WW3: US and China stood on brink of nuclear armageddon over 1958 Taiwan conflict – report

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The Government papers also showed that the US military’s top brass expected Soviet retaliation and millions of deaths. The top-secret 1966 study was disclosed by Daniel Ellsberg, 90, who shot to fame in 1971, after leaking the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War to the US media. The Cold War crisis was triggered when Communist China began an artillery bombardment of islands in the Taiwan Straits controlled by Chiang Kai-shek’s forces.

Chiang Kai-shek was the nationalist leader of the Republic of China and had retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after being forced out from the mainland by Mao’s Communists during the Chinese civil war.

The leaked report shows that General Laurence Kutner, the top air force commander in the Pacific, pressed for a nuclear strike against China.

He argued that the US military should target airfields to make it harder for “misguided” opponents of nuclear conflict to object on humanitarian grounds.

However, the report authors paraphrase General Nathan Twining, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claiming that there would be “no alternative but to conduct nuclear strikes . . . as far north as Shanghai”, should the airfield bombings prove insufficient.

General Twining admitted that the USSR was likely to retaliate with its own nuclear strikes against Taiwan and US forces based on the Japanese island of Okinawa

He stressed that this would be a price worth paying, according to the report.

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially resisted pressure from his top military brass for nuclear strikes, insisting that the army would have to rely on conventional weapons.

But there was “unanimous belief that this would have to be quickly followed by nuclear strikes unless the Chinese Communists called off this operation.”

In the event, the Chinese Communists halted their artillery strikes, leading to a deescalation of the crisis.


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Mr Ellsberg told the New York Times that he had made a copy of the report in the early 1970s.

He said: “As the possibility of another nuclear crisis over Taiwan is being bandied about this very year, it seems very timely to me to encourage the public, Congress and the executive branch to pay attention to what I make available to them.”

China maintains that Taiwan has no right to independence and that it will be reunified with the mainland either peacefully or by force.

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