ON THE WOULD TODAY
DEVELOPMENTS in the Far East have always been intimately connected with events in Europe. Up to the time of the African offensive, those events have favored Japanese ambitions — a fact which has, perhaps, contributed to our reluctance to think about our fortunes in the East. The change in the fortunes of war in Europe, combined with our offensive in the Southwest Pacific, brings that much nearer the day when the Japanese end of the Axis can be dealt with.
The parallel between Japan and Germany emerges more clearly. Just as Japan threw herself into China and, in spite of tremendous military successes, failed to conquer and control the Chinese armies and people, so Germany has found it impossible to force a decision in Russia. If China had received as much help from the outside at the corresponding stage in her struggle with Japan as Russia has received in this stage of her struggle with Germany, Japanese armies would have been thrown back from the heart of China as effectively as the German armies were thrown back from Stalingrad. It is China’s misfortune that, at a time when supplies were beginning to pour in through Burma, the Japanese isolated China by their rapid conquests.
The recovery of supply routes to China is obviously the first concern of United Nations strategy in the Pacific. The absence of a formal political structure of the type that China has been pressing for should not blind us to military operations which have been going on for many months. Hardly a day has gone by without the bombing by American and British air forces of some point in Burma.
The importance of controlling Burma is so obvious to both sides that there is no need to emphasize the importance of the air battles in Burma. Japan maintains 80,000 troops in Burma — more men than she has in any of her other newly won possessions. The task of maintaining them is no small drain on her resources, because they are at the end of long lines of communication. One effect of the constant bombing of Burma is already becoming plain. Bombing has compelled the Japanese to live off the country, to commandeer and loot its immediate resources to such an extent that few Burmese can retain any illusions about the benefits to be derived from membership in the “coprosperity sphere.” In more ways than one, the air war over Burma is good political warfare on the part of the United Nations.
Few events would change the aspect of things in the East more than the recovery of Burma, especially if it could be achieved at least in part before the monsoons set in in May. Apart from the obvious elfect on China, a Burma campaign - witness our present efforts — puts the heaviest possible strain on Japanese shipping. It offers a concentrated target to our submarines, which are already appreciably reducing Japan’s merchant tonnage. A successful campaign in Burma can change the picture in Asia as much as the African campaign changes the picture in Europe.
Japan must strike
What effect does the new situation for Germany have upon Japan? For a country whose only hope of retaining her conquests lies in the exhaustion of both her allies and her enemies, the time has come for a nice judgment as to the real position of both. If the tides of war in Europe have turned to the advantage of the United Nations, it is surely to Japan’s interest to see that the tide does not run too quickly. The nearer Germany comes to defeat, the stronger the case for an attack by Japan where she can do most damage to the United Nations.
Japan calculates the chances
A Japanese attack on Siberia, if successful, would fit well into this pattern. It would embarrass and weaken Germany’s greatest immediate enemy at a time when the Soviet Union has never been nearer to success. If Germany is losing the war, the Soviet Union will never again, from the Japanese point of view, be in a weaker position. Such an operation would require less shipping than would aggression in any other direction. Conquest of the maritime provinces, if successful, would eliminate one of the avenues from which Japan’s continental empire could be successfully attacked.
Such a campaign would add 2000 miles to Japan’s already long frontiers — a fact which would not necessarily deter men who are gambling for high stakes. The most important consideration in the minds of Japanese strategists, however, is of a political nature. They may possibly argue that it is not necessary to fight the Soviet Union at all. They may count on reviving the anti-communist line which they used so successfully from 1931 onwards.
It would fit neatly into the pattern of Japanese imperial strategy to allow Germany to be much nearer to defeat than she is now and to count on political differences arising between the United Nations over the future of the reconquered Europe to assist her.
Japan will watch with close interest our reactions to the political line now emanating from Berlin — the danger to European civilization of the “Asiatic hordes” of Bolshevik Russia. If this propaganda campaign shows any signs of being successful, Japan with Germany will use it to divide the United Nations. If the United Nations cannot be divided by this or by any other method, the case for an attack on Siberia becomes all the stronger.
