GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Will Japan Enter the War?

April 15 1941
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Will Japan Enter the War?

April 15 1941

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Will Japan Enter the War?

BY THE time this article appears in Maclean's the Ides of March will have come and gone and I find it difficult to believe that Adolf Schicklgruber, alias Hitler, will not have attempted something pretty big by then. Caesar was warned by the soothsayers to avoid the Ides of March but went, to the Forum nevertheless and was stabbed to death by his friends who thought he was becoming too ambitious.

Today Mussolini can look out from the balcony of his Palazzo Venetia and sec the ruins of the very steps where Caesar met his doom. If he had a long enough telescope he could also see the ruins of his African Empire, but that is another story. Or is it?

Hitler has always regarded the month of March with special favor. It is the time of the year when the snows are gone and the iron claws of his tanks can get a firm grip on the ground. It was in March that he invaded Austria. It was in March that he entered Prague.

No doubt he remembers that it was in the month of March, 1918, that the German army launched that gigantic offensive that broke Britain’s Fifth Army and brought the Germans within a few miles of Paris and victory.

Last April I wrote in Maclean's that Hitler’s 1940 plan of attack seemed an obvious one. He would invade Holland and then make a wheeling turn into Belgium. This would mean that the British and French would have to leave their prepared lines of defense and march up to Belgium. Tactically, such a move on our part would be all wrong but politically inevitable.

I then suggested that a second battle of Waterloo might be fought with the Allied forces at a great disadvantage. I was wrong about Waterloo. It was not 1815, but 1870, that repeated itself. Not Waterloo but Sedan.

A year has gone by since then, a year of incredible and paradoxical happenings. Hitler’s alternatives are fewer than then, while our’s, perhaps, are greater. It is true that he has brought Germany’s guns to within a few miles of our doorstep but, by occupying a coast line of 1,500 miles from Narvik to Calais, he has also given himself a line of 1,500 miles to defend from the British Navy.

For weeks we have been trying to determine whether he will make a drive through Bulgaria in order to pass through Turkey and reach the Mosul oil fields:

Or crush Greece by a move through Yugoslavia.

Or come at us direct.

Or do all three.

It has been like a game in which everyone participates from the premier to the peasant. The daily greeting has been: “Well what do you think he’s going to do?”

Japan—Prussia of the East

TT IS my weekly habit to write an article on current affairs for the Sunday Graphic, and last Friday morning I woke with the realization that the article had to be written that day but that the war situation had become further involved by the apparent determination of Japan to make war in the Far East.

My mind badly needed clarifying and in casting about for a solution I suddenly thought of the Chinese Ambassador whose hospitality one has enjoyed more than once.

The Chinese Embassy is in Portland Place, almost opposite the BBC, which has more than once been the object of the German bombers’ attentions. There is a pervading air of tranquillity about the Embassy however, rather like a cave by the shore where the pounding of the sea seems far away. His Excellency received me at once and asked my business.

“The West has come for enlightenment from the East,” I said. “Tell me about Japan. How strong is she and what are her intentions? Bring light to the dark spaces of my mind.”

With the air of a man who knows that he talks well

the Ambassabor settled back comfortably in his chair.

“It is your custom in Britain,” he said with that blending of irony and courtesy peculiar to him and his race, “to say that the Japanese always copy but do not create. It is not so.

“It was Japan who invented ‘The New Order’ in the East and called it exactly that. It was Japan that first thought of a limited expansion when she went to Manchuria, and an appropriate protestation that she had no further territorial claims.

“She even had the idea before Hitler, of crushing her neighbors because she wanted them to live in peace.”

We exchanged cigarettes. The war might have been a thousand miles away and he an academic lecturer on the philosophy of violence.

“The Japanese are the Prussians of the East,” he went on, “or the Prussians are the Japanese of the West. It does not matter. They both do a lot of blustering and think they are invincible. There are a million Japanese soldiers in China, however, who might have a different idea if they could speak. Unfortunately they are dead and buried. The Japanese Army is really not nearly so marvellous as it pretends.

