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The New International, October 1941


The Editor’s Comment

America Moves Into War


From The New International, Vol. VII No. 9, October 1941, pp. 227–8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


“We have found that the price of peace at any price is incalculable,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Knox in a recent issue of Foreign Commerce Weekly. This statement is one of many which make up the strategy of the Roosevelt Administration to prepare the nation for American entry into the war. II is of no great importance whether the United States actually declares war at this time; what is of importance is the fact that measures of war are being enacted daily and their execution is entirely dependent upon concrete opportunity.

From the outbreak of the war in September of 1939, Roosevelt’s course has been unstable and contradictory. There was never any doubt about where the Administration stood in the matter of sympathy and support to the contending war camps. The degree of support to the Allies rested upon the outcome of military clashes and the measure of American intervention can be correlated to the victories of the German war machine. It isn’t necessary to recount again the character of the increasing intervention on the part of the United States in support of Great Britain. With the fall of France, Britain’s position became extremely perilous. The international situation became one where, in fact, British imperialism, in its struggle against Germany, is fighting for the most vital interests of American imperialism.

We believe that our previous analysis of the war as a struggle between Washington and Wilhelmstrasse is unassailably correct. The Administration is not less acutely aware of this truth. The British Empire has become a subordinate power to both the United States and Germany, and this fact is widely recognized all over the world, the British Isles included. Yet, in the war, Britain’s is the novel rôle of fighting for the ultimate interests of America as she defends her own very existence as an imperialist power. To say that there is no other choice for Great Britain is to say the same thing for the conduct of the other powers.

The course of the war has already markedly altered the strategy of the Roosevelt government. While retaining the emphasis on the need of guaranteeing Britain’s ability to carry on the war, a new course is followed: the need for American military intervention in the war is obligatory – American integrity, American rights and America’s future have been struck tangible blows by German submarines. The only way to meet this attack is to fight back. But the agitation for military action goes back quite some time. The leading interventionists have been hammering home their position based upon logic: If Germany is America’s greatest danger, then it becomes our interest, not only to insure Britain’s ability to wage war, but to seize the most favorable opportunity for her own entrance. Logic itself, however, cannot bring about wide support for war in a nation where the masses remain against such participation. Something more concrete is required to smooth the path of intervention.

The “Incidents” Are Many

But this “something more concrete” was guaranteed in advance by the measures adopted to insure the carrying out of the Lease-Lend Bill. America’s unneutral neutrality prepared the ground for Germany’s blows against any measures adopted by the Administration. The transfer of the 50 aged destroyers for naval bases, the Lease-Lend Bill, the occupation of Iceland, Greenland and the declaration by the President of his intention to insure the arrival of war goods to England and her war fronts, all these were not only an announcement of American policy in general, but an invitation to Hitler to knock the chip oft American shoulders. But Hitler did not require even such provocation. He had long ago announced his firm intention to prevent the arrival of war supplies to England, i.e., to sink any ship, under any flag, which tries to reach any part of the British Empire. And when Roosevelt declared the freedom of the seas an inviolate American doctrine, in peace or in war, the shooting stage had arrived.

The contradiction in the Roosevelt position lay in in President’s inability to command congressional support in an all-out execution of the above-mentioned policy. The Neutrality Act still remained an effective law. The ban on convoys militated against an effective shipping program. Inability to arm merchant marine ships because of the existing laws resulted in sending ships into dangerous waters without visible means of defense, or offense. But these will be recorded as short-lived obstacles.

Within the last two weeks the Germans have torpedoed the destroyer Kearney, and sunk the merchant ships Lehigh and Bold Venture. In two of the three attacks, casualties resulted. Altogether, about a dozen American or American owned ships have been sunk by German submarines. Thus, the ground is laid: American ships are sunk; American lives are lost. The incidents are present. There only remains the manner in which the government will answer these attacks.

