WHERE is the American frontier in the Pacific Ocean? What are our vital interests in this vast region? How adequately are we prepared to defend them? What is our present policy in regard to them? These questions are of peculiar urgency at a moment when warfare is lacerating both Europe and Asia. In a way these two wars are the same war, and it is our great good fortune that this continent stands apart, guarded by two oceans. But modern warfare can expand unpredictably, and there are times when fire jumps over water.

As these lines go to press, the full weight of the Nazis' furious "total war" has been unleashed against France and Britain in the West. For the moment we cannot foresee the outcome. Yet obviously the measure of German success already achieved makes it doubly imperative that we in America survey our national defense problem with stern, relentless realism. More than ever before it has become necessary for us clearly to determine just what our interests and commitments are -- in other words, to see where our frontiers really lie. In this article we shall take only the Pacific area for our immediate province, though of course Pacific problems are necessarily interlocked with others farther afield.

The Pacific is the greatest of the world's five oceans. It measures almost ten thousand miles from east to west at its broadest point, and about seven thousand from north to south. It has an area of roughly 68,000,000 square miles, or nearly one half of the total water surface of the globe. Along its northern rim, the Soviet Union and the United States are less than sixty miles apart. It is flanked by three British dominions -- Canada, Australia and New Zealand; by eleven American republics in addition to the United States; by the 4,072 volcanic islands that form the Japanese archipelago; and by China, the Philippine Islands and the Dutch East Indies. It is a tremendous repository of wealth and commerce, the cross roads of a dozen trade routes, the scene of multitudinous adventures in national policy, and a possible nexus of future conflict.

Before we proceed, let us define very briefly what we mean by "policy." In the abstract, one might say, policy is merely the defense and furtherance of "national interests." But this term "national interests" must also be broken down. It can include anything from a missionary stranded in a Chinese village to a corporation worth a hundred million dollars. It comprises sympathies, aspirations, atavisms, phobias, as well as concrete items like geography, military establishments, and cold dollars and cents. American foreign policy, especially in regard to the Far East, has traditionally been based on two general concepts. First, we sympathize with the right of nations to preserve their independence. Second, we maintain and support the right of our citizens and our commerce to equal treatment everywhere.

More specifically, our attitude towards Far Eastern and Pacific problems is dominated by three explicit policies, each of which is so familiar that we need merely mention them: (1) The Open Door policy enunciated by John Hay in 1899. In its simplest definition this means equality of opportunity for citizens of all nations to trade at will in China. (2) The Washington Treaties of 1921-22. Under the terms of the Naval Treaty the principal maritime Powers of that time agreed to maintain certain naval ratios. The United States also promised in the Four Power Pact not to alter the status quo in regard to fortifications and military bases in the western Pacific, while in the Nine Power Pact signed at the same time Japan undertook to respect the territorial integrity of China. Though this treaty has, as everyone knows, been flagrantly violated by Japan, we still adhere to it. (3) The Stimson Doctrine of Non-Recognition. This policy, enunciated following the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931, states that we refuse to recognize "any situation, treaty, or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary" to the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

To support its policy, to protect its frontiers, a nation has to maintain diplomatic, military and naval establishments. Every country, we might say, has four or five different frontiers. First, at home, its actual geographical frontier. Then, either coterminous with this or beyond it, depending on the size and power of the nation, comes the military frontier, the specific line which it is prepared to defend with its military and naval forces. Third, there comes what might be called the economic frontier. For instance, our economic frontier certainly includes coffee in Brazil and tin in Bolivia. Fourth, a diplomatic frontier, which presumably protects our interests and explores any possible danger to them in areas considerably beyond the geographical frontier. Fifth comes the moral frontier, as is suggested by such a phrase as the White Man's Burden, or for that matter the Open Door. Viewed from this angle, the whole world is everybody's frontier.

Generally speaking, the diplomatic frontier of a country roughly represents its policy at a given moment, while the military frontier represents its power to defend that policy. The purpose of this article is to discuss these two frontiers in regard to American interests in the Pacific. What are these interests, and how well are we prepared to defend them? Where is our diplomatic frontier? Where is our military frontier? Obviously, they do not correspond. Should, then, our diplomatic frontier be pulled back? Or should our military frontier be pushed forward? Or is it unnecessary that the two frontiers coincide?


