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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(27 January 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 4, 27 January 1940, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On Jan. 26 the Japanese-American trade treaty of 1911, denounced by the Roosevelt government, expired. Guns did not actually start booming on the Pacific nor did American planes start out from their bases in Oceania to begin the attack on the Japanese fleet. Nevertheless this date will occupy a significant and symbolic place in the history of the coming war between Japanese and American imperialism.

With the expiration of this pact, Washington has cleared the legal, juridical, and diplomatic decks for the action many foresee in the more or less near future. It climaxes the long series of sharp notes and protests and demands and reservations with which the U.S. government has “made the record” to justify the eventual use of armed force to assert its rule in the Pacific basin.

This is not a needlessly alarmist view confined to these columns. The most serious and authoritative organs of American big business now face it as a fact. Discerning readers of the New York Times, prime organ of Yankee imperialism, have of course been long and carefully prepared for this eventuality. Now other, even blunter voices, join in. Take for instance the brief note of informative warning which the Journal of Commerce recently gave its Wall Street readers in its column of Washington comment:

“Subsurface signs of tension with Japan have been viewed by Washington observers rather more seriously than usual. Although the attitude of Admiral Yonai, the new Japanese premier, appears highly conciliatory, fears have not been wholly removed that differences regarding trade policies will lead to inflammatory incidents. Our armed forces in the Pacific, which keep in fighting trim as a matter of routine, are in more than a usual state of preparedness. An Executive order of a few weeks ago, which went generally unnoticed, waived application of the wage-hour law to work on Midway Island fortifications by reason of emergency.”

The Washington correspondent of the New York Herald Tribune wrote last Sunday that American-Japanese relations “are much more strained than the American public generally realize and may possibly reach a grave stage after Jan. 26 ... The prospect that the United States may become involved in war with Japan is one of the reasons why the navy is building worships on an unprecedented scale and is seeking Congressional approval for improvements of the Guam naval base ...”

This same correspondent advances the theory that the reluctance of the Administration to grant openly military loans to Finland is part of basic American diplomatic strategy “which will be successful if she avoids a war with the combined Russo-Japanese forces” – i.e., a gesture of “appeasement” aimed “to keep Russia out of the arms of the Japanese.”

Actually, however, the situation is the other way around. The fundamental American diplomatic strategy at the present time is to hammer Japan into an anti-Soviet line. The threat of both economic and armed action is now being used primarily to this end. Only if Washington fails of this objective will armed action directly against Japan become a matter of immediate policy.

Consequently the date Jan. 26 passes for the moment without any spectacular change in the situation. But the hearings that are to open in Washington on American Far Eastern policy, Senator Key Pittman’s clamor for an embargo, the navy plans, will each do its part in exerting the desired pressure on Tokyo.


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