Japan: "Where to now?" (7-20-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (July 20, 1941)


Tokyo, all decked out with new cabinet, still wondering what course is wise to follow to realize ambitions for big empire

By Carroll Binder

Japan’s military policy “remains immovable and immutable,” according to Admiral Teijirō Toyoda who has become Foreign Minister in the reconstituted Konoe government.

Exactly what that “immovable and immutable” policy is and how it will be translated into action is far from clear. Those foreigners who know Japan well suspect the new Japanese foreign minister and his colleagues are not nearly so certain of their future course as they profess to be.

Shall Japan denounce the non-aggression pact with Russia concluded on April 13 by the ousted Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka and attack Russia while Japan’s ally, Germany, is waging a titanic struggle to crush Russia?

Base is bait

Shall Japan take advantage of the impotence of France to acquire the portions of Indochina not seized by Japan during the previous squeeze play, including the highly desirable naval base at Cam Ranh Bay?

Is it the psychological moment for Japan to attempt a showdown with the United States and Great Britain, assuming that their intense preoccupation with the battle of the Atlantic will prevent them from offering effective naval resistance to Japanese expansion to the south?

Or, had Japan better continue to ignore German proddings for vigorous action against Russia until the outcome of the present struggle is more clearly discernible, meantime trying once more to bring the four-year-old China war to a satisfactory conclusion?

Russia seems next

Earlier in the week, it was generally assumed that Japan’s next move would be in the direction of Indochina and Thailand but troop movements in the north and the ousting of Foreign Minister Matsuoka who negotiated the non-aggression pact with Russia have given rise to belief repudiation of the pact and possibly a Japanese attack on Russia may be in the offing.

Japan has never looked favorably on Soviet Russia and repudiation of the treaty would be politically popular at home. It was a frantic gesture by the opportunistic Matsuoka to atone for his failure to get anything for Japan out of Hitler.

German newspapermen in a position to know have said that, during conversation with Matsuoka, Hitler threatened that, if Japan did not come into the war soon, Germany might feel constrained to strengthen its relations with Russia to Japan’s disadvantage.

Matsuoka hurried and negotiated a pact with Stalin.

Hitler, of course, gave Matsuoka no intimation he was on the eve of attacking Russia so Matsuoka saw no possible conflict between this pledge to Stalin and Japan’s pledges of Sept. 27, 1940, to aid Germany and Italy but the Moscow pact was the last nail in Matsuoka’s political coffin. His successor will probably prefer the tie with Hitler to the tie with Stalin for most Japanese leaders are still sold on Germany’s prospects in the present war.

Could cut supplies

Japan would like to weaken Russia by shutting off supplies now reaching Russia via Vladivostok and the Trans-Siberian Railway. Ships bound for Vladivostok must pass through Japanese-controlled waters in straits which at the most are only 30 miles wide. The Russians have mined the approaches to Vladivostok.

Since the United States is vitally interested in keeping Germany engaged in the Russian front as long as possible and since Russia needs materials from the United States, the Japanese attitude toward shipments to Vladivostok is of major importance to the U.S. We are doing what we can diplomatically to keep the line of supply open.

Without attempting to predict whether or not the Japanese will actually attack Russia at this time, it may be observed that Russia is still strong militarily in the Far East and that the Soviet bombing planes based in the maritime provinces should be able to cause enormous havoc to Japanese communities of paper and wood houses which are barely 600 miles distant.

Won’t mediate war

The President during the week made clear that this government will not betray a valued ally and pull Japan’s chestnuts out of the fire by attempting to “mediate” the war against China and Japan. “Mediation” under existing circumstances in the Far East could only rebound to the injury of our friends and the assistance of our enemies.

Among the other significant developments of the week just closed were the negotiation of a treaty of alliance between Great Britain and Russia, under which both pledged themselves not to make separate peace with the enemy; negotiation of a treaty of mutual aid between Russia and the refugee Czech government and an arrangement whereby Czech military units will fight under the Russian High Command against Germany; continued negotiations between Russia and the Polish government-in-exile, and final collapse of French resistance in Syria.

The Vichy government did not get the aid it anticipated from Germany and reluctantly abandoned a contest which it had no prospect of winning from the outset. Vichy’s defeat inspired pro-Laval elements in occupied France to resume their efforts to reinstate that proved collaborator of Hitler in the seat of authority in unoccupied France.

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