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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(13 January 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 2, 13 January 1940, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It now appears to be the general expectation that the spring of this year will witness the unfolding of the first really decisive phase of the second world war.

Those who with maps in hand try to gauge the plans and intentions or the warring powers now draw a wide-swinging arc from Scandinavia through the Balkans to Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and India to indicate the probable scope of the war’s extension in the coming months.

And from India it is necessary to extend the blood-red line of war up into China, to the Philippines and Japan, and across the Pacific to the United States.

It is within the context of these calculations that the Soviet-Finnish war assumes its more exact proportions. Hanson Baldwin, one of the shrewdest of the clan of military experts, writing in the New York Times, says:

“The Finnish-Russian war can no longer be viewed as a side show, dissociated from the main conflict. Clearly another manifestation of th same illness that convulses all of Europe, the war on the Northern Front is not only politically allied to the war in the West, but is undeniably becoming part of the same strategic picture. Finland and the Scandinavian peninsula are the left flank of the Western front and they may be the decisive flank.”

Other dispatches, especially from London, have strongly suggested that the Anglo-French combination is more and more basing its war plans on simultaneous struggle against the Soviet Union and Germany, discarding temporarily the previous strategy of breaking up the Moscow-Berlin axis by bringing about the early downfall of Hitler and bringing Germany into the anti- Soviet front.

From the revelation of Soviet weakness in Finland the Allied strategists have not concluded that the Russians are a pushover. But they have modified their earlier notions about Soviet strength and have acquired new confidence in their ability to cope with the pooled forces of the German-Soviet combination and to deal a decisive blow to this twin threat to Anglo-French supremacy on the European continent.

This new confidence and the changed strategy that flows from it is indicated in many ways and at many points along the prospective war fronts of the immediate future. The British and French are pressing hard upon Sweden a guarantee of aid against Germany in order to relieve that country’s qualms and make it an open channel for large scale military aid to Finland.

In Rumania, where only yesterday there was a mood of capitulation to pressure from the Kremlin and from Berlin, King Carol now sings a new defiant tune. Italy has made it quite plain that extension of the war into the Balkans will bring her into the war, in effect on the side of the Allies. In Turkey large troop movements are taking place across the quake-devastated areas toward the Caucasian frontier. From India Britain has been bringing up large forces for action in the Near East.

On the Far Eastern front – the major theater of American interest – the combinations are still in a highly fluid state. The Kremlin’s haste in yielding important concessions to the Japanese in their negotiations is proof that Washington’s pressure on Japan is bearing fruit.

The two pacts signed last week by Moscow and Tokyo were both diplomatic triumphs for Japan. Moscow agreed to conclude a long-term fisheries convention – which she had been refusing since 1936 – and accepted the Manchukuo claims reducing the final payment due to the Soviet Union on the Chinese Eastern railway. Finally, Moscow agreed to negotiate border demarcation agreements everywhere along that vast 3,000-mile frontier marked so often by armed clashes during the last seven years.

Nothing loath to snap up such cheaply-won gains, the Japanese have at the same time apparently indicated to Washington that they will not let their flirtation with Moscow go too far. Only some such assurance can lie behind the tentative wait-and-see policy adopted by Roosevelt with respect to the expiration of the Japanese-American trade treaty on Jan. 26. Instead of going right ahead with discriminatory levies aimed at Japanese trade, the administration has dug up a moth eaten ruling dating back to the days of President Grant to justify a “modus vivendi” leaving matters approximately stationary until a new pact is arranged with Japan. And to get that pact the Japanese will have to enlist in the anti-Soviet front.


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