The Pacific War
ON THE WORLD TODAY
AMERICA is getting into her stride in the Pacific. In spite of Japan’s offensive power and the strength of her positions, which together guarantee a long struggle, our war of planes, ships, and ground forces is becoming more and more integrated with our war of nerves against the enemy. It is high time that this should be so, for we have suffered many propaganda defeats in the Pacific. But considering where we started and our unprepared mental state at the time of Pearl Harbor, things could be much worse.
Our first great propaganda triumph in the Pacific has been the way in which we handled the news of the execution of American flyers in Japan. For the Japanese this act was more than a crime: it was a blunder of the first order.
Committed, one suspects, as early as October, 1942, the execution of the flyers was probably much more for internal than external reasons. The government in its own capital had been caught almost completely off guard at a time when its controlled information services had given the Japanese people reason to think of themselves as victorious conquerors about to administer the deathblow to their enemies.
This execution, so barbarous to us, fitted into the Japanese “humanitarian” line — the line that Japan’s warriors behave like gods and fight only for the welfare of the peoples of Asia, even if it means doing so against their will.
Our flyers were officially punished for the alleged bombing of women and children. The war lords explain that such a barbarous act had to be expiated in blood.
There was no reason why Japanese in Japan should know that Chinese women and children had been bombed by the air forces of the Imperial Army or that half a million Chinese civilians — according to Generalissimo Chiang’s letter to Secretary Morgenthau — were killed because they happened to live near the bases towards which American flyers were heading.
Thus the execution was committed in order to satisfy the honor of the Imperial forces and to divert attention from the blow so ill prepared for. These reasons came first and the hope of discouraging further raids came second; the most important war of nerves to the Japanese government is the one they wage on their own people.
The Japanese announced the “punishment” to their own people on October 19, 1942. We were forced to eat our words that all flyers on the Doolittle raid had returned safely. Then we had to search for more information. When the news of the executions was finally verified, however, we did not fall into the trap of threatening reprisals and revenge. The President and the State Department immediately set the tone of American reaction to the news and set it on a very high level.
Nothing would have pleased the Japanese more than to have had us fulminating threats of what we were going to do to the whole Japanese nation. In the first place, it would have looked silly because there is no way of implementing threats of any kind for a long time to come. In the second place, it would have assisted them in their job of convincing their own people that they are up against a barbarous and merciless foe.
Our official statements robbed them of valuable ammunition and set them a problem of their own. By promising punishment only for the officials responsible and not for the entire nation, we concentrated attention on the military clique, who naturally did not pass this part of our reaction on to their people.
We also refused to fall into the trap of the “race war.” Our Navy and Army officials made it very clear that there would be no reprisals on prisoners in our own hands, or on those of Japanese ancestry who live in our midst. Reprisals of this nature, as the New York Times pointed out, arise not from differences in race but from indoctrination.
Little men, what now?
The “line” established by the President and the State Department, and faithfully followed in official broadcasts to Japan from San Francisco, is a victory. It is a victory because it avoided race issues and because it robbed the Japanese of that terrifying effect upon the American public for which they hoped.
It has forced the Japanese war lords to talk about one of the things they really worry about and for which they wish to prepare the minds of their people — the coming bombing of Japan. The whole question of air warfare has been made one for international discussion again and it is painfully apparent that the object to be bombed is going to be Axis territory. Germany, seemingly so helpful in her support of the Japanese case against the flyers, also warned her ally of the danger of American attack from the Aleutians — thus adding more fuel to the flames of Japanese concern.
It is worth while reflecting on this whole matter of the war of nerves across the Pacific because its importance is not always generally realized. Some people in this country think that the Japanese is a superman who obeys without question, dies without regret, never surrenders, and is impervious to all attacks on his morale.
That Japan is unique is true — because, in spite of contact with the West, Japanese political and social life has retained ingrown features to an extraordinary degree. It is also unique in the sense that the Japanese military ruling group has had enormous success in creating what someone has called a “propaganda man.” Years of conditioning in a news vacuum have gone into his development, and his existence depends on monopoly control of all information to which he is exposed from cradle to grave.
What we forget is that the hothouse plant, the “propaganda man,” needs more care and attention than the outdoors plant. The American people subsist on radio and newspapers, but they still reserve independence of judgment — as the contrast between election results and editorial opinion shows. But the Japanese “propaganda man” has no protection against competing ideas, because he has never had a chance, at school or elsewhere, to question authority. What matters in Japan, therefore, is the state of mind of the ruling group, because they control all information and make all policy.
It is impossible to reach the common man in metropolitan Japan, on any significant scale, with a statement of the case for the United Nations. Even if it were possible and he became convinced of the justice of our cause, he would not know what to do about it, because he is controlled so tightly that it is difficult even for the soldier to surrender. But it is possible to reach Japan’s leaders. We know that they listen carefully to American broadcasts and react quickly, on their own radio, to our propaganda offensive.
