In recent years, numerous commentators have maintained that an Iraq syndrome (or Afghanistan syndrome, or both) will inhibit U.S. foreign policy and reduce the leeway U.S. presidents have to use force overseas. To assess the plausibility of those predictions—and the validity and scope of war-weariness theory—this article provides a thorough examination of how the Korean War influenced subsequent U.S. decisions regarding the use of military force during the Dien Bien Phu crisis in 1954 and the first offshore islands confrontation with the People's Republic of China in 1955. The analysis suggests that military quagmires (such as Korea) are likely to exert only minor influence on great powers’ subsequent decisions on whether to use military force but are much more likely to influence how great powers do so.

In December 2011, the Obama administration completed the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. Subsequently, the administration withdrew U.S. combat forces from the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The country's longest, costliest, and most divisive wars since Vietnam thus ended. Yet a legion of scholars, journalists, and political commentators anticipate that the wars will cast a dark shadow over U.S. foreign policy in the coming years. In particular, many argue that the United States will be extremely reluctant to use military force (particularly ground troops) to address international security challenges. Most notably, John Mueller argued in 2005:

In the wake of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the American public developed a strong aversion to embarking on such ventures again. A similar sentiment—an “Iraq syndrome”—seems to be developing now, and it will have important consequences for U.S. foreign policy for years after the last American battalion leaves Iraqi soil.1

Mueller was not alone in that assessment. Numerous other commentators have endorsed the notion that an Iraq syndrome will inhibit U.S. foreign policy in the coming years.2

Although journalists and pundits have invoked the specter of an Iraq syndrome more frequently than scholars have, the academy has by no means ignored the concept. For decades, researchers have devoted recurring attention to understanding how war influences states’ subsequent conflict behavior. Political scientists have elaborated two general competing hypotheses. The first, which has somewhat erroneously come to be known as the war-weariness hypothesis, posits that if wars are unsuccessful or achieve murky results, they are apt to diminish states’ propensity to engage in new conflicts, particularly with ground troops. The second, competing hypothesis, often known as the reassertion hypothesis, predicts the opposite—namely, that, in the aftermath of an unsuccessful war, policymakers are likely to be more inclined to resort to military force in order to reaffirm their power and determination to resist rival pressure.3

The intellectual foundations of the debate are to be found in the mid-twentieth-century work of Arnold Toynbee and Lewis Richardson. Richardson claimed that “a long and severe bout of fighting confers immunity on most of those who experienced it.” Yet he warned that such “immunity is not permanent but fades out after a decade or two,” particularly as “there arises a new generation, not rendered immune by experience.”4 Along similar lines, Toynbee discerned from history a recurring cyclical pattern of war and peace in which a general war would give way to a period of tranquility, which would be interrupted by minor bouts of fighting to settle unresolved disputes, and these would eventually produce a long period of general peace until the outbreak of another major war renewed the cycle.5

Although Toynbee's cyclical theory was flawed and perhaps stretched the theory of war-weariness “to the point of snapping,” the Vietnam War rekindled scholarly interest in the concept.6 The notion of a “Vietnam syndrome,” which emerged and took hold in popular discourse, seemed to bestow new validity on the hypothesis. A succession of scholars therefore tested variants of it against the historical record—primarily using statistical methods. They examined whether countries that participate in wars in one period are less likely to become involved in new wars in subsequent periods; or whether they are just less likely to initiate new wars.7 They examined whether involvement in more serious or costly wars reduces the probability that a country will be involved in another war in subsequent years; or whether involvement in a costly war reduces the probability that a country's next interstate dispute will escalate to war, and, if it does, whether that war is less likely to be very costly (perhaps because the country in question is likely to seek peace terms at an earlier date than it otherwise would). Scholars have also examined whether war-weariness might apply only to great-power wars or might affect only the international system's three long-term democracies—France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.8 Most recently, scholars have examined whether a series of defeats reduces the probability of subsequent war initiation (particularly large-scale interventions) more significantly than does a single defeat.9 But no matter how they have tried to conceptualize the hypothesis, and regardless of how they have tried to operationalize variables, scholars have failed to provide convincing evidence that participation in a war has any systematic effect on states’ subsequent conflict behavior.10

Why, then, must the issue be revisited? Primarily because the multitude of predictions of an Iraq or Afghanistan syndrome demonstrates that people continue to believe in the validity of the war-weariness phenomenon. It is tempting to conclude that such predictions are simply evidence of the chasm dividing the academy from the policy community and the popular media. But that explanation is unsatisfying insofar as academics, too, have been reluctant to abandon the hypothesis. Numerous scholars continue to insist that war-weariness seriously inhibited states’ foreign policies during certain historical episodes: Britain and France during the interwar years; the United States in the aftermath of Vietnam; the Soviet Union after its prolonged war in Afghanistan. To be sure, the fact that quantitative analyses have failed to uncover a systematic pattern of war-weariness “do[es] not disprove that war-weariness has exerted a powerful impact in specific cases,” as David Garnham notes.11 What it does call for, however, is a thorough reassessment of those cases.

This article provides a detailed examination of one of the more popular historical examples—the Korea syndrome, which supposedly inhibited Dwight Eisenhower's conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Scholars have frequently asserted that the lingering trauma of the Korean War dissuaded Eisenhower from deploying U.S. military forces to Indochina in 1954 to save the besieged French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. William Conrad Gibbons, for instance, has argued that “it was the domestic after-effect of [the Korean War] which was the principal deterrent to the use of force by the United States in Indochina in 1954.”12

Was that the case? The argument is seductive. In the wake of a costly, stalemated war, the United States demurred from intervening militarily in a subsequent crisis. Although that temporal proximity does not in itself validate the war-weariness hypothesis, it does render the case an excellent one for in-depth qualitative examination, for it constitutes a most-likely case. Because both the independent variables (war involvement/outcome) and the dependent variable (subsequent conflict decision) have values that war-weariness theory would predict, one would expect to find evidence of the hypothesized causal dynamics at work.

This analysis will not focus solely on the Dien Bien Phu case, however. Although scholars typically point to Dien Bien Phu as evidence of war-weariness, it is worth remembering that the Eisenhower administration was drawn into another international crisis only a few months after the fall of the French garrison in Indochina—the first offshore islands crisis. The extent to which war-weariness influenced U.S. foreign policy during that second crisis is therefore important to evaluate. If the trauma of Korea restrained the administration's approach to Indochina, one would expect it to have done likewise in the Taiwan Strait.

Even if war-weariness did not inhibit U.S. behavior during the two crises, we need to understand why not. Previous studies have offered hypotheses for why war-weariness does not typically prevent recidivism, but they have failed to validate them empirically. For that reason, I have sought to ascertain whether the Eisenhower administration's foreign policy provides any evidence in support of the reassertion hypothesis. The Dien Bien Phu and offshore islands crises represent much tougher tests for the reassertion hypothesis than for war-weariness theory. After all, Eisenhower ultimately did not use military force in either Indochina or the Taiwan Strait. Yet the reassertion hypothesis could help explain why the United States was drawn to the brink of war so soon after the quagmire in Korea.

This article, however, is designed to accomplish more than merely provide another test of the war-weariness and reassertion hypotheses. I aim to improve our understanding of the circumstances and manner in which a quagmire is likely to influence a great power's subsequent conflict behavior. “The researcher,” as Andrew Bennett points out, “should be open to unexpected clues or puzzles that indicate the presence of left-out variables,” which, when identified, “can lead to the development of new hypotheses.”13 Through comparative case analysis, I have constructed an empirically based explanation of the conditions under which different causal mechanisms are likely to operate. I have built on a deductive examination of causal hypotheses by inductively developing new contingent generalizations.

The U.S. approach to the Dien Bien Phu and first offshore islands crises suggests that a military quagmire like the Korean War is apt to exert only a minor influence on states’ subsequent decisions on whether to use military force. That is not to say, however, that such conflicts will alter recent combatants’ general propensities to use military force. Quagmires are likely to diminish states’ inclination to employ military force in peripheral intrastate conflicts. At the same time, however, such humiliating experiences are likely to increase their inclination to combat acts of international aggression—particularly when important national interests are at stake. Yet even in circumstances in which states are compelled to employ military force, a recent quagmire is likely to influence how they do so—most notably, by encouraging the use of standoff strike capabilities in lieu of ground troops.

War-Weariness: Theory and Implications

War-weariness theory, the reassertion hypothesis, and popular predictions of an Iraq syndrome are all probabilistic. Enduring a military quagmire allegedly alters states’ propensity to use military force (or particular types of military force). That propensity thus constitutes the key intervening variable of interest here—and as previous scholars have noted, it presents significant analytical challenges. A decision not to employ military force in a given crisis is not prima facie evidence of war-weariness; it might be due simply to the unique strategic considerations or political pressures inherent in that particular situation.

Any attempt to gauge the causal impact of a conflict should therefore begin with an evaluation of the patterns of recent combatants’ use of military force. As Bennett has argued, one of the most effective ways to detect changes in state interventionism is by comparing intervention decisions.14 For instance, if a state intervened in several peripheral conflicts before becoming entangled in a military quagmire and subsequently refrained from intervening in a conflict in which vital strategic interests were at stake, one could reasonably conclude that the quagmire had diminished that state's propensity to intervene abroad. Hence, in this article I try to determine whether the pattern of U.S. use of military force shifted noticeably following the Korean War. Such a shift would suggest that the conflict had indeed altered the U.S. government's propensity to use military force.

Identifying shifting patterns of conflict behavior is insufficient to gauge causal mechanisms, however. Previous scholars have conceptualized several ways in which involvement in a war could plausibly influence a country's subsequent conflict behavior.15 For simplicity, therefore, I use the term “war-weariness theory” to encompass three distinct mechanisms through which theorists have suggested war is likely to dissuade countries from engaging in new conflicts: by prompting combatants to update their beliefs regarding the costs and risks inherent in war; by evoking analogical parallels between new crises and recent conflicts; and by degrading a country's capacity to wage war.16

The generational arguments propounded by Toynbee and Richardson are, in essence, learning hypotheses: war is purported to foster the development of a set of beliefs, a sort of pacifism, which dramatically reduces recent combatants’ propensity to engage in new conflicts. Subsequent scholars criticize Toynbee and Richardson, however, for assuming that war-weariness is likely to influence victor and vanquished alike. That expectation might be reasonable for conflicts like the First and Second World Wars, in which most of the victors suffered devastation comparable to the damage they inflicted on their adversaries. But more limited wars might engender a much greater aversion to new wars among the defeated.17 This is due primarily to the fact that warfare is a revelatory experience. Only by fighting can decision-makers (and their constituents) gain an accurate understanding of the costs that combat entails.18 Countries that embark on war blithely confident of victory often learn the harsh lesson that war is more costly than anticipated. After wars, defeated countries should therefore be more attuned to the risks of going to war again and thus prefer to settle disputes peacefully. Their recent exposure to the trials of war should steer them clear of new battles that they might otherwise wage. In essence, states can learn from their mistakes.19

Nevertheless, when war is insufficient to produce a fundamental change of beliefs, such an experience could still influence subsequent conflict decisions through the process of analogical reasoning. Several previous studies, most notably that of Yuen Foong Khong, have demonstrated that decision-makers frequently employ historical analogies to come to grips with new foreign policy challenges and to devise policies to address those challenges.20 The perceived lessons of a recent conflict, particularly a defeat, could therefore plausibly engender a strong determination to avoid repeating the mistakes that produced such a dramatic policy failure.

When individuals do learn from wars, such learning could lead to significant policy change through several mechanisms. A conflict could diminish a state's propensity to intervene in new conflicts by catalyzing learning among leaders. By undermining leaders’ confidence in the efficacy of military force or by evoking analogical parallels to new international crises, a recent war could motivate leaders to strive to resolve international disputes through negotiation and accommodation rather than through brute force or intimidation. Of course, leaders’ ability to impose their own preferences on the formulation and implementation of state policy is often severely circumscribed. For that reason, according to Janice Gross Stein, “No explanation of individual learning, even by a senior leader in a hierarchical system, can explain foreign policy change. Institutional and political processes must intervene to build the political support to transform individual learning into changes in foreign policy behavior.”21 However, state leaders typically exercise much greater authority over decisions regarding the use of military force than other foreign policy pursuits, such as the negotiation of international economic agreements or environmental accords.22 Hence, it is plausible that the transformation of an individual leader's foreign policy beliefs could alter a state's propensity to use military force—particularly in a highly centralized state.

Individual learning among leaders is by no means a necessary condition for state learning, however. Even if leaders continue to believe in the efficacy of military force, they might be disinclined to act on their bellicose impulses if a quagmire dramatically alters their constituents’ foreign policy beliefs—or if a new crisis evokes analogical parallels among domestic constituents to that quagmire.23 Several scholars have attributed the “democratic peace” to the restraining influence of public opinion. Dan Reiter and Allan Stam, in particular, have argued that democratic leaders cannot wage war without at least the tacit consent of their citizens.24 If that argument is valid, leaders’ perceptions of public opinion may be more important than whether the public truly learns from previous military operations.25 If leaders believe that a recent conflict has diminished the public's willingness to support the use of military force, they might strive to avoid new hostilities or restrict the level of military involvement in any new conflicts.26

Even if fighting does not significantly alter individuals’ estimation of the cost of war or evoke analogical parallels, the costs incurred in war can diminish a country's military capabilities. Wars can devour soldiers and materiel; the high operations tempo demanded by warfare typically diminishes the amount of time devoted to training, which ultimately diminishes force readiness; and the most intense wars can strain a country's productive industrial base, the foundation of military strength.27 Therefore, in the aftermath of a costly conflict, decision-makers may reasonably be expected to be keen to avoid new conflicts until they have had time to rebuild their military strength. Military officials might be particularly reluctant to plunge their degraded forces back into war.