“You ask if Japan intends to go to what she calls the South Seas and attack Indo-China and then British Malaya? I would think so. She intends more than that.

“She wants Australia and New Zealand and swears she will march to the gates of India and force them open.

“You see she desires Lebensraum just like the Nazis— and her lungs, like her appetite, get bigger all the time.”

The eyes of Dr. Quo Tai-Chi twinkled. He spoke of the Japanese like a headmaster discussing a problem child for whom he had something almost like affection. It was the spokesman of an ancient civilization reviewing the antics of a modern upstart.

“You know, of course,” he said, “that our guns last week shot down a Japanese plane carrying Admiral Osumi, who was on his way to become commander-in-chief of the South Seas forces. A general plan of action was found on his body. The Japanese Air Force is not good.”

His voice was completely calm and without rancor. It seemed so right that on the walls were paintings of flowers

and tiny streams with overhanging willows, and pagodas. The world of reality waiting outside was harsh and uninviting.

A. Beverley Baxter, M.P. “By the way, your Excellency,” I asked. “How are your relations with Russia?”

He waved his hand airily. “Quite unchanged,” he answered.

I suggested that Moscow might have been disturbed by the action of Chiang Kai-Shek in disbanding the Chinese Communist armies in the South.

“Oh no,” said the Ambassador. “The matter was purely local. The Chinese Communists wanted to extend their territory, and fired on the Generalissimo’s army. That was all. It was foolish of them.”

I almost apologized for having mentioned the matter at all. With an ancient civilization dating back to the beginning of time, what is a mere rebellion or two? What is a world war for that matter?

A Buddha on the mantelpiece, with its hands on its belly, looked pityingly at me.

Japanese Interview

TN THE anteroom of the Embassy an old worn out

Chinese proverb occurred to me: “He who listens to

those who disagree can then agree with himself.” The proverb may not be exactly that, but it is near enough. I put my case to a Chinese official. Would he mind telephoning the Japanese Embassy to enquire if they would see me?

Nothing would give the official greater pleasure. So the Chinaman telephoned the Japanese and came back with the message that an interview would be granted at once.

The Japanese had moved their quarters to a huge block of luxury fiats in Knightsbridge opposite the Albert Memorial. They occupied one corner of the ground floor where a British hall porter ushered me in. One is always sorry for the British servant in cases like this. Through no fault of his own he finds himself in the employ of a country which is an open enemy of his own.

Because I do not want to cause embarrassment in this case I shall merely state that I was received by a high Japanese official with full authority to speak for his government. There are reasons for this semi-anonymity.

“Are you going to war against us?” I asked. It seemed a reasonably good opening and would save time.

A bland smile came over his face. “Fantastic,” he said. “Just fantastic. It is all propaganda. We do not want war with Britain. All we ask is that there shall be peace. This is just newspaper talk put out by propaganda.”

We exchanged cigarettes. The niceties are never forgotten by the Oriental—in London.

“Who do you think is putting out the propaganda?” I asked.

He made a gesture with his hands. “The Chinese,” he said. “The Americans perhaps. Or even the Germans,” he added, to my surprise. “The Germans would no doubt like you to worry about the East just now.”

In the same reassuring terms he decried the whole thing as scaremongering unsupported by fact. And as he talked I had an odd feeling that I had heard all this before —but where? Suddenly it came to me.

It was the day before Hitler marched into Prague and Von Dircksen, the benign German Ambassador to London, was assuring me that Hitler had no further interest in Czecho-Slovakia or in any other part of Europe. “He only wants peace,” was his concluding sentence.

Perhaps Von Dircksen believed it, for he was a decent, bewildered creature. Perhaps this Japanese spokesman believed what he was saying to me. Totalitarian govern-

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meats have a habit of forgetting to inform their embassies before committing a crime.

“What about Admiral Osumi, who was shot down by the Chinese?” I asked. “And the documents found on him.”

