Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965

By Timothy J. Botti | Go to book overview

8
THE PRESIDENT VACILLATES

The decision regarding Quemoy Island should be made in the light of our determination to resist the further spread of Communism. If we decide to resist such a limited aggression, we do risk an enlarged conflict. If we fail to resist this aggression, we commit the United States further to a negative policy which could result in a progressive loss of Free World strength to local aggression until or unlessf all-out conflict is forced upon us.

-- Arthur W. Radford, September 11, 19541

In the Far East in the 1950s, U.S. policy adhered to the old Chinese proverb "Save a life and it is your responsibility forever." This was the stance on Korea where what had once been of no importance was now to be protected by resort to nuclear weapons. The U.S. would shortly take another step along the same wayward path with respect to Formosa (the Portuguese name for Taiwan) and the offshore islands. Ultimately, a lack of strategic discrimination would result in defeat in Vietnam.

As early as March 22, 1949, the JCS declared Formosa not vital to U.S. national security. Citing a disparity between American military strength and the nation's global obligations, they recommended no action, either diplomatic, economic, or military, to save the island from Communist takeover. Only in the event of general war might it be a good idea to seize the island as a base to launch attacks against the mainland. By December of that year, they amended their opinion only slightly to propose modest military assistance for the newly arrived Chiang Kai-shek regime, but Acheson blocked the initiative because nothing fundamental had changed to make Formosa of substantial strategic interest to Washington.2

Considerable sentiment did exist in Congress, however, to support the Chinese Nationalists in the wake of their ouster from the mainland. Republicans came increasingly to believe that the U.S. could not permit another Communist victory. In May 1950, Dulles thought the most suitable ground to make a stand was the island of Formosa. However, the North Korean attack across the 38th

-66-

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Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Military Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • 1 - Sayonara Sanity? 1
  • 2 - War Scare 7
  • 3 - The Soviets Draw an Ace 17
  • 4 - Strategic Error 23
  • 5 - First Forbearance 31
  • 6 - The Cart Before the Horse 44
  • 7 - French Chestnuts in the Fire 55
  • 8 - The President Vacillates 66
  • 9 - Muscling Up 78
  • 10 - Sword of Damocles 95
  • 11 - The Last Sideshow 102
  • 12 - The Autobahn to Armageddon 109
  • 13 - Cocked Gun 121
  • 14 - Amateur Hour 138
  • 15 - Harebrained Schemes 151
  • 16 - Muddling Through 163
  • 17 - Multilateral Folly 171
  • 18 - High Noon 185
  • 19 - Two Bluffs 201
  • 20 - Best-Laid Plans 216
  • 21 - Strategic Incompetence 230
  • 22 - Unplayable Card? 243
  • Notes 253
  • Index 301
  • About the Author 313
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