Because the Korean War could have influenced the Eisenhower administration's approach to the Dien Bien Phu and offshore islands crises through any or all of these mechanisms, several types of evidence could lend credence to war-weariness theory: public opinion data demonstrating that the U.S. public opposed the use of U.S. military force after the Korean War; speculation among administration officials that the Korean War had made the public unwilling to commit U.S. military forces again so soon; official references to the Korean experience as a rubric against which the risks of war in Indochina or the Taiwan Strait were measured; or comments by administration officials, legislators, or journalists suggesting that the Korean War had depleted the country's resources to such an extent that the United States simply could not afford another war. Of course, a lack of such clues would not automatically invalidate war-weariness theory. Administration officials could have reasoned along those lines without ever saying so explicitly (and even if they did, such statements could have been excluded from the documentary record).

The notion that war-weariness influenced U.S. policy to any significant extent would be undermined, however, by evidence in support of the reassertion hypothesis. Previous scholars have suggested that a military defeat could conceivably increase a state's propensity to intervene in new conflicts by compelling them to reassert their power and resolve. Most notably, Robert Jervis has argued that policymakers might anticipate that rival states will pursue adventurous foreign policies because they expect that the “war-weary” state will be reluctant to confront them. Recent combatants will therefore be motivated to disabuse their rivals of the notion that the recent conflict had opened any sort of window of opportunity to pursue more adventurous, revisionist foreign policies. That is, the belief that rivals will anticipate and seek to exploit war-weariness will prompt states to adopt policies that invalidate the war-weariness hypothesis.28

As with war-weariness theory, several types of evidence could lend credence to the reassertion hypothesis. If the Dien Bien Phu or first offshore islands crises encouraged the Eisenhower administration to reassert national power and resolve, the documentary record should include at least some discussion of the necessity of such action to deter Communist adventurism. Of course, even if senior administration officials were not so inclined, pressure from domestic constituencies could have compelled them to get tough. If so, there should be evidence that domestic constituents believed it was necessary to reassert national resolve—evidence that might be found in the records of legislative debate, in news commentary, or even in influential figures’ personal records. The documentary record should also reflect that Eisenhower felt pressured by those constituents to pursue a hard line.

The Dien Bien Phu Crisis

Upon entering the White House in January 1953, Eisenhower inherited both the Korean War and the deteriorating Indochina situation from the Truman administration. During Eisenhower's first year in office, ending the war in Korea was arguably his administration's primary foreign policy objective. But even as the president extricated the United States from the Korean stalemate, administration officials grew increasingly concerned about the prospect of further Communist expansion in Southeast Asia. The French had been unsuccessful in their campaign to suppress the nationalist rebellion in Indochina, which Ho Chi Minh's Communist Viet Minh forces had been waging since 1946. Moreover, the Viet Minh invasion of Laos in April 1953 shattered Washington's confidence that the French would prevail in the conflict. So even as U.S. officials increased financial and materiel assistance to France, they began to consider more direct U.S. involvement in the conflict—particularly when the Viet Minh surrounded the French fortress at Dien Bien Phu in January 1954. During the subsequent 55-day siege of the fortress, which endured from 13 March until the French surrendered on 7 May, the Eisenhower administration deliberated, intensely at times, over whether to deploy U.S. forces to Indochina.29 Eisenhower ultimately chose not to intervene in the conflict, and the documentary record suggests that a Korea syndrome exerted marginal influence on that decision.

Significant opposition to intervention existed throughout the American body politic. In early February, Eisenhower's decision to deploy uniformed aircraft technicians to Indochina sparked a flurry of agitation in the news and the halls of Congress that the administration was inching toward another war. Although Eisenhower was able to quell that backlash by pledging to withdraw the technicians no later than 15 June, intense opposition to intervention flared up on two other occasions during the crisis: first, following Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's proposal of “united action” at the end of March; and then again in mid-April in response to a widely reported “off-the-record” suggestion by Vice President Richard Nixon that the United States might need to intervene in Indochina if France withdrew its forces.30

The documentary record suggests that memories of Korea lurked beneath that opposition. Newspapers warned of “a new and more risky and more bothersome Korea.”31 Journalists questioned: “Are we willing to fight another Korean-type conflict with the necessary costs in money, men and blood?”32 The specter of Korea hung over debate within the halls of Congress. Senator Mike Mansfield warned early on that the “crisis might easily resolve itself into a Communist victory or the entanglement of the United States in another Korean situation.”33 Likewise, at the height of the crisis, a few days after the reporting of Nixon's off-the-record comment, Senator Wayne Morse demanded: “Did the administration mean it when its leading spokesmen said there would be no more peripheral wars, no more Korea?”34 The trauma of Korea was clearly fresh in legislators’ minds—as war-weariness theory would predict.35 But had the difficulties encountered in Korea really convinced Americans they could not afford to engage in a new war in Indochina?

A public opinion poll conducted in the summer of 1953, just as Eisenhower was solidifying the Korean armistice, indicates that 47 percent of respondents believed the United States should help fight if it seemed the Communists were going to invade Indochina; 32 percent disagreed; and 21 percent did not know. Only 30 percent of the respondents believed that such help should include U.S. soldiers fighting in Indochina; and only 11 percent favored unilateral U.S. involvement without UN cooperation. But a large plurality, 46 percent, supported increasing weapons supplies to Indochina. Subsequent polls reflected that the public was much more inclined to support the use of U.S. air forces, rather than ground troops, to check the spread of Communism. A Gallup poll on 18 September 1953 found that 85 percent disapproved of “sending United States soldiers to take part in the fighting” in Indochina. Yet a poll conducted by the State Department the next month indicated that 53 percent approved of using U.S. air forces “if it looks like the Communists might take over all of Indochina.”36

The lessons of Korea apparently had not convinced either the wider public or the Congress that the United States should not intervene in Indochina under any circumstances. The primary conviction that many derived from the Korean War was not that the United States needed to avoid peripheral wars to stop Communist expansion. Instead, they simply believed that in future wars the imperative should be on U.S. allies to shoulder more of the burden. Some legislators, perhaps reflecting the views of their constituents, fumed over the failure of U.S. allies to shoulder more of the burden for the fighting in Korea.37 Even Senator William Knowland, one of the legislators most disposed to support intervention in Indochina, harped on the necessity of ensuring a more equitable division of labor. He shared his colleagues’ concern, expressed most notably during a critical meeting on 3 April with Secretary of State Dulles and Admiral Arthur Radford, that “we want no more Koreas with the United States furnishing 90% of the manpower.”38 For Congress, greater burden-sharing was thus a precondition for U.S. intervention in Indochina.

Members of Congress were concerned, however, that even limited U.S. involvement in the Indochina conflict could lead inexorably to the introduction of U.S. ground troops.39 Although Dulles assured legislative leaders that the administration was not contemplating the commitment of ground forces, some remained skeptical, retorting “that once the flag was committed the use of land forces would inevitably follow.”40 Many legislators and journalists were fearful that if U.S. air and naval forces failed to turn the tide of the war the United States would face the dilemma of either conceding defeat to the Viet Minh or escalating its involvement in the conflict. They believed that conceding defeat would be unthinkable and that the administration would be compelled to deploy ground forces.41

Although a Korea syndrome appears to have heightened public and congressional sensitivity to those risks, the strength of that influence should not be exaggerated. References to Korea did not constitute the core arguments against intervention. Most opponents of intervention focused either on the inadvisability of intervening in a colonial/nationalist war or on the low likelihood that U.S. intervention would succeed in overcoming the Viet Minh forces.42 Although the Eisenhower administration endeavored to frame the conflict in Indochina as a war between Communism and the forces of the Free World, sizable elements of the U.S. public, media, and Congress remained convinced that the war was really about the maintenance of the French colonial empire.43 They understood that the war in Indochina was quite unlike the war in Korea, that it was much easier to justify deploying military force to oppose external aggression than to oppose internal Communist subversion.44 Many legislators viewed French assurances of independence for Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam as disingenuous.45 They believed that granting genuine independence was vitally important insofar as most Vietnamese would be unwilling to fight the Viet Minh or to support U.S. intervention if doing so guaranteed only that the Vietnamese would remain in thrall to French imperialism.46

Wariness about supporting colonialism thus fueled pessimism about whether intervention could succeed. Anti-interventionists argued that the problem in Indochina was not military but political. They noted that the military forces of the French and of the Associated States of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, which totaled roughly 500,000 men, outnumbered the Communist forces by a two-to-one margin. They noted that the United States had provided over a billion dollars in economic and military assistance to Indochina, and they concluded that the deployment of any U.S. forces, particularly air or naval forces alone, would not stem the tide of the war in the absence of the provision of genuine independence for the Associated States.47

One could argue, of course, that the trauma of the Korean War had made Americans more attuned to the political and military problems that intervention in Indochina would entail. From a methodological standpoint, it is fortunate that the war in Indochina started a few years prior to the Korean War, allowing us to assess whether attitudes toward Indochina shifted appreciably after the Korean War began. What the documentary record demonstrates is that even before the Korean War, U.S. officials were wary of supporting French colonialism in Indochina. On 2 March 1949, during an executive session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee dealing with the extension of the Marshall Plan, Senator Mansfield (later one of the most prominent opponents of intervention in Indochina) proposed an amendment providing for the termination of Marshall Plan aid to any country “so long as it denies to its citizens or citizens in any dependent area under its jurisdiction, the principles of individual liberty, free institutions, and genuine independence.”48 But Mansfield also indicated that he did not anticipate that the amendment would deprive the French of any aid for the struggle in Indochina, suggesting, “I do not know too much about the Indochinese situation. I do not think anybody does … but I think there is a lot that the French must answer for in Indochina and the Dutch in Indonesia.”49 The war in Indochina was not yet a salient issue for legislators or the public.50 Nevertheless, the Truman administration was torn by the same conflicting impulses that later characterized the debate over intervention. Truman and his advisers were intent on preventing Communist nationalist movements from deposing their colonial masters and were therefore eager to forestall a Viet Minh victory in Indochina.51 At the same time, the administration was convinced that colonialism was a bankrupt political construct and that “19th Century imperialism is no antidote to communism in revolutionary colonial areas. It is rather an ideal culture for the breeding of the communist virus.”52

The crucial point is that significant opposition to the perpetuation of colonialism in Indochina pervaded U.S. society prior to the onset of the Korean War. Had the United States not endured three years of stalemated war in Korea, similar public and congressional opposition to U.S. military intervention in Indochina would likely still have materialized. Thus, despite the anti-interventionists’ frequent insistence on “no more Koreas,” we should not conclude that war-weariness engendered their opposition. Korea may just have served as a convenient cautionary tale that anti-interventionists were able to deploy to bolster the advocacy of their preexisting preferences. But even if the Korean experience did reinforce the public's reluctance to intervene in Indochina, particularly with ground troops, that is only half the story.

If we are to conclude that war-weariness prevented the United States from intervening in Indochina, we must also demonstrate that the Korean War influenced the Eisenhower administration's decision-making during the crisis.53 There is certainly evidence that when military officials estimated the requirements and challenges of a potential war in Indochina, they considered the difficulties U.S. troops encountered while fighting in Korea.54 As early as July 1953, during a meeting at the Pentagon between the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and high-level State Department officials, General J. Lawton Collins, the Army chief of staff, warned that if the United States were to intervene in Indochina, “militarily and politically we would be in up to our necks. In Indochina we wouldn't have as advantageous a position as we have in Korea … if we went into Indochina with U.S. forces, we would be in for a major and protracted war.”55 Collins's successor, General Matthew Ridgway, was, if anything, even more sensitive to the lessons of Korea. Throughout the crisis he staunchly opposed the introduction of U.S. military forces, insisting that intervention “would constitute a dangerous strategic diversion of limited United States military capabilities.”56

Ridgway's opposition was probably not as decisive as he later claimed.57 Eisenhower, with his own extensive military background, was fully capable of perceiving the strategic risks of prospective intervention in Indochina.58 The president consequently shared Ridgway's aversion to a potential ground operation. During a meeting with his National Security Council (NSC) at the beginning of the crisis, Eisenhower asserted, “with great force, [that] he simply could not imagine the United States putting ground forces anywhere in Southeast Asia, except possibly in Malaya, which we would have to defend as a bulwark to our off-shore island chain.”59 Eisenhower was convinced that the “war in Indochina would absorb our troops by divisions!”60 The president was attuned to the strategic risks that would accompany the introduction of U.S. ground troops.

Those reservations were fully consonant with the New Look doctrine Eisenhower had approved a few months earlier in NSC 162/2. Prior to the onset of the Dien Bien Phu crisis, the administration had already determined that allied ground forces should assume primary responsibility for combating peripheral acts of aggression. The United States would provide air and naval support. To Eisenhower, such a division of labor was essential for enduring the long haul of the Cold War. He feared that military overextension would be counterproductive if it sapped the economic vitality of the United States. Although those concerns had already begun to trouble Eisenhower in the late-1940s, the cost and indeterminacy of the Korean War apparently reinforced his conviction that the United States could not afford to deploy troops in response to every act of Communist aggression.61 He and Dulles believed that the withdrawal of combat forces from the Asian mainland, specifically Korea, would permit the creation of a strategic reserve that would dramatically enhance the U.S. defensive posture.62 Moreover, Dulles insisted that the Korean War taught “a lesson which we expect to apply in the interests of future peace … If events are likely which will in fact lead us to fight, let us make clear our intention in advance; then we shall probably not have to fight.”63 The lessons of Korea thus informed the strategic reappraisal that led the administration to emphasize deterring Communist expansion through massive retaliation and supporting allied ground troops with air and naval power if deterrence failed.

