Address in San Francisco to the Commonwealth Club of California
President Graybiel, Mayor Christopher, and my fellow Americans:
To say that I am grateful for the cordiality of the welcome given to me today by this lovely City and its people, is a sheer understatement. My heart is full with thanks to all.
I am glad to be here this evening to sustain your perfect score of having as a speaker, every President of the United States since this Club was founded at the beginning of the Century. I sincerely hope that my appearance gives you no reason to abandon the practice.
Moved by a wisdom, developed out of experience, the organizers of this Club devised for their new creation a noble and necessary purpose-better government in their State. Its energizing spark was the belief that--and I take these words from the document of the time: "California suffers greatly because the best elements of the population fail to cooperate for the common good as effectively as the bad elements cooperate for evil purposes." The dedication of that group, and the unremitting efforts of its membership to pursue the course of sound government have remained undimmed for the almost six decades of the Club's existence
The word commonwealth signifies a group united by common interests. But equally significant is the fact that in the political realm, a commonwealth as Mr. Webster defines it, has come to mean generally, if not always, an association based upon free choice.
Tonight I shall try to apply to some aspects of the world of international affairs the founding principles of this organization--that this State suffered because of the failure of some elements to cooperate as effectively for good as others did for evil.
No groups, no matter how well-intentioned, can cooperate fruitfully unless there is first established a firm basis of common understanding. This the founders of your Club recognized, by noting that one of the great difficulties was that different groups in California did not know each other--they were separated at that time by wide areas--and they also distrusted each other.
Just as the California of 1903, the year your Club was founded, was a far cry from the Commonwealth of California today, so the world as we turned into the Twentieth Century is scarcely recognizable as the one we know in 1960.
The multiplication of differences and problems before the international community recalls an old alumnus who returned to visit his college after a half-century's absence. Delighted to find one of his old physical science professors still teaching, he was amazed to find him still using the same old questions on examinations that he employed 50 years before. "Why is this?" the alumnus wanted to know. "Very simple," answered his former teacher, "The questions are the same, but the answers always become different !"
So today, instead of 53 members in the family of nations, we have 106. Instead of 1 ½ billion people in the world, we have 2 ½ billion; instead of weaponry whose maximum range was a few thousand yards, we have nuclear tipped missiles that can hurtle 9,000 miles to bring wholesale death and destruction. Parenthetically, in this particular field, our marvelous progress is not measured in decades. Our scientists and government have brought us in a few years from a position of former neglect and indifference to a level of extraordinary efficiency and strength. Here is an example of the absurdity of the allegation that America and its economy and its progress are static. I point out that now we spend on long range ballistic missiles 10 million dollars a day-every day--more than all the entire aggregate of all the expenditures for this purpose in all the years from 1945 to 1952. This example could be repeated in a dozen fields.
In 1903 man was still earthbound except for the exploits of a few adventurous balloonists and the Wright brothers, who made their historic flight in December of that year. Today, man-made objects whirl around the sun independent of the earth's movements--and the same ones will continue to do so for a future measured in millennia. 1903 was the year of the first automobile crossing from San Francisco to New York. It took 64 days--just seven less than it took Columbus to sail from Spain to America. Now it is not uncommon for air travelers to cross the country twice in a single day.
In the early years of this century, the only impression most voters ever received of a Presidential candidate came to them from a printed page; now an electronic miracle brings his voice and his face into forty million living rooms across the land.
On all fronts, there have been wrought on the earth great changes that are in themselves important, some almost miraculous--similar changes are now extending into the celestial regions as well.
Now in contemplating these great changes and the problems that have followed in their wake, it is essential that we recognize two important truths:
First, almost no problem arising between nations today is strictly bilateral. Whether we consider the difficulties arising out of the relationships between Israel and the Arab States or the necessity for our recent embargo on most exports to Cuba, inevitably other nations are affected. We cannot conceive today of an international community operating as a system of bilateral partnerships travelling in unordered and reckless orbit. Every arrangement we effect with another nation, whether political, commercial, or even cultural, seems inevitably to have an impact on other societies. Some degree of world coordination and cooperation obviously becomes necessary.
The recognized need for a cooperative international community was responsible for the founding here in this City of the United Nations in 1945. It has been, in some areas, remarkably successful--yet, as in the early days of California, we have found that the mere existence of an appropriate organizational mechanism cannot maintain the law, order and progress so much desired. In the United Nations we have a Charter and agreements supposed to insure order and avoidance of conflict, but these can be successful only as the understanding and dedication of the members become equal to the task.