First let us outline our interests in the Pacific area. These we may classify into several fields.

1. Territorial. We own various Pacific islands, like the Hawaiian group, Guam, Midway, Wake and part of the Samoan group. (The Commonwealth of the Philippines is not included in this list because our control over it is to end in 1946, according to the Tydings-McDuffie Act.) Recently we embarked on a system of joint control with Great Britain over Canton and Enderbury Islands, in the Phoenix group below Hawaii.

2. Nationals. About 7,000 American citizens live in China, some 8,000 in Japan. There are also many Americans in the Philippines, and smaller numbers in the Netherlands Indies (625), and the Straits Settlements (525). Of our nationals in the Orient, those in China cause our State Department the most worry. Presumably, it is the duty of every civilized nation to give protection to its nationals. If we permit traders and missionaries to go abroad, we cannot avoid a certain responsibility for their welfare. Yet in recent years we have become much less assiduous in bearing this responsibility and our neutrality legislation

seeks to reduce the number of Americans who live or travel in agitated countries.

3. Investments. Figures are difficult to procure, and they differ widely. A reasonable estimate would put our investments in China at about $250,000,000, those in Japan at perhaps $350,000,000. But as Japan pushes forward in China, our opportunities for investment in the Orient will become increasingly limited. However, the approximately $750,000,000 which we have invested throughout the Far East represents only about six percent of our total foreign investments.

4. Trade. In 1938 American exports to China amounted to about $35,000,000, our imports to $47,000,000. Our exports to Japan were very much greater, almost $240,000,000, and our imports -- mostly silk and cotton goods -- were $126,820,000. Much of our export trade to Japan consists of potential war material like machinery, scrap iron and petroleum. That we thus help to make Japan's war against China possible is a glaring anomaly in view of our traditional friendship for the Chinese people. Our trade with the Philippines is considerable, amounting to $86,000,000 in exports and $94,000,000 in imports.

5. The air factor. Civil aviation not only follows established trade routes but opens up new ones. It unlocks the door to future trade. Pan American's air route across the Pacific is important both for its commercial and its prestige value. It also constitutes a distinct American military interest, since pilots obtain training over Pacific waters as well as valuable information on weather conditions and the like. The bases built by Pan American along the Honolulu-Midway-Wake-Guam-Manila run are of potential military importance.

6. Beyond these categories is another which can best be termed cultural. In China, particularly, we have important interests represented by such educational institutions as Yale in China, Peking Union Medical College, and the multifarious smaller schools, missions, hospitals and so on which have done so much to give America a good name in the Orient. The United States could not withdraw its political influence from the Far East without sacrificing this important and valuable, even if intangible, interest.

7. Finally, politics. The world is interlocked and events in Finland or in the Low Countries have repercussions in Singapore, Java or Honolulu. All over the world, and particularly in the Far East, the United States carries a political burden based on its power and prestige. By protecting that prestige in the Far East and in Pacific waters, we contribute to political stability throughout the world. If the United States should, for instance, surrender its Far Eastern position, it would cardinally weaken Great Britain vis-à-vis both Japan and Russia. Our status and our policy in regard to Japan and China will, moreover, inevitably be decisive factors in our future relationship to Europe, and in particular to Germany if she is victorious.


All this, then, is what we have to protect. In what position are we to protect it?

To answer this question one must first discuss the putative enemy. In the present state of world politics, as far as the Far Eastern and Pacific areas are concerned, this can only be Japan. Should Germany win the European war the situation might radically change. Then indeed we would have to alter all our defense conceptions. We might find Japan confronting us in one ocean, while a greatly expanded and strengthened Germany confronted us in the other. But at the moment, the only possible antagonist we have to fear in the Pacific is Japan. This is not to say that Japan intends at some future date to make war on the United States. Most sane critics regard the possibility of any such adventure as still remote. Nevertheless, every country, when planning its national defense and its ultimate political aims, must take account of whatever potential enemy is in the field. Under present circumstances, Japan is the only nation that can possibly threaten our Pacific interests, the only Power -- with or without Allies -- with whom a Pacific war is conceivable. Therefore, American military and naval policy in the Pacific is predicated on the assumption that Japan is the principal "enemy" to be faced.