Domestic political considerations also reinforced the administration's reluctance to deploy ground troops to Southeast Asia. In the first week of 1954, the assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs warned Dulles that “public opinion in the US is not now ready for a decision to send US troops to Indochina and in all probability will not support such a decision unless convinced that such action is necessary to save Southeast Asia from Communist domination.”64 But Dulles and Eisenhower were hardly in need of such a reminder. At the height of the crisis, the president cautioned his advisers, “If we wanted to win over the Congress and the people of the United States to an understanding of their stake in Southeast Asia, let us not talk of intervention with U.S. ground forces. People were frightened, and were opposed to this idea.”65 Whether Eisenhower believed that the lack of public enthusiasm for U.S. intervention stemmed from the fresh wounds of Korea is unclear, however.66

Eisenhower was not just worried about public opposition to another war. He also had to contend with the pervasive fear of further Communist expansion. Americans not only wanted to avoid a repeat of the Korean War, but also wanted to avoid a repeat of the loss of China to the Communists.67 Eisenhower was concerned about the domestic political ramifications of losing Indochina. In a meeting with congressional Republicans toward the end of April, one legislator “suggested that the Administration would be equally criticized if it were not calling attention to the danger of losing Indochina. The president agreed and recalled what was said about the failure of the Democrats to face up to the situation in China.”68 Such concerns surely influenced Eisenhower's decision to warn the U.S. public about the dangers of falling dominoes.69 Yet we should not dismiss those public warnings as pure rhetoric designed to appease domestic anti-Communists. The president focused on the risks of losing Indochina in private meetings as well.70

The administration faced a serious dilemma: Determined not to engage in another land war in East Asia, senior officials were alarmed by the prospect of ceding more territory to the Communists and the political fallout that would follow.71 The tension between those two fears was likely what prompted the administration to entertain, quite seriously, the idea of employing air and naval forces to combat the Viet Minh. The president's principal military adviser, Admiral Radford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the most ardent proponent of air strikes. He shared the anti-interventionists’ opposition to the introduction of U.S. ground troops in the jungles of Southeast Asia, but he persistently trumpeted the virtues of deploying air and naval forces.72 Shortly after the beginning of the siege, he suggested to the NSC, “if we could put one squadron of U.S. planes over Dien Bien Phu for as little as one afternoon, it might save the situation.”73 When General Paul Ely, chairman of the French General Staff, visited Washington in late March to solicit more U.S. aid, Radford began advocating a plan to launch unilateral U.S. air strikes, codenamed Operation Vulture, which had been conceived by U.S. and French military officers in Saigon.

Although he was unable to drum up much enthusiasm for Operation Vulture at the end of March, Radford was not as isolated as many scholars have suggested. Some administration officials grew more inclined to intervene as the fall of the French fortress loomed. During the critical NSC meeting on 29 April, Nixon and Under Secretary of State Walter Bedell Smith insisted that U.S. air strikes might “save the situation” without obliging the administration to commit ground troops.74 Even the president entertained the option quite seriously. In a meeting with Dulles on 24 March, Eisenhower confided that although he was reluctant to get involved in the war in Indochina, he did not “wholly exclude the possibility of a single strike.”75 In the final days of March and early days of April, however, Eisenhower decided that any U.S. intervention would have to be part of a broad “united action.”

In a speech on 29 March to the Overseas Press Club of America, Secretary Dulles announced that the permeation of Communism throughout Southeast Asia “should not be passively accepted but should be met by united action,” although he conveyed only a vague sense of what “united action” would entail.76 A few days later, on the morning of Saturday, 3 April, Dulles and Radford briefed the congressional leadership on possible action. Dulles had initially intended to introduce a draft resolution seeking advance authorization for the president to employ air and naval forces if he deemed them necessary. But Eisenhower instructed him “to develop first the thinking of congressional leaders without actually submitting in the first instance a resolution.”77 During the meeting on 3 April, the legislators delineated several preconditions that would need to be satisfied before they would approve the use of U.S. military force.78 Eisenhower subsequently decided that the United States could intervene militarily only: (1) as part of an international coalition, with the active participation of other Southeast Asian countries as well as Britain, Australia, and New Zealand; (2) if France guaranteed the independence of the Associated States and agreed to remain in the war to its conclusion; and (3) if Congress provided advance approval. Because the administration was subsequently unable to satisfy those conditions, however, united action never got off the ground.79

Although some scholars believe that war-weariness motivated Eisenhower's insistence on united action, there is much reason to doubt that contention.80 Sound strategic arguments made Eisenhower shy away from unilateral intervention. For one thing, Eisenhower and Dulles were sensitive to the impact that launching unilateral air strikes would have on the cohesion of the Western alliance. The British, in particular, were fearful that such action (particularly the use of nuclear weapons) would trigger Communist Chinese intervention and potentially escalate to “World War Three.”81 Because Eisenhower and Dulles were concerned fears of war might induce allied countries to seek some sort of accommodation with the Soviet Union, they remained wary of launching any precipitate actions that would alienate Western Europe.82

Moreover, administration officials were acutely concerned about the payoff they could expect to gain from unilateral air strikes. This basic criterion is what prevented the JCS from concurring with a memorandum drafted by Radford at the end of March, advising the president to offer the French assistance from U.S. air units.83 Lemuel Shepherd, the commandant of the Marine Corps, explained to Radford:

If I could convince myself that such intervention—on any scale now available to us—would turn the tide of military victory in favor of the French I would hold an entirely different opinion despite the hazards and uncertainties attending such a course. But I feel that we can expect no significant military results from an improvised air offensive against the guerilla forces. They simply do not offer us a target which our air [sic] will find remunerative—they are nowhere exposed at a vital point critical to their continued resupply and communications.84

Similar skepticism also prompted the Army and Navy chiefs to refuse to advocate air strikes.85 Eisenhower was attentive to his military advisors’ doubts.86

To be sure, war-weariness may have heightened officials’ sensitivity to the risks of engaging in an unsuccessful air campaign. Administration officials shared the public and congressional apprehension that an initial air and naval intervention, if unsuccessful, could require the subsequent introduction of U.S. ground troops to salvage victory. The service chiefs were particularly sensitive to that risk. According to Shepherd, an unsuccessful aerial intervention would inevitably result in “the necessity of either admitting a fresh military failure on our part or intervening further with ground forces in an effort to recoup our fortunes.”87 That concern did not stem simply from overcautious military planning; it also gave pause to civilian administration officials. Talking points prepared by Robert Bowie for Dulles to use in a meeting with the president argued that the “U.S. should assume need for some U.S. ground forces and for large forces under some contingencies. U.S. should not intervene with idea it can be done cheaply by air and naval forces.”88 According to Sherman Adams, the Korean experience had attuned the president to the risk that a limited unilateral intervention could escalate to general war.89

Insofar as Korea rendered the deployment of U.S. ground troops to Southeast Asia politically unthinkable, the war therefore made united action extremely desirable, even essential. Organizing a coalition would enable the administration to develop a division of labor that would avert a slippery slope to ground war. Both Eisenhower and Dulles frequently promoted that argument to build congressional support for united action. In a late-April meeting with legislators, at the height of the crisis, the president assured them “that he was not advocating the commitment of U.S. ground forces. … United Action by the free world was necessary, and in such action the U.S. role would not require use of its ground forces.”90

In keeping with the New Look doctrine, indigenous forces would provide ground troops, and the United States would provide air and naval support in addition to equipment and finances. In such circumstances, even if air strikes proved insufficient to alter the situation, the United States would not be obliged to introduce U.S. ground troops. The United States could not be left holding the bag if the French decided to withdraw.91

United action was also attractive because Eisenhower, like most Americans, believed that the United States, as a champion of democracy, must not contribute to the perpetuation of colonialism. He feared that unilateral U.S. intervention would “lay ourselves open to the charge of imperialism and colonialism or—at the very least—of objectionable paternalism.”92 Administration officials were acutely aware that the Cold War was quintessentially an ideological struggle and that in a war of ideas even a Western military victory in Indochina could benefit the Communist bloc if the specter of Western imperialism alienated the Asian peoples and drove them to the Soviet camp. Ensuring that any intervention in Indochina was a multilateral effort that included regional allies was therefore critically important to lifting the colonial shroud that enveloped the French war effort.93 Eisenhower was determined not to intervene unilaterally in what, to him, amounted to a colonial/civil war.

The president and his top advisers were, however, prepared to deploy military force to check more clear-cut acts of international aggression. That attitude pervaded NSC contingency planning well before the onset of the Dien Bien Phu crisis. NSC 5405, for instance, asserted that in the event of Chinese intervention in Indochina, “the United States, in conjunction with at least France and the UK, should take air and naval action against all suitable military targets in China which directly contribute to the war in Indochina. … If the UK and France do not agree to such expanded military action, the United States should consider taking such action unilaterally.”94 The administration made this determination fully cognizant of the costs of such action. As NSC 5405 also acknowledged, “the United States should recognize that it may become involved in an all-out war with Communist China, and possibly with the USSR and the rest of the Soviet bloc.”95 Although Eisenhower was ultimately unwilling to intervene in Indochina in the absence of Chinese aggression, administration officials were prepared to engage in what they believed would have been a much more intense war if China had intervened.96

The Korean experience might have fostered that disposition. By demonstrating that peripheral wars could be costly yet indecisive, the Korean War convinced the president that “the cause of the free world could never win, the United States could never survive, if we frittered away our resources in local engagements” and that “it almost appeared that we would have to choose between actually launching an attack on Soviet Russia or gradually permitting ourselves to be exhausted in piecemeal conflicts.”97 Eisenhower concluded that, in the event of Chinese aggression, “there should be no half measures or frittering around. The Navy and Air Force should go in with full power, using new weapons, and strike at air bases and ports in mainland China.”98 Even though concerns over the public's appetite for another war persisted, Eisenhower was determined to convince Americans, if the need arose, of “the necessity of striking directly at the head instead of the tail of the snake.”99 It thus seems clear that a Korea syndrome did not preclude new hostilities. The Eisenhower administration had apparently extrapolated lessons that could have sparked a much more tumultuous conflict.

The Offshore Islands Crisis (September 1954–April 1955)

If war-weariness had dissuaded Eisenhower from intervening in Indochina, one would expect it also to have compelled him to shy away from a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Yet the offshore islands crisis demonstrates that even in the aftermath of the Korean War the United States was willing to use its military forces to protect vital interests. Deploying ground troops was still anathema, but Congress provided Eisenhower a blank check for fighting in defense of Formosa. Although Eisenhower and Dulles hoped the deterrent value of the Formosa Resolution would make war unnecessary, there is every reason to believe the administration would have followed through on the threat if China had moved against Formosa. Eisenhower had never explicitly pledged to defend Quemoy or Matsu, but he had adopted policies that entailed a significant risk of being drawn into a war over the offshore islands, whose importance he himself denigrated at times.

The crisis flared up when Communist China began shelling the Nationalist-held island of Quemoy on 3 September 1954—only a few months after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. The Communists continued to shell Quemoy—and a handful of other offshore islands—intermittently in the fall of 1954. Then, on 10 January 1955, the Communists launched an intense series of raids against the Tachen Islands. Eight days later, amphibious forces overran the Nationalist forces on the island of Ichiang. Although that aggression prompted the Nationalists to evacuate the Tachens, a tense standoff persisted until the end of April, when Communist Premier Zhou Enlai announced that China was willing to engage in direct talks with the United States to defuse the ongoing tension in the Far East.

As during the Dien Bien Phu crisis, the American public had little enthusiasm for engaging in hostilities in the Taiwan Strait. A Gallup poll published on 6 October had asked, “If Formosa is invaded by Communist China, which of the following statements (on card) comes closest to your own view of what the United States should do?” A plurality, 49 percent, endorsed policies that would not entail direct U.S. military action: 28 percent were inclined to “have the U.S. supply guns and other war materials but take no active part in fighting”; and 21 percent hoped to “have the United States keep out of Formosa altogether and let them fight it out themselves.” But a sizable minority of respondents, 41 percent, advocated some sort of military intervention: 31 percent preferred to “have U.S. planes and ships help to keep Communist China from invading Formosa”; and 10 percent wanted to “have U.S. planes bomb airfields and factories on the China mainland.”100

As with the Dien Bien Phu crisis, the reason for the public's lack of enthusiasm for a war in the Taiwan Strait—whether due to war-weariness or other causes—is unclear. Even if war-weariness was a factor, it restrained Eisenhower only to a limited extent. The administration did initially endeavor to check Communist aggression peacefully by focusing on two diplomatic initiatives: the development of allied support for a United Nations (UN) ceasefire resolution (codenamed ORACLE) to be put forward by New Zealand; and the negotiation of a Mutual Defense Treaty with the Nationalists, which was signed on 2 December 1954.101 Yet when the crisis intensified in January 1955, the wariness of the American public was not sufficient to prevent Eisenhower from committing to defend Formosa. The president took a step that he had contemplated but had ultimately refused to take less than a year previously during the Dien Bien Phu crisis—he requested congressional authorization to deploy U.S. military forces for combat in the Far East. Perhaps even more significantly, in order to convince Chiang to evacuate the Tachens, Eisenhower extended a private assurance that if the Communists attacked Quemoy or Matsu, the United States would assist in their defense.102

Eisenhower and his advisers were determined that “somehow or other we must make clear to the United States and to the whole world that we are not going to let Formosa and the Pescadores fall into hostile hands even if we must risk war to prevent this.”103 Toward that end, the administration introduced the Formosa Resolution, which requested that the Congress authorize the president “to employ the Armed Forces of the United States as he deems necessary for the specific purpose of securing and protecting Formosa and the Pescadores against armed attack,” including “the securing and protection of such related positions and territories of that area now in friendly hands.”104 Gone were the stipulations that had rendered united action unachievable in Indochina. The requested authorization included no provision that Eisenhower could intervene only in partnership with allied countries to defend Formosa. Nor did it provide that any intervention had to be authorized by the UN. Even so, the administration encountered surprisingly little difficulty in winning congressional approval of the sweeping resolution.

Just as public opinion failed to restrain Eisenhower, so too did it fail to dissuade Congress from backing him. The House of Representatives rubber-stamped the resolution, passing it by a 410–3 margin on 25 January. In the days that followed, the Senate engaged in further serious debate over the implications of the joint resolution.105 But in spite of a few critics’ warnings that passing the resolution amounted to writing “a blank check of dangerous authority—authority which can be used, or which might be used—to involve us in a war which we do not want and which the free world does not want, and indeed greatly fears,” the Senate approved the resolution, unaltered, by an 85–3 margin on 28 January.106

All of this raises a litany of questions. Why did Eisenhower, who had felt that his authority to deploy force in Indochina was extremely circumscribed, feel free to request such broad authority to intervene militarily in the Taiwan Strait? Why was Congress not more wary about handing President Eisenhower a blank check? After all, many of those who voted in favor of the Formosa Resolution had spent the past few years chastising Truman for violating the Constitution by waging war in Korea without the imprimatur of a congressional declaration. Presumably, if a Korea syndrome existed, senators would have been very wary of ceding to the president the authority to embroil the country in another war in the Far East. What accounts for the discrepancy in congressional attitudes toward the crises in Indochina and the Taiwan Strait? Why were so many legislators who had railed against intervention in Indochina so willing to authorize the use of force in the Taiwan Strait only a few months later?

