The Pacific War


WE CAN thank our stars that the United Nations prevented Japan from taking away the bases from which full-scale counter-offensives can eventually be launched. It was no small achievement to have kept control over India and Australia and to have blocked Japanese occupation of all the Aleutians.

In the East the most important objective of 1943 will be re-establishment of land routes to China, control of the air in Southeast Asia, and the building up of bases from which to launch a land offensive against the continental flank of the Japanese Empire. Such aims are not modest: they will be achieved only at the cost of enormous sacrifices to Great Britain, the United States, and China.

Can China survive for another year without land routes to the sea? On the solution of that problem depends our ultimate success. That the reopening of land routes to China and the use of China’s land front against Japan form a vital part of Allied strategy is increasingly apparent—although the Chinese naturally want reassurance on this point.

The Pacific war must be seen as a whole, not as a series of isolated operations. In 1942 we struggled to secure lines of communication to our allies and to our bases, and to immobilize large units of the Japanese forces. American materials have gone to Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, and India. We have been more successful in getting supplies to these areas than to China. And if we take the vast circle of operations stretching from the Aleutians, through the Hawaiian Islands, New Zealand, the Solomons, Timor, Burma, India, and China, one front only — that of Manchuria against the Soviet Union — has been inactive. Even here the Japanese have been keeping large forces which could not be used elsewhere.

The build-up

The campaigns in the Solomons and New Guinea have assisted the war in China by the drain upon Japan’s air power, just as the continued resistance of China has assisted in weakening both the armed forces and the political propaganda of Japan. Small-scale stabs, the air offensives in the Aleutians, the drive into Burma, the MacArthur offensive. the Halsey lightning raid on Wake Island, and the fight for the Solomons amount to a sizable operation when added to the fluid front in China.

They have not, perhaps, served to drain Japan’s strength enough to prevent her driving into China from the south or even from attacking Siberia, and they have given us an illusory sense of having seized the initiative once and for all; but they do indicate the outline of our long-range plan for future action.

The plan

That plan has three main aspects: the opening up of land communications with China through Burma; the preparations for a sea offensive by way of the South or the Middle Pacific; the development of communications in Alaska and with Siberia. It will be the object of Japan to break up some or all of these lines of approach; and the more they develop, the sooner she will have to strike.

Much depends on the outcome of the air war in Southeast Asia. The events on other fronts have obscured the fact that one of the bitterest air struggles of the war has been going on for months in this part of the world. British and American planes have bombed Japanese-held cities all the way from Rangoon to Hong Kong and they have fought hard to preserve the precarious airline from India to China. General Wavell’s advance into Burma may help to protect India from air attack but will make it more necessary for Japan to go into Yünnan. We must maintain air supremacy on the India, Burma, Southern China front.

The taking over of the India-China air transport route by the Army Ferry Command has already helped to increase its effectiveness. The public statements of General Chennault’s right-hand man, Colonel Cooper, about the work which the small American forces are doing in China, provide evidence of the importance of reinforcing these units. The more air transport grows, the greater the air force which can be maintained across the Himalayas. China has been promised more planes, and it is to our interest that she get them. But we should not assume that Japan is going to allow us to entrench our Air Force in China without the bitterest opposition.

Some of the most significant fighting of the war is going to take place in the Burma, Yünnan, Northern India region. It has already started.

The Solomons fight, undertaken in the first place as an offensive action to defend the line of communications to Australia, is of enormous importance to the struggle for air supremacy in Asia. The Japanese Air Force in that area, during four months of fighting, has probably lost well over one thousand planes.

But this does not mean that the drive across the Pacific will necessarily follow the Solomons route, or that any drive can swiftly be pressed home to Tokyo.

Our naval action will in the main be limited to strong pressure upon Japan’s lines of communications, upon her Pacific outposts, and upon her Air Force. A major drive upon Japan’s naval strength would have to wait upon the release of Allied fleets from European duties, and even then it would be contingent upon the seizure of bases thousands of miles nearer to Japan than those we now have.

Ships in the Pacific

Nor should hopes be raised too high about the enemy’s losses in merchant shipping. They do not compare with those of the Fnited Nations quantitatively; although relatively, in terms of the ratio of losses to capacity to replace them, the comparison is somewhat more encouraging. We should have to sink well over another million tons of Japanese shipping during 1943 before Japan would become really embarrassed. Our submarines, surface ships, and planes may do this, but not fast enough to make radical changes in the situation this year.