The Legislative Straggle

The President has already ordered the Navy to search out the attackers and to sink them on sight. A passive sea defense has now gone over to an active offense against Hitler’s U-boats. Before this policy can become a strong one and achieves results, legislative formalities have to be overcome, and the fight of the Administration is to obtain congressional authority. This means first of all, the abolition of the Neutrality Act, the enactment of legislation for convoys, and a bill to arm merchant marine. The manner in which these three measures will be realized is not too important; their enactment is already guaranteed by recent political events.

Secretary of the Navy Knox, by his activity on the podium, has been the most militant spokesman in the Administration for intervention. By virtue of his peculiar position, a Republican in a Democratic cabinet, having no election obligations to anyone, he has been able to serve as the advance guard of the Administration, making interventionist demands which the Administration leaders themselves were, because of political exigencies, unable to make. As a bell-wether, Knox has given the President inestimable service.

In contrast to Knox, Roosevelt has proceeded with great caution. As a President who was elected, among other reasons, for his determination to keep America out of a shooting war, his conduct had to be more circumspect. In addition, as Administration leader, he was faced with an uncontrolled Congress which, for example, carried the draftee service extension bill by only one vote, and on other occasions, from the interventionist point of view, showed lack of foresight, absence of policy, and played the game of “regional politics.”

Stimson, Ickes and Wickard did their part, too. They supplemented Knox’s activities while the President “played possum.” But it appears that Roosevelt delayed just a moment too long.

Willkie to the Rescue

Wendell Willkie, still hell-bent for the President’s chair, executed a Republican coup on the Administration. He assembled the leading Republican interventionists, aligned them in militant support of the Administration’s foreign policy and then, through representatives in the House and Senate, made a frontal attack on the Neutrality Act, demanding its immediate and total repeal. During this period the Administration had been trying to figure out how best to accomplish the common general aim with the least amount of congressional horseplay and delay. With this new development, the repeal is guaranteed. So is convoys and so is the arming of the merchant marine. In this way, the President is achieving his purpose, but at the expense of the strengthening of a political rival who has his eyes on the 1944 elections.

This political side-show is at present unimportant in view of its significance. Repeal of the Neutrality Act, arming of merchant marine and convoys, cannot mean anything less than American participation in the war as an active belligerent. Once ships and planes and submarines are employed, it is only a matter of time before land forces go into operation. A declaration of war is unnecessary. It may or may not be announced. But, when the army is ready, i.e., at least a million men thoroughly trained and equipped, and if the political character of the war requires a formal declaration of war, it will be made. In lieu of such a declaration, America is at war none the less.

It measures its war areas in a new way. All the areas of the world are war zones. There are no restricted zones. Europe, Africa, Asia, all the oceans, the Western Hemisphere and the South Pacific are involved in the war, in one way or another. So far as Europe, the Atlantic, Africa, Asia and the Western Hemisphere are concerned, they have long ago been declared war districts by one or another of the powers. But Secretary Knox has now added a new area. On September 27 he wrote:

“We are still deficient, however, in naval stations to protect our commerce along the sea lanes to the East Indies and Australasia ... We have recently established seaplane bases on Johnston Island, Palmyra Island and Samoa which will partly remedy this lack by enabling us to use our giant patrol planes in this area. But we still lack sufficient bases from which we can operate surface craft in the South Pacific.”

The value of this region is obviously clear when one learns that from this area the United States obtains “strategic materials” such as tungsten, chrome, manganese, tung oil, rubber, hemp, tin, quinine, etc. This area lies under the constant threat of Japan and it is being heavily armed already.

Thus has the European war descended upon all the countries and peoples of the world. No place and no person will be left unmarked by its ravages. There is no longer possible the realization of the escapist’s dream of a hideout to Tahiti or some other South Pacific island. The world is at an abyss. The war will either drive it onward to barbaric degeneration or it will give rise to a new wave of international struggles for the socialist commonwealth. In the latter event lies the only hope for humanity.

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