One key factor was that administration and congressional officials were more justified in their expectation that a war in the Taiwan Strait would not require the deployment of U.S. ground troops. Any attempt to combat Communist aggression against the Nationalist-held islands would have been spearheaded by the Seventh Fleet. The United States could depend on its overwhelming air and sea superiority to repel Communist attacks. After the administration's introduction of the Formosa Resolution, Radford assured the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees that the indigenous Nationalist ground forces were sufficient to defend Formosa and the offshore islands so that the United States would likely need only to complement those ground troops with air and naval forces. Furthermore, he explained that some of the offshore islands were so small that they could not accommodate many more ground troops than were already stationed there.107 Dulles thus had good reason to assure legislators that “there is no reason in sight for using ground forces in the area.”108 He and Radford had proffered similar assurances during the Dien Bien Phu crisis, but the Congress was more convinced with regard to a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait—even though Radford conscientiously refused to rule out the deployment of U.S. ground troops if a war in the Taiwan Strait produced unexpected contingencies.109

This expectation was apparently due largely to optimism that the check the Congress was to write would not need to be cashed. Legislators and administration officials were hopeful that passing the Formosa Resolution would deter Beijing from attempting to invade Formosa (and possibly the offshore islands). This was perhaps the most significant difference between the Dien Bien Phu and offshore islands crises. In Indochina, the United States had faced the prospect of intervening in a worsening quagmire. But in the Taiwan Strait, things had not yet come to a head, and it was still possible to avoid all-out war. The administration insisted that the Formosa Resolution would “reduce the possibility that the Chinese Communists, misjudging our firm purpose and national unity, might be disposed to challenge the position of the United States.”110 Most legislators evidently shared the administration's belief that the best way of deterring Communist China and maintaining the status quo was through a demonstration of unified resolve in the form of the Formosa Resolution.111 A consensus emerged that not passing the resolution would amount to “a failure to uphold the president,” which could “only be interpreted throughout the world as a faltering in [U.S.] resolve, with disastrous consequences to peace and to the free nations.”112 That was a lesson the Congress had gleaned from Korea. The specter of Dean Acheson's infamous Press Club speech (a speech that rightly or wrongly was thought to have emboldened Communist leaders to test U.S. resolve in Northeast Asia) weighed on the legislative body. Some members were convinced that North Korea had invaded the South because it doubted that the United States would intervene—primarily because the “Secretary of State reassured the Communists on that point in January 1950.”113 So the legislators determined that even though there were risks inherent in the Formosa Resolution, those risks were “less than the risks involved in doing nothing.”114

Additionally, the prospect of defending Formosa was comparatively palatable to both the administration and the Congress because, unlike the war in Indochina, they did not believe the endeavor would be tainted by the stigma of colonialism. As Dulles explained to legislators, in Indochina “the colonial issue was so involved that we finally came to the conclusion that it was imprudent for us to act there without a concurrence and a clarification of issues which we could not get,” but with regard to Formosa, “everybody recognizes that we have a primary responsibility.”115 The administration was therefore prepared to go it alone in defending Formosa. Officials believed a Communist attack would constitute an act of international aggression and consequently did not consider allied participation necessary to ensure the international legitimacy of U.S. intervention. Whether a Communist attack truly would have been an act of international aggression or merely a continuation of the Chinese Civil War is debatable, but administration officials and legislators almost uniformly seized on semantic legalisms to support the former interpretation. They insisted that because Formosa had been occupied by Japan for decades prior to the Second World War and because the status of the island had not been definitively adjudicated after the war, any Communist attempt to invade Formosa would constitute international aggression. The United States would therefore be fully justified in opposing that aggression.116

The administration's commitment to the offshore islands was much less resolute than its pledge to defend Formosa, however. It is therefore worth considering whether war-weariness inhibited the administration's approach to the offshore islands. After all, Eisenhower introduced the Formosa Resolution in part to compensate for his decision not to defend the Tachens. The documentary record shows that although administration officials were confident that the public would be willing to defend Formosa and the Pescadores, they had grave doubts about the public's willingness to go to war over the offshore islands.117 At the outset of the crisis, the president had cautioned his advisers that “the people of the United States won't go to war for ‘captious reasons’” and lamented that, although he was willing to fight to defend U.S. vital interests, “as soon as you attempted to define what these vital interests were, you got into an argument.”118

Yet it does not appear that those considerations were what compelled Eisenhower to evacuate the Tachens. The decision was based more on strategic considerations. Eisenhower and his top advisers believed that the Tachens were of only marginal value to the defense of Formosa and that attempting to hold the islands would be detrimental. They reasoned that because the islands were located 200 miles from Formosa but only 20 miles from the mainland, Communist air forces could execute raids and return to their bases before planes stationed on Formosa could intercept them. Because air defense could not be provided effectively from Formosa, the provision of ongoing air cover would therefore require the rotation of at least two aircraft carriers. Most administration officials shared Dulles's view that “it would not make any military sense to tie up a major unit of our fleet and its protecting vessels in order to defend a rocky islet of no strategic importance.”119

Even if a Korea syndrome did heighten the administration's sensitivity to those strategic risks, that influence was not strong enough to convince Eisenhower to disengage from the offshore islands altogether—a step that had been advocated by some of his chief aides.120 From the onset of the crisis, there had been significant disagreement within the administration over the strategic value of Quemoy and Matsu and the risks inherent in defending them.121 Many doubted whether “those doggoned little islands” were of much value to the defense of Formosa.122 But Eisenhower was conflicted. Early in the crisis he suggested “that when Formosa was occupied by the Chinese Nationalists, if they had not held the offshore islands he did not think that the defense of Formosa would be considered drastically different from what it is today.”123 But following the invasion of Ichiang, the president lamented, “in some exasperation … that he sat in this room time after time with the maps all around him, and a look at the geography of the area would explain why we have to hold Quemoy.”124

His initial reaction to the invasion was that it was time to clarify and strengthen the U.S. commitment to the defense of Quemoy (and perhaps Matsu). On 20 January, Eisenhower and Dulles agreed that “there was greater risk of war in leaving our position unclear with respect to the offshore islands than in making it clear.”125 Later that day, Dulles sent Eisenhower an initial draft of the president's message to Congress introducing the Formosa Resolution. The draft declared that “in the light of the present threat of attack against Formosa, the United States must be prepared to join in denying control of” Quemoy and Matsu to the Communists.126 By the next day, however, they had decided “that it would be best not to nail the flag to the mast by a detailed statement respecting our plans and intentions on evacuating or holding certain of these islands.”127

Instead, Eisenhower extended to Chiang a secret pledge to assist in the defense of Quemoy and Matsu. That promise did not necessarily commit U.S. forces to fight in defense of the offshore islands.128 The administration did not specify that U.S. assistance would automatically entail direct military intervention. Moreover, the administration was careful to specify that the United States would not be obliged to intervene in any conflict triggered by Nationalist aggression. That restriction was not new; it was one of the primary benefits the United States had gained when negotiating the Mutual Defense Treaty, which at U.S. insistence was accompanied by an exchange of notes stipulating that the use of force could be undertaken only “as a matter of joint agreement, subject to an action of an emergency character which is clearly an exercise of the inherent right of self-defense.”129 Nevertheless, even though the administration had diminished the risk that the Nationalists could unilaterally draw the United States into an offensive war, the secret commitment would have made it extremely difficult for the United States to avoid intervening in the event of a major Communist attack against the offshore islands. Chiang probably interpreted Eisenhower's promise to entail the active participation of U.S. military forces. The administration had extended the commitment privately, but there was a distinct risk that news of it would leak into the public domain, compelling the president to intervene to preserve U.S. credibility.

One is therefore left to wonder why Eisenhower decided to strengthen the U.S. commitment to the defense of Quemoy and Matsu without enjoying the deterrent benefits that would have accrued from announcing that commitment publicly. Was the president's change of heart due to fear that a war-weary public would recoil from the prospect of defending the islands? Probably not. The most significant development between the NSC meetings on 20 and 21 January (the period during which Eisenhower decided against promulgating a firm intention to defend Quemoy and Matsu) was a meeting between Dulles and the British ambassador to Washington, Sir Roger Makins, on the evening of 20 January. Makins informed the secretary that the British cabinet believed the two governments’ common objective was to separate Formosa from the mainland and convince the Nationalists to abandon the offshore islands. The British government was therefore skeptical of making any “provisional guarantee” to safeguard Quemoy or Matsu. The ambassador urged Dulles likewise to refrain from extending a provisional guarantee, pointing out that New Zealand had still not introduced its resolution to the UN. He warned Dulles:

The British government had always been in favor of United Nations intervention in the situation and accordingly they were ready to move at once on ORACLE (subject to New Zealand concurrence) if the United States would withhold its proposed provisional guarantee of Quemoy. If the latter is impossible then the Cabinet felt that the fundamental basis for ORACLE had changed and the entire matter would require reconsideration.130

The ambassador's plea inspired Dulles to avoid being specific in public about U.S. intentions regarding Quemoy while privately making those intentions clear to the Nationalists.131 The secretary of state was unwilling to forfeit the work he had put into crafting the ORACLE initiative, which by then had been in the works for months. He continued to believe that a UN resolution was desirable for legitimating the U.S. approach to the crisis and casting the Communists as provocateurs. The administration worried that the Communists could use situations like the offshore islands crisis to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies—most importantly those in Western Europe.132 According to Dulles, “the big danger resulting from a war between the U.S. and Communist China was not to be found in the realm of military action … the great danger of such a war was the possibility that it would alienate the allies of the United States and might indeed block all our best-laid plans for Western Europe.”133 Had it not been for the British threat to abandon ORACLE, Dulles and Eisenhower most likely would have followed through on their initial decision to publicize the U.S. determination to defend Quemoy and Matsu. At perhaps the most crucial point in the crisis, then, it was allied pressure, not the pressure of a domestic constituency inhibited by the trauma of Korea, that most strongly restrained the administration.

Rather than being constrained by the public's reluctance to defend Quemoy and Matsu, Eisenhower and Dulles resolved to prepare the public for such a war. In early March, after a trip to the Far East had convinced Dulles that the Communists were determined to retake Formosa, he and Eisenhower agreed that it was necessary to take “urgent steps to create a better public climate for the use of atomic weapons by the United States if we found it necessary to intervene in the defense of the Formosa area.”134 In a succession of public appearances, Dulles, Nixon, and Eisenhower asserted that the administration was prepared to employ tactical nuclear weapons against Communist China in the event of war in the Taiwan Strait.135 Those comments, admittedly, may have been designed more to deter the Chinese Communists than to prepare the public for war.136 Nevertheless, the threats would have made backing down more difficult for the administration if the Communists had attempted to seize Quemoy or Matsu.137

That more bellicose approach backfired to some extent by contributing to a war scare at the end of March, thus bringing domestic political pressures into play to a much greater extent. Admiral Robert B. Carney, the chief of naval operations, ignited the scare by offering some indiscreet remarks during a private meeting with a group of journalists. The comments prompted a wave of front-page newspaper articles warning that China was preparing to attack Quemoy and Matsu and that Eisenhower would soon have to “determine whether Matsu and Quemoy are important enough to send this country into a limited war similar to Korea.”138

No consensus on this matter existed.139 Some Democrats in Congress criticized their more hawkish colleagues for “talking war.”140 Yet that criticism did not cow the more hawkish wing of the Republican Party, which insisted that “the road of appeasement is not the road to peace, but is surrender on the installment plan.”141 A significant minority believed that all the recent troubles in the Far East stemmed from Eisenhower's failure to continue fighting for total victory in Korea, and that the Korean armistice had convinced the Communists the United States was a “paper tiger” and would be unwilling to prevent further Communist expansion in the Far East. Proponents of this view insisted that “the Korean truce led directly, inevitably and naturally to the crisis in Indochina” and that “the Geneva Munich” (a disparaging reference to the 1954 international agreement on Indochina) “in turn, led directly, inevitably and naturally to this year's crisis in the Formosa Strait.”142

Administration officials also were not immune to such thinking. Some were wary that Beijing was probing U.S. intentions, and they worried that the shadow of Korea was encouraging those probes.143 Some shared the congressional hawks’ concern that the U.S. failure to secure victory in Korea through the application of overwhelming force had signaled irresolution.144 Others thought that China's success in keeping U.S. forces at bay had buoyed Chinese confidence, and some were fearful that the Communists were betting that war-weary Americans would be unwilling to oppose a Communist campaign to recapture the offshore islands.145 Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson surely had a Korea syndrome in mind when he warned that the Communists were “likely to believe that U.S. political considerations, both domestic and international, [would] inhibit the U.S. from reacting militarily to attacks on the offshore islands.”146

As the reassertion hypothesis would predict, those concerns apparently did encourage the administration to adopt a tough position toward the offshore islands, even though doing so entailed a calculated risk of war. Following the invasion of Ichiang, Dulles was skeptical that the Communists were really seeking war, but he was concerned that they would continue to probe “until the United States [decided] to ‘shoot off a gun’ in the area.” Both Eisenhower and Dulles feared that abandoning Quemoy and Matsu would only encourage further aggression, and they wanted to demonstrate the administration's resolve “by deeds rather than words.”147

