of American carriers like my Midway in the press, boastingnthat he could dispose of such “pleasure boats” any time henchose.nSimilarly, in daily press releases, Mao’s China wasnspewing out rage at the Seventh Fleet’s blocking action innthe Taiwan Straits, and vowing to mount amphibiousnassaults to reclaim their “rightful possessions” offshore. Tonthe man on the street, it was two on one, the Soviets andnChina in their mutual defense pact, ready to throw downnthe gauntlet in the face of the United States. At least that’snthe way it looked to me in the air every day, and that’s thenway it was projected in the world press.nBecause I had to keep up with the state of play to brief mynpilots, I spent most of my time between flights puzzling overnthe official classified message traffic pouring into the Midway’sncommand center from all over the world. And what anneducation that was for this then-thirty-five-year-old U.S.nNaval officer! So help me, behind those closed doors, thenSoviets and the mainland Chinese were starting to act likenthey were more angry with each other than either one wasnwith us; it was becoming clear that the Chinese invasion wasnnot going to take place. The Soviets, while bad-mouthingnour Fleet’s action in every press release, were behind closedndoors harassing the Chinese to back down. What I wasnreading in the command center was telling me that thenSoviets were more than happy to have the U.S. SeventhnFleet right where we were, keeping their “communistnbrothers” in check, and out of the Pacific Ocean. And whatnwas clear to insiders, happened. The Chinese kept theirnfleets in port, and everything petered out in early fall.nI became so interested in the sort of things I had seenntranspire that summer that I got the Navy to send me tonpolitical science graduate school at Stanford for my nextnshore duty. After a year of course work, I spent another innthe library of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution andnPeace on that campus, pouring over modern Soviet andnChinese documents, learning of the details of what hadnbeen their secret split-up in 1957, shortly before my straitsncrisis, and writing a 1962 master’s degree thesis I enfitledn”Taiwan and the Sino-Soviet Dispute.”nAfter two years ashore, I then let the zigs and zags in thatncauldron of intrigue between the Soviets and Chinese go itsnown way, as I turned down a Navy suggestion to stay atnStanford for a doctorate, and took a fighter squadronncommand the other side of the Navy house had ready fornme. By February 1963, I was back flying those same F8nCrusaders — not over Asian islands, but over the Asiannmainland of South Vietnam, from a different carrier, thenU.S.S. Ticonderoga. And the rest, as they say, is history. Inspent ten years in Vietnam, fired the shot that started thenwar in the North the next summer, got shot down afternanother year and a half of flying, rotted in jail for neariyneight years, and like all other American prisoners was freednin 1973 as a direct result of our beautiful B-52 bombings ofnDecember 1972.nIt wasn’t until three years ago, back at the HoovernInstitution, now as a senior research fellow, that I ran intona man who was picking up what I would call practicalnSino-Soviet scholarship where I had left it twenty-five yearsnbefore. He, too, had fought the Vietnam War, boarding anplane heading there in December 1970 (just before my sixthnChristmas in prison), as a twenty-three-year-old West Pointngraduate, to be posted to a tiny jungle outpost near thenCambodian border for his baptism of fire. Lieutenant F.nCharles Parker left an America disillusioned by an indecisivenwar in its seventh year with a gut feeling that “something isnwrong here.” He fought well and ultimately came homenfeeling even more strongly that “something had beennwrong.” Staying in the Army, he had trod a tough 15-yearnpath to find out, as best he possibly could, just what thatn”wrong thing” was, before I met him: that tough path tooknParker through a Ph.D. in history from George WashingtonnUniversity and the study of both the Russian and Chinesenlanguages. At Hoover on a one-year fellowship from thenArmy, Lieutenant Colonel Parker was putting the finishingntouches on a book published last year: Vietnam: Strategy forna Stalemate. In a nutshell, he starts out by clarifying somenpoints that are overdue to be made, that the war was playednagainst a larger backdrop than just preserving the freedom ofnthe South Vietnamese. From his introduction:nThe United States wanted to preserve annindependent non-communist South Vietnam. Butnmore than the welfare of the people in Vietnamnhad to have been at stake for the United States toncommit an army to combat in Asia. The UnitednStates thought it was containing communism inngeneral and Chinese communism in particularnwhen it developed an open-ended commitment to .nthe Republic of Vietnam. The Soviet Union madena fundamental commitment to supply NorthnVietnam with the military materiel that gave thenNorth Vietnamese the capability to match thenAmerican buildup. Without Soviet support, thenNorth Vietnamese could not have escalated thenlevel of conflict. Yet the reason the Soviets bore thencosts and took the risks had less to do with Vietnam;nand more to do with China.nSoviet aid had all to do with their trying to reestablish thenSino-Soviet relationship that Mao had begun to rupture inn1957 — specifically, to drive China into their own armsnagain by keeping the Vietnam War heated up to a certainncritical temperature (which they could monitor and more ornless control with their aid to the North), which wouldnmultiply and strengthen the pro-Soviet population of Chinanout of fear of U.S. incursions near their borders. Khruschevnwas trying to provoke a Sino-American — not a Soviet-nAmerican— confrontation over Vietnam. In doing this, henwas combating a Mao zigzag that from 1960 onwards hadnseen to it that Chinese policy was driven by the goal ofnimproving relations with the United States as a way to shuckndependence on the Soviets. Putting all this together,nParker’s point of departure is a Johnson administration,nspearheaded by Robert McNamara and Harvard’s “best andnbrightest,” rushing American troops forward to contain anChinese communism that didn’t need to be contained,nindeed a China that was, even at the time McNamara wasndemanding the deployment of more troops than the AmericannArmy could accommodate in South Vietnam, sendingntacit signals (missed by a tone-deaf American State Department),nbegging for an American rapprochement of the sortnnnNOVEMBER 1990/23n