Report to the American People Regarding the Situation in the Formosa Straits

Dwight D. Eisenhower

September 11, 1958

“My Friends:

“Tonight I want to talk to you about the situation, dangerous to peace, which has developed in the Formosa Straits, in the Far East. My purpose is to give you its basic facts and then my conclusions as to our nation’s proper course of action.

“To begin, let us remember that traditionally this country and its government have always been passionately devoted to peace with honor, as they are now. We shall never resort to force in settlement of differences except when compelled to do so to defense against aggression and to protect our vital interests.

“This means that, in our view, negotiations and conciliation should never be abandoned in favor of force and strife. While we shall never timidly retreat before the threat of armed aggression, we would welcome in the present circumstances negotiations that could have a fruitful result in preserving the peace of the Formosa area and reaching a solution that could be acceptable to all parties concerned including, of course, our ally, the Republic of China.

“On the morning of August 23rd the Chinese Communists opened a severe bombardment of Quemoy, an island in the Formosa Straits off the China Coast. Another island in the same area, Matsu, was also attacked. These two islands have always been a part of Free China—never under Communist control.

“This bombardment of Quemoy has been going on almost continuously ever since. Also Chinese Communists have been using their naval craft to try to break up the supplying of Quemoy, with its 125,000 people. Their normal source of supply is by sea from Formosa, where the government of Free China is now located.

“Chinese Communists say that they will capture Quemoy. So far they have not actually attempted a landing, but their bombardment has caused great damage. Over 1,000 people have been killed or wounded. In large part these are civilians.

“This is a tragic affair. It is shocking that in this day and age naked force should be used for such aggressive purposes.

“But this is not the first time that the Chinese Communists have acted in this way.

“In 1950 they attacked and tried to conquer the Republic of Korea. At that time President Truman announced the intention of protecting Formosa, the principal area still held by Free China, because of the belief that Formosa’s safety was vital to the security of the United States and the free world. Our governmenthas adhered firmly ever since 1950 to that policy.

“In 1953 and 1954 the Chinese Communists took an active part in the war in Indo-China against Viet Nam.

“In the fall of 1954 they attacked Quemoy and Matsu, the same two islands they are attacking now. They broke off that attack when, in January 1955, the Congress and I agreed that we should firmly support Free China.

“Since then, for about four years, Chinese Communists have not used force for aggressive purposes. We have achieved an armistice in Korea which stopped the fighting there in 1953. There is a 1954 armistice in Viet Nam; and since 1955 there has been quiet in the Formosa Straits area. We had hoped that the Chinese Communists were becoming peaceful—but it seems not.

“So the world is again faced with the problem of armed aggression. Powerful dictatorships are attacking an exposed, but free, area.

“What should we do?

“Shall we take the position that, submitting to threat, it is better to surrender pieces of free territory in the hope that this will satisfy the appetite of the aggressor and we shall have peace?

“Do we not still remember that the name of ’Munich’ symbolizes a vain hope of appeasing dictators?

“At that time, the policy of appeasement was tried and it failed. Prior to the second World War, Mussolini seized Ethiopia. In the Far East, Japanese warlords were grabbing Manchuria by force. Hitler sent his armed forces into the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty. Then he annexed little Austria. When he got away with that, he next turned to Czechoslovakia and began taking it, bit by bit.

“In the face of all these attacks on freedom by the dictators, the powerful democracies stood aside. It seemed that Ethiopia and Manchuria were too far away and too unimportant to fight about. In Europe, appeasement was looked upon as the way to peace. The democracies felt that if they tried to stop what was going on, that would mean war. But because of these repeated retreats, war came just the same.

“If the democracies had stood firm at the beginning, almost surely there would have been no World War. Instead they gave such an appearance of weakness and timidity that aggressive rulers were encouraged to overrun one country after another. In the end the democracies saw that their very survival was at stake. They had no alternative but to turn and fight in what proved to be the most terrible war that the world has ever known.

“I know something about that war, and I never want to see that history repeated. But, my fellow Americans, it certainly can be repeated if the peace-loving democratic nations again fearfully practice a policy of standing idly by while big aggressors use armed force to conquer the small and weak.