The Alaskan base is consuming vast quantities of our material and men. The tremendous development of communications, especially in the air, depends on Canadian-American cooperation to a high degree. It is becoming so clear that Canada and Alaska will be the air routes of the future that it is not too early to be concerned about problems of commercial airline competition. Whether or not Alaska will be a base for offensive action involves the question of the role of the Soviet Union in the Far Eastern conflict — a role which cannot be foreseen until the European situation changes or Japan herself attacks.

Where do we stand?

The slow accumulation of positions around Japan for our mounting military strategy sets a pace which political propaganda cannot wisely outstrip. It is impossible to make military threats or promises for the immediate future, because we cannot implement them. But this makes it all the more necessary to build up now the political platform in terms of which military operations will later be interpreted.

One contribution to the political offensive which has already been made is the continuing insistence of Ambassador Grew upon the unity, the strength, and the purposes of our enemy, Japan. It is probably worth all the propaganda capital which the Tokyo radio makes out of the Ambassador’s statements (which are quoted as American testimony of Japan’s strength) if the enormity of the task which lies before us can be impressed on the American people. For the more we understand that, the more we shall appreciate the importance of our allies in the East actual and potential. Our relations with the most important of these, the Chinese, are not all that they might be; it is a task of the greatest importance to improve them.

China’s case

The note of bitterness which has crept into American-Chinese relations arises from China’s sense of being left out of the most important political and military discussions between Great Britain and America. In pressing their case with us, the Chinese have the advantage of knowing how important they are to the Far Eastern struggle, and the disadvantage of not being in a position to persuade us of this until facts force realization upon us.

They meet our twofold attitude towards China. Different groups, sometimes the same person, believe that, on the one hand, China is too weak, corrupt, and inefficient to be taken seriously as an ally; and on the other hand, that a victorious China would be a great power threatening our interests in the Pacific. Both of these things cannot be true at the same time.

The truth is that China is in bad shape and nearer to a really dangerous invasion than she has ever been before. After all these years of struggle it is not easy for her to look on with calm while our major efforts are made in Europe, however necessary that may be. The devastating effects of inflation have not been fully told in America. Nor is China’s special way of fighting the Japanese fully understood.

Some of our military experts conclude that the Chinese do not fight when they withdraw, whereas actually they are drawing the Japanese into positions where they, the Chinese, have the advantage of terrain. Few appreciate China’s feeling of isolation, when the only communication with the democracies depends on a precarious airline.

We must remember also that the Chinese are under constant pressure from Japan to distrust us — that the Japanese radio points out to them China’s inferior treatment by the Western nations, and rubs in the exclusion laws.

The assurance that the war will ultimately get around to the Pacific, and that then China will play her part, naturally does not satisfy the Chinese. There are feelings which go deeper than that. There is the feeling that the only guarantee of the future intentions of the democracies is present action. That is the essence of the Chinese case. That is why the correct attitude which the Chinese government is taking on India — correct in the sense that India is treated as a domestic problem of the British Empire adds to the sense of frustration. China’s political value and essential role in the East is rival to that of Japan. Instead of seeking to dominate Asia and cut it off from the West, she is fighting to free Asia and fit it into the world system.

To put the case more realistically, the political significance of Chinese resistance to Japan is the deep cleavage which marks off Chinese from Japanese life, ideas, and political behavior. It is a difference as profound as that between contemporary Britain and Germany. The weakness of China’s bargaining position, therefore, is that she cannot possibly come to terms with Japan on the basis of a race war against the white people any more than Britain could come to terms with Germany on the basis of joint exploitation of the Asiatic peoples.

The process of adjustment between America, Great Britain, and China naturally expresses itself at times in statements which appear to be unfortunate. The reasons given for the recall of the Hsiung Military Mission reveal a belligerent attitude on the part of the Chinese which is difficult for us to stomach after many years of patronizing philanthropy.

But this belligerency, though mixed in with Oriental methods of bargaining, is to be welcomed, for it tokens a self-respect and self-confidence which will ultimately form the basis of coöperation if our Pacific strategy is fashioned on political realities.