The Pacific War


JAPAN may be able to achieve a measure of success on the mainland of Asia for some time to come. But she is in process of steady retreat in the Central and Southwest Pacific. If the application of superior land forces to the land war in Asia must await the release of our armies and matériel from Europe, it is also true that Japan cannot now break through the circle which has been drawn tight around her. It is all too often forgotten that the reduction of Japan to a defensive position was a condition for the European invasion.

The stages in which Japan was reduced to the defensive are well described in Admiral King’s report to the late Secretary of the Navy. This document, so rich in American history, puts the story in four stages. The defensive stage lasted from Pearl Harbor to the Battle of the Coral Sea. The defensive-offensive brought us up to the Battle of Midway, “the first decisive defeat suffered by the Japanese Navy in 450 years.” The offensive-defensive stage, beginning with the landings in the Solomons, took us through the fight for Guadalcanal and the desperate sea engagement which revolved around that action. Then came the general offensive on the entire Pacific front.

It is a story of brains as much as of courage, of carefully calculated risks and brilliant offensive actions. Toward the end of what the Navy calls the Battle of Guadalcanal there was a period in which the destroyer Meade exercised “complete control in the area, all by herself.” This is in the best traditions of the Navy. We have always had confidence in our power to produce: the King Report gives us confidence in our ability to direct and use our production.

The most tragic mistake the Japanese ever made was in misunderstanding the nature and resources of American democracy. A navy is as great as the industrial system behind it. There is a sense, therefore, in which the King Report is not complete without a companion volume on the story of production. This is not told in detail, although its major outlines are sketched in. We take it for granted that we have the industrial resources and the skilled manpower to turn out everything from battleships to officers. The Japanese apparently did not think there was much basis for our easy confidence.

Hop, skip, and jump

We have the greater confidence in our ability to maintain the initiative now that we know the story of our long and bitter struggle to achieve it. The Japanese, who are predicting a great American naval offensive by July 1, and who have told their people that island hopping has given place to island jumping, recognize the great strategic change that has come over the war. There is no reason why that picture should change again.

It is dangerous, however, to concentrate our attention entirely on naval warfare. The temptation, when the going is good, is to measure our effort in terms of positions occupied. But this is a war in which technological developments have produced “triphibious” operations, and social developments have produced a many-sided conflict of ideas. Success in mastering the one does not necessarily mean success in mastering the other.

A true picture of the state of our war against Japan is a composite of the purely military situation of ourselves and our allies as well as of the state of mind, the political and social attitudes, of friends and foes. Looked at in this way, the success of our Pacific offensive may be somewhat misleading. So far, we have advanced either across empty ocean wastes or along the coasts of islands whose inhabitants have never taken any independent part in world affairs. The Pacific offensive has not yet raised the same sort of problems as did the North African invasion.

The Japanese thrusts into India and their campaigns in China clearly began as more than a desperate effort to feed the home population with easily won triumphs. They are an effort to break through the chain at its weakest link. The Japanese are attempting to consume our slowly developed offensive power in China by every means they have at their command. Their blows are shrewdly calculated to wrest from us the initiative on the mainland. They are bound to succeed to some extent. By the time we reach the shores of China, the Japanese will have made it extremely difficult for the Chinese to meet us. They are striking on the one front, the land front, where they still enjoy numerical and material superiority.

China bears the brunt

It is in China, therefore, that the Japanese have their one remaining chance to delay their ultimate defeat. China must unfortunately continue to bear much of the brunt of the battle. In China alone do the Japanese still have scope for political maneuvering.

What can we expect in China? From the Japanese we can expect every effort to take the fullest advantage of the differences between the National Government and the Communists, the weakest spot in the Allied political position in Asia; hence, the importance to us of Chinese unity. We can also expect continued efforts to turn the Chinese against both British and Americans. We shall both be accused of indifference toward the fate of China. To a blockaded people with no great maritime tradition, our concentration on naval strategy will be used against us as evidence of that indifference.

In the face of all this we can count on the National Government of China, whatever the fortunes of war, remaining faithful to the Allied cause. But we must steel ourselves to the possibility of serious deterioration in the Chinese political scene.

Current discussion of China’s internal affairs has the disadvantage of providing the Japanese with plenty of propaganda material. All American criticism of China is faithfully broadcast by Tokyo. This is not an argument for censorship. The more democratic is the relationship between China and ourselves, the less will be the effect of Tokyo’s exploitation of American comment.

No one could wish to quarrel with the reaction of China’s great newspaper, the Ta Kung Pao, which commented on the critical attitude of American and British public opinion: “We wish to tell this to our allies: without China’s resistance Japan could never be conquered; and after the war, without China’s coöperation there can be no peace in the Far East.”

The thesis is substantially correct but not entirely to the point. Any one of the Great Allies could say the same thing. Surely the point is that the American people are not accustomed to refraining from public discussion of their own shortcomings, and they feel a vital interest in securing an accurate picture of the war effort of their allies. Because that picture has been difficult to obtain, doubt and suspicion are bound to grow. The only specific for this situation is the truth.

China the stabilizer

China is of great importance to our future security in Asia, where we have responsibilities much greater than those in Europe. China is important to us in our relations with both the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Depending upon her political development and internal stability, she can become either the stabilizer or the hotbox of Asia.

