Many Americans have heard the innumerable statements, from informed sources in all branches of the government, that America is perilously close to war with Japan, but very few of us realize that these are not empty warnings, and that any day now might find them translated into realities. Though Secretary Hull's strong stand against Kurusu's recent proposals leaves the next move up to Japan, and though that move might very conceivably be war, comparatively little attention is paid to Japan by the American public, and if war does come it will undoubtedly taks us by surprise.
Somchow Americans cannot take the Land of the Rising Sun seriously. Perhaps it is because the Empire has made such a bad showing in China, or because Japan is so far away; or simply because the Japanese premier is named Tojo. But undoubtedly the basic reason is a confidence in our invulnerability, a conviction that Japan can never sail all the way across the Pacific and strike at our coast. This is, to a certain extent, perfectly correct, but the trouble is that it applies just as much to our fleet attacking Japan.
In order for the Japanese fleet, with a cruising radius of less than 2,000 miles, to steam the more than 4,000 miles from Yokohama to our West Coast, and then back again to Japan, it would have to take a large number of slow, highly vulnerable supply ships for the purpose of refueling and repair. With our Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor this could never be done, since the auxiliary ships would fall easy prey to American guns. The same holds true for an American attack on Japan. It is 3,394 miles from Honolulu to Yokohama, but the cruising radius of our fleet (the distance it can sail without auxiliaries is well under 3,000 miles. In other words, Japan could not fight a fleet action off our coast, nor could we fight one off Japan. The war would thus become one of simple long-distance radiers (submarines and heavy cruisers, the only vessely with ranges great enough to cross and recross the Pacific from Hawaii), a war directed against the commerce of the belligerent nations.
Such a war would center in the South China Sea, since it is through these waters that we get most of our rubber, tungsten, manila hemp, tin and other essential raw materials. Likewise a large part of Japan's necessities flow over this route.
The Japanese answer to American raiders would probably be to devote her whole fleet to protecting her trade and ravaging ours in this area. Because of the strategic needs of our own West Coast, our Pacific Fleet can never be based in Singapore while we are at war with Japan, and thus it can never be in reach of the South China Sea. It would be a question of the Japanese fleet against our raiders, aided and abetted by British ships from Singapore, with our fleet based in Honolulu to make sure that the enemy didn't suddenly pick up her skirts and come steaming across--tankers and all--to deal a blow against our relatively defenceless West Coast.
This, then, in its simplest forms, would be the strategy of a Pacific war. The outcome would depend on whether our raiders could cripple the Japanese merchant marine (of which there is very little to spare) before the Japanese fleet could rid the area of our raiders. And the whole thing would be immensely complicated by the demands of our already marginal Atlantic Fleet. Such a war might be slightly in our favor due to the fact that Japan's merchant marine is barely enough to keep her supplied, and it would not take, a great deal of raiding to render it entirely insufficient. But Japan would be no quick pushover.
Japan realizes all this, and she realizes that every month our navy is becoming stronger, as is Singapore. Our recent refusal to lift the embargo means that Japan's aftempts to bluff us into deserting China have failed. The longer Japan waits, the stronger will China become and the more will Japanese surpluses of important raw materials shrink--resources like iron, petroleum, copper, and alumninum, for which she depended almost entirely on America.
So now the choice is up to Japan. Hull has shown her that we are no longer in an appeasing mood. If she feels the same way, the sparks will soon be flying.