Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
A New Americanism
Why a Nation Needs a National Story
The history of our first three months at war must be painted in somber colors. The United States Navy suffered the worst losses in its history. Guam and Wake were captured by Japan. In quick succession the enemy overran most of the Philippines, seized Hong Kong, swept over Singapore, principal bastion and base of the United Nations in the Far East, and reduced various strategic points in the Netherlands East Indies one by one. As these lines were written, the surging tide of conquest was nearing Rangoon, entry port for the Burma Road, and was imperiling India. Southward it was menacing Australia. In the West, the Anglo-America "life line" to Britain and Iceland had been safeguarded and strengthened; but Germany had commenced long-range submarine raiding operations in our coastal waters. All over the world, ship sinkings were increasing to totals which approximated those of the war's worst months, and freight storage yards at American seacoast cities were clogged with products of the "Arsenal of Democracy" awaiting merchant shipping which could transport them to the fighting fronts.
Thus in less than 90 days the strategic picture of the war had been considerably altered. The United Nations had suffered their worst defeats since the fall of France. As spring approached, the short-range prospects were grim. From the long-range viewpoint, however, the basic factors which have been the strength as well as the weakness of the United States have not in every case been modified by the events of its first three months of participation in a shooting war. We still possess many advantages.
Until December 7, 1941, the military struggle which had been in progress could be described in the truest sense as a battle for the domination of Europe. For more than two years the headlines had been telling of its progress. The Nazi legions had swept across country after country, raising the swastika from the North Cape to the Acropolis. Even the battles in Africa had been, strategically speaking, part of the struggle for the Old World; and the German invasion of Russia came as one of its final chapters. But already the war quite evidently was "growing out" of Europe.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor did not merely add to the list of belligerents. It enlarged the theater of military operations from a continent to the world. Today, though a number of nations still are ostensibly neutral, there are really no non-belligerents. This has become the greatest war in history, the first to deserve absolutely the term "World War." In one sense it is a war of hemispheres, waged over the continents and the seven seas. In the fullest sense it is total war; it touches all fields, all values, of human interest.
In this war of the world the United States occupies strategically and geographically a central position. It lies behind two great oceans, between a Europe which is virtually dominated by Hitler and an Asia of which the eastern portion is dominated by Japan. We dominate the western shores of the Atlantic and the eastern shores of the Pacific. But the opposing coasts, thousands of miles away, are in the hands of our enemies. Russia also occupies a central position between two enemies, the European Axis states and Japan. But Russia is a great sprawling land mass, in the midst of a continent, with few and precarious gateways to the warm seas and without adequate communications with the other United Nations.
Our strategic position is, in the main, fairly clear. . . . Wars can be won only by carrying the fighting to the enemy, by the offensive. In total wars what is demanded is the offensive à outrance. This is particularly true in this war. There can be no victory for us if Germany retains control of most of Europe, if Japan creates her "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" and holds China's coasts in fief and exploits Malaya's tin and rubber and the rich supplies of the Indian archipelago. We cannot hope to alter either situation by defensive operations. Only conquest can counter and redeem conquest. If Germany and Japan are to be defeated, if the world is to resume something like its former political shape, the United Nations, and particularly the United States, by far the most powerful of the partners, must reconquer Europe and Asia. The war must be carried to the enemy.
Once we accept this as an axiom of victory, we must also accept some of the disadvantages that geography has imposed upon us. . . . To carry the fighting to our enemies, to win the war, we must transport troops, planes, men and supplies in amphibian operations of unprecedented magnitude across thousands of miles of the Atlantic and Pacific. And no matter where we choose to strike, it is Japan in the Far East and Germany in Europe who will be able to move their forces the most quickly over the shorter distances. This is one continuing strategic disadvantage which we must recognize, accept and overcome if we are to win this war.
Yet we still have a great advantage. The United Nations possessed, and still possess, territories and bases in the Western Pacific-Asiatic theater of war and in the European theater. So far, no Axis Power possesses territory or bases in the western hemisphere (Martinique and Guadeloupe possibly excepted). This means that so long as we hold bases in the enemy's sphere, and so long as we can deny him bases in the western hemisphere, we can carry the war to him but he cannot carry the war to us. Submarine operations off our coasts and occasional air raids on our coastal cities can be conducted from transoceanic bases, but at long range our enemies cannot undertake serious, prolonged, intensive and continuous offensive measures against us at home. So long, moreover, as we hold our overseas bases and keep the enemy from securing bases in this hemisphere, the factories of our "Arsenal of Democracy," unlike those of any warring nation, can operate without much fear of prolonged interruption.
Germany and Japan understand this. Their primary strategy has been, therefore, to reduce the bases on which the power of the United Nations depends in the European theater and in the Far Eastern theater. The greatest, most heavily defended and most important of these bases-perhaps the only one which is absolutely indispensable to victory and must be held at all costs if we are to avert defeat-is the British Isles. As soon as we entered the war, then, we at once took steps to make absolutely sure that Britain will not be cut off. . . .
The Japanese assault upon Pearl Harbor, a modern duplicate of the attack on Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War, was disastrous in its consequences, though not so disastrous as much loose talk might indicate.
Pearl Harbor did not fundamentally and permanently alter the strategic picture in the Pacific; that picture already had been altered by deliberate policy. But the loss of the battleships Arizona and Oklahoma, and the severe damage done to other capital and lighter units, reduced the ratio of our overall superiority vis-à-vis the combined Axis navies and in the Pacific further increased the Japanese superiority.
Japan's strategical plan, of which the attack on Pearl Harbor was an integral part, was boldly conceived and skillfully executed. Its outstanding characteristic was the same as has distinguished all the German operations-complete coordination of effort. Wake and Guam were captured (the former with unexpectedly heavy losses to the Japanese as a result of the brilliant defense by our marines) and our direct line of communications to the Philippines thus was severed. In the Philippines, the two principal airfields on Luzon, where we had been trying to build up a striking force of heavy bombers, were bombed heavily in a surprise attack launched from the Japanese bases on Formosa; and by the second day many of our bombers had been destroyed on the ground. The Philippines also were invaded at a number of points. Simultaneously Hong Kong and Malaya were assaulted. . . .
The first and main task is to halt the Japanese surge of conquest, if not at Java then on the coast of northern Australia and in Burma. Our gigantic long-range convoys across the Pacific, unprecedented in the history of war, have begun to build up stockpiles of materials in Australia; and the supply routes have been strengthened by the garrisons we have placed on the islands along the way. But now that the Japanese are in possession of Malaya and the Indies, their need for oil and other raw materials is largely met, whereas we must transport most of our oil supplies to Australia. Because of this, Australia's role will be, for the time being, that of a defensive barrier rather than an offensive base.
The pattern of our eventual victory has already, in part, been set; the Fleet's raid upon the mandated Marshall Islands follows the traditional strategy long ago envisaged in case of a war with Japan. Such offensive operations must be, surely will be, extended in scope and power. For this is a war for survival, and only by smashing assaults can we hope to save our lives.
3 The following are excerpts from an article published in Foreign Affairs, April 1942.