Eisenhower was in a difficult position. Although he recognized that the congressional hawks would excoriate him for ceding any more territory to the Communists, the war scare reinforced his concern that sending U.S. forces to fight in defense of the offshore islands would cleave American and allied public opinion.148 He therefore decided to dispatch Radford and Walter Robertson, the assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, to Taipei in order to retract the administration's secret defense pledge and urge Chiang to alter his position on the offshore islands. The president had come to believe that it would be best to treat the offshore islands as “outpost positions” and that neither the Chinese Nationalists nor the United States should be committed to “full-out defense” of them.149 In Eisenhower's view, “one of the greatest advantages” of the outpost idea “would be a practically solidified public opinion in the United States.”150 Such an approach would ease fears that the United States would be drawn into a war in the Taiwan Strait, and it would satisfy the hawks’ refusal to cede any more territory to the Communists. However, Eisenhower's chief aides, particularly Dulles and Radford, warned that this solution was infeasible and recommended that the United States push Chiang to make “a clean break” by undertaking a complete evacuation from the vulnerable positions.151 The United States could offer to provide military cover for the evacuation and subsequently impose a maritime blockade to prevent the delivery of any seaborne supplies for a Communist military buildup opposite Formosa.152 Although Eisenhower remained partial to the outpost concept, he gave Dulles and Radford leeway to win Chiang over to the evacuation-blockade plan.153 As a result, Radford and Robertson never mentioned the outpost option in their meetings with Chiang toward the end of April.154

Although the war scare apparently motivated Eisenhower to retract the secret commitment to defend Quemoy and Matsu, it was not sufficient to dissuade him from authorizing provocative policies that could have intensified the crisis.155 Both Eisenhower and Dulles understood that a blockade would be provocative. Toward the end of the previous November, hardliners such as Knowland had begun clamoring for a blockade in response to China's conviction of eleven U.S. airmen and two Central Intelligence Agency operatives. But Herman Phleger, the State Department legal counsel, warned “that any blockade would be an act of war” and would consequently violate U.S. “obligations under the UN Charter to settle disputes peaceably and without resorting to force.”156 Eisenhower shared that assessment. He ruled out a blockade on the grounds “that a blockade is an act of war which could at best lead only to serious consequences.”157

It is not entirely clear why Eisenhower and Dulles, who recognized the risks of imposing a blockade, and were unwilling to accept those risks in December 1954, were suddenly willing to do so in April, after the war scare.158 If Eisenhower had truly been intent on disengaging from a possible conflict over Quemoy and Matsu, he could have instructed Radford and Robertson to increase the pressure on Chiang. They could have informed him that the administration was going to announce unilaterally that it had no intention of defending Quemoy and Matsu and that he could therefore either evacuate the islands under the aegis of the U.S. military or remain on the islands without any hope of U.S. assistance in the event of a Communist attack. But Eisenhower was unwilling to go that far and had no desire to stage a showdown with Chiang. Eisenhower's firmest instructions to Radford and Robertson indicated that “under no circumstances should there be allowed to develop an atmosphere which could preclude further conversations and negotiations, nor should there be any appearance of trying to force the Generalissimo to adopt a course which is unacceptable to him.”159

Eisenhower thus refrained from renouncing any intention to defend the islands, even though he instructed Robertson to retract the administration's secret defense commitment. Although retracting that commitment increased the president's flexibility, it did not extricate the administration from the crisis. Having refused to clarify the U.S. commitment to Quemoy and Matsu publicly, the president would have been under immense pressure to intervene if the Communists had decided to attack. In such an exigency, administration officials would have feared that a failure to intervene would “reflect timidity, irresolution or weakness.”160 Hawks such as Knowland would have insisted that the United States “should not desert, under fire, an ally who might have had some reason to expect our assistance.”161 But as it turned out, the Communists chose not to attack. Instead Communist Premier Zhou Enlai announced at the conference of African and Asian countries in Bandung at the end of April that China was willing to engage in direct talks with the United States to defuse the ongoing tension in the Far East. Having failed to convince Chiang to reappraise his approach to the offshore islands, the Eisenhower administration was compelled to take up the offer.


Although the United States was able to avoid war in both the Dien Bien Phu and first offshore islands crises, attributing those outcomes to the stultifying influence of a Korea syndrome would be fallacious. The two cases demonstrate that Americans drew more than one conclusion from the Korean War. The conflict convinced many that war was too costly an enterprise, the burden of which the country could not afford to assume again in Indochina or the Taiwan Strait. More virulent anti-Communists concluded that irresolution merely encouraged Communist aggression, which disposed them to reassert the country's determination to contain Communism. To the extent that the stalemate demonstrated the folly of engaging in peripheral wars, it convinced them that in future conflicts the wiser course would be “to go to the head of the snake.”162 Those competing reactions to the Korean War created a tension in society with which the president had to grapple. Eisenhower was himself conflicted. Even though he doubted that the public would support another war so soon after Korea, he was mindful of his more hawkish constituents’ determination not to accede to Communist aggression. Domestic political considerations therefore required acting tough without getting bogged down in another Asian quagmire.

Eisenhower was able to manage that tension in part because of the strength of U.S. air and naval forces. The lessons of Korea contributed to the strategic reappraisal in which the Eisenhower administration resolved that in future peripheral conflicts the United States should limit its role to employing air and naval power in support of indigenous ground troops. Yet Eisenhower ultimately decided against launching unilateral air strikes to rescue Dien Bien Phu. Because the Chinese Communists chose not to invade Quemoy or Matsu, he was not forced to make the difficult decision of whether to employ the Seventh Fleet to defend the islands (although he did decide against defending Ichiang). Nevertheless, the documentary record reflects that Eisenhower seriously contemplated the use of air and naval forces in both crises. Even though some officials were wary that employing those forces could lead to the introduction of ground forces, the seriousness with which the administration contemplated their use suggests they viewed them as viable tools for limiting the costs inherent in combating Communist aggression. In that respect, the Korean War exerted the greatest influence over how the administration contemplated employing military force.

Decision-making on whether to intervene was shaped mainly by the unique political and strategic circumstances of the two crises. The fact that Eisenhower adopted a much more resolute stance during the offshore islands crisis than he had during the Dien Bien Phu siege suggests that strategic circumstances, which varied from the first crisis to the next, influenced his decision-making more significantly than any Korea syndrome, whose effects remained constant. Saving Dien Bien Phu would have required intervening in an ongoing war; the mere threat of intervention could have potentially saved Formosa and the Offshore Islands. The French-Indochina war was perceived—by the public, legislators, and administration officials—primarily as a colonial struggle, whereas a Chinese attack against either Formosa or the offshore islands would have been regarded as a clear-cut act of Communist aggression. The likelihood that air strikes alone would ameliorate the situation in Indochina seemed low, whereas the likelihood that air and naval forces would be sufficient to defend Formosa and possibly Quemoy and Matsu seemed relatively high. These are the considerations that really mattered—and they had little to do with Korea.

Moreover, the marginal extent to which the Korean War did influence the Eisenhower administration was not unidirectional. The lessons of Korea reinforced the administration's appreciation of the risks of intervening in Indochina—a wariness that pervaded the U.S. political establishment even before the Korean War. But by engendering concern that Communist rivals of the United States would try to exploit Washington's war-weariness, the stalemate in Korea encouraged Eisenhower to reassert U.S. determination to halt Communist aggression by adopting provocative policies that could have ignited war in the Taiwan Strait.

The Dien Bien Phu and first offshore islands crises thus suggest that a military quagmire should not be expected to diminish a state's general propensity to employ military force. By attuning people to the challenges and risks of military action, a quagmire should diminish, to a marginal extent, a state's inclination to intervene in peripheral intrastate conflicts. Yet that same experience might well increase its propensity to combat acts of international aggression—acts that usually arouse concern about rival states’ eagerness to exploit their chastened adversary's war-weariness. In such circumstances, the impulse to reassert one's determination to resist rival aggression may overwhelm any lingering war-weariness.

Even in situations in which leaders are compelled to reassert their power and resolve, however, they will remain wary of arousing fears that military action could result in another quagmire. Such conflicts are therefore likely to foster leaders’ inclination to employ standoff strike capabilities in lieu of ground troops—in order to minimize the risk (and allay concerns) that new military operations could produce the same disastrous consequences as a previous conflict. Particularly since the end of the Second World War, standoff strike capabilities have offered decision-makers a tempting tool for satisfying competing interests: a means for influencing foreign conflicts and projecting toughness without putting troops in harm's way.

These conclusions are inherently tentative, having been derived from a comparative analysis of only two international crises. Nevertheless, my analysis provides a strong empirical basis for skepticism that an Iraq/Afghanistan syndrome will prevent the United States from fighting new wars in the years to come.163 To be sure, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars do appear to have induced significant wariness among both the public and policymakers about ground operations. According to Robert Gates, President Barack Obama's first Secretary of Defense, “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined.’”164 But such an aversion to ground combat is unlikely to prompt the Obama administration, or its successor, to abjure employing the U.S. military to address future security challenges.

The U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which commenced in August 2014, exemplifies this point. For the past few years, commentators have repeated, like a mantra, that war-weariness was preventing the United States from intervening in the Syrian civil war. Yet as soon as ISIS appeared to pose a threat to American security interests—a threat sensationalized by the global dissemination of videos depicting the beheadings of two American journalists—President Obama was compelled to launch yet another military campaign in the Middle East. To allay concerns of yet another quagmire, however, the president has insisted that the fight against ISIS “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”165

It therefore seems unwarranted to conclude that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have diminished U.S. policymakers’ willingness to deploy troops to combat burgeoning threats to U.S. interests. Future presidents will continue to find themselves in the same unenviable position as Eisenhower, caught between “the truculent and the timid, the jingoists and the pacifists.”166 The extraordinary standoff strike capabilities the United States possesses—capabilities that are now considerably more potent and accurate than in Eisenhower's day—will offer a tempting means for reconciling those competing impulses: a tool for combating the country's adversaries without risking more soldiers’ lives. So even though the recent wars have probably spoiled the U.S. appetite for ground warfare, those hoping that the quagmires will humble or pacify the staggering superpower are bound to be sorely disappointed.



John Mueller, “The Iraq Syndrome,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 84, No. 6 (November/December 2005), pp. 44–54.


A selection of predictions of an Iraq/Afghanistan syndrome can be found in James Kurth, “Humanitarian Intervention after Iraq: Legal Ideals vs. Military Realities,” Orbis, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Winter 2006), pp. 87–101; Christopher J. Fettweis, “Post-Traumatic Iraq Syndrome,” Los Angeles Times, 12 June 2012; Kurt Campbell and Derek Chollet, “Symptoms of ‘Iraq Syndrome’ May Not Be All Bad,” Financial Times, 15 June 2007, p. 9; and “Libya and the Iraq Syndrome,” The Economist, 5 March 2011, p. 7. More cautious, nuanced predictions appear in Lawrence Freedman, “Iraq, Liberal Wars and Illiberal Containment,” Survival, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Winter 2006), pp. 51–66; and Adam Quinn, “The Great Illusion: Chimeras of Isolationism and Realism in Post-Iraq U.S. Foreign Policy,” Politics and Policy, Vol. 35, No. 3 (September 2007), pp. 522–547. For arguments that an Iraq syndrome is unlikely to prevent the United States from employing military force in the coming years, see Steven E. Miller, “The Iraq Experiment and US National Security,” Survival, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Winter 2006), pp. 17–50; and Ronald Steel, “An Iraq Syndrome?” Survival, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 153–162.


Previous scholars have also suggested that large-n studies may have failed to take account of endogeneity problems connected with predation. They have argued that war-weariness could be a real phenomenon, but because a country's adversaries will usually be able to perceive signs of war-weariness, particularly if a conflict engenders public disillusionment and protest, war-weary countries are likely to be challenged by rivals who see them as newly vulnerable. War-weary countries thus might have new wars forced upon them—their “psychological inhibition may actually make war more likely by creating an appearance of weakness and undermining deterrence.” Investigation of that hypothesis is beyond the scope of this study, however. See Jack S. Levy and T. Clifton Morgan, “The War-Weariness Hypothesis: An Empirical Test,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 30, No. 1 (February 1986), p. 29; Jeffrey Pickering, “War-Weariness and Cumulative Effects: Victors, Vanquished, and Subsequent Interstate Intervention,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 39, No. 3 (May 2002), p. 316; and Greg Cashman, What Causes War? An Introduction to Theories of International Conflict (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2000), pp. 153–154. For the prediction that the anticipation of an Iraq/Afghanistan syndrome will prompt U.S. adversaries to adopt more aggressive policies, see “Great Sacrifices, Small Rewards,” The Economist, 1 January 2011, p. 7.


Lewis F. Richardson, Arms and Insecurity: A Mathematical Study of the Causes and Origins of War (Pittsburgh: Boxwood Press, 1960), p. 232.


Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. 9 (London: Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. 252–253.


The quoted phrase is from Geoffrey Blainey, The Causes of War (London: Macmillan, 1973), p. 6.


Benjamin A. Most and Harvey Starr, “Diffusion, Reinforcement, Geopolitics, and the Spread of War,” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 74, No. 4 (December 1980), pp. 932–946.


David Garnham, “War-Proneness, War-Weariness, and Regime Type: 1816–1890,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 23, No. 3 (September 1986), pp. 279–289.


John A. Nevin, “War Initiation and Selection by Consequences,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 33, No. 1 (February 1996), pp. 99–108.


One of the earliest studies—Most and Starr, “Diffusion, Reinforcement, Geopolitics, and the Spread of War”—provides cautious support for the notion that a country that participates in a war is less likely to become involved in a war in the years following that conflict. Most and Starr demonstrated that during the period 1946–1965, most countries that entered new wars in five- and ten-year intervals (1946–1950, 1951–1955, 1956–1960, 1961–1965; and 1946–1955, 1956–1965) entered fewer wars in subsequent intervals. But more recent studies have failed to support that finding.


Garnham, “War-Proneness, War-Weariness, and Regime Type,” p. 287.


William Conrad Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), Vol. 1, p. 65. Also see Robert A. Divine, Eisenhower and the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 33, 51; Garnham, “War-Proneness, War-Weariness, and Regime Type,” p. 280; and Steven Casey, Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950–1953 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 365. Casey argues that although “a ‘Korean Syndrome’ of sorts did develop … this ‘Korean Syndrome’ was never an all-powerful constraint.” In particular, the “Korean Syndrome” did not enervate the Eisenhower administration's policy toward the Soviet Union.


