39. Carthago delenda est

It would be difficult to imagine a more unrewarding task than the seemingly interminable discussions, arguments and clashes the United Nations and Communist military officers endured at Kaesong or afterward at Panmunjom. The two sides argued about practically everything concerning armistice terms, throwing invective and dagger's looks across the table, or, on one occasion, sitting stonily in silence for two hours and eleven minutes because neither side would agree to discuss the other's chosen subject.1 Nevertheless, the UN command and the Communists slowly made progress through 1952, although the American insistence upon returning only those Communist prisoners who positively elected to go home nearly succeeded in breaking up the peace talks.

The culmination of the conflict between Reds and Americans came, however, not at Panmunjom, but at the principal Communist prisoner-of-war camp on Koje island, off the southern coast of Korea near Masan. Well-organized Red prisoners captured the camp commandant in May, 1952, and dragged him into a prisoner compound. Dodd's replacement secured the officer's release by agreeing to a highly damaging statement that implied Americans had mistreated, killed and wounded prisoners of war. This public-relations disaster and continued American refusal to repatriate POWs who didn't want to return home cooled negotiations at Panmunjom for months.2

Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican candidate for president in 1952, appeared to make a breakthrough on October 24 when he declared in a Detroit speech his one goal, if elected, would be to bring the Korean War "to an early and honorable end." Eisenhower said he would forego politics to concentrate on the job of ending the war. He said that job required a personal trip to Korea. "I shall go to Korea."3 Now Eisenhower's promise, despite what he said, was entirely politics. As one of the most experienced military commanders of the twentieth century, he knew perfectly well that he would discover absolutely nothing about how to end the war by taking a few jeep rides around Korea. The gesture was a masterful political stroke and Eisenhower won the election, defeating his Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson, by 442 electoral votes to 89.

The president-elect arrived in Korea on December 2 for a three-day stay. The high-ranking military officers who clustered around Eisenhower naturally had nothing to offer about bringing peace to the peninsula. Indeed, General Mark W. Clark, who had succeeded Matthew B. Ridgway as Far East commander, proposed a completely reverse policy: a major amphibious assault on the Communist rear, enveloping attacks, airborne landings and, most significantly, air attacks on China itself and a naval blockade of China. Clark, who only two weeks after assuming command in the Far East in May had asked for Nationalist Chinese divisions to fight in Korea, wanted to follow General MacArthur's combative course and launch vindictive blows against mainland China.

Clark thus reflected the strange theory other aggressive Americans had endorsed previously and were to endorse in the future: that bombing and blockading opponents so they would suffer great loss of lives, destruction of cities and economic damage was a sure way to encourage them to agree to American desires. Clark and others ignored overwhelming evidence that the methodical razing by the U.S. Air Force of practically every structure and facility of any possible value in North Korea had not produced willingness of the enemy to succumb to American wishes.4

Eisenhower was not interested in Clark's proposal for broadening the war, though it soon became apparent he also sought no friendly settlement with Red China. The president-elect spent most of his visit discussing plans to increase the size of the South Korean army and various military matters.5

However, even before Eisenhower took office, he and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, told British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had returned to office in October, 1951, they were going to remove Chiang Kai-shek's prohibition against attacking the Chinese mainland while continuing to keep the Chinese Communists from attacking Taiwan and the Pescadores.

Eisenhower announced his new policy in his state-of-the-union message to Congress on February 2. Thus Eisenhower at last removed the mask shielding the truth that the U.S. had taken sides in the Chinese civil war. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden replied that Whitehall did not think the decision would help solve the Korean conflict.6

Resolution of the war in Korea, in fact, depended more on the flexibility of the Chinese, because the Americans, despite Eisenhower's talk about seeking an early end to the fighting, continued intransigent. Zhou Enlai broke the impasse on March 28, 1953. In response to a Red Cross proposal to exchange sick and wounded prisoners of war, Zhou announced: "The time should be considered ripe for settling the entire question of prisoners of war in order to insure cessation of hostilities."

Zhou's suggestion was that, after all prisoners desiring repatriation had been exchanged, the remainder should be handed over "to a neutral state so as to insure a just solution to the question of their repatriation." The Kremlin endorsed the plan. The Soviet leadership had been thrown into confusion by the death of Premier Joseph Stalin on March 5, thereby setting off frantic intrigues and maneuverings to decide who would succeed him. In these circumstances Moscow looked forward to ending the direct East-West confrontation along the Korean ridgelines.

Both sides soon agreed to a Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (India, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and Sweden) to supervise the prisoner exchange. The two sides returned sick and wounded prisoners in April and, despite vehement opposition by South Korean President Syngman Rhee to any peace that did include UN conquest of North Korea, finally came to an armistice on July 27, 1953. It had been a gruesome war. The United States had suffered about 140,000 casualties, South Korea 273,000 and other United Nations contingents 14,000, while the North Koreans endured 620,000 battle casualties and the Chinese 910,000. In addition to these battle losses of nearly two million, two million civilians in North and South Korea had been killed or injured. Much of South Korea and practically all of North Korea had been shattered. It would take many years to repair the damage.

Perhaps saddest of all was the fact that American refusal to send back only those prisoners who wanted to go had prolonged the war at least a year and possibly longer. The final total number of prisoners on both sides, those who wanted to go home and those who didn't, was 119,000. Yet in the last four months of the war alone 200,000 UN and Communist soldiers were killed or wounded.7

* * * * * * * * * *

The United States advertised the armistice as an American victory, the stopping of the advance of Communism, the thwarting of monolithic Communism's attempt to conquer a peace-loving democracy. Unfortunately the facts didn't exactly fit the scenario. Syngman Rhee's South Korea was as bloody-minded and as belligerent as Kim Il Sung's North Korea and, in Rhee's authoritarian hands, was far from being a democracy.

