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The Struggle in the Pacific

ISSUE:  Summer 1942

Volcanic Isle. By Wilfrid Eleisher. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $3.00. The Great Pacific War. By Hector C. Bywater. Houghton Mifflin Company. $2.50. Isles of Spice. By Frank Clune. E. P. Dutton and Company. $3.50. Tropic Landfall, By Clifford Gessler. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $3.50. Westward the Course. By Paul McGuire. William Morrow and Company. $3.75. The Philippines. By Joseph Ralston Hayden. The Macmillan Company. $9.00. Introducing Australia. By C. Hartley Grattan, The John Day Company. $3.00. French Interests and Policies in the Far Bast. By Roger Levy, Guy Lacam, and Andrew Roth. Institute of Pacific Relations. $2.00. India and Democracy. By Sir George Schuster and Guy Wint. The Macmillan Company. $5.00. Crisis in the Philippines. By Catherine Porter. Alfred A. Knopf. $1.50. The Setting Sun of Japan. By Carl Randau and Leane Zug-smith. Random House. $3.00. Our Enemy Japan. By Wilfrid Fleisher. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $2.00. Japan’s Dream of World Empire. Edited by Carl Crow. Harper and Brothers. $1.25. Victory in the Pacific. By Alexander Kiralfy. The John Day Company. $2.75.

The volcanic isle has erupted before, and each time its explosion has done more than extend Japan’s political power in Asia and the Pacific: it has invariably undermined and exposed the weaknesses of hitherto imposing empires and political systems. Japan’s war against China in 1895 and her seizure of Formosa (the spearhead of her southward drive today) gave the last blow to the tottering Manchu empire. In 1905 her defeat of Russia revealed the rottenness of the Czarist empire and proclaimed her own future naval supremacy in the Western Pacific. In 1914 with British connivance Japan took from Germany the Caroline, Marianna and Marshall Islands and thus gained a network of outlying fortresses (stationary aircraft carriers, as a Japanese admiral called them a few years ago) and a jumping-off place for the fateful 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 not only gave her a powerful base for the later drive on China proper and for the future attack which she will probably launch against the Soviet Far East; it also proved to the world (and especially to Italy and Germany) the unreality of the Geneva collective security system. From 1937 to 1940 her troops steadily overran eastern and northern China and simultaneously wrecked and exposed to ridicule the whole outmoded system of Western concessions and privileges in China’s treaty ports—and did so, moreover, with weapons and fuel supplied by the United States and the British and Dutch empires. Early in 1941, under the incredibly complacent eyes of these same countries, Japanese forces took over without resistance from Vichy-dominated Indo-China the last ports, railways and airfields needed to assure an effective assault on Singapore, the citadel of the Western Powers in the Far East. A sober, scholarly account of this sorry business appears in Andrew Roth’s chapters of “French Interests and Policies in the Far East,” a volume in which he collaborated with Roger Levy and Guy Lacam.

The assault when it came on December 7, 1941, was thus doubly effective because it not only cut the vital lines of communications of the United Nations but revealed the incapacity of the Western Powers to defend their Eastern colonies and thus destroyed much of the political and moral prestige on which the colonial system depended. Today with the fall of Malaya, Java, the Philippines and Burma, with the United Nations facing a new assault on western China and India, and with Australia attacked for the first time in its history, not only our strategic concepts but our whole intellectual approach to the Far East must be radically changed. For that reason alone books written, however excellently and recently, on the old assumptions of Western strength and prestige in the Far East must be read today with reserve— as a remembrance of things past or things that might have been.

To say that this reservation applies to some of the books here reviewed is not to reproach their authors. At worst the authors were no more short-sighted than their governments and military experts, and in some cases they have been surprisingly prescient. Not that they succeeded in prophesying Pearl Harbor—for not even the late Hector C. Bywater imagined that feat in “The Great Pacific War,” his astonishing fantasy of a Japanese-American naval war written in 1925 and now reprinted; but they correctly saw something of the vital strategic importance of Southeast Asia and Australasia in the clash that was bound to come from Japan’s policies.

Alexander Kiralfy’s “Victory in the Pacific” is a very different book from Bywater’s, though both deal with the problems of American strategy against a Japanese enemy. Mr. Kiralfy’s analysis has many commendable qualities. He rightly stresses the importance of striking boldly at the heart of Japan instead of timidly skirmishing with Japanese forces in New Guinea or India and has some useful technical advice to offer, for instance in the planning of attacks on enemy bases in the northern mandated islands. Similarly he shows the crucial importance of the northern approach to Japan via Alaska and the Soviet Far East. Unfortunately much of this sound, though not startlingly new, advice is wrapped up in a pretentious and unreadable style that will repel many readers, especially when the author writes of Japanese strategists as omniscient “surgeons” and chess-players. Moreover Mr. Kiralfy often writes in a kind of intellectual vacuum, seeming to ignore the pressing needs of other war theatres in Russia and the Mediterranean and therefore giving all too little attention to the heart-breaking problem of building and operating enough ships to supply battle fronts all over the world. One may also doubt whether he appreciates sufficiently the visible evidence (not merely the promises) of great American reinforcements which the Soviets will rightly demand before they abandon their neutrality to Japan and allow their Far Eastern territory to become a second battleground in their rear.

