The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


GREAT changes are pending in our war organization to direct the general offensive upon which the Allies are now embarked. Unity of command is the first essential, both inner and outer. Tardily we are beginning to see that unity of command between the fighting services and overall unity of command among the Allies are the fundamental requirements for a successful offensive against our mighty enemies. Until very recently we have been lacking in both.

What the lack of unity of command between our fighting services means is shown in the Solomons. Here was our first offensive. Yet the strategy was bungled by the separation of command and the circumstances responsible for it.

A partitioning of the Pacific into separate commands took place soon after war broke out. The line ran through the Coral Sea, split the Solomons (even Guadalcanal Island itself), and ended at the Philippines. West of this line General MacArthur, with his base in Australia, held sway. All the area east of the line came within the jurisdiction of Admiral Nimitz, under whom Admiral Ghormley operated from headquarters in New Zealand.

“ A Navy show ”

A typewriter strategist might have been forgiven if he had thought that the lines would be abolished as soon as the first full-fledged offensive got under way. Unity is strength. Concentration is a textbook maxim in warfare.

But in fact the offensive was undertaken with the commands still separate. Indeed, the line of demarcation was shifted west to Guadalcanal so that the offensive might be managed exclusively by the Nimitz command. General MacArthur, in his first reaction to the news, called the operation “a Navy show.”And in spite of the original concurrence of view of the Army authorities in Washington as to the locale of our first offensive, it turned out to be a Navy show.

The reason for the division and the maintenance of it during the offensive is anybody’s guess. Surely the entire war, as the President has repeatedly declared, is one and indivisible, let alone the war in the Pacific. But so far as I can make out, nobody has sought, in either onor off-the-record conferences in the Capital, to get an explanation of the partitioning of the Pacific.

The kindest explanation of the separate command and the exclusive management of our first offensive by the Eastern Command was the confidence of the Navy that the task could be undertaken unaided. That has turned out to be an error. The Navy bit off more than it could chew. That was bad enough. But the initial error was compounded by the Navy failure to recognize its mistake immediately, and to bring in MacArthur, That he was not enlisted is due to Navy stubbornness. The Navy hid events in the developing battle even from the Army authorities, as subsequent revelations have shown.

Not till Hanson W. Baldwin of the New York Times came back from the Solomons and talked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff did the Army authorities know anything about the “little Pearl Harbor” of August 9. On that day four cruisers— one an Australian — were sunk in a surprise attack. Baldwin mentioned the sinkings in a preliminary way, taking it for granted that the whole story was known to the men who, after all, were responsible for war strategy. But the Army representatives, to the embarrassment of their Navy colleagues, looked blank.

“Face-saving” of this kind betrays bad psychology. In this case a blunder almost turned into something worse, for the lack of coöperation at the start threatened to turn an offensive action into a disastrous defensive.

Why separate commands?

The questioning in Washington about the separate command turns chiefly on the relations between General MacArthur and the Administration. The Christian Science Monitor puts a spur behind the questioning. Its Washington correspondent writes that “political Washington was largely responsible for the establishment of two separate commands in the Pacific, partly because of the conservative opposition which launched the MacArthur-for-President campaign.”

The fact, according to my information, is that the division was the handiwork of military Washington. But it would be an indictment of the military mind to suggest that a decision so barren of common sense was reached by purely military excogitation. Another curious thing is that the offensive was carefully screened from MacArthur s domain. Why? It was surely not because MacArthur himself favored as he did — the launching of the offensive within his own bailiwick in New Guinea. For the truth is that, once the alternative Solomons strategy was decided upon, MacArthur sought to give assistance on the periphery of his domain, which is the flank of the Solomons. His air power reduced Rabaul to a shambles. He galvanized the push into adjacent New Guinea. When the fight got fierce in the Solomons and the Navy became worried and asked MacArthur for air assistance, he sent help without any delay. With Australia closer to the Solomons than New Zealand is, he could have sent troops, and doubtless would have sent troops on request.

It certainly looks as if the personal element actuated military Washington in by-passing MacArthur. There was probably a meeting of minds between military and political Washington in respect to MacArthur.

This spectacle of lack of unity in our command does not conduce to the encouragement of national solidarity. Unity must begin at home. It must begin, in other words, with the government which depends upon it. But, as the President discovered on his inspection tour, the country at large is ahead of the Capital. Criticism of the conduct of the war is growing, and well we know it in Washington.

