Paul Temple

Commentators: Can’t Decide
Why We Are at War

(December 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 50, 15 December 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

They can’t make up their minds what we’re warring about.

We’re warned that were in for two or three years of bloody slaughter. But they haven’t gotten together to decide what to tell us we’ll be fighting for.

That’s plain from the first reaction of the newspaper “commentators” and editorial writers to the declaration of war.

Take President Roosevelt, for example. Wasn’t he the fellow that was yelling about defending democracy, and wasn’t that the official pretext for getting us into the war so deep that shooting one way or the other was the inevitable next step?

Well, Franklin D. had nothing to say about democracy when he came before the perspiring, cheering Congress and called for a declaration of war against Japan. Nothing! For him it was:

“Defend our people, our territories, and our INTERESTS.”

Our INTERESTS? Remember the first “incident” with Japan: the sinking of the American gunboat Panay while it was convoying a group of ships up a Chinese river. The ships that were being guarded by the Panay were Standard Oil tankers. THAT’S a little slice of our INTERESTS in the Pacific.

After all, Roosevelt didn’t have to put the needle on the old democracy record this time. Weren’t we attacked? Didn’t Japan fire the first gun?

Dorothy Knows It Isn’t So

But we socialists aren’t the only ones who take seriously this “He hit me first” stuff. Take Dorothy Thompson for another example.

The trouble with the United States, says Dorothy, is that we didn’t get the jump on Japan and do exactly what they have done. She complains:

“Like all the other nice democratic boobs who ‘won’t make war unless attacked,’ we have been taken off guard ...”

Roosevelt gets indignant about Japan’s “treachery” and rests his case for the war; but War Whooper Thompson is indignant only that the scurvy Jap trick was played by THEM on US.

Hooray for Dottie!

She isn’t the only one. There’s War Whooper Samuel Grafton, columnist for the New York Post, who opines that this bloody world would have been happier “if we had followed a determined and ruthless policy of provoking war with Japan …”

Times Has Signals Crossed

The editorial page of the New York Times threw both angles into the pot. “Let every patriot take his stand on the bastions of DEMOCRACY,” proclaimed column 2. But column 1 is a little less idealistic.

“We now go into battle in response to crystal-clear aggression and in defense of no faraway ideal but of our own United States.”

Of course that’s quite an ideal even if it isn’t far away.

The Thompson-Grafton group make one thing clear. That is: the question of who-forced-whom-to-shoot-first was a matter of maneuvering and strategy. What they don’t let out is that for Roosevelt and the American war whoopers, a DEFENSIVE-LOOKING WAR was pretty close to a necessity. They know well enough that if Capitol Hill declared war for the purpose of barging into Thailand, Africa or Europe, the masses of people would not have limited themselves to the feeling of passive acceptance with which they greeted the war announcement.

But the Japanese military lords did not have to be as sensitive to the moods of their people. Roosevelt will get to that point a little later. And he’ll still have sensible people with him! Up to now, the democratic forms of this government have been cramping his style; but he doesn’t believe that he can wage an imperialist war for the interests of Wall Street and still hold on to democracy at home.

Last updated on 25.2.2013