THE LAST SIDESHOW
All Communists are tricky. So they might accept and later by "peaceful means" seize the [offshore] islands and we would have no recourse except blast the hell out of China mainland and that we couldn't do because of "public opinion."
-- Arleigh A. Burke, September 7, 19581
The life the U.S. saved in the Formosa Straits in 1955 had never really been out of danger. Periodic air battles broke out between Chicom and Nationalist planes over the offshore islands, and the U.S. had time and again to restrain Chiang Kai-shek from striking back at targets on the mainland. Anxious to precipitate a final struggle with the Communists, the generalissimo moved even larger numbers of troops to Quemoy and Matsu and dug them in deep. After a U.S. Navy patrol plane was shot down on August 23, 1956 with loss of life in the East China Sea, Radford and the military pushed through, over State Department objection, deployment of nuclear-capable Matador missiles to Formosa (now more often called Taiwan, the Chinese name for the island). Still, that was not enough to satisfy the hardliners.
Even after Radford retired, many others remained who wanted in the worst way to pound the big bully on the Far East block. In August 1957, Stump complained to Burke that the U.S. should stop pussyfooting around on use of atomic weapons. He personally had talked to Chiang and South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, he said. Both believed the U.S. should turn loose the nuclear dogs on Peking but would not do so because of a lack of political will. Burke could only commiserate with CINCPAC that Five Star General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander of Allied Forces in the European Theater in World War II, now President of the United States, seemed to have lost his stomach for a fight. The best the Navy could do about the situation in the Orient was keep its powder dry and wait.2
In Washington, the intelligence community did not expect any further