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The words that echoed around the world were uttered at a table for twelve in a private dining room of Washington’s Sheraton-Carlton Hotel. Admiral Carney had accepted an invitation to dinner from a group of top-level Washington correspondents and bureau chiefs, who wanted his estimate of the Asian situation, particularly in the light of his recent visit there. Under the accepted ground rules for such Washington “background”‘ conferences—absolutely no attribution to the guest—”Mick” Carney had his say. After the correspondents checked the admiral’s statements with some of their other sources in Washington, the stories they wrote exploded into sensational headlines at home and abroad. The world was told that the U.S. officially expected the Chinese Communists to attack the Matsu Islands between April 15 and April 30, and then hit the Quemoy Islands a month or so later.

Within 40 hours the U.S. Navy chief had been identified as the source of the stories, and for four days what he said stood as the U.S. Government’s estimate of the Far East situation. Then James Hagerty, the President’s news secretary, splashed ice water all over the admiral’s estimate. At his own “background” dinner with a larger contingent of correspondents, Hagerty said that Carney’s story did not represent the view of the Eisenhower Administration.

No Crystal Ball. That was where the matter stood at midweek when 217 reporters crowded into the President’s news conference. What did Old Soldier Dwight Eisenhower have to say about the situation in the Formosa Strait? “

“None of us,” said Ike, “possesses a crystal ball . . . To prophesy when a war is going to break out is to pretend—is to assume that we have an accuracy of information that, I think, has never yet been attained by a country that was to be attacked . . . The risk of war is always with us, and we have got to be vigilant. We have got to be careful . . . I do not believe that the peace of the world, the tranquillity of the world, is being served at this moment by talking too much in terms of speculation about such things. I think that is all I have to say about it.”

But it was by no means all that the reporters wanted him to say about it. Did he specifically disagree with the proposition that there may be an attack on Matsu shortly after April 15? Replied the President: “I cannot say that there will not, because I don’t know. But I do say that if anyone is predicting that it will be that soon, and can give me logical reasons for believing that it will be that soon, they have information that I do not have.” Then would Admiral Carney be reprimanded for his remarks? Said the Commander in Chief: “Not by me.”

Having thus gently but publicly disagreed with his Navy chief, the President cautioned that the U.S. should follow a policy of “strong patience,” should not be in the position of saying, “They are going to attack me today; therefore, I attack them yesterday.” Did he think that the U.S. could fulfill its commitment to defend Formosa if Quemoy and Matsu were lost? In his answer, General Eisenhower showed that he is giving serious consideration to the argument that loss of the off-shore islands would have a serious effect on anti-Communist morale in Asia. Said he: “[Morale] is a factor that you must always calculate when you talk about surrendering this place or that place or doing anything else.”

Review & Restatement. Having thus dealt with the question publicly, the President turned to an effort to ease some of the congressional indigestion caused by the dinners. He lunched on successive days with leaders of the House and of the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans. For the Representatives there was quail hash (from birds sent to Ike by Georgians who were disturbed because he bagged only two on his February hunting holiday there) and for the Senators there was roast pheasant. For both there was a precisely detailed review of the U.S. position in the world by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and a restatement of aim by the President. Said he: “God knows, nobody in the world wants peace more than I do or would do more to get it. You know, nobody can tell me what war is because I’ve had to give orders which have cost the lives of so many Americans. If there is any way we can maintain peace honorably, I’m going to do it.”

But neither the President nor the Secretary of State made any effort to hide the fact that peace may be impossible.

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