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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(7 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 85, 7 November 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Like Italy Japan stands today between the warring camps, unable as yet to decide where its maximum advantage lies as an ally and its minimum disadvantage as an enemy.

Realizing full well that it will be compelled to make a decision, Japan is making desperate efforts to relieve the frustration it suffers in its unconsummated conquest of China. But the grinding pressure of Russia to the east of it [sic!] and the US to the west of it [sic!] making itself increasingly felt in Tokyo.

Whether the Japanese militarists like it or not, the development of their adventure in China, as we have long foreseen, will be tied up closely with the course of the general war, the development of the war alignments, and the final choice of the main battlefields.

Japan was tied up in the anti- Comintern group with Germany before the present European war naturally because it seemed to promise the prospect of forcing Russia into a war on two fronts. Simultaneously the anti-British basis of the Hitler drive fully satisfied the Japanese who regarded Britain as the main obstacle to their expansion in China proper.

The Hitler-Stalin pact seemed momentarily to knock all these calculations into Hirohito’s cocked hat. The government responsible for the axis policy was removed and its ambassadors recalled. Japan retracted visibly from all its previously established policies with respect to the different powers in order to leave the field clear for a fresh orientation. It signed the truce with Russia. It eased off the anti-British campaign and the Tientsin blockade. It appointed a foreign minister who was boomed as the great and good friend of the United States.

For a time it began to look as though the Hitler-Stalin pact might have as one of its results the temporary patching up of Anglo-Japanese and even of Anglo-American differences in the interest of a new anti-Soviet alignment.

American pressure worked on all cylinders to bring this about. Roosevelt had already abrogated the 1911 trade treaty and sent his ambassador back to Tokyo there to deliver a resounding blast against Japanese military actions in China. Simultaneously, fighting units of the US fleet and air force began taking up battle stations in the Pacific. Great bombers were sent in formation to the Philippines. The major fighting divisions were posted at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

By last week the Japanese had been so deeply impressed that they announced the opening of concurrent negotiations with Britain and the United States on the China issue. But a few days before these talks were to begin there was another sudden shift. The intent to negotiate was denied. It became plain that the Japanese generals had forced postponement because they saw the renewed possibility of an axis, stretching this time from Tokyo through Moscow to Berlin and possibly still to Rome. They know such a bloc is the ugly specter that haunts London and Washington like a malignant demon. Molotov’s friendly references to Japan last Tuesday did not exactly help exorcise the ghost.

The Japanese army mouthpiece in Tokyo, the Kokumin Shimbun, came out bluntly with the statement that Japan was subject to Russian and American pressure and had to come to terms with one in order to deal with the other.

And the army organ – no less violent in its day against Russia than Hitler’s papers – pronounced in favor of making a rapprochement with Russia a cardinal point of Japanese policy!

The tug-of-war that shall now ensue is of far greater import to the war in general and to this country in particular than anything that happens in the Balkans.

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