Much more important was a nagging, never-acknowledged realization that lurked in many American leaders' minds and made them long for revenge: the United States, the most powerful, richest, most moral and right-thinking nation on this planet, had somehow been bested by a bunch of Chinese peasants led by a gang of Communists who not only refused to acknowledge the superiority of American society and principles but positively reviled them. The mostly illiterate enemy, using largely a mixed assortment of old rifles, machine guns and mortars collected from half a dozen armies and several decades of military history, had defied America's glittering abundance of jet aircraft and top-of-the-line technology and had stopped the American campaign to roll back Communist boundaries. The Chinese peasants, despite enormous losses, stood firmly along a Communist-capitalist frontier only a few miles distant from the original line that had divided the opposing ideologies before the war began.

American leaders had ceased to talk about their now-vanished resolve to conquer North Korea and march up to the Yalu. Indeed, the American capacity to forget unpleasant facts caused most to pretend that this plan never had existed and that the intention all along had been merely to stop the advance of Communist conspiracy.

However, the legacy of the still-unaccepted American defeat still rankled. And the country which had defied the United States of America and won became a mortal enemy. In their rational thoughts, American leaders, trying to look after the interests of their nation, recognized this was not a sensible attitude. Nations don't have feelings. Only people do. As angry as they might be at their blocked dreams, they saw, when they thought rationally, that the national interests of the United States had dictated the decision to settle the Korean War on the basis of status quo ante bellum. They knew that the Soviet Union was the real challenger of the United States. Yet, despite it all, American leaders nurtured a fierce and abiding hate for Communist China. With the irrational fervor of a blood feud, they nourished hopes and spun plans for the utter destruction of this defiantly successful new state.

American leaders elevated this aspiration to destroy the Red Chinese regime into official national policy. From this resolve flowed a number of decisions which profoundly affected American history. One result was the persistent refusal of the United States to recognize the People's Republic of China, despite the fact it ruled one-fourth of the world's people. Another was U.S. support of Chiang Kai-shek even if this meant war, though he had been repudiated by all but a small die-hard group of Nationalist extremists. A third was to accuse Red China of a conspiracy to conquer all of East Asia, thereby justifying the United States in its policy of seeking destruction of the regime.

U.S. leaders accepted Red China's aggressiveness as an article of faith, although the only evidence they could find was Beijing's insistence on capturing Taiwan by force, if necessary. However, Beijing asserted quite logically that Taiwan was Chinese territory and any conflict it had with Chiang Kai-shek was an internal Chinese issue that didn't concern the United States. To the frustration of American leaders, Chiang also asserted that Taiwan belonged to China.

However, Chiang, perhaps because he believed it and certainly because it gained him American support, maintained that Red China was an agent of the Kremlin. Therefore, this justified American intervention and, hopefully, use of U.S. power to carry out Chiang's pipedream of reconquering the mainland one day.

The United States, caught in a logical dilemma by the fact that both sides claimed Taiwan was Chinese, decided belatedly that Taiwan was essential to American strategic defenses, even claiming that the entire American position in the Far East would collapse if the Reds captured the island. This reversed the Joint Chiefs of Staff's own judgment in 1949 that the island was not vital.8 The U.S., in its attempt to prove that Red China was incorrigibly warlike, charged that Beijing demonstrated aggression by its defense of North Korea and its support of the Ho Chi Minh Communist regime in Vietnam. Yet Beijing's support of these neighboring Red regimes exhibited no more aggression than American support of the regimes that opposed them, Rhee's in South Korea and Bao Dai's in Vietnam. Both sides were seeking to maximize their own interests.

American leaders gave no serious credence to evidence that Communist parties reflected deep internal conflicts within East Asian nations and therefore were nationalist expressions as much as they were evidence of ideological differences with the West.9

The American decision to adopt destruction of the Chinese Communist state as national policy emerged on November 4, 1953. Robert R. Bowie, director of the State Department's policy-planning staff, was discussing NSC [National Security Council] 166, "U.S. Policy toward Communist China," with Walter Bedell Smith, General Eisenhower's chief of staff during World War II and now undersecretary of state. Bowie told Smith the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted NSC 166 amended to set forth definitely that the "ultimate objective of the U.S. is the replacement of the Chinese Communist regime by one which, as a minimum, would not be hostile to the United States."

Bowie said such an objective was beyond U.S. capabilities. To include it would befog the issues. General Smith replied such a resolve "was merely a statement of the obvious" and he didn't see any harm in making it national policy. "We could agree to repeating it over and over," Smith said, "just as the Romans had made a watchword of Carthago delenda est [Carthage must be destroyed]." Smith said he could understand why the Joint Chiefs wanted to state a "high objective which seemed beyond our immediate capabilities."

The next day Smith explained his reasoning to the National Security Council, repeating Cathago delenda est and saying destruction of the Red Chinese regime should be the long-range objective of the United States. Though President Eisenhower teased Smith by saying it was unfair to quote Latin to him when he was already suffering from a severe head cold, he agreed and the council adopted the proposal.10

The United States now had a policy. However, the United States faced more complicated international problems than did ancient Rome during the days of Cato the Censor. And the U.S. could not focus hostility on a single enemy as Cato was able to do in his resolve to eliminate Carthage as a competitor to Rome. American leaders constantly repeated a Chinese version of Cato's Carthago delenda est and some of them, especially Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, appeared to be willing to extend this desire for destruction to unleashing large numbers of atomic bombs against mainland Chinese cities. However, other American leaders, notably President Eisenhower, ultimately shrank from the use of nuclear weapons, the only way China could be conquered.

