Welcome to our scary new world - literally scary because the essence of deterrence is to scare the opponent. Deterrence means threatening China in order to deter it from doing something unacceptable like, for example, attempting any kind of invasion or deeply hostile act against Taiwan.
The old Cold War was scary - terrifying, actually - because of the threat of a nuclear armageddon, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). In what may become our new Cold War, deterrence implies threatening China with untold scary consequences.
So get used to being scared. There is a debate about whether Mike Pezzullo should have couched his warning in such graphic "drums of war" terms. And what exactly was his political game in the who's-up-who's-down world of Parliament Hill?
But that is beside the big point. He did us a service by flagging up the truth of the matter which is that China is building up its ability to invade Taiwan - a capability achieved in five or six years, according to military strategists who monitor the weaponry in the arsenals around the Pacific.
China is already testing a situation by sending war planes more frequently into Taiwanese airspace.
There is a view, voiced notably by Professor John Blaxland of the ANU, that China has too much to lose by war. Its economy depends on trade and trade is the second casualty of war (after truth).
But even if China would pull back from the ultimate step because of the cost, it still needs to be deterred. It needs to know actions have consequences. Letting China know that is a scary process. It involves public talk of frightening scenarios. That's what deterrence is.
So we will be scared. Our quiet period of enjoying our apparent distance from nasty distant places is over. It was an illusion, anyway, but now the illusion is gone.
In the old Cold War, people had nightmares about nuclear annihilation. As well they - we - might. There were numerous moments of mechanical or human error where the button was nearly pressed. Early-warning systems mistook natural phenomena like sunlight on a cloud as an attack.
To just list one incident: on November 9, 1979, the US national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was awakened to be told the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was reporting a Soviet missile attack. The false alarm turned out to be the fault of an overworked computer system.
There is a brilliant sequence in the Oscar-winning documentary, The Fog of War, where President Kennedy is discussing how to deal with the imminent arrival in Cuba of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles. The military in the form of gung-ho General Curtis LeMay is urging the bombing of the missile sites on the island and so war, non-nuclear war, initially, but if we know anything we know that controlling war is hard.
On the other side is Tommy Thompson, a former US ambassador to Moscow, who actually knew the Soviet leader Khrushchev well. Thompson told the president Nikita Khrushchev wanted a way out.
Give him a ladder to climb down without losing face was the gist of the diplomat's advice. The gist of the general's was "let slip the dogs of war".
Kennedy in his wisdom chose peace. But it was that close.
In the end, the first Cold War ended when the United States defeated the Soviet Union economically. There were a raft of factors but central to them was that the cost of confrontation was simply too high for a moribund economy.
We are approaching that scary world of confrontation. We are not there yet but it's hard to see how it won't come if China continues its assertion in the northern Pacific and then further afield - like the south Pacific.
In contrast to Australia, New Zealand is taking a softer approach. It's not been forthright in its condemnation of the stamping on democratic activism in Hong Kong, for example. But in the longer run, the hard choices remain.
China has urged "some individual politicians in Australia" to "shake off the Cold War mentality", as its Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian put it.
But it's not as easy as that.
The basic question remains: if China is determined to expand its control to do to Taiwan what it has done to Hong Kong, how should the United States respond? And how should Australia respond?
If not deterrence and the preparation for war, then what?
- Steve Evans is a Canberra Times reporter.