According to today’s hot doc, the US Air Force was ready and willing to drop nuclear bombs on Communist China at the outset of the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis. This 13 August 1958 State Department memo describes blow-by-blow how a dispute over two islands in the Taiwan Strait could have evolved into “general nuclear war between the US and the USSR.”
This memo, sent to President Eisenhower’s Under Secretary of State, Christian Herter, depicts how nuclear war between the USA and USSR could have evolved from a dispute between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. Taiwan held these two strategically important islands, but the PRC also claimed (and shelled) them. America’s “existing contingent war plans,” derived from its 1954 security agreement with Taiwan, “call[ed] for the defense of Quemoy and Matsu by nuclear strikes deep into Communist China, including military targets in the Shanghai-Hangchow-Nanking and Canton complexes where population density is extremely high.“
From the US Air Force hisotry, Air Opperations in the Taiwan Crisis of 1958.
The memo’s author, the Department of State’s Director of Policy Planning, Gerald C. Smith, predicted that these nuclear strikes -“comparable to the 20 KT weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki”- would lead to millions of “non-combat [read: civilian] casualties.”
And that would not be the end. According to a contemporaneous National Intelligence Estimate, “If our present military planning was carried out Peiping [Beijing] and its Soviet ally would probably feel compelled to react with nuclear attacks at least on Taiwan and on the [US] Seventh Fleet. Under our present strategic concept, this would be the signal for general nuclear war between the US and USSR.”