“Let us suppose that the Chinese Communists conquer Quemoy. Would that be the end of the story? We know that it would not be the end of the story. History teaches that when powerful despots can gain something through aggression, they try, by the same methods, to gain more and more and more.

“Also, we have more to guide us than the teachings of history. We have the statements, the boastings, of the Chinese Communists themselves. They frankly say that their present military effort is part of a program to conquer Formosa.

“It is as certain as can be that the shooting which the Chinese Communists started on August 23rd had as its purpose not just the taking of the island of Quemoy. It is part of what is indeed an ambitious plan of armed conquest.

“This plan would liquidate all of the free world positions in the Western Pacific area and bring them under captive governments which would be hostile to the United States and the free world. Thus the Chinese and Russian Communists would come to dominate at least the Western half of the now friendly Pacific Ocean.

“So, aggression by ruthless despots again imposes a clear danger to the United States and to the free world.

“In this effort the Chinese Communists and the Soviet Union appear to be working hand in hand. Last Monday I received a long letter on this subject from Prime Minister Khrushchev. He warned the United States against helping its allies in the Western Pacific. He said that we should not support the Republic of China and the Republic of Korea. He contended that we should desert them, return all of our naval forces to our home bases, and leave our friends in the Far East to face, alone, the combined military power of the Soviet Union and Communist China.

“Does Mr. Khrushchev think that we have so soon forgotten Korea?

“I must say to you very frankly and soberly, my friends, the United States cannot accept the result that the Communists seek. Neither can we show, now, a weakness of purpose—a timidity—which would surely lead them to move more aggressively against us and our friends in the Western Pacific area.

“If the Chinese Communists have decided to risk a war, it is not because Quemoy itself is so valuable to them. They have been getting along without Quemoy ever since they seized the China mainland nine years ago.

“If they have now decided to risk a war, it can only be because they, and their Soviet allies, have decided to find out whether threatening war is a policy from which they can make big gains.

“If that is their decision, then a Western Pacific Munich would not buy us peace or security. It would encourage the aggressors. It would dismay our friends and allies there. If history teaches anything, appeasement would make it more likely that we would have to fight a major war.

“Congress has made clear its recognition that the security of the Western Pacific is vital to the security of the United States and that we should be firm. The Senate has ratified, by overwhelming vote, security treaties with the Republic of China covering Formosa and the Pescadores, and also the Republic of Korea. We have a mutual security treaty with the Republic of the Philippines, which could be next in line for conquest if Formosa fell into hostile hands. These treaties commit the United States to the defense of the treaty areas. In addition, there is a Joint Resolution which the Congress passed in January 1955 dealing specifically with Formosa and the offshore islands of Free China in the Formosa Straits.

“At that time the situation was similar to what it is today.

“Congress then voted the President authority to employ the armed forces of the United States for the defense not only of Formosa but of related positions such as Quemoy and Matsu, if I believed their defense to be appropriate in assuring the defense of Formosa.

“I might add that the mandate from the Congress was given by an almost unanimous bipartisan vote.

“Today, the Chinese Communists announce, repeatedly and officially, that their military operations against Quemoy are preliminary to attack on Formosa. So it is clear that the Formosa Straits Resolution of 1955 applies to the present situation.

“If the present bombardment and harassment of Quemoy should be converted into a major assault, with which the local defenders could not cope, then we would be compelled to face precisely the situation that Congress visualized in 1955.

“I have repeatedly sought to make clear our position in this matter so that there would not be danger of Communist miscalculation. The Secretary of State on September fourth made a statement to the same end. This statement could not, of course, cover every contingency. Indeed, I interpret the Joint Resolution as requiring me not to make absolute advance commitments, but to use my judgment according to the circumstances of the time. But the statement did carry a clear meaning to the Chinese Communists and to the Soviet Union. There will be no retreat in the face of armed aggression, which is part and parcel of a continuing program of using armed force to conquer new regions.

“I do not believe that the United States can be either lured or frightened into appeasement. I believe that in taking the position of opposing aggression by force, I am taking the only position which is consistent with the vital interests of the United States, and, indeed with the peace of the world.