Should, in fact, war unhappily occur between Japan and the United States, the Japanese would presumably strike first at our exposed outposts in China.[i] Our forces there are isolated from any possibility of substantial defense. We have 1,100 marines in Shanghai, which since 1927 have coöperated with the troops of other nations to defend the International Settlement. In northern China we have another 500 marines, divided between Peiping and Tientsin. We have four gunboats in the Yangtze area, and one near Canton. The Asiatic Fleet, based on either Shanghai or Manila depending on the season, consists of only one 10,000-ton cruiser, one old 7,000-ton cruiser, a dozen over-age destroyers, twelve submarines and a few small auxiliary ships. We do not station any capital ships or aircraft carriers in the Far East. In the past we have not even based our fleet on Hawaii, its natural pivot, because we did not wish to annoy Japan. If it is now stationed at Pearl Harbor, the obvious reason is that we are using its presence there to help persuade Tokyo not to attack the Netherlands East Indies. In any event, our fleet stays well this side of the 180th Meridian, which bisects the Pacific.

The Philippines might very well be the first object of a Japanese attack, if war should come. The question of our capacity to defend these islands has been hotly debated by many experts. The majority opinion is that they could not be held against a sustained or large-scale Japanese assault. General Douglas Mac-Arthur, head of the Philippine military establishment, holds naturally enough a contrary view; he makes an elaborate case with particular emphasis on the growing strength of the Philippine Army, which is training 40,000 recruits a year. But most observers in the United States sharply disagree with General MacArthur. Few of our generals and admirals think we could hold the Philippines; most of them do not think we should even make the attempt.

Their arguments are as follows. First, the Philippines are in effect located in Japanese home waters, whereas our nearest base for serious operations, Pearl Harbor, is about 5,000 miles away. Second, our present armed force in the islands is exceedingly small. On land we have perhaps 4,500 regular troops, including Philippine scouts, and on the sea only the minuscule Asiatic Fleet. Third, our coastal defenses are inadequate, although Corregidor in Manila Bay is heavily fortified, and some experts hold that Manila itself could hold out thirty days. But it would be extremely difficult to prevent Japanese landings at several points.[ii] Fourth, the Philippines have no munitions industry sufficient to maintain warfare for any length of time. Fifth, the Philippines -- as at present defended -- provide no satisfactory base for major operations by the United States fleet. Cavite, near Manila, has scarcely been improved since the Spanish-American War and has no repair facilities for big ships. There is a good natural harbor at Olongapo, in Subic Bay, some 60 miles north of Manila, but it is not adequately fortified. We keep there a floating drydock, the Dewey, because Cavite is too shallow to hold it. Although the Dewey has been in Philippine waters for thirty years, it is still in operating condition. But it will not dock ships exceeding 10,000 tons; in other words, it could handle a damaged cruiser, but not a big aircraft carrier or battleship -- vessels of this size would have to go back to Pearl Harbor or borrow Singapore.

To make the Philippines impregnable would probably cost at least one billion dollars, a sum that no American Congress in present circumstances would dream of appropriating for such a purpose. Our best experts say that, in order to make the islands even reasonably possible of defense, we should have to maintain there a garrison of 100,000 men, amply protected by at least 500 aircraft, and with a substantial naval force. In the event of war, it is estimated that we should need three million tons of merchant shipping -- roughly one-quarter of our entire merchant fleet -- to keep the islands in steady and effective communication with the American mainland. We should also need a much more powerful navy, since doubtless we would be risking important ships close to Japan.