Nevertheless, virtually all major U.S. leaders also were unwilling to give up their hostility toward and reach an accommodation with Red China. These contradictory attitudes forced the United States into an arid intellectual impasse. With a resolve to destroy but with enough reason to see this was not possible, American leaders found themselves powerless. They were unable to eliminate a hated object but also unable to work out a modus vivendi. The result was no policy at all, just drift. The U.S., especially under the harsh and uncompromising influence of Dulles, allowed the unresolved conflict to fester into a great, persistent sore.11

Greatly adding to the tension was a pronouncement by Dulles in January, 1954, of the doctrine of "massive retaliation," meaning that the U.S., in crises with Communist states, might react with atomic weapons. Dulles indicated this policy applied especially to East Asia.12

* * * * * * * * * *

By early 1954 the central point of conflict in the Far East was Indochina. There the French had been engaged since 1946 in a deadly, wearisome war with the Vietminh (Vietnamese Independence League) under Communist Ho Chi Minh. Because of the stupidity of French military leaders, 40,000 French soldiers had been sent to Dien Bien Phu in extreme northwestern Vietnam near the Laotian border. The purpose was to sever Vietminh supply lines. The Vietminh, however, had surrounded the French army, blocked its road access to Hanoi, laboriously dragged artillery over the mountains and commenced a siege.13

With military defeat now all but certain, France sought a way out of the war in Indochina that might preserve a shadow of "French prestige." It found a possible solution in a peace conference at Geneva on settling conflicts in Korea and Indochina. With the backing of Britain and the Soviet Union, France was able to talk the United States into acquiescing to the conference.14

The United States was opposed to a nonmilitary solution in Indochina, on the theory that anything but destruction of Communist forces would result in the ultimate loss of southeast Asia to Communism. On March 29, 1954, Secretary Dulles produced a succinct exposition of this "falling-domino" theory, which dominated foreign-relations policies of the Eisenhower administration. The Vietminh, Dulles said, were part of "the Communist imperialist movement." They took their orders from Moscow and Beijing. If Reds gained any substantial part of Indochina, "they would surely resume the same pattern of aggression against other free peoples in the area."15

The U.S. considered intervening directly in Vietnam in April after the French asked Washington for air strikes against Vietminh besieging Dien Bien Phu. But fears of being identified with French colonialism stopped the flirtation with war. On April 5 Dulles informed Paris that intervention was impossible "except on a coalition basis with active British Commonwealth participation," which was not forthcoming.16 Dulles revived the idea twice more but the British continued to oppose American intervention.17

To put themselves in the best possible position at Geneva, the Vietminh leaders pushed their soldiers to overrun Dien Bien Phu on May 7, the day before the conference on Indochina started (the talks on Korea began on April 26 and they accomplished nothing). France, its hopes for keeping its colony dashed, determined to get out of Indochina. With the help of Britain and Russia, it left the United States as the only power opposing creation of a Communist state in Vietnam.

At the same time, Russia and Red China outmaneuvered their ally, the Vietminh. Both were willing to sacrifice gains in Vietnam to achieve aims elsewhere more important to them. The Soviet Union encouraged termination of the Vietnam war on terms acceptable to France to get Paris to reject the European Defense Community (EDC) and a supranational European army. Red China wanted peace in southeast Asia to prevent an American presence on its southern frontier.18

In their war with France, the Vietminh had overrun most of Vietnam and looked forward at Geneva to support by the Soviet Union and Red China to their gaining control of the whole country. But Red China and Russia forced the Vietminh to accept a "temporary" partition of Vietnam along the 17th parallel, with a Communist state in the north and France's puppet Bao Dai ruling in the south. This satisfied a fundamental requirement of Red China that no state allied to the United States would be permitted against the Chinese frontier and answered France's desire that it not be abjectly humiliated at Geneva.19

It's astonishing that neither Secretary Dulles nor other American leaders saw the implications of Red China's willingness to go to war to preserve a buffer state in North Korea and its demand for a buffer state in North Vietnam. Dulles continued to insist that Red China plotted offensive operations in southeast Asia to conquer the entire region for the Communists. However, buffer states are essentially defensive devices.

Beijing's insistence on a North Vietnam shield to the detriment of Communist expansion in the region was strong evidence that Red China entertained no expansionist goals and was operating in response to its national interests, not as part of a Communist conspiracy. If Red China's true position as well as the Soviet Union's willingness to rein in Ho Chi Minh had been seen for what they were, Western leaders would have realized that China and Russia were going to leave the nations of southeast Asia to work out their own internal problems.

Vietnam was in the midst of a violent nationalist revolution to throw off long years of French colonial exploitation. As is nearly always the case in revolutions, the conflict had polarized sentiments. There was no place left for moderates. They were forced either to move to the left to join the Reds, the only force strong enough to resist French power, or to the right to cleave to the small native privileged classes who shared in the wealth, position and benefits of the ruling power.

Under pressure from Zhou Enlai and the Russians, the Vietminh accepted the 17th parallel demarcation line, along with a promise to hold nationwide Vietnamese elections on July 1, 1956. The decision forced the Communists to withdraw into North Vietnam. Their leaders believed they could win an all-Vietnam election. However, the United States had no intention of accepting a peaceful Communist takeover of Vietnam. It declined to be bound by the Geneva accords, though agreeing not to use force to disturb them. Dulles also made a gesture to show that he and the U.S. were going to reject any possibility of an understanding with Red China. On June 5, 1954, at Geneva a meeting took place between Dulles and Zhou Enlai. Dulles pointedly refused to shake Zhou's hand, thus demonstrating U.S. hostility.

