Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Quemoy and Matsu

In 1960, televised presidential debates were held for the first time. There were three of them, and they were regarded as the reason John F Kennedy became president, since he came across better through the medium of television than did Richard Nixon.

Below is a snippet from one of the debates - a snippet showing the two candidates discussing animatedly the Cold War:

This snippet makes us wonder how much has really changed since 1960. Then, as now, the US was seen to be losing its prestige in the world. Then, as now, there was a ubiquitous external enemy which would drain Americans of their precious bodily fluids if given half a chance. Then, these enemies were Communists, now they are Terrorists.

Should the Terrorists ever disappear as completely into the woodwork as did the Communists, will Americans dream up another enemy who would drain them of their precious bodily fluids if given half a chance? It seems new enemies will have to be created, otherwise there'll be no rationale to keep spending as much on the national defense (currently $650 billion a year) as the next 45 countries combined. The military-industrial complex must be maintained whatever the external situation, so if the current enemies disappear, others must be dreamed up to keep the taxpayer monies flowing in to the Pentagon.

One change from 1960, though, is that Quemoy and Matsu are no longer discussed in the American media. Americans today likely won't even have heard of Quemoy or Matsu, and might think them the latest video games should they encounter the names, Quemoy or Matsu.

The facts are that Quemoy and Matsu are two tiny islands (Quemoy is an island chain, actually) a mere handful of kilometers off the coast of mainland China (Fujian Province) but are under the jurisdiction of the government of Taiwan (Formosa). Twice (in 1954-55, and 1958-59) the People's Republic of China (the communists) carried out air and naval bombardments of Quemoy and Matsu to persuade Taiwan to cede them to the People's Republic.

But Taiwan, and its American protectors, were having none of it. In 1954 Taiwan dispatched 58,000 soldiers to Quemoy, and 15,000 to Matsu, as well as American-supplied rockets and other weaponry. All this, plus an American pledge to defend Taiwan, even with nuclear weaponry, persuaded the People's Republic to cease its bombardments in 1955.

But three years later, in 1958, the People's Republic, feeling more confident, again bombarded the two islands, and again, as in 1955, ceased doing so (in 1959) when it became apparent that the Russians (the People's Republic's fellow communists) wouldn't come to the People's Republic's aid, should US (and Taiwan) attack the People's Republic in defense of Quemoy and Matsu.

In the wording in its defense agreement with Taiwan, the US deliberately left vague whether it would defend Quemoy and Matsu should the People's Republic invade. Hence Nixon's and Kennedy's discussion about this issue in their presidential debate.

Although Quemoy and Matsu are today a non-issue, despite being still under the rule of Taiwan, who is to say they won't again become the potential flashpoint which they were in the 1950s?

Perhaps, then, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden might appropriately have been asked during their recent vice-presidential debate, what they would do should they be the president, and China invades Quemoy and Matsu.

How, particularly, would Sarah Palin have answered? Would she have been ambivalent like Kennedy? Or would she have pledged that the Hockey Moms and Joe Sixpacks of America would, you betcha, rush over to Quemoy and Matsu to defend to the death the islands' hapless denizens from the bloodthirsty invaders?

Maybe someone will ask Sarah this at her next campaign rally?