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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(16 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 93, 16 December 1939, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Roosevelt showed a little more of his hand in the diplomatic poker game at Tokio this week. He has in effect informed Tokio that any improvement in Soviet- Japanese relations, e.g., conclusion of a non-aggression pact, would imperil the “friendly” relations between Washington and Tokio.

One aspect of this American intervention in the Soviet-Japanese negotiations was officially confirmed.

Eugene Dooman, the counselor of the U.S. Embassy, asked the chief of the American Bureau of the Tokio Foreign Office, Seijiro Yosliizava, whether Japan intended to negotiate a non-aggression pact with Russia. Yoshzava replied evasively that such a pact was “not at present on the Japanese program.”

In connection with this incident, the Foreign Office let it be known through newspaper channels that a few days earlier, on Dec. 4, Joseph Clark Grew, the U.S. Ambassador, had bluntly informed Japan’s foreign minister that Japanese-American and Japanese-Soviet “friendship” were mutually exclusive, or, as the Japanese newspapers put it, that “Japanese-American friendship could not be replaced by Japanese-Soviet friendship.”

It becomes clear that Washington has now definitely informed the Japanese that they have to choose between playing the American game against Russia or facing American naval might in the Pacific. For Japanese “cooperation” in a war against the Soviet Union, the Americans are apparently ready to pay a fairly still price at China’s expense, to recognize Japan’s “special position” in East Asia.

During the last two months the Japanese government has been divided on which course to follow – with Russia and Germany against Britain and the U.S.A., or with the latter against Russia. Powerful elements among the militarists have favored the former policy, as giving the army a powerful lever in dislodging Britain from its entrenched positions in China.

The orientation toward Russia has already moved quite far. As we know, the truce ending the border warfare in the Far East was signed the day before Russia invaded Poland. Since then negotiations have been continuing for a broader accord and last Friday a border demarcation commission met at Chita, in Far Eastern Siberia.

However, the Russian invasion of Finland has introduced a fresh factor in the situation. For the first time the Japanese militarists as provided with an opportunity to see the Red Army in action on a scale larger than the Japanese ever dared provoke in the Far Eastern border fighting. Military men all over the world are narrowly watching the Russian military performance in Finland, but none more attentively than the Japanese.

And the Russians are not exactly giving an impressive demonstration of their military effectiveness. Instead the world is getting a glimpse of the extent to which the purges and the dislocation of Soviet economy has affected its military strength.

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