Under the terms of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which will presumably liberate the Philippines in 1946, we are bound to give up the Cavite and Olongapo bases. The question of American naval bases (Cavite and Olongapo are technically defined as military bases) in the islands after we withdraw is left open by the Act. One school of American naval opinion feels very strongly that we should reserve the right to build future bases at three or four strategic points after we leave the islands. These points, it is suggested, should be held in perpetuity as "restricted but undefended areas," somewhat on the model of Guantanamo in Cuba, which we hold but do not fortify. Such suggested points, outside of Manila Bay, are Dumanquilas Bay in Mindanao, Coron Bay, Malampaya Sound, the Tawi-Tawi area, and Polillo on the east coast of Luzon. The Japanese are, on their side, very quick to see the potential importance of bases of this sort. For instance, they have occupied an atoll called Pratas Reef, just north of Luzon, where they are reported to have established a radio station.

So much for our comparatively weak position in China and the Philippines. It is quite clear that in case of war with Japan our main reliance would have to be on our line of defense in the mid-Pacific. That line of defense is, and must always be, the United States Navy.


As of January 1, 1940, the comparative naval strengths of the United States and Japan -- insofar as we know what Japan has been building -- were the following:

United States Japan
Number Tonnage Number Tonnage
Battleships 15 464,300 9 272,070
Aircraft Carriers 5 120,100 6 88,470
Heavy Cruisers 18 175,200 12 107,800
Light Cruisers 19 157,775 15 97,555
Destroyers 182 236,070 84 113,476
Submarines 63 71,175 35 52,432

It should be understood that of these ships, one of our battleships, two light cruisers, 115 destroyers and 32 submarines are technically listed as "over-age," i.e., nearing obsolescence. Of the Japanese total, one battleship, five heavy cruisers, eight light cruisers, 36 destroyers and 19 submarines are over-age.

American ships under construction on January 1, 1940, included eight new battleships (300,000 tons estimated), two aircraft carriers (34,700 tons), six light cruisers (44,000 tons), one large mine layer, 31 destroyers (49,980 tons) and 15 submarines (20,820 tons). The building program of the Japanese is unknown in its complete details: they make a fetish of naval secrecy. But, as far as we can tell, it consists -- including ships building and appropriated for -- of four battleships, two aircraft carriers, five light cruisers, nine destroyers, and three submarines. The new Japanese battleships will apparently average around 40,000 tons. In fact, our naval experts are convinced not only that the new Japanese ships are of this unprecedented size, but that Japan may have four or even eight of them under way.[iii] The United States has replied to this challenge in kind. Of our new ships, six will displace 35,000 tons, two 45,000 tons. These are bigger than anything we now have afloat. They will also be faster and more powerful. Moreover, as quoted by The New York Times, Admiral Stark stated that the two additional battleships provided for in the 1941 appropriations may be "somewhat larger," possibly reaching 52,000 or even 55,000 tons. There is, however, a limit to the size American ships can reach, a limit imposed by the 110-foot width of the present locks in the Panama Canal.

Late in April, 1940, the Senate passed a $963,797,478 navy bill, the largest in our history except for the war years 1918 and 1919. The bill, which provided for an eleven percent increase in the Navy, was approved by the Senate by a vote of 63 to 4 after only four days of debate. Eleven percent is a considerable augmentation; but the Navy does not consider it enough. Admiral Stark thinks that we need a flat twenty-five percent increase, not merely to achieve security, but actually in order to reëstablish the old 5-5-3 ratio which collapsed when the Japanese began their heavy secret building in 1936. As these lines are written, President Roosevelt, under the shattering impact of Hitler's Blitzkrieg, has asked Congress to vote an additional billion and a half dollars for the Navy.

If war should come between Japan and the United States, the giant navies of the two countries would be somewhat like two heavyweights sparring but unable to come to grips. It is almost inconceivable that the Japanese would risk a fleet action in American waters or that we would send our fleet to attack Japanese home stations. Presumably the Japanese plan of campaign would be to seize the Philippines and perhaps the Netherlands Indies, and to harass American merchant shipping in the Pacific. If this effort were successful, we would probably lose most of our imports from the Indies area. Our most serious losses would be rubber, tin, quinine and coconut shell, which provides the best charcoal for gas masks. Rubber we could manufacture synthetically, but only at an uneconomic cost. The production of raw rubber in South America might be increased; however, at present that continent supplies only about two percent of the world's output. Tin we could obtain from Bolivia, though here again there would have to be a drastic speeding up of production, since the present output of that country is less than half the American demand. Meantime the Japanese could pinprick our advanced forces from bases in their mandated islands. Conceivably, they might attack the Panama Canal with aircraft based on carriers, though that possibility is remote; they might even, by going around Cape Horn, establish commerce raiders in the Atlantic. Beyond this, it is difficult to see what Japan could do, unless she were to have the active support of "Fifth Column" elements in one of the small republics near the Canal. Any frontal attack by her on Hawaii or our Pacific coast is considered by most military experts to be literally impossible. Nor could an assault on Alaska promise greater success.

