The Pentagon's China Syndrome
“Although initial operations might have to be conventional for political reasons, atomic strikes against the Chinese mainland would eventually be necessary if the Chinese Communist move was to be stopped effectively and quickly.”
That’s how U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly reacted in 1958, after the country then commonly known as Red China launched artillery strikes on Great Kinmen Island, about five miles off the Chinese coast. Like other italicized excerpts to follow, it comes from a once-top secret 1966 RAND Corporation study into the crisis, released in full by Daniel Ellsberg in 2017. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) eventually backed down from its quest to seize the Taiwan-controlled territory. But China was a poor, agrarian nation 63 years ago, not the economic and military giant it has become over the past two generations. And the U.S. is not the superpower it was in 1958, either.
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Images: Getty Images; Illustration: Leslie Garvey / POGO.