The U.S. moved directly to bolster the Bao Dai regime, setting up a military mission in South Vietnam even before the Geneva conference ended. The U.S. decided it must transform the temporary division along the 17th parallel into a permanent partition. This frustrated Red hopes to win a 1956 election and repressed Vietnamese desires to unite the country. France cleared the way for the U.S. to avoid supporting colonialism by recognizing Bao Dai's state as fully sovereign. Under American pressure, the French persuaded the sybaritic Bao Dai to remain in European spas and appoint Ngo Dinh Diem, the most prominent non-Communist nationalist, to form a new government.20

Because the United States continued to believe a Communist conspiracy was proceeding in southeast Asia, guided by Red China and the Soviet Union, it sowed the seeds of a great civil war between the Communists in the north and the Diem regime in the south.21 As had been the case in Korea, the dimensions, horrors, losses and extremes of this civil war multiplied enormously when great powers took sides to advance their own purposes.

As a barrier against Communist expansion, Secretary of State Dulles wanted to create a security pact similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in western Europe. At a conference at Manila on September 8, 1954, the U.S., Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand announced adherence to the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). But India, Burma, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Indonesia rejected membership and SEATO was not a NATO: it did not provide for a unified military command and in response to an attack each signatory would act "in accordance with its constitutional processes."22

The unwillingness of India and other south Asian powers to join SEATO demonstrated a decided difference of opinion as to the threat of Communist subversion. "Neutralist" powers (like India and Burma) believed Red China and Russia were not intent upon aggression, whereas other powers, either from conviction or to gain American material aid, followed the American lead and held that a Communist conspiracy of conquest was under way.

* * * * * * * * * *

With Indochina temporarily quiescent, American confrontational policies with Red China shifted back to the arena of direct contact: the Taiwan or Formosa strait. Already in November, 1953, the National Security Council (NSC) had decided that the U.S. must maintain Taiwan "independent of Communism, as an essential element within the U.S. Far East defense position."23 And in March, 1954, the NSC endorsed continuation of trade embargoes not only by the U.S. but by all American friends to delay Red Chinese efforts to achieve large-scale industrialization.24

But a real crisis with Red China was building over what the United States was going to do regarding several groups of miniscule islands the Nationalist Chinese still occupied near the coast of mainland China. Red China, preoccupied with the Korean War and possessing little in the way of a navy, had allowed these tiny outposts to remain in Kuomintang hands. But now Beijing was making moves to seize them. They were basically indefensible and, in the view of most military men, unnecessary to the defense of Taiwan and the Pescadores.

However, to Eisenhower, Dulles, Admiral Arthur W. Radford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other leaders in Washington it was becoming extremely distasteful to contemplate allowing the Chinese Communists even the minor satisfaction of taking over these bits of land.

Nevertheless, for the U.S. to protect these islands would be an enormous commitment, particularly since they were so close to the mainland that American naval supremacy could not be employed effectively. Likewise, American aerial attacks on the heavily populated mainland to defend the islands could cost many civilian lives.

The main Nationalist-held islands were the Dachens, a group of islets thirty miles off the Zhejiang province coast about 220 miles north of the northern tip of Taiwan; Nanji, about thirty miles off the southern Zhejiang coast; the Mazu (Matsu) islands, less then twenty miles off the Fujian coast opposite the port of Fuzhou and the two Jinmen (Quemoy) islands, just off the entrance to the harbor of Xiamen (Amoy) in southern Fujian.

Chiang Kai-shek had stationed a third of his army on the offshore islands, primarily as a gesture of defiance. The islands could have served this defiance role just as well with only token Nationalist forces. But Chiang Kai-shek had been notorious during the mainland war for allowing large Nationalist forces in cities to be surrounded and starved into submission. He was following much the same foolish strategy in regard to the offshore islands. Unless the United States intervened, all the Nationalist garrisons would be lost if the Reds launched serious attacks. In May, 1954, the U.S. decided on a temporary device to warn off the Red Chinese: visits by elements of the U.S. Seventh Fleet to the islands as a show of force. They went off without any response by the Reds.25

* * * * * * * * * *

The U.S. and Red China did commence one form of contact at Geneva. It related to objections of both sides to alleged detention of their nationals. The U.S. charged that Red China was keeping numbers of Americans imprisoned. Red China countered that the U.S. was preventing some 5,000 Chinese studying in the U.S. from returning to Red China, because they might carry back classified or technical information useful to the Communists. Low-level U.S.-Red Chinese talks began in May, 1954, at Geneva. The Reds maintained as proof they were not holding Americans that in 1950 there were 1,500 U.S. citizens in Red China but by May, 1954, only eighty remained. Of these, thirty were in prison for crimes or for having entered China illegally (spies). The U.S. countered that those imprisoned were held illegally and that only 120 Chinese students had actually been denied permission to return to Red China. Like the negotiations to end the war in Korea, the talks went on at Geneva for months. The Reds finally released some of the Americans and Eisenhower at last ordered restrictions on Chinese students' return to mainland China to be lifted.26

In mid-June, 1954, the United States demonstrated its hostility toward Red China in a way that had substantial repercussions. U.S. reconnaissance aircraft noted the passage of three Soviet tankers from Indonesia through the South China sea en route to a Chinese Communist port. The tankers were carrying 27,000 tons of kerosene, which could be used as fuel for jets (or housewives' stoves). Eisenhower approved a Dulles proposal that the U.S. alert the Nationalists to seize the ships. On June 23 Nationalist sailors boarded one of the tankers, Tuapse, midway between Luzon and Taiwan and brought it into Gaoxiong on Taiwan. The other two Soviet vessels, apparently alerted to what was happening by Tuapse, got away.

