Harry S. Truman photo

Address on Foreign Policy at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial.

February 22, 1950

IT IS a great privilege to dedicate this inspiring statue of George Washington.

This is the climax of many years of planning and effort. I congratulate particularly the Order of DeMolay, whose contributions have made this statue a reality. This heroic likeness of our first President makes even more impressive the entrance hall of this temple. It is altogether fitting that this work should stand in the community that Washington did so much to build, and so near his own home at Mount Vernon.

George Washington, like ourselves, lived in a period of great change--a period when new forces and new ideas were sweeping across the world. He was the leader of his people in a revolution against tyranny. He commanded an army in a long and bitter war. He was a major figure in the creation of a new kind of constitution. And, finally, as the first President of our Nation, he translated that Constitution into a living government.

Washington's efforts for freedom were twofold. He was concerned first with making the ideal of democratic government work. He was also concerned with the defense of that ideal against the forces that opposed it.

Washington was unwavering in his devotion to the democratic concept. He never yielded to those who urged him to assume extraordinary powers. Even in the darkest days of the Revolution, when his task as Commander in Chief of the American forces was rendered doubly difficult by the weakness of the Congress and the rivalries among the states, he always considered himself a servant of the people. In all that he did he strove to make democratic institutions more effective.

He knew, too, that they had to be defended--that there were times when the use of force to defend democracy could not be avoided. He not only led the armies of the revolution, but as President he was always alert to the necessity of a vigorous national defense.

The task of Americans today is fundamentally the same as it was in Washington's time. We, too, must make democracy work and we must defend it against its enemies. But our task today is far greater in scope than it was in Washington's time. Not only are we concerned with increasing the freedom, welfare, and opportunity of our people. We are also concerned with the right of other peoples to choose their form of government, to improve their standards of living, and to decide what kind of life they want to live.

Since Washington's time the great principles for which the American Revolution was fought have become known throughout the world and have uplifted the hearts and hopes of generations of men. At the same time, through the progress of science, the nations of the world have been drawn together into a common destiny. Our security and progress are today more closely related than ever before to the advance of freedom and self-government in other lands.

This is a time of restlessness and change. In many parts of the world men are searching for a better social order. They demand a way of life that will provide greater freedom and more widespread opportunity. They yearn to own the land they live on, and to be secure against poverty, disease and hunger. Above all, they want to live their own lives as they see fit. This rising demand of men everywhere for independence and a better life puts the ideals of freedom and self-government to their greatest test.

At the same time, these ideals are under deadly attack from those who would destroy them. The most aggressive of these enemies today is communism. Communism seeks to induce men to surrender their freedom by false promises of a better life. But the great danger of communism does not lie in its false promises. It lies in the fact that it is an instrument of an armed imperialism which seeks to extend its influence by force.

This threat of force is a challenge to all peoples who are free and who wish to be free and remain free. The fundamental issue is whether men are to be free to choose their own way of life, or whether they must live under a system imposed upon them by force.

Just as our Thirteen Original States found that survival and progress depended on closer association and common effort, so the free nations of the world today must seek their salvation in unity and concerted action. The real strength of the free nations is not to be found in any single country or in any one weapon, but in the combined moral and material strength of the free world as a whole.

As members of the United Nations, the free nations are working for peace and international security in accordance with the principles set forth in the United Nations Charter. Within the context of that larger association, many of the free nations have joined together to strengthen the common defense of particular areas against aggression. That is the meaning of the North Atlantic Treaty and the Mutual Defense Assistance Program.

We shall continue to work with the other free nations associated with us in the common defense--for our defense is theirs, and their defense is ours. The united defense of these nations is a powerful deterrent to aggression, and it will become more powerful as time passes on.

In creating a common defense, we do not seek to impose a way of life on any nation. Freedom is not expanded by conquest. Democracy is not created by dictation. Freedom and democracy grow only by persuasion and example and through the actual experience of what they mean.

At the same time, freedom cannot grow and expand unless it is protected against the armed imperialism of those who would destroy it. The free nations, therefore, must maintain military force as a defensive measure.

While the free nations stand prepared to resist aggression, they are doing their utmost to find peaceful means for settling international disputes. They know that another great war could destroy victor and vanquished alike.

Consequently, we in the United States are doing, and will continue to do, all that lies within our power to prevent the horror of another war. We are working for the reduction of armaments and the control of weapons of mass destruction.

We are convinced of the necessity for an international agreement to limit the use of atomic energy to peaceful purposes, and for a working international system to assure that such an agreement is effectively carried out. We believe that the United Nations is the proper forum to reach such an agreement. We firmly believe that all nations would gain by such an international agreement. We shall continue to work honestly and wholeheartedly toward that end. But we must remember that the outcome is not ours alone to determine. The actions of men in other countries will help to shape the ultimate decision.