The Casablanca conference, therefore, is of the utmost significance. The declaration that we shall accept nothing short of “unconditional surrender” on the part of our enemies is of much greater importance to Japan than to her allies. It is impossible to exaggerate the political importance of this statement, if only because it was not made until the United Nations had achieved sufficient success in the factories and on the field of battle to give it meaning. A year ago it might have sounded like bombast; today it closes the door to Axis attempts to split our ranks. If we are agreed upon the complete defeat and unconditional surrender of the Axis powers, then other political questions fall into their proper place.
The political balance sheet in the Pacific becomes more important as the military front expands in that area. The Japanese were quick to counter the political repercussions arising from American initiative in giving up extraterritorial rights by England and America in China. Under Japanese orders the puppet regime in Nanking was directed to declare war on the United States. This means that occupied China, with a population of perhaps fifty million Chinese, is at war with the United Nations. Japan, followed by her allies, went through the motions of surrendering the rights of extraterritoriality in China. The effects of this move, as indeed of our own, depend upon our relations with China.
China grows impatient
No doubt China will ultimately be brought into the military strategy of the United Nations, but the question is when.
The Chinese naturally point to their desperate economic situation, to the part they are playing in the war, and to the importance of reopening lines of communication to their allies. They warn of impending Japanese attacks from Burma and Thailand, and compare the help which they are receiving with that given to Russia and Great Britain. They argue that they require increased assistance simply to maintain their position, let alone to put on an offensive. Their case is all the harder to put effectively because China’s importance is primarily political.
As a matter of cold fact, the Soviet Union is immobilizing as many Japanese troops without fighting as is China at the cost of desperate effort and untold sacrifice. China’s military value is potential. Yet so long as she does not receive more assistance she is the victim of a vicious circle. Economic and political isolation lead to internal political differences and attempts to put the pressure on her allies. This provides arguments for those who do not wish to make greater efforts to assist China. Yet more assistance, military and economic, would do much to eliminate the causes of strained relations.
There are many reasons why more assistance has not been given to China, but the principal one is fairly simple. It is that the main producers of war materials, the United States and Great Britain, until very recently had to make their decisions as to the disposal of their supplies in terms of a desperate military situation. In this sense the Casablanca conference marked the real turning point of the war. It set a tone of assured strategic planning conducive to the making of decisions on a long-term rather than a short-term basis.
In this context Dr. T. V. Soong’s statement represents China’s real feeling and true position: “To the confusion of Germany, Italy, and Japan, the year 1943 will prove that the United Nations are no longer on the defense but possess burning determination and ever expanding strength to encompass the unconditional surrender of the aggressor nations. All are resolved that from now on the war shall be unremittingly carried to the enemy equally in the Far East and Europe.”
Silent India waits
If the fortunes of the United Nations are on the upswing, there is still another direction in which the Japanese may strike in order to do considerable damage to one of Germany’s opponents. Japan can strike at India, over whose internal developments a veil of silence has been drawn during the last few months. It is too early as yet to estimate the possible political consequences of Mr. Phillips’s appointment as President Roosevelt’s representative in India, but it is not too soon to reflect on the cost of India’s twofold attitude towards the war.
The military difficulties in the way of attacking India are tremendous as compared with those of attacking Siberia, but the political situation in India is one which might well work out much more to Japan’s advantage than some might think.
If Japan were able to strike hard enough to create disorganization in Northern India, the center of so much Indian war production, she would be striking a strong blow at our political and military position in Asia. She might get more with less effort here than in Siberia. But the growing British and American air strength in Northern India and our excellent record to date will do much to discourage such an enterprise.
What to watch in the Pacific
We shall have a hard struggle to hold the initiative in the Pacific. There is no escaping the consequences of the decision to defeat Hitler first. Japan is to be defeated last. It will be hard to keep up an advance into the Solomons and from there into the inner island defenses of Japan. Wherever else Japan chooses to advance, one thing is certain: she will continue her attempts to encircle Australia and to cut the sea routes from America to the Southwest Pacific. This is a constant factor in the war, and here the fortunes of war will fluctuate.
But this area, important as it is, does not absorb Japan’s entire energy, and the possibility of expansion in other directions must be taken seriously in 1943, as the European position of the United Nations gets better and better. Meanwhile it is our business to see that the flames which are licking around Japan’s island outposts shall spread through Burma and China. But this involves winning another race — the race to bring supplies to our present and potential allies in Asia before political passions grow too cold to make the aid effective.