The Soviet Union wasn't fooled and protested that the seizure could only have been carried out with American connivance. The Nationalists pumped the kerosene out of Tuapse and detained the crew and vessel. With Soviet anger rising, Dulles recommended that the Nationalists release the ship and crew. Chiang Kai-shek, however, figured this was a pro forma gesture and the U.S. would not have told the Nationalists about the ship unless it wanted them to keep it. Besides, he believed any conflict between the Soviet Union and the U.S. would only work to his advantage. Consequently, Chiang ignored the request and held Tuapse and crew until July, 1955.27

On July 23 occurred an incident which Western officials at first assumed was retaliation but turned out to be a terrible mistake. A Chinese Communist aircraft shot down a British Cathay Pacific Airlines Skymaster (C-54) four-engine passenger plane en route from Bangkok to Hong Kong. The aircraft fell into the sea south of Hainan island. Nine of eighteen persons aboard died (three American); the others were picked up.

The U.S. called the shooting down an "act of barbarism" and Eisenhower sent two American carriers to protect U.S. rescue and search operations. Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson ordered the American jets to defend themselves but not to engage in "hot pursuit" into Red air space. When Dulles heard this, he talked Eisenhower into agreeing that, if Red aircraft struck at U.S. vessels or planes, American fighters could pursue the Communists into their air space.

Shortly thereafter, American carrier aircraft spotted two Polish tankers being escorted by a Chinese Communist gunboat in the vicinity of Hainan. Allen W. Dulles, director of the CIA, said the American aircraft photographed the vessels. The Chinese charged the planes strafed them. The Chinese called out two single-engined propeller-driven fighters which American jets promptly shot down. Beijing accused the U.S. in addition of flying twelve fighters over Hainan.

Red China assumed responsibility for downing the British airliner and agreed to pay indemnities. According to Allen Dulles, a "trigger-happy" Chinese Red pilot had destroyed the airliner because he misidentified it as a warplane and thought it was going to attack a Soviet tanker being escorted by a Chinese gunboat.28

* * * * * * * * * *

On September 3, 1954, the Chinese Reds launched heavy shelling of the Quemoy islands off Xiamen (Amoy), using about sixty artillery pieces. The shells caused great damage to Nationalist positions located in some cases only two or three miles from the mainland. The shelling continued for several days and set off a great panic in Washington, which feared it represented a prelude to invasion. Dulles reacted with a doomsday prophecy that loss of Quemoy, garrisoned by 40,000 Nationalist troops, would begin "a chain of events which could gravely jeopardize the entire offshore position" of the Nationalists.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Radford, advocated American intervention to save Quemoy if the Reds attacked. He brought along with him Admiral Robert B. Carney, chief of naval operations, and General Nathan F. Twining, air force chief of staff. But General Matthew B. Ridgway, army chief of staff, disagreed, saying loss of Quemoy would not endanger the position of Taiwan.29

For days thereafter officials in Washington went back and forth wondering what to do, recognizing that defense of Quemoy might draw the U.S. into a general war over a tiny and militarily useless bit of geography but fearful that its loss would be a defeat for U.S. policy in the area. Saving Quemoy thus became a matter of prestige. The anxiety got so great, though by this time Communist shelling of Quemoy had ceased, that Dulles made a quick public-relations visit to Chiang Kai-shek on September 9 before flying back to the U.S. after the Manila conference.30

The issue finally came to a head September 13 when the National Security Council assembled at Denver, Colorado, where President Eisenhower had gone for several weeks of vacation. Eisenhower told the NSC to keep one thing clear: if the U.S. defended Quemoy, "you're talking about war." If the United States was going to war, Eisenhower said he was firmly opposed to "any holding back like in Korea." Therefore, the policy proposed by the JCS majority to defend Quemoy could not be limited to Quemoy. Intervention also would alienate American allies and probably lead to the use of nuclear weapons because the U.S. could not achieve a decision against Red China without them.31

American leaders pulled away from an immediate decision because the implications were sobering beyond measure. To prevent the Communists from gaining a propaganda victory by taking the useless little islands, the United States would have to strain its alliances with Western powers perhaps to the breaking point and face a nuclear war whose ultimate outcome no one could foresee.32

The Russians had announced in June that they possessed the hydrogen thermonuclear bomb. It was unlikely that the Soviet Union would allow Red China to be devastated by American nuclear bombs and not threaten retaliation in kind. The realities of mutual nuclear deterrence were being forced on the men who ruled in Washington. Nevertheless, the bellicose and uncompromising Dulles still searched for ways to hold these little islands and either ignored or downplayed the logical consequences.

* * * * * * * * * *

While the United States was considering possible war with Red China, Beijing itself was in the midst of a major, and highly successful, campaign to build confidence in Asia as to its peaceful intentions. The campaign got under way in earnest before the Geneva conference when, in April, 1954, Red China signed an agreement with India concerning Tibet. China had pacified the feudal religious state in the years after establishment of the People's Republic. There remained, however, residues of more than three decades of British influence in Tibet, imposed after the land declared its independence during the Chinese revolution of 1911-12.