The American forces, on their side, would in the first instance attempt to frustrate these Japanese designs. We have submarines capable of cruising from American bases to Japanese waters and back, and presumably we would attempt to cut the absolutely vital Japanese imports of oil from the Netherlands Indies. American warships based on the Philippines could attack and destroy Japanese commerce in this and other areas, and by so doing enforce a virtual blockade against Japan. The Japanese could, it is true, import enough foodstuffs from China and Manchuria to keep from starving; an effective blockade, however, would in time very seriously cripple -- if it did not completely crush -- Japanese economy. We could meantime proceed cautiously to the laborious and dangerous task of mopping up the Japanese mandated islands, and thus expand the area safe for American naval operations. Until these islands had been made innocuous, we would find it extremely difficult to send our capital ships much beyond the 180th Meridian. Our activity beyond Hawaii would, at least in the opening stages of the war, consist mostly of commerce raiding.

The Japanese mandated islands, formerly belonging to Germany, cover a vast area in the southwestern Pacific. They consist of four main groups, the Palaus, the Marianas, the Carolines, and the Marshalls, and there are 1,400 of them. But the total land area of all is only 829 square miles. Most of them are quite insignificant coral atolls; only a few have any military importance. One group, that centering on Truk, has a good harbor, and is believed to be fortified; another potential or actual base is at Saipan, north of Guam. In 1939 the Japanese opened a commercial air service from Yokohama to Saipan and on to the Palaus. For years Japan has stringently forbidden foreigners to visit these islands, or to traverse the area; consequently very little is known about them, especially whether or not they are being fortified. To attack these islands, which even unfortified afford excellent hide-and-seek facilities for submarines, would obviously be no easy matter.[iv]

In essence, then, two probabilities seem implicit in a war between the United States and Japan. First, we would have, in time, a chance of blockading Japan to her knees. Second, Japan would have very little chance of blockading us or causing us deep injury. If, however, the Japanese took the Philippines and then, as it were, called off the war by simply suspending further hostilities, a long deadlock might ensue. If we were to break it by trying to reconquer the Philippines, we would find ourselves launched on a long and arduous campaign.


Our strength in the Pacific, in any war now foreseeable, is dependent not only on the Navy but on the bases from which the Navy functions. Therefore, we are building bases as well as ships. The American defense line in the Pacific is being erected on these bases. When they are completed they will form a massive irregular triangle, from Alaska to Hawaii to the Panama Canal, and will effectively deny this part of the Pacific Ocean to any enemy force. Subsidiary to the three dominant points of this triangle are other bases, such as Midway and Wake Islands, which form a kind of protective apron in front of Hawaii, and the islets south of Hawaii -- like Johnston, Palmyra and Canton -- which are potentially a screen covering the sea between Hawaii and the Canal Zone. Farther south is American Samoa, which is not yet a base but could be made into one.

Modern conceptions of warfare, as revised by the lessons of the present war in Europe, demand active as well as passive systems of defense. Our chain of Pacific bases is, first of all, intended to be a great patrol line for the protection of the eastern Pacific and, if necessary, our own shores. It will be patrolled by the Navy's new scout-bombers -- powerful planes easily capable of the long jumps necessary in that area. The major portion of our fleet will center, of course, on Hawaii, the geographical and military keystone of the whole system. The smaller bases will be useful for protecting Hawaii and as headquarters for auxiliary ships and squadrons of bombing planes.

