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THE NATION: The Dangers of Pressure

3 minute read

For three hours, one morning last week, the President of the U.S. sat alone in the White House. He had put aside the time to weigh, personally and privately, the critical situation in Asia and the hard decisions that it may force upon him.

Late in January the Congress, at his request, had passed—almost unanimously—a resolution giving him full authority to use U.S. forces as he saw fit for the defense of Formosa and related territories. The U.S. was committed to defend Formosa and the Pescadores; the open question was what it would do if the Communists attacked the Nationalist-held islands off the China coast, e.g., Matsu and Quemoy. Georgia’s Democratic Senator Walter George best summarized the resolution: “It means, in explicit terms, that the decision will be a personal one of the President of the U.S.”

That was the way a vast majority of the people’s representatives on Capitol Hill wanted it to be. But not everyone was content to leave it that way. Among those who were not was Admiral Robert B. (for Bostwick) Carney, eager Chief of Naval Operations. Apparently aiming to prepare the public, Admiral Carney gave reporters his off-the-record estimate that the Chinese Communists would probably begin an attack on the offshore islands by the end of April.

The furor that followed brought renewed cries from the political extremists. On the far left Oregon Democrat Wayne Morse sponsored a resolution in the Senate which would force the President to announce that the U.S. will not defend the offshore islands. At the other political pole, Wisconsin’s Senator Joseph McCarthy growled that the President should be forced to announce that the U.S. will defend the islands. Between these extremes, along with Dwight Eisenhower, stood cooler heads, like Foreign Relations Chairman George. Senator George believed that General Eisenhower had decided what courses he would choose, in varying circumstances. But he agreed wholeheartedly with the President’s position that no decision should be announced until the nature of the enemy’s attack is known.

Those who sided with the President thought that the uncertainty about U.S. intentions was a lesser evil than the havoc an announcement would create in both strategy and politics. If the President announced his decision, the Communists would have a definite line behind which they would have sanctuary. If the President said that the U.S. will defend the islands, he would immediately be denounced as a warmonger; if he announced the opposite, he would be called an appeaser.

At week’s end, Georgia’s George summed up the situation with cool wisdom: “I am satisfied that if and when a very big move comes through the islands, the President will have to act . . . [But] it certainly does not tend to advance the cause of peace or promote stability for the President to be pressured into an announcement. I do not believe it is wise for any group, right or left, to press the President into a statement of rigidity which will leave no flexibility.”

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