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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(20 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 80, 20 October 1939, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Japan is meeting with a good deal of trouble in its effort to bring the war in China to a rapid close.

Following the outbreak of the war in Europe and the conclusion of its own armistice with Russia, Japan embarked upon a policy of hastening termination of the China campaign in order to free Japanese arms for future eventualities. To this end it equipped itself with a brand new government and a brand new high command on the China fronts and simultaneously launched fresh military and political drives to “settle the China incident.”

So far the results have proved something less than negligible. The first large scale military offensive in a year was begun in Central China. It was stopped in less than a month. Columns attempting to converge on Changsha, capital of Hunan province, were turned back with severe losses. Military experts of other powers began to wonder if the Japanese had reached the limits of their capacity to penetrate the Chinese hinterland.

In the political domain the Japanese achievement has likewise been something less than brilliant so far.

In these spheres the main elements are the creation of a new central puppet regime and the continued probing for points of support within the Kuomintang regime at Chungking. The proposed puppet government, with the miserable Wang Ching-wei its leader-designate, has had a sad buffeting from circumstances on and off during the past year.

The last date set for its inaugural was Oct. 10 – the Chinese national holiday. But this was put off because the Japanese hoped their truce with Russia would make Chungking more amenable to peace overtures. But the Russian truce is already cracking if it has not already been broken. The Kuomintang leaders are not likely to hasten any settlement with Japan until the further clarification of the war situation shows them what side their bread is likely to be best buttered on. They will not move until the United States takes action of some kind in the war and Russia’s intentions become clearer.

The Japanese have consequently announced their intention of going ahead next month with their puppet government plans. Just how much success they are likely to have can be gauged by their experiences of the past two years with the impotent regimes they have setup in different parts of China. They are, moreover, likely to be given even less time now to make their new creation look like something more than a badly-stuffed corpse.

Meanwhile Russia’s intentions with respect to China remain studiedly obscure. If it is true that hostilities have been or are about to be resumed on the Mongolian frontier and if it is true that Russian planes participated in last week’s raid on Japanese-occupied Hankow, Stalin may be planning to implement his European diplomatic blitzkrieg with Far Eastern moves sooner than the Japanese, at least, had expected.

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