The difficulty for Americans in forming a true picture of China’s present condition is in estimating where the effects of the Japanese occupation and the blockade come to an end and where the results of political mishandling and mistaken policies begin. It is hard to deny the devastating consequences for China of the Japanese occupation. Our military leaders have already made, and are acting upon, their estimate of China’s role in the war. They have obviously not assumed a great military potential even if they have been willing to go along with increasing political recognition.

British and American policies towards China are related to such estimates because they are bound to differ. It is to the British interest to have a stable China; it is to our interest to have a strong and prosperous China. The British may well be tempted to see in India, now decades ahead of China in industrial development, the provider of cheap consumers’ goods for the Southeastern Asia and Indonesian bloc. China would be a natural competitor; and while it would not be British policy to obstruct, it would not be a primary British interest to develop Chinese economy. To us, however, a poor China would be a poor market and an unstable center of gravity for our policy. Hence, the intense curiosity of the American public about Chinese affairs.

Japanese cheap labor

There is another way of looking at our Pacific war. What effect is it having upon the Japanese and the lands they occupy? The layman can point to many of Japan’s self-advertised difficulties and still draw some measure of comfort, however much he discounts them. The loss of shipping through our sea and air action continues to complicate Japan’s economic problems. Loss of ships means loss of manpower, of valuable cargoes and raw materials.

The whole war effort revolves more and more around the question of manpower. The cheap labor which in peacetime could pass as an asset, in wartime becomes a liability. Cheap labor may take the place of machines; it is much more difficult for machines to free cheap labor. The Japanese war machine is tied not only to an industrial economy drawing heavily on cheap, decentralized labor, but also to a farm economy in which human capital is the chief investment. We are getting reports of rumblings among the Japanese peasantry, historically the main group from which protests against the arbitrary acts of the government have arisen.

Peasant revolts have been many, but only on rare occasions have they been more than local and spontaneous in character. Unable to solve manpower problems by cutting too heavily into the rural section of the population, because human beings, not machines, are still the prime movers in Japanese agriculture, the government has put more and more burdens upon the peasants.

These burdens appear to have been too heavy, for now the government is offering generous subsidies for rice, and special bonuses for farmers who exceed the quota. While they were formerly compelled to surrender to the government everything they produced above the immediate need for the family, — a poor incentive to production, — farmers are now allowed to keep everything they produce above the quota. The Japanese militarists must fear discontent among the farming population more than in any other section of the community, if only because of the effect it would have upon Army morale.

Honorable morale low

The morale of the Army, however, is also being affected by the general fortunes of war. There is increasing evidence that the isolation of thousands of troops is having its effect. It is now obvious to probably more than 100,000 Japanese that the Navy and Air Force cannot save them. Major General Rowell’s story of Japanese prisoners not attempting to escape from a stockade with the door left open would not have been believed a year ago. Nor was it likely a year ago that a newly captured Japanese prisoner would request the use of a public address system to tell his companions of the good treatment he was receiving. Perhaps because the tide of battle has turned in our favor we find it easier to believe what so many have previously denied: that the Japanese are human.

The Japanese government is also firmly convinced, with very good reason, of the inevitability of air raids over metropolitan Japan. It is even rumored that the capital might be moved to Hsinking, the present capital of the puppet state of Manchukuo. Certainly the Japanese militarists are put in a position where they must assist our own propaganda because they cannot avoid warning their people when they train them for the coming raids.

Asia listens

There is mounting evidence that American propaganda is heard and disseminated in Japan. Japanese publications openly discuss the matter. The gendarmerie is particularly alarmed at its inability to stop the dissemination of Allied news among all classes in Japan. Our propaganda is apparently so widely known and discussed in Japan that the authorities feel it useless to conceal it. Magazines, therefore, quote our propaganda in order to pull it to pieces, but in the process cannot avoid giving it even wider circulation.

What is known in Japan is perhaps even more widely known in Occupied Asia. Chinese report that there is widespread listening to American and British stations in Occupied China. We know that the American version of the war is disseminated throughout the Philippines not many hours after it is heard in the United States. We seem to be in touch with the peoples of Indo-China, the Netherlands East Indies, and even Burma and Malaya.

We do not know the strength or the political ambitions of those who are leading organized resistance in the vast confines of the Japanese Empire. But that there is resistance is certain. The Dutch are publishing more and more evidence of resistance to the Japanese in the Netherlands East Indies. Some of the stories from Hollandia give good reasons for it. But the best evidence of all comes from the Japanese themselves, who are continually describing the annihilation of guerrilla forces they had claimed to have destroyed over and over again.

What are the Japanese going to do about it? If they are true to form they will appeal to occupied lands for all-out support of the Japanese in their sacred war and redouble their promises of good treatment and political independence. At the same time they will redouble their demands, increase the harshness of their treatment, and belie by their actions the softness of their words.

We are already at a stage in the Pacific war comparable to the period in the European war following the conquest of Sicily and the beginning of the German retreat in Russia. We no longer have to persuade our friends or our potential friends that we are going to defeat Japan. We do have to persuade them why it is to their advantage that we should win.