A second important truth is that the dimensions of the task that lies before us, in helping to straighten out this poor old world, are so vast and complex as to make its accomplishment beyond the capacity of leaders, governments and peoples except those of experience, inexhaustible strength, patience, understanding and faith.
The supreme need of this Century is to find a way to produce an effective international order, and the most obvious way to do this is through improvement of the United Nations. Certainly the way is not through domineering empires, the rise and fall of which the world has witnessed for the past five thousand years, but through a free and mutually beneficial association of nations. To realize such an international order, of course, great leadership is required.
It must be a leadership that conceives of nations as partners and equals. It must be leadership that accepts the responsibility of power, but one that exercises it in a spirit of trusteeship, through just and patient processes of mutual adjustment. It must always base policies upon a clear identification of long-range common interests.
Now upon America has fallen the heavy responsibility of providing this kind of leadership.
Unmistakably we are called upon at this precise moment in the course of human events to renew and revitalize our efforts to insure the health and strength of a mighty, international, commonwealth.
Our own conception of an ordered international community conforms roughly to our own political system.
The American system presupposes full information and active participation by every citizen in the processes of both local and Federal government. The more nearly universal this informed participation, the healthier and stronger is our government, our nation's policies, and our entire social structure.
In our complex industrial society, no thoughtful person would contend that every citizen can become truly informed on so many and such perplexing problems of domestic policy as those involving defense, social services, taxation, employment, public debt, budget, and inflation. Yet on each of these subjects, there is first hand information and personal experience available in almost every sector of our nation and, as a consequence, the average of general understanding is reasonably high.
But achievement of a satisfactory level of understanding is far more difficult in the field of foreign affairs.
Consider, for example, Korea, Indochina, the Suez Canal, Quemoy and Matsu, the Middle East, the turmoil in the Caribbean, the Berlin difficulty, the economic development of India, or the fifteen newly developing nations in Africa.
To extend the range and fullness of understanding on foreign affairs heroic efforts are made here at home by news-gathering and news-distributing agencies, and by great numbers of private foundations, as well as by study, research and educational institutions. But because no substantial segment of our population has had first hand experience in international affairs, these particular problems are far more likely to excite our emotions and prejudices rather than to inspire a painstaking search for all the facts pertaining to a problem and their relation to each other.
Yet every citizen is becoming more and more vitally affected by the issues of foreign policy, and his need for knowledge grows correspondingly greater.
We cannot anticipate any hasty or simple solution to such a large and complicated problem. But no matter is more urgent than the establishment of an effective working relationship between the American people and their government for the conduct of foreign affairs and assuring the nation's security. This problem completely overshadows, at this period of our history, any other we face.
As we push ahead to strengthen the partnership of the citizen with his government, there are, as I see it, some pitfalls to be avoided.
First, we must not be afraid to look at ourselves honestly. We must steadily maintain critical self-examination. Our nation must always concern itself with any failure to realize our national and legitimate aspirations.
But while maintaining a healthy critical insight, let us not be misled by those who, inexplicably, seem so fond of deprecating the standing, condition, and performance of the entire nation.
Surely we must avoid smugness and complacency. But when in the face of a bright record of progress and development, we hear some misguided people wail that the United States is stumbling into the status of a second-class power and that our prestige has slumped to an all-time low, we are simply listening to debasement of the truth. 1
1 On the same day the White House made public the following statement by Mansfield D. Sprague, chairman of the President's Committee on Information Activities Abroad:
"A newspaper story today with respect to the activities of the President's Committee on U.S. Information Activities Abroad is grossly in error.
"In the first place this Committee has made no report. In the second place it has made no findings. In the third place, while it is true that this Committee is concerning itself with ways and means of improving Government activities in the international information field, the Committee has made no conclusions as to the status of U.S. prestige abroad, and statements that it has done so are completely erroneous. That is not the business of this Committee. So much for that.
"Speaking personally, in my considered judgment, based on all the facts of which I am aware, the United States is today the most respected nation on the face of the earth and its prestige is preeminent."
Now related to this irresponsible practice of defacing the true American portrait, is the development of an almost compulsive desire to make counterfeit comparisons, especially between our nation and others.
Because of differing backgrounds and cultures such comparisons rarely contain any validity whatever. The economic and social statistics of a nation cannot be conveniently compared like Olympic track records.
Consider a country--the Soviets, for example--through a violent upheaval, rich in natural resources and abundantly stocked with manpower that suddenly emerges from a strictly feudal agrarian society into a nation with an expanding and centrally controlled industrialism. What about its rate, its rate of economic growth? Obviously the tempo of its economic growth can, for a time, leap ahead at a rate faster than a nation which had long since become highly industrialized.
