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George Stern

On the War Fronts

Japan’s Next Southward Move
Would Bring War

Roosevelt Drops ‘Appeasement’ and Throws Down Gage of Battle;
War in the Pacific Would Be Nakedly Imperialist Conflict

(August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 31, 2 August 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

American imperialism is now on the offensive in the Pacific against Japan. It is still limited to an economic offensive but the implication is unmistakable: unless Japan backs water, the Roosevelt administration is ready to follow its economic sanctions with military force. Britain and the Dutch East Indies stand ready obediently to follow Roosevelt’s lead.

Roosevelt’s move coming as a response to Japanese occupation of French Indo-China by “agreement” with Vichy, consisted of the freezing of all Japanese assets in this country. Establishment of control of Japanese dollar balances here automatically places a noose around American-Japanese trade. This was followed by the warlike move of placing the military forces of the Philippines under direct U.S. control, with the appointment of General MacArthur as American military chief in the Far East.

At a press conference, the president explained with cynical candor that the U.S. had been selling oil and vital metals to Japan for two years – sales which represented hundreds of thousands of mangled Chinese bodies – made deliberately to postpone a U.S. reckoning with Japan in the Pacific.

Roosevelt Now Ready

Now, apparently, Roosevelt believes the time for the reckoning is at hand. He is directly challenging Japanese imperialism, chief rival of U.S. imperialist interests in the Pacific – and here the issue is totally unclouded: ir is a bare and unashamed contest for control of the wealth of Asia, the wealth of the Indies and power and position of dominance over the billion people who inhabit that part of the world.

Roosevelt’s shift from “appeasement” at this particular time derives from several factors.

Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union left hapless Japanese diplomacy once more out on a limb of isolation. Just when Matsuoka had rubbed his hands with pleasure over the neat (for Japan) consummation of the pact with Moscow as a complement to the pact with the Axis – leaving Japan free for southern action – Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. Between Japan and its German ally there now stretch six thousand miles of hostile territory. A link to Hitler’s “new order” has abruptly become transformed into a sizeable obstacle.

Japan Surely Weakened

Moreover, it is plain that, whatever the outcome of the Nazi-Soviet war, Japan’s position will be perilously weakened. A Soviet victory would mean the total collapse of Japanese imperialist, ambitions. A Nazi victory would bring Hitler that much nearer to Japan’s coveted “sphere” of Greater Asia.

This has introduced an agony of indecision in Japan. Matsuoka has been dropped. The strong showing of the Red Army has discouraged any immediate attempt to profit from the war in the west to attack Siberia. The Japanese moved – because they had to move somehow, somewhere – along the line of least resistance, into French Indo-China.

But this move is correctly interpreted in London and Washington as fresh preparation for future Japanese incursions southward – into Malaya and toward the Philippines and the Indies. Roosevelt, who appears confident now that the eastern front will prevent Hitler from trying to blitz England this year, apparently decided he could now safely draw a chalk line for his Tokyo friends and dare them to step over it. He has done so with his economic sanctions. What is to follow depends largely upon whether the Japanese decide to call his bluff.

For the Japanese face strangulation. They are dependent upon the U.S. market now to a greater extent than ever before. Without American oil, their military machine will bog down, their industrial wheels will cease to turn. Japan must either retreat or take the plunge – and either way it approaches disaster.

“Isolationists” Back Roosevelt

The problem of dealing with Japanese expansionism has been ever-present and even uppermost in Washington minds. It is a path Roosevelt can follow with little or no objection from the “isolationists” in Congress. The latter, in large part, have premised their entire stand upon the argument that American “interests” lie in the Pacific, not in the Atlantic. Any Roosevelt move in the Pacific will have their blessing.

But let us be quite clear on what this move means. Maybe some people can be fooled into believing that the war against Hitler, as waged by our bosses, is a “holy war” against Fascist tyranny. Maybe there is the possibility of a Nazi attack on the Western hemisphere, they may say.

But nobody seriously argues any possibility of a Japanese attack on this country. For Roosevelt to implement his present program, means sending U.S. forces across six thousand miles of water to “defend” not the Chinese people but the basic imperialist interests of American capitalism expressed in control of Asiatic raw materials and Asiatic markets.

And the “isolationists” who throw up their hands in horror at U.S. advances in Europe will gladly wish him godspeed. They were all silent in the Senate when Gen. MacArthur’s appointment was confirmed.

In Washington the grim decision about the Far Eastern situation has already been made. In Tokyo the generals and the diplomats have their decision to make now.

Between the two, the Japanese and American peoples face war, war for imperialist plunder, a war which will in no way benefit either the Japanese or American masses.

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Last updated: 27 May 2016