We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
A small island group near the coast of mainland China, Quemoy, gave us lessons that we need to remember in dealing with Iran. There cannot be an analogy between geographies, actors, and the times. But lessons can be insightful to current circumstances of the primacy of recognizing US interests, the difference between friends and foes, and acting accordingly or failing through dithering and fecklessness.
Few remember the history shaping role in the 1950s of Quemoy.
The defense of Quemoy by Nationalist forces against an invasion from newly Communist China in 1949 effectively stymied mainland China’s objective to take Taiwan and, in the face of world defeatism, demonstrated that the Asian march of communism could be defeated.
The same mistaken line drawn by the Truman Administration placed South Korea and the Taiwan Straits outside the US containment perimeter. This encouraged the Soviet and Chinese support of North Korea’s invasion of the South in 1950.
Preoccupied in Korea, and following an inclination toward stalemate being enough for containment, the US 7th Fleet patrolled the Taiwan Strait to prevent either Communist China or Chang Kai-shek’s rump in Taiwan from attacking the other.
In 1953, President Eisenhower, though believing Quemoy to be indefensible and believing the French position in IndoChina would not hold, allowed Taiwan to heavily reinforce Quemoy, raising the threat level to distract and deter China.
In 1954, however, the Chinese, not to appear deterred, unleashed thousands of artillery strikes upon Quemoy, took another small island over 200 miles north of Taiwan, and skirmishing occurred along and on China’s coast.
In 1955, the US Senate ratified a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. Secretary of State Dulles, then President Eisenhower a day later, to defend Taiwan publicly declared that the US would seriously consider using tactical nuclear weapons on China, as the US Chief of Naval Operations stated “to destroy Red China’s military potential.”
Mainland China’s bombardments ceased.
This US firmness also furthered the fracture between China and the Soviet Union, weakening the threats to the US’ worldwide interests, as the Chinese felt the Soviet Union was an unreliable ally.
By 1957, China was again encouraged by the Soviet Union acquiring significant nuclear capabilities, feeling that checkmated the US. At the same time, China felt that Khruschev’s statement that nuclear war was unwinnable was contradicted by the Chinese leaders’ willingness to sacrifice even half its population to still emerge with hundreds of millions of surviving Chinese.The zeal for the Great Leap Forward in 1958, to quickly industrialize China even at the cost of tens of millions of Chinese lives and, as it turned out, severely setting back China’s economy, was matched by renewed bombardments of Quemoy.Mao was showing his independence of Moscow.Khruschev rushed to Peking to alleviate its concerns, issuing a hollow threat to the US that the Soviet Union would defend China against a US invasion that all knew wasn’t contemplated.
The US provided supplies and arms to Taiwan, and Taiwan’s air force wiped the Red planes from the skies.Eisenhower made it clear that the US would not tolerate “armed aggression.”The mainland’s attacks halted.
China learned that it couldn’t rely on the Soviet Union, that it couldn’t pursue its own goals as long as it relied on the Soviet nuclear umbrella. The Soviet Union, unwilling to be dragged into war, unilaterally abrogated its pledge to supply China with nuclear weapons.
In 1960’s presidential campaign, Richard Nixon hammered John Kennedy for being weak on the defense of Quemoy, leading Kennedy in reaction to be more hawkish toward the closer communist threat from Cuba.
However, the two presidencies after Eisenhower’s acted contrary to the lessons they should have gained from his successes in holding the line.
Kennedy’s restrictions on the Bay of Pigs invasion doomed its difficult chances. Kennedy’s refusal to cut the North Vietnamese supply route through Laos encouraged Hanoi’s invasion of agents in the face of the South’s uprooting of Southern communists. The Kennedy administration’s involvement in the assassination of Diem unleashed the chaos that required half a million US troops to staunch the North’s advance. The 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign refusal to strategically bring Hanoi to its knees only encouraged our foes.
The lessons of Quemoy are not about the discrete importance of small islands in a sea of hostility. What we learn from Quemoy is how US lack of or recognition of the global strategic import of such islands in a sea of hostility either encourage or deter our foes’ wider ambitions and lead to serious consequences deeply impacting our own and not just remote others’ security.
With US support, Taiwan became an economic powerhouse. Mainland China’s past geographic ambitions were too costly to itself and are gone, its current ones are economic, and it relies upon Taiwan as source for much of that. The credibility of US words was matched by US leadership and actions. US casualties were not necessary, as Taiwan provided its own fighting determination and prowess.
Israel, similarly, has emerged as an economic and military powerhouse, with much to offer to its MidEast neighbors.However, Iran sees little credibility in our words, leadership or actions.Until it does, we will continue to hover nearer to dangerous global strategic consequences.
RE: " This encouraged the Soviet and Chinese support of North Korea’s invasion of the South in 1950."
The Chinese did not want the North Koreans to invade the south. My foreign service officer father, who was held in Beijing for a year under house arrest when the Chinese Communists took over, was returned to the US after being explicitly told by the new regime that the North Koreans were planning an invasion. And yes, he did tell his debriefers this when he returned but they didn't believe him.
Unfortunately, when the US began advancing into the North, the Chinese felt threatened enough to enter the war on the behalf of the Norks. But I can assure you that no Chinese was happy bout the idea of spilling Middle Kingdom blood over a vassal state.
You're correct insofar as the North Korean invasion was primarily a Soviet backed operation, for Soviet reasons (trying to recover from some setbacks in Europe-- like the establishment of NATO and successes of the Marshall Plan), and Stalin in 1950 being able to enrol the victorious Chinese communists. Prior to that Stalin did not support a North Korean invasion.
In April 1950, Stalin agreed to the North's invasion IF China agreed to support it. Mao, to get Soviet aid he needed to consolidate, agreed and released over 60-thousand combat-experienced Koreans from his PLA to serve with the North Korean army.
And, both Moscow and Peking were encouraged by the US drawing the containment line to the east of the Korean Peninsula.
I understand your point. But let me be the devil's advocate. I believe it is well past the time to revisit our "collective security" structure formulated many decades ago to deter communism. Guess what? Communism is no longer the existential threat we faced then. Ergo, the strategy - in its entirety - must be examined from root to branch and modified to reflect real U.S. national defense needs and economic capacity. In particular, I have little or no interest in continuing to subsidize the Europeans - a geographic entity with a population and economy comparable to our own - so that they can offload their legitimate defense needs on to the U.S. taxpayer. We no longer live in the 1950s. The Asian periphery, an area once as poor as any in Africa and Latin America - is also probably suffering a touch of "free rider-itis" a la the Europeans. Sorry, but the times they are a changin'.
Not the devils advicate. You're correct.
And, our dilemma is this: do we not try to stop a fire in a neighbor's house, who has let their weeds and limbs grow and then gone on vacation? Further, the fire affects our house.
Yes, we need to reappraise, but we can't move our house to another planet.
Regardless, the post is about learning lessons from Quemoy in the 1950s, not about going to war now for Quemoy.