Andrew Bennett, “Case Study Methods: Design, Use, and Comparative Advantage,” in Detlef Sprinz and Yael Wolinsky-Nahmias, eds., Models, Numbers, and Cases: Methods for Studying International Relations (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), p. 23.


Along these lines, Bennett conceptualizes interventionism “as the propensity to resort to military intervention in varying contexts.” See Andrew Bennett, Condemned to Repetition: The Rise, Fall, and Reprise of Soviet-Russian Military Interventionism, 1973–1996 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), pp. 15–16.


Levy and Morgan, “The War-Weariness Hypothesis,” p. 28.


I also use the terms “war-weariness” and “Korea syndrome” interchangeably.


Levy and Morgan offer several reasons why waging a successful war might actually increase the likelihood of subsequent war. Levy and Morgan, “The War-Weariness Hypothesis,” p. 28. Also see Nevin, “War Initiation and Selection by Consequences,” pp. 99–108; Cashman, What Causes War? p. 154; and Pickering, “War-Weariness and Cumulative Effects,” p. 315.


For such logic, see A. F. K. Organski and Jacek Kugler, “The Costs of Major Wars: The Phoenix Factor,” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 71, No. 4 (December 1977), p. 1348; and Most and Starr, “Diffusion, Reinforcement, Geopolitics, and the Spread of War,” p. 934.


Much more detailed discussion of foreign policy learning can be found in Jack Levy, “Learning and Foreign Policy: Sweeping a Conceptual Minefield,” International Organization, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Spring 1994), pp. 279–312; George W. Breslauer and Philip E. Tetlock, eds., Learning in U.S. and Soviet Foreign Policy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991); William W. Jarosz and Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “The Shadow of the Past: Learning from History in National Security Decision Making,” in Philip E. Tetlock et al., eds., Behavior, Society, and International Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), Vol. 3, pp.126–189; James M. Goldgeier and Philip E. Tetlock, “Psychology and International Relations Theory,” Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 4 (June 2001), pp. 67–92; and James M. Goldgeier, “Psychology and Security,” Security Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4 (1997), pp. 137–166.


See Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992); Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers (New York: Free Press, 1986); and David Patrick Houghton, US Foreign Policy and the Iran Hostage Crisis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).


Janice Gross Stein, “Political Learning by Doing: Gorbachev as Uncommitted Thinker and Motivated Learner,” International Organization, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Spring 1994), p. 180.


Levy, “Learning and Foreign Policy,” p. 289.


Over the past few decades, scholars have made substantial progress in elucidating the determinants of public support for military operations (primarily focusing on the United States). There is now fairly broad consensus that Americans are not invariably casualty averse. Public support for military operations also depends on other variables: the “principal policy objective” of the operation; the level of allied support for the operation; the relative success (or failure) of the operation; and the degree of elite consensus on the wisdom, necessity, and legitimacy of the operation. Unfortunately, previous studies have failed to shed much light on the extent to which the public's enthusiasm for employing military force depends on the experience and outcome of a previous conflict. Whether and how the public learns from foreign policy mistakes (or gets carried away by successes) remains unclear. For more detailed reviews of the literature, see John H. Aldrich et al., “Foreign Policy and the Electoral Connection,” Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 9, No. 1 (June 2006), pp. 477–502; and Louis Klarevas, “The ‘Essential Domino’ of Military Operations: American Public Opinion and the Use of Force,” International Studies Perspectives, Vol. 3, No. 4 (November 2002), pp. 417–437.


Dan Reiter and Allan C. Stam, Democracies at War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002).


According to Aldrich et al., “America's experiences in Lebanon and Somalia clearly illustrate that the elite perception of public opinion can have a profound impact on foreign policy. The widespread assumption of public casualty aversion that flowed from these experiences also shaped American policy in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo.” See Aldrich et al., “Foreign Policy and the Electoral Connection,” p. 492.


Numerous scholars have argued that public opinion can exert such influence over foreign policy, particularly intervention decisions. The strongest such argument is Richard Sobel, The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy Since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). Douglas Foyle has argued that the extent to which public opinion influences policy depends on presidents’ beliefs that the legitimacy of their decisions depends on gaining public support. See Douglas C. Foyle, Counting the Public In: Presidents, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).


Levy and Morgan, “The War-Weariness Hypothesis,” pp. 28–29.


The most interesting discussion of what I call the reassertion hypothesis is Jervis's analysis of the “Domino Theory Paradox” in Robert Jervis, System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 266–271. The hypothesis is also put forward in Most and Starr, “Diffusion, Reinforcement, Geopolitics, and the Spread of War,” p. 934; Garnham, “War-Proneness, War-Weariness, and Regime Type,” p. 280; and Cashman, What Causes War?, pp. 154–155. Levy and Morgan have also suggested that a defeat might arouse revanchist desires to recover lost territory or exact revenge upon one's conqueror. See Levy and Morgan, “The War-Weariness Hypothesis,” p. 28.


Good historical accounts of the Eisenhower administration's approach to the crisis can be found in The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam: History of the Indochina Incident, 1940–1954 (Washington, DC: JCS Historical Division, 1971); David L. Anderson, Trapped by Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam, 1953–1961 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); John P. Burke and Fred I. Greenstein, How Presidents Test Reality: Decisions on Vietnam 1954 and 1965 (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1991); Melanie Billings-Yun, Decision against War: Eisenhower and Dien Bien Phu, 1954 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); William J. Duiker, U.S. Containment Policy and the Conflict in Indochina (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994); Fredrik Logevall, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam (New York: Random House, 2012); and John Prados, The Sky Would Fall: Operation Vulture: The U.S. Bombing Mission in Indochina, 1954 (New York: Dial Press, 1983).


Interesting discussions of domestic opposition to intervention in Indochina during the Dien Bien Phu crisis are presented in Foyle, Counting the Public In, ch. 4; Jon W. Western, Selling Intervention and War: The Presidency, the Media, and the American Public (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005); and Justus D. Doenecke, Not to the Swift: The Old Isolationists in the Cold War Era (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1979), pp. 238–242.


“War in Indochina?” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 31 March 1954, p. 5.


Hanson W. Baldwin, “‘New Look’ Re-examined in Light of Indo-China,” The New York Times, 2 May 1954, p. 3. Summaries of media attitudes toward Indochina can be found in the State Department's “Daily Summaries on International Topics and Foreign Policy 1952–1954,” in Box 6, Office of Public Opinion Studies (OPPS), 1943–1965, Record Group (RG) 59, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).


Congressional Record (Cong. Rec.), 83rd Cong., 2nd sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 2, p. 1503.


Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, p. 5291.


Such references to Korea are peppered throughout the record of congressional arguments against intervention in Indochina. See Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, pp. 5178, 5292; Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 5, pp. 5794–5795, 6074; and Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 6, p. 7195.


The polling data discussed here are presented in Foyle, Counting the Public In, pp. 85–86.


Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, p. 4679; and Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 5, pp. 5794, 6226, 6917.


Quoted in Dulles and Radford Conference with Congressional Leaders, “Memorandum for the File of the Secretary of State,” 5 April 1954, in U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1224 (hereinafter referred to as FRUS, with appropriate year and volume numbers). For similar comments, see Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, pp. 4674, 5119.


Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 2, pp. 1551–1552; and Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 3, p. 2904.


Dulles and Radford Conference with Congressional Leaders, p. 1225. Senator John C. Stennis had also communicated this concern a few months earlier in a letter to the secretary of defense. See United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, Vol. V.B.3.b (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1969), p. 239.


For such arguments, see “The Terms of Intervention,” The Washington Post, 28 May 1954, p. 7; William R. Matthews, “Aid to Indochina Opposed,” The New York Times, 2 June 1954, p. 4; and Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, p. 5116.


This finding jibes with previous public opinion research, which has established that Americans are more willing to tolerate casualties and support the use of military force when it is intended to resist international aggression and when they perceive a high probability of success. See Bruce W. Jentleson, “The Pretty Prudent Public: Post Post-Vietnam American Opinion on the Use of Military Force,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 1 (March 1992), pp. 49–73; Bruce W. Jentleson and Rebecca L. Britton, “Still Pretty Prudent: Post–Cold War American Public Opinion on the Use of Military Force,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 42, No. 4 (August 1998), pp. 395–417; Eric V. Larson, Casualties and Consensus: The Historical Role of Casualties in Domestic Support for U.S. Military Operations (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2005); Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, Choosing Your Battles: American Civil-Military Relations and the Use of Force (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); and Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler, “Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq,” International Security, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Winter 2005/2006), pp. 140–177. For a detailed account of domestic opposition to intervention in Indochina, see Western, Selling Intervention and War, pp. 53–61. Western argues that “the crisis in Indochina came less than a year after the conclusion of the war in Korea, and latent public opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to another American military deployment to Asia,” but his analysis suggests that concerns over associating the United States with a colonial war were more salient than wariness that Indochina could become another Korea.


Western, Selling Intervention and War, pp. 60–61. Also see Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, pp. 5477–5479; Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 5, p. 5778; and Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 6, pp. 7194–7195.


See “The Stakes in Indochina,” The Washington Post, 20 April 1954, p. 9. The Washington Post editorial page declared:“No greater mistake can be made than to compare Indochina with Korea, where there was a clear case of external aggression and the country rallied behind a strong leader. There is neither the leader nor the popular support in Indochina: nor are there the natural features for good defense.” Also see Herbert Ellison, “Plain Talk Needed on Indochina War,” The Washington Post, 18 April 1954, p. 7; Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 2, p. 1505; and Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 3, p. 3611.


See John F. Kennedy to Dulles, 7 May 1953, in 751g.00/5–753, RG 59, NARA; Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, pp. 5113–5117; and Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 5, pp. 5801, 6917.


See Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, pp. 5117, 5292; and Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 5, p. 5875. Senator Kennedy provided an eloquent explanation of that view during a Senate debate on 6 April, arguing: “When the United States is perhaps getting ready to take affirmative action, which may even be unilateral action, it seems to me that we have every right to insist that the causes of the struggle be clarified and that its nature be made certain to our people and the people of the Associated States. Otherwise, we will go in on the ‘short end of the stick;’ the Communists will continue to pour across the border, the people of the Associated States will be hostile to our efforts, and we will find ourselves in a far worse military situation than we ever experienced in Korea.” See Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, p. 4675.


See Cong. Rec., 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 1954, Vol. 100, pt. 4, pp. 5113, 5292; “The Terms of Intervention”; and “Gloom Over Indo-China,” The Washington Post, 5 February 1954, p. 3.


Quoted in Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War, p. 52.


Ibid. Gibbons notes that “Mansfield subsequently withdrew the amendment, however, and joined Representative Javits in sponsoring an amendment to terminate assistance to any participating countries “which fails to comply with the decisions or accept the recommendations of the Security Council of the United Nations on measures to maintain or restore international peace or security.” This was directed primarily at the Netherlands, which was then defying efforts by the U.N. Security Council to prevent further use of force against Indonesia. The State Department opposed the Javits-Mansfield amendment, saying that such a political factor should not be used as a condition for aid to Europe. The amendment was defeated 3–17 in the committee and 5–136 when offered again in the House.”


Although the issue was not yet important to the general public, significant concern among journalists regarding the colonial stigma of the French-Indochina War is summarized in the State Department's “Summary of Current American Attitudes on U.S. Policy toward the Far East,” 13 February 1950, in Asia 1947–1952, Box 42, OPPS, 1943–1965, RG 59, NARA.


“The Secretary of State to the Embassy in France,” 3 February 1947, in FRUS, 1947, Vol. VI, pp. 67–68.


Policy Planning Staff Paper on United States Policy toward Southeast Asia, 29 March 1949, in Lot 64D563, Files of the Policy Planning Staff, Department of State, 1947–1953, NARA. For similar arguments, see “The Secretary of State to the Embassy in France,” 13 May 1947, in FRUS, 1947, Vol.6, pp. 95–97. The tension between the competing impulses to combat Communism and oppose colonialism was exacerbated by bureaucratic politics within the Truman administration. The State Department's Division of Southeast Asian Affairs (SEA) and Division of Western European Affairs (WE) typically advocated competing approaches toward Southeast Asia. SEA generally advocated pressuring the metropolitan powers in Europe to do more to satisfy the nationalist demands of their colonies, whereas WE preferred to soft-peddle the issue of decolonization to avoid disrupting the process of unifying Western Europe as a bulwark against Communism. For discussion of these bureaucratic disputes, see Robert M. Blum, Drawing the Line: The Origin of the American Containment Policy in East Asia (New York: Norton, 1982), pp. 108–123.


Because Eisenhower instituted a highly formalized national security decision-making process, which included weekly National Security Council meetings, a rich documentary record exists. For detailed analyses of the Eisenhower administration's decision-making process, see Fred I. Greenstein, The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (New York: Basic Books, 1982); Burke and Greenstein, How Presidents Test Reality; Meena Bose, Shaping and Signaling Presidential Policy: The National Security Decision Making of Eisenhower and Kennedy (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1998), ch. 1; and Robert R. Bowie and Richard H. Immerman, Waging Peace: How Eisenhower Shaped and Enduring Cold War Strategy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), ch. 5.


Scholars have suggested that the Korean War spawned a “Never Again Club” within the U.S. defense establishment, principally the Army, which ardently opposed fighting another limited land war in Asia. See Richard K. Betts, Soldiers, Statesmen, and Cold War Crises (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977), pp. 167–168; Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War, p. 34; and David H. Petraeus, “Korea, the Never-Again Club, and Indochina,” Parameters, Vol. 17, No. 4 (December 1987). Also see John Western's argument, in Selling Intervention and War, p. 39, that “as American troops withdrew from Korea in the summer of 1953, senior Army strategists and planners led by Army Chief of Staff General Ridgway committed themselves to ensuring that the United States would not soon find itself in another land war in Asia.”


“Substance of Discussions of State–Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting at the Pentagon Building,” 10 July 1953, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 650.


“Memorandum by the Chief of Staff, United States Army (Ridgway) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” 6 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, pp. 1269–1270.


