March of 1941 was a month of great significance in the march to global war.
I don’t know anything about the writer of this article in the Washington Evening Star. But I do know that his column was probably being used as a way to telegraph the activities to the world at a time when so much was happening. In Europe, England was struggling to survive the bombings that were meant to cripple them. In the Far East, the Vichy French were about to lose a large share of their former possession of Vietnam as the Japanese ramped up their diplomatic and military efforts. By the end of March 1941, that map would be drastically altered.
The US Fleet had been moved to Hawaii as a “Big Stick” threat against the Japanese. America was still trying to ignore the upstart Imperial Japanese efforts to create a Far East Asia Co-Prosperity sphere. But more and more, the lines of future battles were being drawn.
The prevailing attitude that Japan would be a pushover in a long war was certainly one that probably cost a lot of men and ships.
Washington Evening star. March 02, 1941, Page C-2, Image 43
U.S. Navy May Decide War
By Owen L. Scott.
“The key to the outcome of the war may prove to be the United States Navy, the world’s most powerful. It is sitting on the side lines during a struggle that will determine who is to rule the sea lanes and, incidentally, the world.
There are more and more signs that the United States Navy will not be idle forever while the hard-pressed British Navy tries to ward off the German, Italian and Japanese Navies and air forces. One of these signs is found in lend lease plans to open American naval bases and harbors to British ships—with its corollary that British naval bases would be open to American ships. Another is found in the urgency with which the American Fleets are being brought to full war strength. A third is suggested by the wall of secrecy that now is being drawn about fleet movements.
One American Fleet, the most powerful single naval force available to any navy, is at Hawaii in the Pacific. Another fleet, less powerful, but far from negligible is patrolling the neutrality belt of the Atlantic—on the edge of trouble, but still avoiding it. A third fleet, of very modest size but strong enough to be bothersome, is operating out of the Philippines.
These American Fleets represent the most powerful aggregation of unused weapons in the world today. In use, they probably can transform the present war. Out of use, with a British defeat, they may become of vastly less Importance and may possess less relative strength, owing to the fact that they would be forced to face the combined navies of other nations without the certainty of support from the British Navy. These considerations enter into decisions now taking shape. All decisions for using the Navy may stop short of declaration of war. There are two jobs to be done. One is to make sure that war materials produced in the United States reach England. The second is to see that Japan does not gain control of vital rubber and tin supplies in the South Pacific.
The United States has decided to aid the British in their fight against Adolf Hitler. If aid is to be extended to Britain, the implication is that the United States will do so effectively. The only way to do this is to make sure that sea lanes are kept open so ships can ply between this country and Britain. This requires more naval strength than the British possess.
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This means that some way must be found to help Britain move goods across the Atlantic. It does the British little good to see an American naval patrol
force moving up and down the middle of the Atlantic. It would do the British an immense amount of good to have this naval patrol force start parading back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. Whether that force of American ships is manned by American sailors or by British tars probably makes no great difference in the result, but does make a difference in the technical relationship of the United States to this war. In either event there would be real work for American naval vessels.
Regarding Japan, the problem is much simpler while the British Isles hold out. It does the British an immense amount of good just to have the main American Fleet at Hawaii. So long as the fleet is there, Japan will be kept guessing and will be restrained. She knows that any move which precipitates trouble with the United States would also precipitate eventual defeat for the Japanese. What Japan apparently expects is that Germany will conquer the British Isles and that the United States then will be forced to sacrifice its interests in the Pacific to make sure of its defenses in the Atlantic. In that event the Pacific Fleet would move to the Atlantic to prepare to resist any German thrust toward South America.
Whether the Japanese are guessing right in their present calculations depends on two factors: First, on the question of Britain’s ability to survive with
American help, and, second, on the question of the disposition of the British fleet in event that England does not survive. But a sizable portion of the fleet does. In this second event, the British Fleet might take over in the Pacific and the American Fleet might take over in the Atlantic.
However, any way the situation shapes up, it appears there will be a great deal of work for the American Navy.
Probably the least trying task would appear if the British are able to keep up the fight after the attack that is expected to be launched soon by Hitler. In that event, the American Navy might be asked to do no more than permit the transfer of 5 or 10 destroyers and other patrol craft each month to the British for use by them in convoy work. Also the Japanese might be kept in check just by seeing the American Fleet at Hawaii.
If the Japanese were not restrained by that sight, and decided to jeopardize vital American interests, they would be a pushover in any long war.
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The reason for this statement is that Japan lacks almost every raw material vital in the waging of modern war. She lacks oil and iron and copper and aluminum and cotton and timber and many other materials. She lacks real aircraft and machine tool industries. It is true that she has built up huge stocks of material through vast purchases in the United States during recent years, but those materials would gradually be used up. She possesses a merchant marine that is inadequate to carry the goods she requires.
Not only that, Japan’s economy is heavily dependent upon the American market to absorb her silk and other export products. If she should manage to conquer the Dutch East Indies and British Malay States she would be dependent upon the American market to absorb the rubber and tin and tea and vegetable oils which those areas produce.
Merely by embargoing the export of war materials to Japan and boycotting the import of materials from Japan, the United States could severely cripple the Japanese. Add to the embargo and boycott a long-range blockade conducted by the American Navy with little risk to itself and Japan would gradually strangle.
But if the British fail to survive at home the job cut out for the American Navy will be vastly increased.”