Let us begin with Alaska and the Aleutian area. Bases here are important because they guard the Great Circle route between Japan and the United States, which is by far the quickest path across the Pacific. In the Alaskan region our plans include a naval station at Dutch Harbor and bases for naval aircraft at Sitka and Kodiak Island. Kodiak (on Unalaska Island) is to be the Navy's main headquarters in Alaskan waters, and $8,570,000 has been appropriated for work there. The Army, too, is interested in Alaska, and has airfields at Anchorage and Fairbanks. The War Department asked for $12,734,000 to improve the Anchorag base, but the House of Representatives refused to grant it.

Our military and naval program in Alaska is predicated on fe of a conflict with Japan. Nevertheless, it may also have a possible relevance to Soviet Russia. American and Russian territory almost meet, not only at the Bering Strait but also at the end of the Aleutian archipelago. In fact, strange as it may seem, Russia is our nearest neighbor, Canada and Mexico excepted. Today few people anticipate war between the United States and the Soviet Union. American authorities nonetheless follow Russian activities near Alaska with close attention. The Soviets are understood to be fortifying two islands of the Kamandorsky group,[v] which lie close to the Aleutians east of Kamchatka. A submarine base is said to be in construction on Bering Island, one of this group, and German experts are believed to have visited it and to have given technical advice. At present, Soviet military activity in the Kamchatka region is almost certainly directed, not against the United States, but against Japan, with whose fisheries Russian submarines could play havoc. Nevertheless, such activity is not without indirect interest for us.

Proceeding southward from the Alaskan zone we come to Hawaii. Here, on the island of Oahu, we have built what is incontestibly the strongest fortified position in the world -- Pearl Harbor. It has cost $700,000,000 thus far, and next to the Panama Canal is America's most important and ambitious military-strategic establishment. Pearl Harbor compares to the Alaskan bases as a mastodon compares to mice. It has a submarine base, a drydock, a navy yard, fuel and ammunition depots, a naval station big enough to handle the entire American fleet, a fleet air base, an important military garrison, and fifty days' supply of food. Nearby are other airfields, and $5,800,000 was recently appropriated to improve airdrome facilities at Kaneohe, also on Oahu Island. Kaneohe is to house five squadrons of long-range planes.

Screening Hawaii are Midway Island, 1,315 miles to the northwest, and Wake Island, 2,315 miles almost due west. Midway, which lies just within the 180th Meridian, is definitely inside the American defense scheme; while Wake, just outside it, is a bit beyond our theoretical limit for operations by capital ships. Midway was allotted $5,350,000 in the last appropriations; Wake $2,000,000. Improvements are to consist of dredging channels and building better facilities for big planes. Later, submarine bases may be constructed. Both Wake and Midway are, it should be repeated, regular stops on Pan American's air route across the Pacific.

When we turn to the small islets hidden below Hawaii we reach virtual terra incognita. Naval plans call for the "earliest completion" of bases for aircraft at both Johnston and Palmyra Islands and "later completion" of similar bases at Canton Island and Rose Island (adjacent to Samoa). Johnston Island is approximately 800 miles southwest of Hawaii, and Palmyra and Canton are roughly 2,000 miles southeast of Wake. All are almost inconceivably remote and tiny. They are atolls barely rising above the surface of the sea, uninhabited for the most part, and visited only occasionally by fishing vessels. The sum of $1,100,000 has been appropriated to improve Palmyra, which was privately owned by American citizens in Honolulu until acquired recently by the Navy. It consists of a chain of fifty-two islets, surrounding a lagoon that can be turned into a satisfactory seaplane station; the whole group measures only five miles by one and a half. Canton was so inconspicuous that until last year no one knew clearly whether it belonged to Britain or to the United States. However, on April 6, 1939, an arrangement was made setting up a joint administrative control by both countries. The agreement runs for fifty years, and in it the United States promises to allow British aircraft to utilize the base we build.

Finally we come to the Panama Canal. Though a detailed description of that vital waterway is hardly within the province of this article, there are three details which we cannot overlook. First, most of our experts consider the Panama Canal to be almost immune to an attack from the Pacific due to the tremendous distances involved. Japan is almost 8,000 miles away, and any Japanese aircraft carrier which might attempt a bombing foray against the Canal would have to be protected so heavily that the venture would be almost out of the question. Second, the Senate has recently voted $15,000,000 -- plus $99,000,000 for future work -- toward the immediate construction of a third series of locks in the Canal, not only independent of the present ones but wide enough so that ships with a beam greater than 110 feet can utilize them. At present our biggest aircraft carriers can only just scrape through. Third, there is considerable sentiment in American naval circles for the purchase of the Galapagos Islands from Ecuador and Cocos Island from Costa Rica. If fortified, these would serve as a protective curtain for the Pacific entrance of the Canal.