Dr. Joseph Ralston Hayden’s book, “The Philippines,” a tremendous and masterly survey of the government of the Islands is, in a double and tragic sense, the “last word” on an experiment unique in colonial history, This monumental work by a scholar and administrator who contributed much to the Philippine state will stand as the authoritative source of guidance in the day when America’s pledge to redeem the liberty of the Philippines is fulfilled. Because it is so destined to be the standard work one may venture the hope that Dr. Hayden will some day write the equally necessary book on the economic development of the Philippines—a vital topic which is regrettably omitted from the present book, though it is a key to understanding much of the past and the future of Philippine-American relations.

The lay reader, who will be discouraged from reading Dr. Hayden’s scholarly treatise by its price if not by its size, can fortunately amply satisfy his interest in the Philippine Commonwealth and its people by reading Miss Catherine Porter’s excellent little book, “Crisis in the Philippines,” balanced yet simply and attractively written. It is easily the best, and the only really up-to-the-minute, popular account of the Filipinos as they met their great trial, and it gives the best picture of what critical materials Americans have lost and Japanese have gained in that strategically vital area, where Japan’s initial surprise successes in the air were perhaps as disastrous for the Allies as the attack on Pearl Harbor.

All Americans and many Britishers will long be indebted to C. Hartley Grattan for his “Introducing Australia,” by all odds the best American study of the continent (as big as the United States but with the population of New York City) that may soon be the major Pacific base for American action against Japan. Balanced, scholarly and very readable, the book may well become a classic, and a New Zea-lander can only regret that Mr. Grattan did not include a fuller account of the neighboring Dominion as well.

In two sharply contrasting but attractive books on similar subjects, Paul McGuire and Frank Clune, both Australians, take us on a tour of northern Australia, the Malay Archipelago and Southeast Asia. Mr. McGuire’s “Westward the Course” is a thoughtful, even philosophical, series of essays on these lands and peoples, skilfully combined with travel impressions. It deals also, and with keen insight, with Hawaii, Fiji and New Zealand. In “Isles of Spice,” Mr. Clune, a radio broadcaster, presents his adventures and reflections in a delightful if often naive, schoolboyish fashion and in genuine (“fair dinkum”) Aussie speech that brought back nostalgic childhood memories to this reviewer. Mr. Chine’s encounters with sophisticated Dutch officials must have been something to see and hear. One could wish that Mr. Clune had also had the job of writing the anecdotal history of the port of Honolulu, instead of Clifford Gessler, whose ragbag of seafaring stories, none too well retold, is for some curious reason mixed up with some random notes about Hawaii and presented as “Tropic Landfall,” a volume in the “American Seaport Series.”

Very different in mood and style is “The Setting Sun of Japan,” by Carl Randau and Leane Zugsmith, a misleading title for a book which is essentially a good gossipy travel-logue of a pair of “PM” correspondents making a rush tour of the Far East and the South Pacific in the last few weeks before the storm broke. There is much that is interesting in Mr. and Mrs. Randau’s vivid impressions and anecdotes of Japan, Shanghai, Indo-China (in the early humiliating stages of Vichy’s surrender to Japan), of Singapore, the Indies and Australasia, but the book has an ephemeral, scrappy quality and lacks the philosophical character of Mr. McGuire’s volume or the exuberant naive charm of Mr. Clune’s. And so back to the nation that is busily destroying the basis on which most of the above books were written. It would be pleasant to report that Wilfrid Fleisher’s “Volcanic Isle” gave us the explanation of Japan’s present eruption. But that book has yet to be written. Mr. Fleisher from his editorial desk on the Japan Advertiser before it was “co-ordinated” with the New Structure of the neo-totali-tarian Japan has, however, written a valuable and revealing account of Japan’s preparation for the war. In his story of the intrigue, assassinations, police pressure and militarism, that marked the rapid suppression of Japanese liberalism after its brief span of precarious life from 1922 to 1931, one can hear the advance rumblings of the explosion that burst over Pearl Harbor, Manila and Singapore. Mr. Fleisher’s story of the roundabout methods by which foreign businesses, teachers, newspapers and missions were steadily frozen out of Japan under army pressure, gives some clue to the process whereby the Japanese people’s mind was diverted from the fiasco of the war against China and directed to the alleged menace of Anglo-American encirclement and thus prepared for the long-planned attack on the South Pacific.