Upon Britain's departure from south Asia, the Indian government had taken over the extraterritorial privileges the British gained in Tibet: special status for Indian traders, stationing of Indian military detachments in Tibet and an Indian-owned telephone and telegraph system. In the Sino-Indian treaty, New Delhi gave up these privileges. In return China pledged not to undermine non-Communist countries in Asia. More important was the preamble, which contained a statement concerning both countries' intention to abide by the five principles of "peaceful coexistence."

When Zhou Enlai visited India in late June, 1954, he reiterated China's resolve to work for peaceful coexistence. The new Red Chinese propaganda line was that the United States policy of hostility to Beijing and support for Taiwan was the only obstacle to peace.33

In October, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, Red China received world attention because of visits by Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Communist party first secretary; Nikolai Bulganin, first vice premier, and Anastas Mikoyan, vice premier. This was the first visit by any top-level Soviet delegation and marked a great improvement in Sino-Soviet relations.

The Russians loaned China 130 million dollars and signed a number of documents, including an agreement to withdraw Soviet forces from Port Arthur without waiting for a peace treaty with Japan and also wound up Sino-Soviet joint-stock companies which had been exploiting Chinese natural resources.34

Meanwhile, the United States was moving toward signing a mutual-defense treaty with Chiang Kai-shek. Its nature demonstrated Taiwan was an American protectorate and part of the U.S. defensive bastion against any further Communist advance in Asia. Chiang's pretensions of being a leader of all China, while not formally denied, were ignored.35

Dulles also sought to get a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire along the Taiwan strait, leaving the offshore islands in Nationalist hands. In this way, Dulles figured, the U.S. would gain no matter what the outcome. If the Chinese Reds accepted, the conflict would cease. If the Soviet Union vetoed the measure, the U.S. would mobilize public opinion against the Communists. For several months the U.S. pursued a Security Council resolution (inducing New Zealand to sponsor it) but its self-serving nature aroused opposition from many quarters.

Anthony Eden finally scotched the idea because he saw it would lead inevitably to a Soviet veto or Chinese Red refusal to accept a cease-fire. This in turn would lead to an American pronouncement to hold the islands, which could only result in military conflict with Red China. Eden finally told Dulles that people in the British Commonwealth and elsewhere could not see the necessity of stirring up a row over the islands and would not support fighting for them, especially since their possession would not assist in defending Taiwan.36

Despite the growing world opposition to the United States making a stand to hold the islands, Secretary Dulles chafed at opposition hemming him in. At an NSC meeting on November 2, 1954, Dulles admitted the offshore islands could not be held short of involving the United States in a general war with Communist China. Eisenhower said if that happens "what we mean is general war with the USSR also" and the offshore islands were no place to confront Russia. Charles E. Wilson, defense secretary, growled he was "at least sure of one thing and that was there was no sense in going to general war over these small islands." Eisenhower calmed the waters by saying the best course was "to trust to our negotiator [Secretary Dulles] to do the best he could" but that "by and large, it was better to accept some loss of face in the world than to go to general war in defense of these small islands."37

The Chinese Communists now focused their attention on the most exposed of the offshore islands. They launched air attacks on the Dachens in early November.38 The raids caused intense fear in Washington that they were a prelude to an assault on Taiwan. But India's Prime Minister Nehru, just back from a visit to Beijing, pooh-poohed the whole idea. Chiang Kai-shek had used the offshore islands to make nuisance raids against the mainland and Red shipping ever since President Eisenhower "unleashed" him in early 1953, while still protecting Taiwan against Red attack.

"It is hardly surprising that the advantage taken by Chiang of this one-sided state of affairs has aroused the deepest indignation and resentment," Nehru said. The Chinese Communists, he added, aimed to gain control of the coastal islands but not get embroiled over Taiwan itself because Beijing wanted to avoid war with the U.S. If Chiang made no further attacks against the mainland, Beijing would adjust to Taiwan's separate existence with some relief, though never admitting Chiang had any right to the island.39 Nehru's advice was good but implied that the U.S. would agree publicly to the evacuation of the coastal islands. Official Washington could not bring itself to do this.

Secretary Dulles and George Yeh, Kuomintang minister to Washington, signed the mutual-defense treaty on December 2, 1954. Dulles noted that "the treaty covers an attack directly against Formosa and the Pescadores" and mentioned no other islands. The note also required Chiang not to attack the mainland without U.S. agreement. Although the offshore islands were not specifically covered, Dulles recommended that Eisenhower say "their status has not changed" and that if their defense became involved in the defense of Taiwan the U.S. probably would help them. "Let's keep the Reds guessing," Dulles advised.40

Zhou Enlai predictably responded to news of the treaty by charging it was a "grave warlike provocation," for which the U.S. must accept the consequences.41

Although Chiang didn't like the restrictions contained in the treaty on his freedom of movement, the Nationalist government approved the pact. Chiang had no choice. The Nationalists were dependent upon the U.S. for survival and aid (942 million dollars in military and 284 million in economic grants 1950-54).42 The treaty merely confirmed officially that Taiwan was a ward of the U.S.

* * * * * * * * * *

On January 10, 1955, fifty Chinese Communist aircraft launched another damaging attack against the Dachens and eight days later Red troops captured with ease the northernmost of the islands. It was apparent that continued Nationalist possession of the remainder of the Dachens, garrisoned by some 25,000 troops, could be guaranteed only by massive American intervention.43

At a National Security Council meeting on January 20, 1955, Secretary Dulles proposed that the Nationalists evacuate the Dachens but at the same time the United States announce its willingness to defend Quemoy and possibly the Matsu group. It was a proposal for a radical reversal of policy and brought forth a storm of protest.