The people want to know

It is not only the lack of unity in the conduct of the war that is troubling the American people. It is the lack of faith of the government in the people as shown in the information policy. The worst sinner in this respect is the Navy, even though it is headed by a newspaper publisher, Frank Knox. The latest offense occurred in reporting the Solomons offensive.

Navy policy till recently has been to sit on the events in the Solomons till they have ceased to have meaning for the people. The four cruisers that we lost on August 9 went down in an inferno of light from Japanese flares. On August 11, Admiral King revealed that in the occupation of the Southern Solomons we had had losses. He said that they included “at least one cruiser, with two others hit.” ’the excuse that the Japanese did not know the true facts is ridiculous in face of our subsequent knowledge. The Japanese saw everything. It is even said that they launched their boats as soon as the cruisers went down and machine-gunned the struggling survivors. When Mr. Baldwin came back from the Solomons, he reported that the men on the spot laughed derisively when they heard the August 11 report come over the radio.

The Australian government, seeing no need for secrecy, immediately acknowledged the loss of its cruiser, the Canberra. Our Navy Department saved the truth about our three cruisers till two months later, when the losses, moreover, could be blanketed by the report of Japanese Navy losses in succeeding operations.

That is no way to sustain the faith of the American people. Elmer Davis, who was put at the head of the Office of War Information, appears to think so too. He recently complimented the Canadian government on its courage in releasing without delay the facts about the Dieppe raid. That was proof, he said, that “your government has faith in the strength of the Canadian spirit.” He went on to give a text for an information policy in wartime. “A free people,” he said, “wants to know, and has a right to know, how the battle is going, and will fight all the harder if it realizes how hard it must fight for victory.” The text seemed a hint to the service departments. But they don’t appear to have paid much attention to it.

Who tells Mr. Davis?

The trouble has been that the Navy has not hitherto confided in either its own information department or the OWI. Elmer Davis has repeatedly protested against this lack of faith in the OWI’s discretion. His last protest, it is said, produced a directive from the White House to Admiral King ordering the grant of access to all Navy information to the OWI. Perhaps the result of the directive may be a better information policy. Already, at any rate, news is being released more promptly. For the Navy as well as the Administration has become profoundly perturbed by the criticism which has come from all parts of the country against the Administration’s information policy. It is recognized that such a deterioration in the relations between people and government cannot be allowed to continue.

Perhaps Mr. Willkie’s speech of October 26 served as the outstanding note of warning that this war cannot be run in any closed compartment — and Republican gains reenforced him. Those whose job it is to watch the war effort on the spot know how helpful is what Mr. Willkie called the “whiplash of public opinion.” The trouble is that there is no body of opposition, as in Britain, to administer it. Congress is no critic save through its immensely valuable investigating committees. Time and energy now wasted in jurisdictional disputes — which afflict the civilian no less than the military side — seem to be endless. Mr. Willkie’s reappearance in the role of critic will fortify the gadflies of the press in their aim to see the war efficiently and vigorously prosecuted — and to see the end also of tardiness, evasion, and dissembling in our information policy.


A shrewd observer said to me months ago, “This is the year when the war will be almost lost.” He was thinking of much more than a desperate bid by Hitler and the Japanese for victory. He was thinking of the difficulty of developing the organization out of the United Nations which can direct a global offensive in common.

It is a mighty task — perhaps the mightiest in history. It calls for the United Nations mentality that Mr. Willkie demonstrated. Hitherto that mentality has been conspicuous by its absence among our professional higher-ups. There has been a constant argument over domestic needs versus the needs of the fighting fronts. Not till recently have either the United Nations or our civilian manpower agencies learned the goal in manpower that our Army is aiming at. The War Production Board has only recently obtained any idea at all of the strategic requirements of the fighting services. In short, we have had to contend with a strategic isolationism.

But the data for continuous offensive action have at last been assembled, and the means found at last for backing the attack which we have launched on Hitlerite Germany. Perhaps there will never be a perfect community of interest or action. But a master strategy embracing the whole world appears to be emerging, and the next few months should witness the Freedom Front on the march everywhere to victory. The demand for a wellintegrated war administration in Washington, able to channel the war-mindedness of the people at large, surely comes out of the midterm elections. No other construction is entertained by anybody in the Capital.