In his more recent shorter volume, “Our Enemy Japan,” Mr. Fleisher fills some of the gaps in his earlier book and, writing after Pearl Harbor, not unnaturally shows a certain degree of hindsight on Japan’s military and economic strength. Though here and there it covers the same ground as the earlier volume (sometimes in unnecessarily similar detail, as in the repeated story of the author’s “newsbeat” on the Berlin-Tokyo alliance), the book is a valuable popular survey of Japan’s military tradition and leadership, her ties with Germany, her economic strength and weaknesses. It concludes with an excellent, tense account of the Japanese negotiations in Washington preceding Pearl Harbor and has the texts of the important official statements by the two Governments. Admirable though it still is, the book is already outdated in a few places by the incredible speed of the Japanese advance into the Indies and Burma.

In sharp and unhappy contrast to the Fleisher’s levelheaded appraisal is “Japan’s Dream of World Empire,” edited by Carl Crow. This is the so-called “Tanaka Memorial” dished up again for the fourth or fifth time and spread over a hundred pages together with some random introductory notes by Mr. Crow on Japanese imperialism under Hideyoshi in the sixteenth century. When Japan’s actions, especially since 1931 or even since 1895, speak so plainly, it seems somewhat superfluous and certainly not very helpful to the innocent public to re-issue a document of doubtful authenticity at best, widely circulated by Chinese groups at various times since 1929 and reprinted in 1931 by a London newspaper, especially when four-fifths of the document is an outdated, detailed account of railways and economic resources in Manchuria about 1927. The only sentences worth reprinting are those where Premier Tanaka allegedly refers to the necessity of crushing the United States in order to control first China and then the world, and these hardly justify a $1,25 book after December 7, 1941.

It would be a mistake to assume that Japan’s action was mainly the result of German intrigue and pressure, for the Japanese dream of an Asiatic empire is certainly older than Nazi-ism. Nevertheless, there are revealing passages in Mr. Fleisher’s books which show how skilfully the German advisers who flooded the Tokyo Government departments during 1941 were able to exploit ancient Japanese grudges and ambitions. It is probable that we shall soon be seeing other signs of Nazi propaganda technique and ideology in the methods of “indoctrination” which the Japanese are already practicing on the captive peoples of the Philippines, Indo-China, Thailand, Java, Malaya and Burma. For it is essential for Japan’s purposes that she should plausibly present herself as the liberator of the Eastern peoples from their Western rulers. To judge by her record in China, the looting and raping of her soldiers will speak more convincingly than her propaganda, but there is real risk that the Japanese will be a little more intelligent in Southeast Asia and successfully play upon the various nationalist or dissatisfied groups. Above all she can exploit to the full her military triumphs over British and American power and proclaim the end of the myth of Western prestige. There is unfortunately pitifully little in the record of the French in Indo-China or the British in Malaya and Burma to counteract such propaganda. A hard task lies ahead for the United Nations to regain not merely the lost territories but the allegiance and respect of the disillusioned colonial peoples of the East. Here is an urgent job for our own propaganda experts. The success of the job may depend in no small measure on the help we give the Chinese (who can control the greatest potential fifth column the Japanese must cope with in Southeast Asia) and the inspiration we give to India to participate on a basis of equality in the long struggle that lies ahead.

The ominous succession of Allied defeats in the Far East not only brings nearer the physical threat of invasion to India, the last great bastion still available in southern Asia other than China itself, but also focuses new attention on the perennial problem of India as the all-important symbol of the Western colonial system and on the tragic failure of the Indian leaders to agree among themselves and with the British on a plan for independence. In view of the deplorable widespread ignorance of this problem prevailing among even the relatively well-informed sections of the American public, it would be pleasant to report that “India and Democracy,” by Sir George Schuster and Guy Wint, will dispel much of this misunderstanding, but despite its many valuable qualities (especially in Mr. Wint’s chapters), it is not wholly suitable for an American audience. The authors indeed were obviously not writing for such an audience, but for relatively expert British readers already fairly familiar with India’s problems. Mr. Wint presents a useful survey of India’s political and social evolution together with some gentle and not unjustified criticism of Indian nationalism and nationalists, with rightful emphasis on certain ominous authoritarian tendencies within the Congress party. Sir George Schuster’s section of the book, in view of his distinguished record in India, is disappointing, vague and timid. His excessive concern with constitutional details is typical of the mental paralysis which besets so many sincere and able British Indian officials. When Sir George wrote his forebodings in the early part of 1941, he could hardly have imagined that a year later Sir Stafford Cripps would convey the British Government’s offer of complete Indian independence after the war. This is not to deny the staggering constitutional problems that are involved in Indian independence but simply to note that, as in the case of American independence, the pressure of public opinion at home and military dangers abroad may push the British Government into actions which would terrify even its most progressive India Office heads at the present moment.


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