Courtesy Reuters

Alaska, Outpost of American Defense

THE late General William Mitchell once termed Alaska "the Achilles heel of American defense." This statement is significant, coming from a pioneer apostle of air power, for it is the tremendous growth in the importance of air power that has suddenly focused attention on the strategic importance of Alaska in our program for hemisphere defense.

Once known as "Seward's Folly," the Territory is now, in an age of aggressive imperialism, a rich prize, both for its strategic location and for its vast undeveloped resources. Alaska is known to possess extensive reserves of gold, silver, platinum and coal, along with valuable deposits of lesser-known extent comprising tin, oil, lead, copper, antimony, zinc, iron and bismuth. However, less than half the area of the Territory has been adequately surveyed for minerals. Supplies of timber, furs and fish (particularly salmon) are immense. Yet the total population inhabiting this vast and valuable region numbers slightly less than 60,000 souls, of whom only one-half belong to the white race. And, until a year ago, the "home defense" of Alaska was represented by 300 infantrymen in Chilkoot barracks, plus one antique cannon left by the Russians and now used as a flower-pot!

Greater even than the intrinsic importance of Alaska is its strategic significance in the Pacific area. A glance at the accompanying map reveals the fact that the Great Circle route between the American west coast and Japan passes close to the southern Aleutian Islands, of which the westernmost, Attu, is but 660 miles from the Japanese naval and air base at Paramushiro. The distance from Seattle to Yokohama via in the Aleutians is about 4,900 miles; via Honolulu and Midway Island it is around 6,500 miles. Furthermore, the journey can be made by way of Alaska and the Aleutians in easy stages, with no single "hop" longer than 900 miles; whereas the route via Pearl Harbor (near Honolulu) involves an initial leg of some 2,400 miles of open sea and a final lap through Japan's mandated islands, of which the military function

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