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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(17 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 7, 17 February 1940, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The veering vane of speculation over the war’s next phase has turned to the Near East where large-scale Allied preparation for hostilities has become visible.

The Near East, in the language of world power politics, spells out oil – the oil of Iraq and Iran and the oil of the Soviet Caucasus.

War waged in the Near East would be war waged by the Allies against the Soviet Union, war waged for the oil that spurts from the ground between the Black and Caspian Seas.

Just as the war in the West represents a continuation of the conflict between Anglo-French imperialism and German imperialism, war in the Near East would be a continuation of the unsuccessful Anglo-French war of intervention against the Bolsheviks 20 years ago.

And for such a war the Allies, superficially at least, are far better prepared. Turkey, which fought with the Kaiser’s Germany last time, is now on the other side. The sprawling desert and oil-rich lands of the old Turkish Empire are now in the hands of Britain (Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Palestine) and France (Syria and Lebanon). The British pull the strings of the puppets that rule Iran and Afghanistan, although in both these countries their power is not uncontested.

The principal indices of Allied war preparations in the eastern Mediterranean during the past week have been:

  1. The arrival of a large expeditionary force of Australian and New Zealand troops, landing at Suez.

  2. The visit of Gen. Maxime Weygand, French Near Eastern commander, to the British General Staff quartered at Cairo.

  3. The open announcement in Paris that Allied forces in the Levant now total some 300,000, not counting the army of Turkey, which is pledged to fight on the Allied side as soon as war reaches that part of the world.<

  4. Turkey’s act in seizing German-owned shipyards at the Black Sea end of the Bosporus and in expelling some 80-odd German technicians working in Turkish arsenals, munitions plants, and with the Turkish army and navy.

These, and a large number of previous indications accumulating steadily in the months since the war began, show clearly that whatever the turn takes in the West, the Allies are preparing once more to extend their search for plunder into Soviet Russia. They would seek the double goal of cutting off a vital possible channel of oil supply to Germany and of swelling their own war chests – and simultaneously dealing a heavy blow to the Soviet State whose destruction remains one of the prime aims of world imperialism.

The outbreak of war in the Near East would not preclude, but would probably accompany, its extension on the European fronts. The Soviet-Finnish war would assume more clearly its essential place in the scheme of things as the opening phase of an imperialist attack on the Soviet Union.

What role Germany – and Italy – will play in the new turn of the war wheels – remains to be seen. To help shape this role may well be the prime purpose of the “informational” trip Sumner Welles is making to Europe.

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