For Ridgway's account, see Matthew B. Ridgway, Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway (New York: Harper, 1956), pp. 275–278. Numerous scholars have pointed out, however, that the advice proffered by Ridgway and others lagged behind Eisenhower's decision making. For instance, the Army's report on battlefield conditions in Indochina and the requirements for U.S. intervention, which Ridgway claimed “played a considerable, perhaps a decisive, part in persuading our government not to embark on that tragic adventure,” was not completed until July, two months after the French forces at Dien Bien Phu had capitulated. This argument can be found in Billings-Yun, Decision against War, pp. 56–57; and George C. Herring and Richard Immerman, “Eisenhower, Dulles, and Dienbienphu: ‘The Day We Didn't Go to War’ Revisited,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 71, No. 2 (September 1984), pp. 354–355.


Eisenhower possessed much greater expertise in the domain of national security than many of his top advisers. See Greenstein, The Hidden Hand Presidency, pp. 83–86; Bose, Shaping and Signaling Presidential Policy, p. 33; and Richard M. Saunders, “Military Force in the Foreign Policy of the Eisenhower Administration,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 100, No. 1 (Spring 1985), pp. 106–109.


“Memorandum of Discussion at the 179th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 8 January 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 949.




This point is emphasized in Bowie and Immerman, Waging Peace, pp. 44–45, 190–191, 250–251.


See John Foster Dulles, “The Evolution of Foreign Policy,” Address to the Council on Foreign Relations, 12 January 1954, in Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XXX, No. 761 (25 January 1954), pp. 107–110; and “Memorandum for the Record by the President,” 11 November 1953, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 597–598.


John Foster Dulles, “Korean Problems,” Address to the American Legion, 2 September 1954, in Department of State Bulletin, Vol. 29, No. 742, 14 September 1953, pp. 339–342.


“Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Secretary of State,” 6 January 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 945.


“Memorandum of Discussion at the 194th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 29 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 2, p. 1445.


Sherman Adams, the president's chief of staff, did think that Korea was a major source. In his memoirs, Adams notes: “The President knew that the American people had no appetite for another prolonged war in Southeast Asia.” Sherman Adams, Firsthand Report: The Story of the Eisenhower Administration (New York: Harper, 1961), p. 118.


The contradictory pressures that Eisenhower faced are highlighted in Burke and Greenstein, How Presidents Test Reality, pp. 66, 73, 109–110; and Foyle, Counting the Public In, p. 83.


Eisenhower Conference with Republican Legislators, “Memorandum by the Assistant Staff Secretary to the President,” n.d., in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 2, p. 1413. A similar quotation can be found in Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower, Vol. 2 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p. 173.


See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960), pp. 381–390.


As early as April 1953, following the Viet Minh invasion of Laos, Eisenhower reportedly cautioned the NSC that, “if Laos were lost we were likely to lose the rest of Southeast Asia and Indonesia. The gateway to India, Burma and Thailand would be open.” See “Memorandum of Discussion at the 141st Meeting of the National Security Council,” 28 April 1953, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 519. Also see “Memorandum of Discussion at the 192nd Meeting of the National Security Council,” 6 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1261.


This tension is discussed in Logevall, Embers of War, pp. 508–509, 554, 575.


To some extent, employing air and naval forces instead of ground forces fit with Radford's pre-existing strategic preferences. Scholars have argued that Radford was eager to downplay nuclear weapons by proving the value of massive aerial attacks. See Billings-Yun, Decision against War, p. 35.


“Memorandum of Discussion at the 179th Meeting of the National Security Council,” p. 953.


“Memorandum of Discussion at the 194th Meeting of the National Security Council,” pp. 1442–1444.


“Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State,” 24 March 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1150.


John Foster Dulles, “The Threat of Red Asia,” Address to the Overseas Press Club of America, 29 March 1954, in Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XXX, No. 772 (12 April 1954), pp. 539–542.


Meeting with Eisenhower, “Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State,” 2 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1210.


During the meeting on 3 April, Dulles suggested to the legislators that “the President should have Congressional backing so that he could use air and seapower in the area if he felt it necessary in the interest of national security.” The legislators indicated that they would be willing to pass a congressional resolution authorizing the president to employ military forces in Indochina—but only after the administration had secured commitments from the British and other allied countries to participate in any military action. See Dulles and Radford Conference with Congressional Leaders, pp. 1224–1225.


The evidence weighs against Billings-Yun's suggestion that Eisenhower conceived of united action as a ruse for providing “congressional leaders a free hand to construct barriers to intervention that he could then display mournfully to the French and to American jingoes ready to pounce on the creator of another ‘loss’ in Asia.” After all, Dulles spent most of April shuttling back and forth to Europe earnestly striving to enlist allied cooperation in fulfillment of the preconditions for united action. Once it had become clear that the British were unwilling to participate in any coalition, Eisenhower indicated that he was willing to undertake united action without them, so long as the French kept fighting and other Southeast Asian countries agreed to participate. The fact that Eisenhower was willing to relax his preconditions for intervention lends credence to Duiker's contention that Eisenhower “was genuinely ambivalent about the issue and driven by two potentially irreconcilable objectives; to save Indochina from communism and avoid an escalating risk of global war.” If Eisenhower had really just wanted to make Congress a scapegoat for non-intervention, he could have embraced Britain's de facto veto of united action. See Billings-Yun, Decision against War, p. 95; Duiker, U.S. Containment Policy and the Conflict in Indochina, pp. 169–172; and Logevall, Embers of War, 472–473, 475, 502.


Although the legislators’ position appears to have strengthened Eisenhower's conviction, he was already receptive to united action prior to 3 April. During the NSC meeting on 25 March, the president spent a good deal of time prodding his advisers to begin considering which countries the administration should attempt to enlist in such a coalition. He had already concluded that the United States could not intervene without a South Vietnamese invitation. See “Memorandum of Discussion at the 190th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 25 March 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1167.


“The Secretary of State to the Department of State,” 23 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1375.


The British position is covered in detail in Geoffrey Warner, “Britain and the Crisis over Dien Bien Phu, April 1954: The Failure of United Action,” in Lawrence S. Kaplan, Denise Artaud, and Mark Rubin, eds., Dien Bien Phu and the Crisis of Franco-American Relations, 1954–1955 (Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1990), pp. 55–77. Eisenhower's concern about allied cohesion is addressed much more thoroughly in Matthew Jones, After Hiroshima: The United States, Race and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945–1965 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), chs. 5–6; and Matthew Jones, “Targeting China: U.S. Nuclear Planning and ‘Massive Retaliation’ in East Asia, 1953–1955,” Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Fall 2008), pp. 37–65.


“Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Wilson),” 31 March 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, pp. 1198–1199.


“Memorandum by the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (Shepherd),” 2 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1223.


“Memorandum by the Chief of Staff, United States Army (Ridgway),” 2 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1220; “Memorandum by the Chief of Naval Operations (Carney),” 2 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, pp. 1221–1222; and “Army Position on NSC Action, No. 1074-a,” in United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, p. 332.


In an NSC Meeting on 1 April, Eisenhower indicated “he understood … that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, except for the Chairman, were opposed to an air strike using U.S. planes and pilots” and then asserted that “this was certainly a question for statesmen.” “Memorandum of Discussion at the 191st Meeting of the National Security Council,” 1 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, p. 1201.


“Memorandum by the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (Shepherd),” p. 1223.


“Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State,” 11 May 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 2, p. 1534. There is no evidence that Dulles actually raised this point during his discussion with Eisenhower.


Adams argues in his autobiography that “having avoided one total war with Red China the year before in Korea when he had had United Nations support, [Eisenhower] was in no mood to provoke another one in Indo-China by going it alone in a military action without the British and other western allies.” See Adams, Firsthand Report, p. 121.


“Memorandum by the Assistant Staff Secretary to the President (Minnich),” n.d., in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 2, p. 1413.


Herring and Immerman, “Eisenhower, Dulles, and Dienbienphu,” p. 350.


“The President to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (Gruenther),” 26 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 2, pp. 1419–1421. These concerns strengthened Eisenhower's conviction that united action, including Southeast Asian countries, was an essential precondition for U.S. intervention. This argument can be found in “Memorandum by the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (Cutler) to the Under Secretary of State (Smith),” 30 April 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 2, p. 1446; “Memorandum of Discussion at the 195th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 6 May 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 2, pp. 1487–1489; and “Memorandum of Conversation, by the Counselor (MacArthur),” 11 May 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 2, pp. 1526–1528.


This consideration is enunciated in the NSC Planning Board report on NSC Action 1074-a, 5 April 1954, in United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, pp. 301–302.


“NSC 5405,” 16 January 1954, in United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, p. 235. The report was prepared by the NSC Planning Board and approved by the NSC at its 180th meeting on 14 January and by the president two days later.




U.S. officials believed, however, that Chinese military intervention was unlikely except, perhaps, in response to successful U.S. military action in Indochina. They believed that China was more likely to try to affect the outcome of the war through “subversion” and materiel support rather than the deployment of Chinese troops. For these views, see “Special Estimate,” 18 December 1953, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, pp. 924–929; “Memorandum by the Secretary of State to the President,” 28 May 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XII, pt. 1, pp. 527–528; and “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” 15 June 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIII, pt. 1, pp. 1702–1708.


“Memorandum of Discussion at the 194th Meeting of the National Security Council,” pp. 1441–1442.


Quoted from “Memorandum by Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, to the Secretary of State,” 2 June 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XII, pt. 1, p. 531. Along these lines, the JCS recommended that, in the event of intervention in Indochina, “the United States should adopt the concept of offensive actions against the ‘military power of the aggressor,’ in this instance Communist China, rather than the concept of ‘reaction locally at the point of attack.’” See “Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense,” 21 May 1954, in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, pp. 480–482. More detailed discussions of the “greater sanctions” debate can be found in Jones, After Hiroshima, chs. 4–6; and Marc Trachtenberg, “A ‘Wasting Asset’: American Strategy and the Shifting Nuclear Balance, 1949–1954,” International Security, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Winter 1988/1989), pp. 32–44. Trachtenberg notes that even Ridgway, “by far the strongest advocate of the ‘limited war’ philosophy in the JCS, had by 1954 evidently moved very far toward the idea of hitting the enemy at his heart.” The basis for that conclusion can be found in History of the Indochina Incident, 1940–1954, p. 388.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mandate for Change, 1953–1956: The White House Years (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963), pp. 354–355.


These poll numbers are documented in Foyle, Counting the Public In, p. 67.


The Mutual Defense Treaty was very much a necessary complement to the Oracle initiative. The administration recognized that Chiang Kai-shek would be unwilling to support any ceasefire resolution unless the United States formalized its commitment to the defense of Formosa. But the negotiation of the Mutual Defense Treaty conversely reduced Britain's enthusiasm for supporting Oracle. For an excellent discussion of the administration's efforts to balance British and Chinese Nationalist concerns, see Robert Accinelli, Crisis and Commitment: United States Policy toward Taiwan, 1950–1955 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), pp. 165–174.


Chiang was furious that the administration refused to make the announcement public. He felt betrayed by the Eisenhower administration, believing that the United States had agreed to announce its commitment to the defense of Quemoy and Matsu publicly in conjunction with the evacuation of the Tachens. See ibid., pp. 196–197.


Doc. 375, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 221st Meeting of the National Security Council,” 2 November 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, p. 837. The quoted speaker is Dulles. Eisenhower also expressed this sentiment in an 18 October 1954 meeting with Dulles at the White House. See Doc. 350, “Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State,” 18 October 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, p. 770.


Doc. 56, “Joint Resolution by the Congress,” 29 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 162–163.


For the record of the Senate debate, see Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, pp. 735–736, 742, 761, 766, 841–842, 844–845, 928–930, 956–958, 980, 992.


Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, p. 992. Even the Senators who decried what they believed amounted to authorizing the president to go to war over the offshore islands staunchly supported authorizing the defense of Formosa. See Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, pp. 760, 826, 973.


Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 84th Cong., 1st sess., 1955, Vol. 7, pp. 144–146.


For the testimony of Dulles and Radford to this effect, see ibid., pp. 76, 185–187, 190.


Ibid., pp. 149, 161, 194–195, 199–203, 209.


Doc. 34, “Message from the President to the Congress,” 24 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 117–118. For similar arguments, see Doc. 40, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” 25 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 127; and the testimony of Dulles and Radford to a joint session of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees in Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 7, pp. 87, 111–112, 130, 147.


For such arguments, see Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, pp. 759, 951–954, 994.


Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, Pt. 1, p. 975. In the end, this consideration is apparently what convinced some legislators who had argued against extending a blank check to the president (or recognized the merit in those arguments) to vote in favor of the resolution—most notably, Senators Hubert Humphrey, Estes Kefauver, and Huey Long. See Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, pp. 939, 977, 991.


Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, p. 669.


Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, p. 817.


Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 7, p. 91.


On the basis of this logic, however, many officials also concluded that because the offshore islands had long been recognized as integral elements of mainland China, any U.S. attempt to defend those positions would amount to intervention in a civil war. Arguments concerning the relative legitimacy of defending Formosa and the offshore islands can be found in Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, pp. 622, 741–745, 760–761, 848, 928–931, 956–959, 986.


Doc. 284, “The President to the Acting Secretary of State,” 8 September 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, p. 578.


Doc. 375, pp. 834–837. See also Doc. 293, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 214th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 12 September 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, p. 621, in which the president indicated “that he did not believe that we could put the proposition of going to war over with the American people at this time. The West Coast might agree, but his letters from the farm areas elsewhere constantly say don't send our boys to war. It will be a big job to explain to the American people the importance of these islands to U.S. security.”


Quoted from Doc. 16, “Memorandum of Conversation,” 19 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 40–41. Also see Doc. 15, “Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the President and the Secretary of State,” 18 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 37; and Doc. 22, “Memorandum of Conversation,” 20 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 56.


Such advocacy appears in Doc. 23, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 232nd Meeting of the National Security Council,” 20 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 75–80.


For the competing arguments, see JCS to Wilson, 2 September 1954, in CCS 381(11–28–50) sec. 21, RG 218, NARA; Doc. 289, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 213th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 9 September 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, pp. 586–587; Doc. 291, “Memorandum by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Radford) to the Secretary of Defense (Wilson),” 11 September 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, pp. 598–610; Doc. 375, pp. 831–833; and Doc. 23, p. 81.


