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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(9 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 67, 9 September 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The opening military phase of the Second World War has begun with preliminary skirmishing that involves Germany alone on the one side and Britain, France, and Poland on the other. Millions of men are already involved and the first great battles are certain to cut deeply into the human and material resources of these powers.

The war will enter its more decisive phase, however, only when the principal “neutrals” – the United States, Russia, Italy, and Japan – are drawn into an ever-widening: theater of conflict.

Their participation will determine the course of all the other neutrals, the countries of Latin America, of the Balkans, of Turkey, and the rest of the small states caught in the crossfire of the opposing imperialist camps. They will all be drawn in to one extent or another.

For this isn’t a dog-fight. It is capitalist society in convulsion and there isn’t a man, woman, or child on the face of the earth who will not be caught in its agony.

The “neutrality” of the major powers still on the sidelines is of course of an illusory character. This country under the Roosevelt War Deal is not neutral in fact and it is only a question of time – and a fairly short time – before the Sixty Families and their tool in the White House throw this country’s weight into the actual scales of battle.

Roosevelt’s “neutrality” speech showed clearly enough where be stands and the Canadian loophole in the neutrality act proclamation shows the direction in which things are already moving. All the machinery of the press, the radio, and the movies is already working full blast to bring the American people around to the idea of going to war on the side of Britain and France.

The future course of the other three major “neutrals” is by no means so clear. Behind an external appearance of strength, both in resources and strategic position, Stalin sits fearfully, hoping he can back Germany sufficiently to ensure a war of mutual exhaustion among the powers without endangering his own regime.

And those who think Stalin is going to take this opportunity to “deal with Japan” are in for more “surprises” – for Stalin fears a war in the east as much as a war in the west. He will far more likely agree to a “neutralization” of relations with Japan along the lines already realized with Germany.

If this is so it will correspond thoroughly with Japan’s own most ardent desires, for of all the powers in this crisis, Japan was left highest and driest by Stalin’s gazelle-like leap into Hitler’s bed. Japan was left with no alternative but to pull in its horns and sit tight waiting for a future turn of events in the war which will open up a new path for Japanese policy to pursue. This it has done, both with regard to Britain and Russia. The pressure on Britain in China has ceased and it was Japan which took the initiative in urgently seeking negotiations at Moscow for some kind of armed truce in the undeclared warfare on the Mongolian frontier.

The Japanese know that prospective American entry into the war would bring its own forces face to face with Roosevelt’s war fleet if Japan were involved. It will not get caught between Russia and the U.S., if it can help it, especially while it sits helplessly stalemated on Chinese fronts with a million men garrisoning territories conquered but not yet won.

Italy likewise sits between the devils on its Alpine frontiers and the British Navy in the deep blue Mediterranean sea. Whether Mussolini stays gingerly neutral as a result of some deep dark strategy mapped out with Hitler or because he realizes he would be crushed whichever side he took is something that events will soon determine.

He will probably try to wait until the balance of strength seems to be turning to the one side or the other before being forced to a decision. Whether in his highly exposed position he will be able to do so is quite another matter.

Turkey is not dissimilarly placed. Turkey entered into a mutual assistance pact with Britain during the period when Russia was toying around with Chamberlain and Daladier. When the showdown came Turkey found a “neutral” Russia at its back, a Russia in league with Germany instead of the western powers. Consequently although it professed fidelity to its British pact, it has not dared to move in a military sense. Turkey, at Russia’s mercy, will not move until Russia’s role becomes clearer.

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