Writing pseudonymously in a series of articles for Faith and Freedom in the 1950s, Murray Rothbard took on the question of whether or not the United States should defend Formosa (Taiwan) from attack by mainland China. While his conclusions will surprise no one familiar with his work (that war is the health of the state, that individuals concerned with the fate of Taiwan should do as they will privately, but that their lives and property are not for the government to command), a review of the articles’ contents are worthwhile, nonetheless. For apart from such typically memorably Rothbardian lines as “only those who want to socialize America really look forward to the third and perhaps last World War,” we find many of the same ludicrous rationales for war with China used today excoriated with great wit by Rothbard.
For example, Rothbard begins the first of these, “Along Pennsylvania Avenue,” by rhetorically posing the question of how it happened that a smattering of islands eighty miles off the coast of mainland China became “necessary to our defense,” and as an answer he replies:
[The government] were forced to portray the Reds as “island hopping” their way to the United States. [. . . For] if the Reds take Formosa, they will be one island nearer to the United States. It is an age-old story: a peaceful Pacific “moat” is needed for our defense. In order to protect his moat, we must secure friendly countries or bases all around it. To protect Japan and the Philippines, we must defend Formosa, to protect Formosa we must defend the Pescadores. To protect the Pescadores, we must defend Quemoy, an island three miles off the Chinese mainland. To protect Quemoy we must equip Chiang’s troops for an invasion of the mainland. Where does this process end? Logically, never (18).
Readers unfamiliar with the history of the region may be interested in some additional context regarding Rothbard’s mention of equipping Chiang Kai-shek, the dictator of Taiwan and exiled leader of China’s failed Republic, for an invasion of the mainland. Despite having been driven from the off by force of arms, and only secured in their island fortress by virtue of the United States Navy repeatedly intervening to prevent a cross-strait invasion by the PLA, it was the official policy of Taipei to retake the mainland by force. Though such plains never got far off the ground—and were mostly abandoned by the 1970s—it was not until the constitutional revisions of the 1990s that Taiwan officially gave up such a policy of armed reconquest in favor of focusing strictly on its own defense.
Writing in the 1950s, near the height of the first Taiwan Strait Crisis and when talk of an invasion of the mainland by Taipei was still openly planned and called for by Chiang, Rothbard heroically pushed back against those who equated isolation with appeasement. In a scene all too familiar, he complained that Congress’ answer to heightened tensions over Formosa was to write what “amounted to a blank check for war in China whenever the President shall deem it necessary,” noting sadly that only two congressmen had opposed the resolution on the grounds that the United States should not actively seek to “engage their boys in a war on foreign soil,” the rest merely arguing over the scope or scale of the commitment to be made.
Rothbard was predictably red-baited for his efforts, even attacked by a fellow “libertarian” in Faith and Freedom. He defended himself in a series of further articles, “Fight for Formosa?” Parts I & II, and reflecting on the experience some years later in The Betrayal of the American Right he had this to say:
I could never—and still cannot—detect one iota of devotion to ‘freedom’ in the worldview of those whose zeal for crusading abroad makes them blind to the real enemy: the invasion of our liberty by the State…to give up our freedom in order to “preserve” it is only succumbing to the Orwellian dialectic that “freedom is slavery.”
Those who today reasonably say that the defense of an island eighty miles off the coast of mainland China and five thousand miles from Hawaii (let alone the mainland United States) cannot possibly be a core national interest can take comfort in following the footsteps of such brave and principled forebearers as Rothbard.
Americans can and must say NO! to the new Cold War and refuse efforts by Washington to provoke Beijing with regards to Taiwan, virtually its only declared “red line.”
That is, unless another disaster like Ukraine is the goal—which it may well be.
[Originally published at the Libertarian Institute.]