Robert Cutler, national-security advisor, reminded Dulles that protecting Quemoy or Matsu would require hot pursuit into mainland China. George M. Humphrey, secretary of the treasury, said it was hard for him to justify retaining Quemoy, "set right down in the middle of a Chinese Communist harbor." Dulles came back with a queerly twisted answer: the Red Chinese planned to take Quemoy "as part of their operations for the ultimate seizure of Formosa." Therefore, he asserted, this put Quemoy in a different light. However, no expert in amphibious operations believed Quemoy would be of importance in capturing Taiwan.

Eisenhower was seemingly won over to Dulles's arguments. Both he and Dulles now raised the spectre of a complete collapse of the Nationalists if they lost Quemoy. Eisenhower: "We probably couldn't hold Formosa if Chiang Kai-shek gives up in despair before Formosa is attacked." Dulles: "What the president is pointing out is sure to happen if we abandon all these islands. The resultant effect on morale on Formosa would be terrible."

Dulles asserted an American defense of the offshore islands would not necessarily bring on war with China. Now, he estimated, it was less than a 50-50 chance. Here was an instance of Dulles's reckless "brinkmanship," his willingness to take the chance on all-out war on odds only a little better than the toss of a coin. Other advisors thought the odds were far worse than that.44

Chapter 40: Atomic War Over Quemoy? >>

1. Alexander, p. 437.

2. Ibid., pp. 456-63.

3. Ibid., p. 469.

4. Schnabel and Watson, pp. 858, 932-3.

5. Alexander, p. 472.

6. FRUS, China and Japan, 1952-54, pp. 126, 128-30, 133-42.

7. Alexander, pp. 452-5, 472-83.

8. The U.S. also tried to claim that, though the Japanese had renounced claim to Taiwan and the Pescadores in the peace treaty of September 8, 1951, at San Francisco, it had not ceded them to China. Therefore the legal status of Taiwan was subject to international determination. Other countries spurned this idea, however (including Red and Natinalist China), and the U.S. never pressed the issue. The United States engineered the peace treaty with Japan by forty-nine nations but scorned by the Soviet Union and Red China. The treaty, which went into effect April 28, 1952, and the security pact Japan and the U.S. signed afterward tied Japan to the American defense system. The pact authorized stationing of American forces on the islands and prohibited Japan granting military facilities to other countries without American consent. President Truman appointed John Foster Dulles to negotiate a treaty with Japan, beginning May 18, 1950. Russia and Red China would not agree to a separate peace negotiated by the United States and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru had to overcome domestic Japanese opposition to a treaty that involved only some of the nations at war with Japan. The catalyst which transformed most doubters was the Korean War. The Japanese, fearful of hostile powers in Korea, largely lined up behind Yoshida. On September 14, 1950, Dulles announced that nations could undertake bilateral negotiations with Japan, rather than negotiate issues at a traditional peace conference. Dulles's purpose was to prevent the Soviet Union from stopping action in a conference and to avoid deciding which government, the Communist or Chiang Kai-shek's, would represent China. The Communist states insisted that Red China should be party to the treaty and American troops barred from Japan when the occupation ended. Yoshida, however, presented to the Japanese people the necessity for continued presence of American troops in Japan as a prerequisite for getting a nonpunitive peace treaty. Britain pressed the U.S. to permit Red China to be included in the peace negotiations. The U.S. refused but finally agreed on July 3, 1951, to exclude both Beijing and Taipei. This left the way open for Japan to choose between Red and Nationalist China. India declined to participate because it objected to the U.S. keeping troops in Japan and the treaty's failure to turn over Taiwan to Communist China (as well as American retention of the Ryukyu and the Bonin islands). Although Russia agreed to attend the San Francisco conference, firm American control limited formal comments on the treaty to one hour for each delegate. Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet delegate, denounced the treaty and said Russia could not sign it because it did not insure "against the revival of Japanese militarism" and "provides for a conversion of Japan into an American military base." Gromyko also protested that the treaty, despite President Roosevelt's promises at Yalta, failed to recognize the sovereignty of the Soviet Union over southern Sakhalin island and the Kuril islands, though in the treaty Japan renounced its claim to these islands, as well as the former mandated islands (Carolines, Marshalls) and gave the United States trusteeship over the Ryukyus and Bonins. Japan also renounced its special interests and rights in China. The treaty required Japan to conclude bilateral peace treaties within three years on essentially the same terms with nations not signing the San Francisco treaty. In the ratification process in the U.S. Senate, much opposition emerged to giving Japan the option of signing a peace treaty with Nationalist or Communist China. Yoshida, to appease American opponents, wrote a letter to Dulles indicating Japan intended to conclude a treaty with Nationalist China, which Japan signed with Chiang on April 28, 1952. The U.S. Senate, in ratifying the treaty on March 20, 1952, added a proviso that nothing in it provided recognition by the United States of Soviet rights to south Sakhalin or the Kurils. Thus the U.S. formally repudiated the Yalta agreement, antagonizing the Soviet Union. The Russians remained in possession of both. See Lach and Wehrle, pp. 145-59; D. Clayton James, The Years of MacArthur, vol. 3, Triumph and Disaster 1945-1964, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985, pp. 222-3, 229, 318, 339-54, 509-10. The Korean War and the Japanese peace treaty and security pact with the U.S. led Red China and the Soviet Union to announce on September 16, 1952, that joint Soviet occupation of the Port Arthur naval base was to be extended at Chinese "request" but Soviet rights to the Changchun railway would be relinquished, as scheduled, at the end of 1952. This agreement came after nearly a month of talks in Moscow between Zhou Enlai, Stalin, Andrei Vishinsky and others. It showed how few concessions Red China was able to extract from Stalin. See Great Game, p. 393; Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 279-80.