Get Japan’s leaders
The point is that even if we had the choice, which we do not, as to which section of the Japanese population we should want to reach, we should end by choosing the very group we reach now. For in this type of society any confusion, misgivings, or hesitations we can create in the ruling group reverberate through the whole population. The best way to kill a hothouse plant is to break the glass which protects it. Anything we can do to change the temperature of the Japanese government will affect its hothouse subjects.
Plenty of information about our war effort has been beamed to Tokyo, and because of our reputation for accuracy it has had marked effect. Nothing suits us better than to have the Japanese assist us in the war of nerves on their own people. The more time the Japanese spend worrying about coming air raids the better for us.
Americans need to get over a sense of inferiority in the matter of propaganda. The enemy has had his triumphs and we continue to provide him with ample material, but we have also had our triumphs.
Nothing has been so important for the war in the Pacific as the public declaration that we shall defeat Hitler first. This has sometimes been interpreted as a mistake, but is it? Consider the conditions at the time when the statement was made. We had been driven from every foothold in the Pacific, and the last one, Burma, on which China depended, was the hardest to retake.
Even if we had decided to defeat Japan first, there was no way of striking back in the Pacific without long preparation; in fact, for a long time we thought in terms of defending the Panama Canal and the West Coast. Was it not wiser to tell Japan that we were not going to attack her? We certainly could not do so, and there was chance that Japan might be lulled into a false sense of security. The battle of Midway certainly illustrated a gross underestimate of our strength.
Or would it have been wiser to tell Japan that we were going to concentrate on her and have our empty threats thrown back at us for years?
Confusing the enemy
When the facts changed, when we were sure that Japan could be held in the Pacific, then we changed our tune and announced at Casablanca that Japan had to face unconditional surrender. A picture which looks confusing to us is often more confusing to the enemy.
What could the Japanese have thought of our plans when they found MacArthur and Evatt demanding planes to protect Australia against a coming Japanese offensive, Hale promising an air offensive in the Central Pacific, high officials anticipating the further bombing of Tokyo; Stilwell and Chennault visiting Washington to report on the China front, Churchill promising coöperation of the RAF in attacking Japan — all at the same time? Then new Liberators announced their presence in China by raiding Hainan Island. Not all official statements are spontaneous; we are sometimes much better than the Axis at deception.
The military picture in the Pacific will not undergo any fundamental change for a long time. Hence the crucial importance of fighting the War by means of radio — a war in which, incredible as it sounds, America cannot afford so many radio hours as Japan. We operate on a 14-hour and Tokyo on a 24hour basis, the Japanese having more transmitters than we do. Yet the more sparks of hope that we can keep alive among our friends in Occupied Asia, the easier will be our military operations.
Offensive in Burma
The coming of the monsoons in Burma ends what was a very real effort to reopen communications in Burma. The British raid in force across Northern Burma played havoc with Japanese communications and at one time might well have succeeded in cutting off enough territory to reopen a land route to China.
But in spite of the terrific pounding which our air forces have given the Japanese in Burma, the problem has been too difficult to solve. The Japanese have at least 80,000 men in Burma and they can be dislodged only by a major operation, including the use of considerable sea power.
Relations between the British and the Chinese continue on a none too friendly basis. The Chinese on their side are much too critical of British military prowess, which has been admittedly poor in the East but of real quality in the West. They disapprove of the British Empire as such, and disapprove even more of its collapse. They are angry with the British for putting their main effort into Europe on the “Defeat Hitler first” theory, but do not want them to fight for the recovery of empire in the East.
It is difficult to see any possibility of much improvement in this situation until there is more United Nations agreement on the future of the Pacific.
On this question much will depend on the relations between America, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Unless Britain is eager to recover her empire in the East, and this is not necessarily the case, she wall let her policy in the Pacific be guided by the interests of her chief ally. Is that ally going to be the Soviet Union or America? All four of the great powers must stand together, but the emphasis will fall in one direction or the other.
China, which still has fears about the Intentions of the Soviet Union, cannot help looking askance at the flirtation between London and Moscow, and turns, therefore, all the more urgently to the United States as her closest friend and supporter. But China has the same difficulty with us as does Britain: how can she tell what will be our attitude at the peace table?
Clear thinking in the Pacific
The pattern of American thinking about the peace will have a much greater bearing on the Pacific war than on the European. Yet if we are vague about what to do with Europe, we are even vaguer about what to do with Asia and the Pacific.
Could we be more specific than we are? The Chinese would have us be, and rightly claim an equal share in joint decisions.
There is no easy way of drawing up any blueprint which will satisfy the interests of imperial powers like the Dutch and the British and those of nationalist and anti-imperialist China, fulfill the desires of former colonial peoples now conquered, provide for the security of Australia and New Zealand, and please the American people. What is to be done with IndoChina, Korea, and Thailand? Who is to occupy the islands of the Pacific?
To discuss these problems, or to set up the machinery for their discussion, as China would have us do, has its dangers, as only those who know the complexity of the area can fully realize. Yet not to do so has, perhaps, even greater dangers. Not least of these is the effect on the war of the growing economic and political crisis in China.