naked coolies towing barges up canals and rivers, leaning so far against their harnesses as to be almost horizontal to the ground, were an emblem, picturesque and horrible at the same time, of the unrelenting strain of everyday life in China, as were such other standard images as the women with leathery skin barefoot in the muck planting and weeding, the farmers covered in sweat at the foot pumps along fetid canals or carrying their loads of brick or straw on balancing poles slung over their shoulders or moving slowly and patiently behind water buffalo pulling primitive plows. The fly-specked hospitals, the skinny, crippled beggars, the thousands and thousands of villages made of baked mud whose houses, as one visitor described them, were “smoky, with gray walls and black tiled roofs; the inhabitants, wearing the invariable indigo-dyed cloth … moving about their business in an inextricable confusion of scraggy chickens, pigs, dogs, and babies.
In Dorn’s account, Stilwell instructed him to “cook up a workable scheme and await orders,” and Dorn did just that, devising a contingency plan for an assassination that would have been worthy of a Hollywood thriller. The Gimo, or the Gissismo, or CKS, or Cash My Check, or Generalissimo, General of Generals, as Chiang was variously called by Americans, either respectfully or derisively, would be taken on a flight to Ramgarh, India, to inspect Chinese troops being trained there as part of the effort to improve China’s backward army. The pilot would pretend to have engine trouble and order his crew and passengers to bail out. Chiang would be ushered to the door of the plane wearing a faulty parachute and told to jump. “I believe it would work,” Stilwell told Dorn.