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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(24 November 1939

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 90, 24 November 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The tight game of power politics involving the United States, Japan, and the U.S.S.R., is beginning to be played a little faster and more furiously. It is by far the most important sector of the diplomatic front of the war, far more important than any in Europe, because its outcome will decide in large measure the form and tempo of U.S. entry into the war itself and will have a decisive effect upon the further evolution of the conflict.

Fresh signs of approaching agreement between Japan and the Soviet Union have forced Washington to increase its pressure upon Toyko. Cordell Hull and Sumner Welles roll out their verbal batteries. Once again the inviolability of Wall Street’s “interests” in China are reaffirmed and Japan is angrily informed that these “interests” will be vigorously defended.

Without any effort to depict it as a coincidence, the Navy Department announces a sizeable increase in the submarine force attached to the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. The largest and newest submarines in the navy will take their places in the first line of prospective action against the Japanese fleet in the Pacific. The announcement comes as a little semi-colon or dash punctuating the diplomatic barrage. A semicolon or a dash – because the matter is far from concluded.

The Main Strategy

Let us reiterate once again the central significance of this diplomatic tug-o-war: it still remains the essential strategy of the Allies, including of course this country, to transform the war into a war against the Soviet Union as the most convenient and least damaging way out of the present impasse. This was the hope raised so high at Munich only a little more than a year ago. It has by no means been abandoned, even though the powers, driven helplessly by forces they could not entirely control, are at present at war.

In Europe the main hope of carrying out these plans continues to be the hope that Hitler will be displaced by another regime, preferably a dictatorship of the “moderate” Reichswehr generals and possibly even a restored Hohenzollern monarchy. With such a regime, the British and French indicate they will find it possible to make a deal that will end the stalemate on the western front and turn war’s spearhead eastward again.

The Game with Japan

In the Far East the strategy consists of keeping Japan and Russia at sword’s points and to ensure thereby Japanese participation in the eventual anti-Soviet drive. We have said in this column repeatedly that it is a question of Japan’s price. Britain and France have already all but withdrawn to the sidelines and it is U.S. imperialism that is left to play the game of combined pressure, wheedling, promises, threats, and counter-threats that is called modern diplomacy.

The Russians, fully conscious, naturally, of the stakes, are pushing ahead with all their might to get in first with a deal at Tokyo. General agreement “in principle” has already been announced and we can look for sizeable Soviet concessions to the suspicions of the Japanese militarists.

For them it is a question of being convinced of greater immediate gains to be had through elimination of the western powers from China than through a deal with the Western powers that will involve Japan in an early war against Russia that would take all that remains of her material resources.

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