Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

By Gregory J. W. Urwin | Go to book overview

V
"HEIGH-HO, HEIGH-HO, IT'S OUT TO WAKE WE GO"

Congress Decides Wake's Future, 1939-1940

"Let the Wake Project Go by the Board"

Soon after the release of the Hepburn Board report, the New York Times observed: "The principal recommendations urge the establishment of air and submarine bases in Guam and of an air base at Wake Island. Both these islands lie in the Western Pacific, not far from Japan, the Philippines and the troubles of the Orient. It is evident, therefore, that these proposals raise large questions of foreign policy which must be frankly faced when the time comes for Congress to consider the recommendations which the Naval Board has made."1

The Roosevelt administration hoped to foster a belief that the new base network was simply a side effect of necessary naval expansion and wholly defensive in nature, but American isolationists were not fooled. Convinced that the president was plotting to plunge the nation into war, they stood ready to question the most modest attempts to upgrade the military establishment.

The first salvo in the ensuing war of words came from Senator William E. Borah, one of the most outspoken noninterventionists in the Republican Party.2 On 17 January 1939, Borah entered a letter into the Congressional Record from William C. Rivers, a retired Army general and a self-proclaimed authority on Pacific strategy. Protesting that "the base recommended at Guam and the base recommended on Wake Island will be west of the 108th meridian," Rivers blasted the Hepburn Board's proposals as dangerously provocative:

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