This program for improving and expanding our bases took concrete form in what is known as the "Hepburn Report," a document prepared by Rear Admiral Arthur J. Hepburn and his staff following authorization by the Naval Expansion Act of 1938. Admiral Hepburn and his advisers proposed that the United States create a defense chain of 41 bases -- not all of them, however, new or in the Pacific. (Naval authorities have declared that we should maintain four hundred long-range patrol planes -- as against a present strength of 285 -- so that the bases may be properly and permanently linked.) So far Congress has appropriated $65,000,000 toward the realization of this program.

The Hepburn Report further recommended the creation of an air and submarine base at Guam. This provoked the liveliest dispute that has taken place between Congress and the Navy in recent years. Congress has thus far refused to appropriate the $5,000,000 requested by the Navy for preliminary work at Guam. In January 1940, Admiral Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations, reopened one phase of the controversy by asserting to the House Naval Affairs Committee that the Navy might, if it wished, withdraw $4,000,000 from its budget for the Hawaiian district, and apply it to Guam without specific authorization from Congress. Meantime, within the Navy itself and among military experts generally, the Guam dispute continues to blaze fiercely.

So let us therefore turn to Guam. It admirably illustrates two rival theses in regard to American Pacific policy.


An island 250 square miles in extent and populated by 21,000 natives known as Chomorros, Guam lies far beyond the 180th Meridian, far outside the inner sphere of American Pacific interests. It is about 3,300 miles west of Honolulu, 1,500 miles east of Manila and about 1,350 miles from Yokohama. It is thus much closer to Japan than to the United States. Except for the Philippines, it is the most westerly of our possessions. Moreover, it is completely surrounded by a veritable shoal of Japan's mandated islands. The Japanese base at Saipan is only 100 miles away.

Until 1898, Guam was a nominal possession of Spain, but no Spaniards lived there and it was quite undefended. An American cruiser steaming toward Manila called at its main harbor, Apra, in 1898, and planted the American flag there without opposition. Then by the Treaty of Paris which concluded the Spanish-American War, we formally annexed it. We did not, however, take the other Marianas, an archipelago which Spain proceeded to sell to Germany. Germany held them until 1919, when they were mandated to Japan along with the Carolines and Marshalls. Guam has been administered by the United States Navy since 1899. We fortified it in a somewhat sketchy fashion, but these fortifications have since been dismantled and at present Guam has no defenses except a detachment of some 500 Marines.

Some of our naval experts, doubtless influenced by Admiral Mahan's dictum that Guam should be made into a "Gibraltar of the Pacific," want to turn the island into an elaborate advance base, comprising both submarine and aërial units, and capable of being the spearhead of the American position in the Pacific. A more modest school of opinion asks merely that we spend perhaps $5,000,000 for dredging Apra harbor and building breakwaters and ramps for seaplanes. Guam is, at present, an essential link in Pan American's trans-Pacific air route and can hence service ordinary peacetime aërial traffic. The harbor, however, could be used for military purposes only after being considerably improved. Still other experts, the most modest of all in their demands, merely hope that the harbor will be improved for civil and commercial purposes, with the idea that eventually this improvement may serve a military end. They point out that Japan, in nearby islands, is carrying out a similar plan of development.