If a village has a single telephone--which in many cases in the world it does--or even less, the acquisition of another in a single year is a 100% increase in growth. In a mature society such increases are necessarily measured in fractions of the whole.
Now in a broader sense any attempt at comparison between national patterns of economic organization leads to unfortunate and widespread misunderstandings. The issue today in the supreme effort to build a thriving international community that can live in peace with justice, is not merely capitalism versus socialism.
We believe that our free and socially responsible enterprise has demonstrated definite advantages over an economy based upon a socialistic pattern of organization. But we do recognize that those nations whose particular problems lead them to adopt a socialist economy should not be condemned for doing so.
What we do contend is that the issue today is not capitalism versus socialism, but rather democracy versus dictatorship--the open society against the dosed and secret society.
Recognition of this fact compels us to warn newly developing nations of the perils of authoritarianism lest they gravitate toward communist control because of the seductive promises of immediate benefits.
So we see the vital importance of having the free world understand the true basis of the world struggle.
To return to our own country the problems before us in the conduct of foreign affairs involve an endless flow of concrete decisions upon specific issues.
The difficulties involved are infinite--they arise hour by hour in some instances; day by day or week to week in others. Each problem, of course, will have to be met by those charged with the particular sphere of responsibility. But though this work is one of the duties of government, the citizenry cannot abandon its inherent function of critical, self-examination of performance.
All of us must see that the policy decisions of our government officials are responsive to the needs, objectives, values, and historic tendencies of the American people. One vital purpose is to see that while meeting the requirements of foreign affairs, we simultaneously sustain our domestic institutions and traditional liberties. For example, to further progress in our country, and indeed throughout the free world, we must be certain that there is no cheapening and no debasement of our currency. Tasks like this impose a heavy, but necessary, strain upon our citizenry.
It calls for experienced and mature leadership.
This is not a task for a leadership that insists upon agitating small points to the neglect of the nation's true good.
This is not a task for a leadership that sees the nation as a giant supermarket for the distribution of special favor.
This is not a task for any leadership that scorns fiscal integrity and sees no national disadvantage in deficit spending.
Nor is it a task for leadership that, falsely trumpeting an incompetence within the body politic, assigns to a centralized government the responsibility for all progress.
It is a task for leadership which understands that our job today is to intensify the beliefs that made America great; leadership which recognizes that sound policy arises out of the inner wisdom and experience of countless communities and people throughout America fully capable, as always before, of responding to a summons to greatness.
To return now to the theme of your organization which I have borrowed tonight--the importance of cooperating effectively for good-I repeat that the central need in all international affairs today is to forge a commonwealth of nations--a United Nations that will steadily strengthen the bonds and build the structure of a true world community that can live in peace with justice.
Before us still is the opportunity to take by firm, steady steps, practicable action toward disarmament.
The position of the United States remains as I have often stated, that our appropriate representatives are willing to meet immediately with those of other countries to consider any feasible and enforceable proposal that will lead mankind to outlaw for all time, the terrifying tools of war. We have repeatedly made fair and specific proposals to this end--as yet the Soviets have refused to negotiate seriously on them.
In declaring ourselves ever ready to negotiate the problems of disarmament we ask only that any program advanced shall not give military advantage to a particular country and that it assures the right to inspect the armaments of other nations.
A disarmament program failing to offer such assurance is a devious device that could only result in raising, rather than decreasing, the probability of war.
Many other serious international disagreements await resolution.
We must never retreat from these purposes even in face of discouragement by the wrecking crew antics of those who want to demolish the United Nations.
We know that peace with justice is not just a matter of bringing about the absence of war. Peace is, rather, a world living its human ideals and aspirations. Moreover, there is one kind of righteous war--one we must all wage. It is against poverty, illiteracy, and disease.
This we shall do--this we propose to do--as we take up our individual tasks without subordinating the national character of our individual societies.
Because progress will not be found in a super state run by super powers.
We believe that cooperation in freedom is the way to build the necessary structure for permanent peace.
As I reflect upon the course of American history, I have full confidence that the political genius and wisdom of the American people are equal to their vital responsibility that the world has now conferred upon them.
The search for solutions will be a long one. But fortified by a conviction born of the spirit, and with a national strength unmatched by any other, I know the American people will lead the way on the greatest mission upon which we have ever embarked--the establishment of a durable peace with justice.
Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 9:10 p.m. at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. His opening words "President Graybiel, Mayor Christopher" referred to Lloyd E. Graybiel, President of the Commonwealth Club of California, and Mayor George Christopher of San Francisco.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address in San Francisco to the Commonwealth Club of California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234205