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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(11 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 68, 11 September 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

So far the war has been fought more fiercely in the headlines than at the front. Batteries of four-inch type have been rolled out by the newspapers and they are keeping up a steady screech of lies. Denials come back at them in tiny paragraphs like the unheard clicks of a pop-gun.

Nevertheless, the reality is sufficiently there. Hitler’s armies are approaching Warsaw. Franco-British troops are moving gingerly across the German frontier in the Saar where miles rather than yards separate the Siegfried and Maginot line’s. British planes have carried out a number of tentative raids over German territory. The British fleet is in its blockade positions in the North Sea and eight merchant ships have been sunk by one side or the other. Only the pacifist liberals of yesterday – today the loudest of the warmongers – are beginning to screech hoarsely for more gore. Those who are conducting this war know it is going to be a long and bloody one and the Franco-British strategy is based entirely upon that perspective.

The present phase awaits the completion of the Nazi invasion of Poland. The French and British are quite fully aware that the defection of Russia from their side, with the consequent neutrality for the time being of Turkey and the Balkans, sealed the fate of Poland. Despite all the fanfare about “helping our ally” the French and British are content to hope that before expiring the Poles will at least make some dent in the German military machine. Their tactics will be determined in part by the speed with which the various neutrals are converted into belligerents and the principal attention centers now not on military efforts along the western front but upon diplomatic efforts in Italy and Southeastern Europe designed to win new allies for the Anglo-French coalition.

It is now generally expected that as seen as he regards Poland as subjugated, Hitler will make a peace offer to the western powers on the basis of the status quo thus established. Anglo-French propaganda is already extending itself to discount in advance the prospective Anglo-French rejection of the expected proposals from Berlin. Hitler will utilize this refusal in justifying in his internal propaganda the continuation and extension of the war.

The conquest of Poland will create a brand new situation. Germany and Russia will be neighbors. Rumania and the Balkans will be at Hitler’s mercy. Italy, which has always regarded the Balkans as its God-given sphere of influence, will be forced to take some kind of stand, either with Hitler or against him. The tremendous twin lines of fortifications along the western front would make an offensive there so costly that we may be sure the Western allies will look for another road to the Reich and the road through Italy and the Brenner Pass is the best of them all. That road we may be sure they mean to travel, either by breaking Mussolini from the axis or battering him down. That is why Mussolini will soon find his perch on the horns of a dilemma too uncomfortable to maintain. And the way he falls will determine how things go in the Balkans.

If Mussolini goes with Hitler, the Balkan states will have to choose between slow extinction as colonies of the axis or swift extinction as its enemies. If he completes the gory chain pf diplomatic doublecrossing and moves into the Allied camp, southeastern Europe will become one of the principal battlefields of the War.

And while these decisions are in the making, artillery will roar with futile thunder on the western front and air fleets on both sides will take their ghastly toll in civilian lives. Russian goods and arms will be flowing in a thickening stream into Germany and American goods and arms will be filling the war chests of the Western powers.

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