There are several reasons why opposition to the Guam project has been so fierce. First, Guam is in an exposed and isolated position in the very heart of an important Japanese-controlled area; therefore it will be extremely difficult to defend. Second, if Guam actually is to be developed into a first-class base -- whether or not war with Japan ever comes -- the cost will be tremendous. Reliable estimates put it at $200,000,000 at least. Coast defenses and anti-aircraft guns will be necessary; so will beach defenses and at least three airfields; so will measures for the provisioning of the local population; so will a garrison of perhaps 20,000 men supported by at least 1,000 airplanes. Third, many experts say that creation of an important base at Guam is at complete variance with our traditional Pacific policy. If we fortify Guam, they assert, we shall be leaving the 180th Meridian far behind, we shall be penetrating for the first time into purely Japanese waters with a base that has offensive as well as defensive potentialities. It might be justifiable, they hold, to make Guam merely a secondary base, useful perhaps as headquarters for a few submarines (which would, indubitably, be of great value if an attack were ever necessary on Japanese shipping in this area). But to make the island a primary base would, they maintain, be a needless and wanton affront to Japan, one that would be bitterly resented. Fourth and finally, some circles maintain that full-dress fortification of Guam is completely useless unless we are prepared to fight for and hold the Philippines. If so, Guam has cardinal importance. If not, it is an expensive nuisance.


To recapitulate, our policy in the Pacific has consistently been defensive and peaceable. We have a tremendous navy and we are in the process of creating an important triangle of defense from Alaska via Hawaii to the Panama Canal. So far we have been content -- as have most countries -- to allow our diplomatic frontier to remain ahead of our military frontier. We stand at the 180th Meridian; no one can easily menace us behind this line; we have no wish to proceed beyond it. As reflected in the reaction of Congress to the Guam proposal, this policy seems to be supported by most of the American people. It is a compromise policy. But it has worked so far.

It is a characteristic of liberal, democratic states -- especially if they are world Powers with farflung interests -- to compromise, to permit their interests and commitments to advance beyond their immediate capacity to defend them. Totalitarian states do not compromise; they adopt, by and large, a policy of active coalescence among geographic, diplomatic, military and strategic considerations. They have only one frontier. But the United States, so far as we can now know, is in a peculiarly advantageous position in the Pacific. It is almost inconceivable that Japan alone could destroy us, whereas we alone could destroy Japan. However, should Germany win the war in Europe, we might then have to reckon with more than Japan.

Which brings us, as is inevitable, to considerations of higher international policy. Obviously, the present explosive state of Europe makes any reasoned calculation almost impossibly difficult. But one thing may be said with complete assurance: if the British and French should lose the war, our entire national defense problem, in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic, will have to be sharply altered. We shall have to adjust to quite a different scale our attitude in regard to our frontiers and our means of defending them. The frontiers themselves may change. Suppose, for instance, that the British lose Singapore. This would all but wreck American conceptions of Pacific strategy, since we practically take it for granted that in a war with Japan we should have to borrow Singapore's facilities. Singapore under friendly British rule is almost as important as Pearl Harbor in our presumptive Pacific operations, should we have to carry them into Japanese waters.

Much loose talk exists about our need for a " two ocean" navy. As a matter of fact we have a "two ocean" navy now. Our navy is perfectly capable of efficient operation in both the Atlantic and Pacific at the same time, and will continue to be as long as the Panama Canal remains intact. (To people impressed with the destructive power of modern saboteurs and "Fifth Columns" this may seem like a large "if.") When people talk about a "two ocean" navy, what they usually mean is a "two fleet" navy -- that is, a navy big enough to maintain independent and unrelated operations in both the Atlantic and Pacific without regard to the Canal. To create and to maintain such a navy would cost a great deal -- in money, effort, time and national will. But if the Allies lose the war in Europe and if the British fleet disappears, we might find that we needed a navy bigger than all the other navies in the world combined.

[i] EDITOR'S NOTE: A map covering Far Eastern waters will be found on page 736.

[ii] The Japanese, incidentally, have a remarkable facility for landing operations. In August 1937, they got 75,000 troops to Shanghai in ten days, a feat most military experts thought would have been impossible.

[iii] Testimony of Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, to the Naval Affairs Committee of the United States Senate. The New York Times, April 19, 1940.

[iv] North of the mandated islands are the Bonins, Japanese property since 1861, in which there is a naval base at Port Lloyd.

[v] The New York Times, March 19, 1940.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • JOHN GUNTHER, former correspondent in Europe of the Chicago Daily News; author of "Inside Europe" and "Inside Asia"
  • More By John Gunther