Doc. 289, p. 588. The quoted speaker is Secretary Wilson. For similar views, see Doc. 291, p. 605; Doc. 322, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 216th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 6 October 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, p. 696; Doc. 23, pp. 75–80; Doc. 26, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 233rd Meeting of the National Security Council,” 21 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 93–94; and Doc. 175, “Memorandum of Conversation,” 28 March in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 411.


Doc. 293, p. 616.


Doc. 26, p. 94. Later in the crisis, in a letter to Lewis Douglas, Eisenhower argued that “the offshore islands do have a defensive value to Formosa. … Defensively they practically block almost any communist attempt to use the two available harbors immediately west of Formosa for the initiating of amphibious operations.” Doc. 178, “Letter from President Eisenhower to Lewis W. Douglas,” 29 March 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 424.


Doc. 23, p. 75.


Doc. 24, “Draft Message from the President to the Congress,” 20 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 84.


Doc. 26, p. 91.


Gordon Chang overstates the firmness of the commitment when he argues that “if the Communists had actually threatened to overwhelm the offshore islands, Eisenhower was clearly committed to intervene. He would not have stood aside and watched the loss of the islands.” Chang also goes astray in suggesting that, “as far as Eisenhower himself was concerned, there was no question in his mind as to what he would do if the Communists attacked in force.” The record of the NSC meeting, which Chang cites to support that claim, reports only one comment by Eisenhower, who said “he could not help but feel that we are underestimating the sanity of the Chinese communists. It seemed to him that our very great military capabilities against them should surely give them pause before they undertook a resort to military measures to seize the offshore islands in defiance of the United States.” Eisenhower was still hopeful that deterrence would prevail, but he remained ambivalent about how to respond in the event of a Chinese attack on the offshore islands. A few days after the NSC meeting that Chang cites, Eisenhower wrote in a memorandum to Dulles that “the inter-mixture of warfare, negotiations, public statements and military understandings have given the Chinese Nationalists some right to assume that the United States would probably participate in an active defense of the Quemoy and Matsu groups of islands. … [T]he Formosan situation presents a hard choice to American political and military leaders; the only logical course of action is to attempt to bring about reasonable changes in the situation rather than to remain inert awaiting the inevitable moment of decision between two unacceptable choices.” This statement hardly suggests that Eisenhower was firmly committed to going to war over the offshore islands. He still believed he had choices, albeit “hard choices,” to make and was still trying to find a way to avoid having to intervene. See “Memorandum of Discussion at the 243rd Meeting of the National Security Council,” 31 March 1955, in Eisenhower Papers (AW), NSC Series, Box 6, NSC Summaries of Discussion, cited in Gordon H. Chang, “To the Nuclear Brink: Eisenhower, Dulles, and the Quemoy-Matsu Crisis,” International Security, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Spring 1988), p. 119; and Doc. 189, “Memorandum from the President to the Secretary of State,” 5 April 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 445–450.


According to Accinelli, Crisis and Commitment, pp. 175, 179, “The Notes were the instrument by which the United States formalized its control over Nationalist offensive operations.” He argues that Dulles “saw the pact and the exchange of notes as devices to stabilize the Taiwan area. … [B]y both guaranteeing the security of Taiwan and restricting Nationalist offensive military actions, the treaty and accompanying notes contained the potential for a de facto two-China arrangement.”


Doc. 25, “Memorandum of Conversation,” in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 86.


According to Accinelli, Makins informed London that the administration had abandoned the notion of committing to defend the offshore islands either in public or in private. The cabinet therefore proceeded with Oracle on the basis of an incorrect belief that Eisenhower had given up on the proposition of defending Quemoy or Matsu. Accinelli, Crisis and Commitment, p. 191.


Doc. 284, “The President to the Acting Secretary of State,” p. 578; Doc. 97, “Memorandum from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Bowie) to the Secretary of State,” 7 February 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 239; and Doc. 104, “Letter from President Eisenhower to Prime Minister Churchill,” in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 259.


Quoted from Doc. 44, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 234th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 27 January 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 138. For similar comments, see Doc. 292, “Memorandum Prepared by the Secretary of State,” 12 September 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, p. 611; and Doc. 375, p. 347. For a much more detailed analysis of the concerns of U.S. allies and the administration's sensitivity to those concerns, see Jones, After Hiroshima, ch. 7.


Doc. 146, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 240th Meeting of the National Security Council,” 10 March 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 347.


They continued to stipulate, however, that the administration was not authorized by either the Formosa Resolution or the Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the offshore islands unless an attack against them was part of an invasion targeted at Formosa or the Pescadores. See Elie Abel, “Dulles Says U.S. Pins Retaliation on Small A-Bomb,” The New York Times, 16 March 1955, p.1; and Richard J.H. Johnston, “Nixon Gives Reds Warning on Atom,” The New York Times, 18 March 1955, p. 3.


Again, Gordon Chang exaggerates in suggesting that “Eisenhower was fully prepared, but reluctant, to use nuclear weapons in the Taiwan Strait crisis.” See Gordon H. Chang, Friends and Enemies: The United States, China, and the Soviet Union, 1948–1972 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), p. 131. More persuasive is Gaddis's contention that the administration's nuclear threats were “more a declaratory than an actual policy.” Gaddis and Jones, in particular, provide excellent accounts of the political factors inhibiting Eisenhower from employing nuclear weapons in the Taiwan Strait. See John Lewis Gaddis, The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 137–139; and Jones, After Hiroshima, ch. 7.


Chang, Friends and Enemies, p. 128.


Walter Trohan, “War or Peace? Showdown by April 15 Seen; Attack on Matsu by Then Hinted,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 27 March 1955. For similar articles, see Anthony Levieros, “Policy Restudied; Eisenhower May State Get-Tough Decision at Coming Talks,” The New York Times, 26 May 1955, p. 5; and James Reston, “The Darkness Is Coming On in the Far East,” The New York Times, 27 March 1955, p. 11.


To some extent, the war scare confirmed the prediction made by Senator Estes Kefauver during debate over the Formosa Resolution that “the people of the United States are going to be tremendously alarmed, when the truth is made [known] to them, that Congress, by this resolution, was authorizing the President to use the Armed Forces for the defense of little islands over which we have never had any claim. … [T]he people of the United States do not want to go to war over some unnamed little coastal island of the Chinese mainland, an island about which they have never heard and do not care anything about.” See Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 1, pp. 982–983.


For the quotation, see the comments by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson in Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 3, pp. 3784–3785. For similar arguments, see Adlai Stevenson, “Stevenson Talk on U.S. Policy on Quemoy, Matsu, and Formosa,” The New York Times, 12 April 1955, p. 3.


For the quotation, see Cong. Rec., 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955, Vol. 101, pt. 3, p. 3789. Variations of this argument appear in “Mid-April Invasion of Matsu Islands Predicted,” Los Angeles Times, 27 March 1955; and Grant Dillman, “Knowland Doubts Reds ‘Change Spots,’” The Washington Post and Times Herald, 28 March 1955, p. 4.


Joseph Alsop, “Will ‘Paper Tiger’ Turn Rabbit?” The Washington Post and Times Herald, 17 April 1955, p. 7.


See Doc. 293, pp. 618–620; Dulles's comments in Doc. 22, p. 60; and Doc. 158, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” 16 March 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 377–378.


A National Intelligence Estimate issued shortly after the evacuation of the Tachens speculated that the Communists “may not be convinced, in the light of the restraint exercised by U.S. policy in Korea and Indochina, that the U.S. would in fact react to attacks on the offshore islands by attacks on the mainland.” See Doc. 111, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” 15 February 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 274.


Dulles was conflicted on this point. He evidently believed that toughness—the threat of escalation—had compelled the Communists to agree to an armistice in Korea. Yet he also worried that “the Chinese communists were arrogant and more or less drunk with power because of their recent successes in” Korea, Dien Bien Phu, and the Tachens. Doc. 179, “Memorandum of Conversation,” 30 March 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 425. Also see Doc. 165, “Memorandum of Conversation,” 24 March 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 393.


Doc. 161, “Memorandum from the Secretary of Defense (Wilson) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” 22 March 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 385.


Quoted from Doc. 146, pp. 348–349. The compulsion to reassert U.S. power and resolve was not the only factor that encouraged the Eisenhower administration to adopt an uncompromising position toward the offshore islands. There is much truth in Gaddis’ contention that Eisenhower and Dulles adopted a tough stance in order to “undermine the relationship between Moscow and Beijing.” In December 1953, during the tripartite conference in Bermuda, Dulles had explained to the British and French delegations that “it was the view of the United States that the best hope for intensifying the strain and difficulties between Communist China and Russia would be to keep the Chinese under maximum pressure rather than by relieving such pressure.” He reasoned that “pressure and strain would compel [the Chinese] to make more demands of the USSR which the latter would be unable to meet and the strain would consequently increase.” Dulles had conceptualized a strategic rationale, which subsequently counseled adopting an assertive approach toward the offshore islands. That rationale was based, to some extent, on the lessons he had extrapolated from Korea. The secretary was convinced that the administration's willingness to escalate hostilities had compelled the Chinese to agree to an armistice. Pressure, not appeasement, was the only way to shatter the Communist bloc, as he saw it. See Gaddis, The Long Peace, pp. 183–185; and “Second Restricted Tripartite Meeting of the Heads of Government, United States Delegation Minutes,” 7 December 1953, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. V, pt. 2, pp. 1809–1813. For extended treatment of this issue, see David Allan Mayers, Cracking the Monolith: U.S. Policy against the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1949–1955 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986).


Critical views on appeasing the Communists can be found in “Knowland at Dutch Treat Club, Scores Appeasement,” The New York Times, 6 April 1955, p. 8; and Joseph Alsop, “Matter of Fact,” The Washington Post and Times Herald, 15 April 1955, p. 6. H. W. Brands argues that “no Republican administration could lightly disregard the wishes of the China bloc, a significant element of its party.” H. W. Brands, “Testing Massive Retaliation: Credibility and Crisis Management in the Taiwan Strait,” International Security, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Spring 1988), pp. 124–151.


Doc. 189, p. 448. Also see Doc. 194, “Draft Policy Statement Prepared in the Department of State,” 8 April 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 461–463; and Doc. 185, “Memorandum from the Under Secretary of State (Hoover) to the Secretary of State,” 1 April 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 440.


Doc. 189, p. 449.


Doc. 207, “Memorandum of a Conversation between the President and the Secretary of State,” 17 April 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 491.


Ibid., pp. 494–495.


Eisenhower reportedly “finally agreed that we would leave this up to the Chinats,”—that is, whether to evacuate the islands completely or to garrison the islands as outposts for the defense of Formosa. See ibid., p. 491. For a more detailed account of the discussions regarding the outpost and evacuation-blockade options, see Accinelli, Crisis and Commitment, 219–228.


Doc. 219, “Message from the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Secretary of State,” 25 April 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 510–517.


According to Ronald Pruessen, Eisenhower and Dulles “were never able to cease doing battle with the more aggressive voices around them,” such as Radford. But Pruessen also maintains that “the president and the secretary of state were never able to totally avoid their own personal attraction to behavior that was far from moderate” and that their propensity for more aggressive policies waxed as the crisis dragged on. Ronald W. Pruessen, “Over the Volcano: The United States and the Taiwan Strait Crisis, 1954–1955,” in Robert S. Ross and Jiang Changbin, eds., Re-Examining the Cold War: U.S.-China Diplomacy, 1954–1973 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 77–105.


Doc. 410, “Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Bowie),” 26 November 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, pp. 950–951.


Doc. 412, “Extract from the Diary of James C. Hagerty, Press Secretary to the President,” 29 November 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, pp. 956–957. Although Eisenhower believed a blockade would lead to serious consequences, a Special National Intelligence Estimate indicated that the Chinese Communists would be unlikely, initially, to respond militarily to an offshore blockade. See Doc. 411, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” 28 November 1954, in FRUS, 1952–1954, Vol. XIV, pt. 1, p. 954.


Dulles, in particular, had changed his tune significantly. Although Eisenhower initially expressed some doubts about a blockade, Dulles insisted that a blockade “could clearly be justified as a measure of self-defense, particularly after Quemoy and Matsu had been evacuated so that there could be no question but what the Chicom build-up was for an attack against Formosa.” Doc. 207, p. 492. Even Phleger provided a more generous interpretation of the legality of a “maritime zone,” reportedly indicating, “there is nothing in the U.N. Charter or in international law which prevents such a zone. … A blockade is permissible only in time of war, or when authorized by the United Nations and therefore the use of that term should be avoided, as the measure under discussion is defensive and not intended as an act of war.” Doc. 215, “Message from the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Anderson) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Radford),” 22 April 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 505.


Doc. 212, “Message from the Acting Secretary of State to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Radford),” 22 April 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 502.


Bowie warned of these risks in a memorandum to Dulles in early April. But his advocacy of a clear public renunciation of any intention to defend Quemoy and Matsu evidently had hardly any influence over Dulles or Eisenhower. See Doc. 200, “Memorandum from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff to the Secretary of State,” 9 April 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, pp. 473–475.




Doc. 293, p. 617.


These conclusions accord with the more policy-oriented analysis in Miller, “The Iraq Experiment and U.S. National Security.”


Quoted in Thom Shanker, “Gates Warns against More Wars Like Iraq and Afghanistan,” The New York Times, 25 February 2011, p. A1. Full text of Gates's speech can be found at http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1539.


“Transcript of Obama's Remarks on the Fight against ISIS,” The New York Times, 11 September 2014, p. A4. That pledge has raised hackles in some quarters, however, and even the chairman of the JCS has indicated he would not rule out the use of U.S. special forces. See Mark Landler and Jeremy W. Peters, “U.S. General Open to Ground Force as Option in Iraq,” The New York Times, 17 September 2014, p. A5.


Doc. 71, “Letter from the President to the Supreme Allied Commander (Gruenther),” 1 February 1955, in FRUS, 1955–1957, Vol. II, pt. 1, p. 190.