9. Kolko, p. 63. At the end of World War II, British troops occupied French Indochina south of the 16th parallel and the Nationalist Chinese that part north of this line. The Nationalists, angry at French collaboration with the Japanese during the war, allowed Ho Chi Minh, leader of the small Communist party, and other Vietnamese nationalists, to create the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. Although a Communist, Ho Chi Minh was always concerned first with Vietnamese nationalism. To hasten Kuomintang evacuation, France agreed February 28, 1946, to give up the extraterritorial rights the British and Americans had relinquished in World War II. On December 19, 1946, the French formally disbanded the Vietminh militia in Hanoi. This set off war. Although the French were successful in controlling the cities, the Vietminh resorted to guerrilla warfare and controlled most of the countryside. See ibid, pp. 38-61; Lach and Wehrle, pp. 298-308; FRUS, Indochina, 1952-54, pp. 624-6, 658-9.

10. FRUS, China and Japan, 1952-54, pp. 262-3, 270.

11. Ibid., pp. 397-9. Evidence of especial American animus was a trade embargo on Red China covering practically all products, while the U.S. levied considerably less restrictive trade rules against the Soviet Union. See ibid., pp. 827-39.

12. Lach and Wehrle, p. 167. Dulles expressed his "containment policy" in the March 16, 1954, issue of Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, New York. This was to make the Communists, if they engaged in aggression, suffer damage outweighing any possible gains. See also FRUS, China and Japan, 1952-54, pp. 545-7.

13. FRUS, Indochina, 1952-54, pp. 386-7, 886-7, 899-900, 956, 960.

14. Lach and Wehrle, pp. 308-09. The record of the conference on Korea (April 26-June 15, 1954) and on Indochina (May 8-July 21, 1954) is contained in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-54, The Geneva Conference, vol. xvi, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1981.

15. FRUS, Indochina, 1952-54, pp. 1181-2.

16. Ibid., p. 1160, 1170, 1181, 1204, 1210-2, 1220-3, 1238-41, 1242, 1249-50.

17. Ibid., pp. 1394-9; FRUS, 1952-54, Geneva Conference, pp. 553-7; Lach and Wehrle, pp. 312-5.

18. Kolko, p. 63; Lach and Wehrle, pp. 166, 309.

19. Red China made the stipulation for a "small Communist buffer state in northern Indochina" on May 8, 1954, spelling out that it wanted "military protection of its southern borders." See FRUS, 1952-54, Geneva Conference, p. 734; Kolko, pp. 64-65.

20. FRUS, 1952-54, Geneva Conference, pp. 1305-8, 1428-9, 1438-9, 1444-7, 1450-2, 1464-5, 1472-6, 1478-9, 1480-7, 1485-7, 1497-1501, 1503; Lach and Wehrle, pp. 313-8; Kolko, pp. 82-83; Cambridge, vol. 14, p. 281; Hsü, p. 733.

21. Kolko, pp. 83-86; Lach and Wehrle, pp. 317-9.

22. Lach and Wehrle, pp. 319-20.

23. FRUS, China and Japan, 1952-54, pp. 307-30.

24. Ibid., pp. 371-6, 386-8.

25. Ibid., pp. 428-30, 433-4, 543-4.

26. Ibid., pp. 434-43, 462-72, 474-80, 501-03, 945-6, 948-67, 977-9, 981-5, 987-8, 1006-08, 1016-8, 1027-30, 1037-8.

27. Ibid., pp. 472-4, 480-1, 483-4, 488, 491-2, 519, 524, 541-3; FRUS, China, 1955-57, vol. 2, p. 671.

28. FRUS, China and Japan, 1952-54, pp. 506-12, 543-4; New York Times, August 1, 1954, section 4, p. 1.

29. Ibid., pp. 556-8, 560.

30. Ibid., pp. 560-82.

31. Ibid., pp. 583-613.

32. Ibid., pp. 649-51.

33. Ibid., pp. 498-9, 930-44; Lach and Wehrle, pp. 166-7; Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 281-2. The five principles of peaceful coexistence were: mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual nonaggression, mutual noninterference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence. See "Communiqué on talks between Mr. Nehru and Mr. Chou En-lai," June 28, 1954, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Documents on International Affairs, 1954, pp. 113-4.

34. Great Game, pp. 402-05; Cambridge, vol. 14, pp. 179-80, 281; FRUS, China and Japan, 1952-54, pp. 776-7.

35. FRUS, China and Japan, 1952-54, pp. 548-50, 706-07, 709.

36. Ibid., pp. 708, 728-56, 771-5, 803-09, 837.

37. Ibid., pp. 823-39.

38. Ibid., pp. 822, 852-5.

39. Ibid., pp. 893-5.

40. Ibid., pp. 274, 811, 929, 981-2; FRUS, China, 1955-57, vol. 2, pp. 5-6, 17-25.

41. FRUS, China and Japan, 1952-54, pp. 1004-06. Zhou's response appeared in a supplement to the December 16, 1954, issue of People's China, an English-language newspaper published in Beijing by the government.

42. Ibid., pp. 1018-20, 1051-8.

43. FRUS, China, 1955-57, vol. 2, pp. 9-11, 17-25, 37-38, 41-44.

44. Ibid., pp. 69-82.