“Some misguided persons have said that Quemoy is nothing to become excited about. They said the same about South Korea—about Viet Nam, about Lebanon.

“Now I assure you that no American boy will be asked by me to fight just for Quemoy. But those who make up our armed forces—and I believe the American people as a whole—do stand ready to defend the principle that armed force shall not be used for aggressive purposes.

“Upon observance of that principle depends a lasting and just peace. It is that same principle that protects the Western Pacific free world positions as well as the security of our homeland. If we are not ready to defend this principle, then indeed tragedy after tragedy would befall us.

“But there is a far better way than resort to force to settle these differences, and there is some hope that such a better way may be followed.

“That is the way of negotiation.

“That way is open and prepared because in 1955 arrangements were made between the United States and the Chinese Communists that an Ambassador on each side would be authorized to discuss at Geneva certain problems of common concern. These included the matter of release of American civilians imprisoned in Communist China, and such questions as the renunciation of force in the Formosa area. There have been 73 meetings since August 1955.

“When our Ambassador, who was conducting these negotiations, was recently transferred to another post, we named as successor Mr. Beam, our Ambassador to Poland. The Chinese Communists were notified accordingly the latter part of July, but there was no response.

“The Secretary of State, in his September fourth statement, referred to these Geneva negotiations. Two days later, Mr. Chou En-lai, the Premier of the Peoples’ Republic of China, proposed that these talks should be resumed ’in the interests of peace.’ This was followed up on September eighth by Mr. Mao Tse tung, the Chairman of the Peoples’ Republic of China. We promptly we!colmed this prospect and instructed our Ambassador at Warsaw to be ready immediately to resume these talks. We expect that the talks will begin upon the return to Warsaw of the Chinese Communist Ambassador who has been in Peiping.

“Perhaps our suggestion may be bearing fruit. We devoutly hope so.

“Naturally, the United States will adhere to the position it first took in 1955, that we will not in these talks be a party to any arrangements which would prejudice rights of our ally, the Republic of China.

“We know by hard experiences that the Chinese Communist leaders are indeed militant and aggressive. But we cannot believe that they would now persist in a course of military aggression which would threaten world peace, with all that would be involved. We believe that diplomacy can and should find a way out. There are measures that can be taken to assure that these offshore islands will not be a thorn in the side of peace. We believe that arrangements are urgently required to stop gun fire and to pave the way to a peaceful solution.

“If the bilateral talks between Ambassadors do not fully succeed, there is still the hope that the United Nations could exert a peaceful influence on the situation.

“In 1955 the hostilities of the Chinese Communists in the Formosa area were brought before the United Nations Security Council. But the Chinese Communists rejected its jurisdiction. They said that they were entitled to Formosa and the offshore islands and that if they used armed forces to get them, that was purely a ’civil war,’ and that the United Nations had no right to concern itself.

“They claimed also that the attack by the Communist North Koreans on South Korea was ’civil war,’ and that the United Nations, and the United States were ’aggressors” because they helped South Korea. They said the same about their attack on Viet Nam.

“I feel sure that these pretexts will never deceive or control world opinion. The fact is that Communist Chinese hostilities in the Formosa Straits area do endanger world peace. I do not believe that any rulers, however aggressive they may be, will flout efforts to find a peaceful and honorable solution, whether it be by direct negotiations or through the United Nations.

“My friends, we are confronted with a serious situation. But it is typical of the security problems of the world today. Powerful and aggressive forces are constantly probing, now here, now there, to see whether the free world is weakening. In the face of this, there are no easy choices available. It is misleading for anyone to imply that there are.

“However, the present situation, though serious, is by no means desperate or hopeless.

“There is not going to be any appeasement.

“I believe that there is not going to be any war.

“But there must be sober realization by the American people that our legitimate purposes are again being tested by those who threaten peace and freedom everywhere.

“This has not been the first test for us and for the free world. Probably it will not be the last. But as we meet each test with courage and unity, we contribute to the safety and the honor of our beloved land and to the cause of a just and lasting peace.”

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