The objective of restoring a land route to China originated in part in hard strategic considerations, specifically the need to keep China in the war to tie down Japanese troops and serve as a base for future operations against the Japanese home islands. But it also reflected an idealistic American view of China as a great power, capable of a major contribution, and the romantic image held by many Americans of China's heroic struggle against superior Japanese equipment and arms. For nearly three years the United States would thus push for a major effort to break the Japanese blockade, forward large quantities of lend-lease materials, and train the fledgling Chinese Army and Air Force.
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The Americans soon found the situation to be much more complex than they had anticipated. Far from heroic, China's government and army were riddled with inefficiency and graft. Although personally honest, Chiang Kai-shek preferred to leave the defeat of Japan to the other Allies and husband his resources for a postwar showdown with his mortal enemies, the Communists. The British, for their part, cherished few illusions about China's war-making potential. They were more concerned about the defense of India and restoration of control over their former colonies, including Burma, and they complained that the Americans could see no purpose for the theater 'except to cover General Stilwell's supply route.' British imperial designs, in turn, met with suspicion among Americans, who had little enthusiasm for a war to restore the British Empire.
Aside from the trials of coalition politics, the Allies would face one of the most inhospitable areas for military operations in the world. For the Americans the theater not only covered a vast area, but it was also at the end of a 12,000-mile supply line. The area where the Allies would campaign was characterized by extremely rugged terrain with few roads and other communications, conditions which would favor the defense and reduce the Allies' advantage in numbers. Northern and central Burma, where they would conduct the bulk of their operations, had steep, densely wooded mountain ranges cut by streams. The Allies would need to scale precipitous ranges along the border to reach one of Burma's three great river valleysï¿½the Chindwin, the Irrawaddy, or the Salweenï¿½ in order to move south into the heart of Burma. They could also expect their advance to be slowed by the monsoon, near-constant rains which could last from two to three months, anytime after April. Leeches, flies, ticks, and other insects, along with such diseases as malaria, dysentery, and typhus, added to a soldier's miseries.