“It is fantastic,” he answered. ‘‘And he was not shot down. The Chinese gunners are not that good. It was engine trouble, and there were no documents. If there were, why do the Chinese not publish them? It is quite fantastic.

“Admiral Osumi was just retiring as the head of our navy. He was a former Minister of the navy and came here to London to a naval conference. Would such a man accept so small a post as Admiral of the South Seas? It is fan—” “Not even ii he was going to attack Malaya?” I asked.

He shook his head. “It is not possible.” Once more he expressed Japan’s longing for peace and mentioned the ancient friendship of our two peoples. Then he repeated that it was entirely the mischief of propagandists.

I ventured the suggestion that an immediate and unequivocal statement by the Japanese Government would be useful in clarifying the situation. He did not disagree, but showed no enthusiasm. The interview drew toward its close.

“Is it not probable,” I asked, “that your government believes Germany is going to win in Europe and that now is her chance to secure her share of the spoils?”

His reply was interesting, unexpectedly so. “We are constantly assured that Germany will win,” he said, “but we have our own observers and sources of information and can draw our own conclusions.” Two points of view. Two voices speaking of the deepening clouds as the forces of the Occident and the Orient drift menacingly toward each other. A strange contrast of similar types, the Chinese ambassador and the Japanese spokesman.

. Behind the one are thousands of years of civilization that leave tranquillity to the mind. Behind the other are thousands of years of medieval darkness and two ¡generations of thrusting, arrogant ambition.

Japan Another Italy?

HE GOVERNMENT in London looks at the Japanese threat in the way it .¿does everything now, with absolute ¿realism. No one doubts that Japan could score isolated local successes and add to The heavy strain already imposed upon the British Navy.

• But no one believes for a moment that the war can be won or lost in the Far .East. Nor is there a minister or high official in London who does not think that the end of Japanese intervention would be just as humiliating and disastrous for her as the fate that has overtaken Italy.

Rightly or wrongly we are convinced that if Japan opens fire the U. S. non-stop

debate will come to an abrupt end and the United States will enter the war. Europe has always been a matter of academic, rather than direct interest to the U. S. A. but Japan is a different proposition altogether. The United States’ empire lies to the east, and there is only a thin screen of warships between Japan and the coast of California.

How good are the Japanese ships and personnel? Except for some scouting work in the last war—for which we are still grateful—they have not fought a major action since defeating inept Tsarist Russia by a fluke. Even then it should be remembered that the Japanese entered Vladivostock Harbor and sank a large section of the unprepared Russian fleet without first observing the nicety of declaring war. For that matter Japan has not yet declared war on China in this present struggle. It is just a quaint old-fashioned Japanese custom.

Her fleet would be outgunned and outfought by the combined Anglo-American naval forces. In the end her ships would have to run for cover like the Italians.

As for her air force, she would meet with disaster from the very beginning if sire came into the open. It is stated as a physiological fact that the Japanese cannot fly at a great height and that their vision is faulty. It has been thought that this has been caused by some vitamin deficiency in their staple food of rice. At any rate the Jap is a poor airman and his machines would be mere flying coffins in comparison to the new-type airplanes of Britain and the U. S. A.

And though Japan would undoubtedly gain a foothold in many places and territories before coming up against the impregnable defenses of Singapore, the fact remains that her main army is caught in the jaws of the old Chinese dragon and cannot get away.

So we have instructed our ambassador at Tokio . . . part of sentence deleted by censor . . . and one may assume that Washington has done the same. In everything that matters just now Washington and London have a habit of acting with unanimity.

All of which may or may not prevent Japan from entering the war and being a confounded nuisance. When statesmanship becomes bankrupt the guns usually go off.

Nevertheless we return, as always, to Adolf Schicklgruber, alias Hitler. This is the real theatre of war and he the leading actor. I fear for Greece since the Balkans, like the rest of Europe, have not learned the elementary lesson of uniting for defense. I fear for many things—but never for a moment do I doubt outultimate victory.

So let the little Buddha in the Chinese embassy remain unperturbed with his hands on his tummy. He shall not see German troops in London unless they are brought in chains.