We believe that the plan for controlling atomic energy which has been worked out in the United Nations and has been approved by the overwhelming majority of its members, would be effective. The plan, therefore, has our support. It has our support not because of its form or its words, but because we believe that it would achieve effective control. The stakes are too large to let us, or any nation, stand on pride of authorship. We ask only for a plan that provides an effective, workable system-anything else would be a sham agreement. Anything less would increase, not decrease, the dangers of the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes. We shall continue to examine every avenue, every possibility of reaching real agreement for effective control. In the long run, however, our security and the world's hopes for peace lie not in measures of defense or in the control of weapons, but in the growth and expansion of freedom and self-government. As these ideals are accepted by more and more people, as they give greater meaning and richer content to the lives of millions, they become the greatest force in the world for peace.

The purpose of our participation in the United Nations and other international organizations is to strengthen this great force for peace. That is the purpose of the European recovery program and our point 4 program to assist underdeveloped areas. That is the purpose of our foreign trade program and our other measures to help build world prosperity.

These programs are positive measures to increase the strength of freedom and self-government by helping men to meet the needs and fulfill the aspirations of their daily lives.

Today, in many countries of the world, the concepts of freedom and self-government are merely vague phrases. They express little to people who are engaged in a desperate struggle with ignorance and poverty. They mean little to men who must work from sunup to sundown merely to keep alive. They are not fully understood by men who cannot read or write.

On the continent of Asia, the islands of the Far East, in Africa, in the Near East, are millions of people who live in poverty who have never known real freedom or democratic government. In their present condition, the immediate benefit of steel plowshares, or smallpox vaccinations, has more appeal than abstract ideas of democracy.

The Communists are saying that they will bring food and clothing and health and a more secure life to these poverty-stricken peoples. We know that is not true. But it is not enough to tell such people that communism is a modern tyranny far worse than that of any ancient empire. It is not enough to tell them that communism leads only to oppression. People who have never known freedom and security themselves have little basis for judging how false are the claims of communism.

These people will turn to democracy only if it seems to them to be the best way to meet their urgent needs. The benefits of freedom and democracy must be demonstrated to them.

In many of these areas there are governments which are working to improve the conditions of their people. They know that the claims of the Communists are not made in good faith. They do not want Soviet domination. If these governments are successful in raising living standards, and in building strong and stable democratic institutions based on popular support, their people will not go over to communism.

But these governments are struggling with titanic problems, as their people attempt to climb in a few years from economic misery to better standards of living. They need help. If these nations are to grow in freedom, they urgently need assistance in improving their health, their education, and their productive capacity, their transportation and their communication systems.

That is why I have requested the Congress to act as rapidly as possible on legislation to expand our programs for giving technical assistance to such countries as these, and to encourage American investment in those countries on a mutually beneficial basis. We are not trying to sell them automobiles and television sets. Our purpose is to help them grow more food, to obtain better education, to be more healthy. That is the way they can gain the physical and moral strength to be free and to maintain their own governments. As these nations prove to themselves and to others the effectiveness of free institutions in meeting their people's needs, they will show as nothing else can the true value of democracy and the false claims of communism.

But the problem of making free institutions work is not confined to underdeveloped areas. The highly developed nations of Europe came out of the war with serious problems of their own. They were threatened with economic chaos. Their ability to maintain freedom and democracy was challenged.

The purpose of the European recovery program was to meet this challenge in the area of the world where the preservation of free governments was of supreme importance. The results which have been achieved so far under that program have amply demonstrated its wisdom.

With the aid we have provided, the nations of Europe have already made great advances in their production and have improved their trading relations with the rest of the world. Much more must be done before they reach the firm basis of economic self-support which is essential to the maintenance of free and democratic governments. Consequently, we must complete our program of assistance. It would be utter folly to lose sight of the importance of the European recovery program. It is essential to our hopes for peace.

The preservation and strengthening of free governments depends in large measure on the creation of firm economic conditions throughout the world and on an expanding world trade. Free nations can expand their trade only on the basis of mutual respect and fair dealing.

Our reciprocal trade agreements program and the International Trade Organization are the kind of international machinery which is necessary for increasing the trade of the world. We shall continue to use the procedures of the reciprocal trade agreements program to reduce trade barriers, but more than this is needed. That is why I have urged the Congress to act favorably on the creation of the International Trade Organization, through which the nations of the world can work together effectively to increase world trade.

This program and our other plans for international action are the practical way to move forward toward peace. They recognize that we must deal with the difficult world situation which actually exists. We must not be discouraged by difficulties and setbacks. We must not be misled by the vain hope of finding quick and easy solutions. We must move forward persistently and courageously along the hard path to peace, based on freedom and justice.

The progress we have made in this country since the days of George Washington is proof of the vitality and truth of the ideals he fought for. We must be no less firm, no less resolute, no less steadfast than he was. We move upon a greater stage than he did, but our problems are fundamentally the same problems that faced the first President of this Nation--to make democracy work and to defend it from its enemies.

George Washington sought guidance from Almighty God as he faced these tasks in his time; let us be guided today by divine providence as we strive for lasting peace with freedom and justice for all mankind.

Note: The President spoke at 3 p.m. at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Va.

The statue of George Washington was the work of Bryant Baker of New York City.

Harry S Truman, Address on Foreign Policy at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230687

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