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Keep the Offensive!

A wartime editorial

The American occupation of Iceland and the substantial American forces sent to Trinidad and British Guiana are grand good news. They mean that he giant of the Western World is at last rousing him-self from his long, almost fatal lethargy and is preparing to fight for his way of life. Iceland in German hands would be a great danger to American security, It could control North Atlantic shipping so as to make supplies to England almost impossible. It would offer one side of a pincers movement directed against the United States of which the other side would be an approach through the South Atlantic. Both these dangers have been greatly reduced at one stroke by the President's action, begun several weeks ago.

For the British the occupation of Iceland is good news of the first order. At the very least, the convoy is now cut in half. American war vessels will now patrol the entire sea-lane between Canada and Iceland. American merchant vessels can carry supplies s far as Iceland, under the protection of the American flag since the little North Atlantic republic is not inside the combat zone fixed by President Roosevelt under the neutrality law. Great Britain's problem is suddenly reduced from one of 3,000 miles to one of less than 700 miles. Every one of her vessels, whether naval or mercantile, should therefore become four times as useful as heretofore. This means that the menace of the submarine and the dive-bomber should be reduced by a still greater proportion. The experience both of the last war and of the present one shows that when a convoy is adequately protected with destroyers and fighter planes, losses fall dose to zero.

The real criticism of the President's action is not that it goes too far, but that it does not go far enough. After all, transshipment of goods from American to British ships at Iceland will necessitate serious delay. Even when there is no such transshipment, turning over a convoy from American to British hands in Icelandic waters is a grave interference with rapidity of transport. We would urge on the President with all possible emphasis that he should follow this dramatic and effective stroke with others. W e are momentarily at one of those crises in history where immediate action on a great scale can turn the course of events for decades to come. That is why for many Americans these past days have had a nightmare quality unique even in a time when for month after month we seem living in a bad dream from which we are unable to awaken. Hitler's attack on Russia is not a reprieve for the West, as so many people seem to think. H e has turned against the Russians in order to eliminate all danger in that quarter and to be able to throw his full strength into the attempted invasion of England. However much we may hope that the Russians will hold out, we must face the fact that a majority of the experts believe Germany will probably win and may do so in only a few months or even weeks.

If she does, the situation for Great Britain and the United States will be serious to the last degree. The Russian menace has kept immobilized for many months on Hitler's Eastern frontier perhaps 40 percent of the German air force and probably more than a million soldiers. While the German losses seem to be heavy, enough men will be left, with Russia out of the way, to make the threat to England more serious.

Our future, therefore, is dark; and the darkest thing about it is the tendency which still exists among so many Americans to continue "on the defensive"; not to fight until the enemy is on our doorstep; to take full advantage of the supposed strategic value of our supposed geographical isolation. The one great truth driven in upon us by the past year and a half is that the only possible defense today is an offense.

At this moment, we have a brief golden opportunity to take the offensive in the most concrete possible way. Hitler has stripped the Western front of men and machines, including airplanes, for his war with Stalin. As a result the British are able to bombard military objectives throughout Western Europe on a great scale and with minimum losses. But British bombardment will not win the war any more than German bombardment caused the British to give in, a year ago.

Last week we urged the necessity of an immediate Invasion of France or North Africa, to be made possible by immediate full participation by the American navy in the war in the North Atlantic. The President's action in sending troops to Iceland goes a long way toward meeting the necessary conditions. In this week's issue, on page 55, a former French officer supports our argument. He both advances technical military reasons for this step and asserts that 90 percent of the French people are opposed to the puppet government of Vichy, The British and the Americans together can certainly muster sufficient equipment and manpower for creating a second front at one or another of the three points, Brittany, the Marseilles region and North Africa. If they don't do it now, at once, it may be years before the repetition is possible. Such a diversion would be of the utmost value to the Russians; five divisions thus employed would be worth fifty divisions fighting on the Stalin line. But more than that, it would have inestimable psychological value to the embattled forces of democracy. It would show that we are not decadent, as Hitler says, and will not give up our whole civilization without anything more than a last-minute, improvised and passive defense.

We hope that the action taken in Iceland, Trinidad and British Guiana will prove the forerunner of a new attitude of increased determination and vigor in Washington. After all, the President must be more than a delicate galvanometer to register the fluctuating moods of the American people. He must be a leader; he must lead them even when their inadequate information and unmatured emotional states make his action seem to come of them premature. We must fight for our way of life, and fight now, and the President must be in the van.