Harry S. Truman photo

Commencement Address at the University of California

June 12, 1948

President Sproul, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I deeply appreciate the privilege you have given me of taking part in these exercises at this great university.

I regret that I could not arrange my schedule to permit me to be here next week at the time for which you first invited me. Under these circumstances, I am pleased that an adjustment could be made on the part of the university so as to make it possible for me to be here today.

Three years ago this month, across the bay in San Francisco, I witnessed the signing of the Charter of the United Nations. That Charter represents man's hope for a world order based upon law, and for lasting peace based on justice.

Today, I have come back to the shores of San Francisco Bay to discuss with you recent world events and, in particular, to appraise the progress we are making toward world peace.

Many students here today and in colleges across the country are veterans. They fought for peace with freedom and justice. They, above all, have reason to expect a plain statement of the progress we are making in that direction.

The American people know from experience that our daily lives are affected not only by what happens in this country, but also by events abroad. Most American families bear the scars and memories of a war which began thousands of miles from this Nation. Every American wants to be sure that this country is doing everything in its power to build a lasting peace and a just peace. We believe that such a peace can be achieved by the nations of the world.

Anyone can talk peace. But only the work that is done for peace really counts.

I propose to describe the specific steps the United States has taken to obtain peace in the world. I propose, also, to discuss what further measures we must take, and what measures others must take, if our hopes for peace are to be fulfilled.

The United States has consistently done its part in meeting the requirements for a peaceful world.

We fought through World War II with only one purpose: to destroy the tyrants who tried to impose their rule on the world and enslave the people. We sought no territories; we asked for only token reparations. At the end of the war, we quickly dismantled the greatest military machine ever built by any nation. We withdrew and demobilized the American armies that had swept across Europe and the Pacific, leaving only minimum occupation forces in Germany, Austria, Japan, and Korea. The nations which our army had helped to liberate were left free to work out their postwar problems without interference from us.

That was not the course of a nation that sought to impose its will upon others. It was not the course of an aggressor.

Long before the fighting had ended, our Government began planning for a world organization which could provide security for all nations. At Dumbarton Oaks, at Yalta, at San Francisco, the United States led the way in preparing for a strong and useful United Nations. In the past 3 years we have taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations, and the related agencies-such as the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization--which are fundamental to world peace and prosperity.

No action by the United States has revealed more clearly our sincere desire for peace than our proposal in the United Nations for the international control of atomic energy. In a step without precedent, we have voluntarily offered to share with others the secrets of atomic power. We ask only for conditions that will guarantee its use for the benefit of humanity--and not for the destruction of humanity.

To assist world economic recovery, we have contributed nearly $20 billion in loans and grants to other nations. American dollars have been invested generously in the cause of peace because we know what peace is worth.

This is a record of action in behalf of peace without parallel in history.

Many other nations have joined wholeheartedly with us in our work for peace. They share our desire for international control of atomic energy, for the early conclusion of peace treaties, for world economic recovery, and for the effective development of the United Nations.

Why then, after such great exertions and huge expenditures, do we live today in a twilight period, between war so dearly won and a peace that still eludes our grasp?

The answer is not hard to find.

It lies largely in the attitude of one nation-the Soviet Union.

Long before the war the United States established normal diplomatic and commercial relations with the Soviet Union. In doing so we demonstrated our belief that it was possible to get along with a nation whose economic and political system differs sharply
from Ours.

During the war we worked with the Soviet Union wholeheartedly in defeating the common enemy. In every way we could we tried to convince the Soviet Government that it was possible and necessary for allied unity to continue in the great task of establishing the peace. We hoped that the Soviet Union, secure in her own strength and doubly secure in respect of her allies, would accept full partnership in a peaceful world community.

The record, however, is clear for all to read. The Soviet Government has rejected the invitation to participate, freely and on equal terms, in a great cooperative program for reconstruction of Europe. It has constantly maneuvered for delay and for propaganda effect in every international conference. It has used the veto excessively and unreasonably in the Security Council of the United Nations. It has boycotted the "Little Assembly" and several special United Nations commissions. It has used indirect aggression against a number of nations in Eastern Europe and extreme pressure against others in the Middle East. It has intervened in the internal affairs of many other countries by means of Communist parties directed from Moscow.

The refusal of the Soviet Union to work with its wartime allies for world recovery and world peace is the most bitter disappointment of our time.

The great issues of world peace and world recovery are sometimes portrayed as disputes solely between the United States and the Soviet Union. This is not the case. The fact is that not a single one of the major unsettled questions of the postwar world is primarily a disagreement between this country and the Soviet Union. We are not engaged in a struggle with the Soviet Union for any territory or for any economic gain. We have no hostile or aggressive designs against the Soviet Union or any other country. We are not waging a "cold war."

The cleavage that exists is not between the Soviet Union and the United States. It is between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world.

The great questions at stake today affect not only the United States and the Soviet Union; they affect all nations.

Whether it be the control of atomic energy, aggression against small nations, the German or the Austrian peace settlements, or any of the other questions, the majority of nations concerned have found a common basis for action. But in every case the majority agreement has been rejected, denounced, and openly attacked by the Soviet Union and her satellites whose policy she controls.

Let me repeat: the division has not been between the United States and the Soviet Union, but between the Soviet Union and the free nations of the world.

The United States is strongly devoted to the principle of discussion and negotiation in settling international differences. We do not believe in settling differences by force. There are certain types of disputes in international affairs which can and must be settled by negotiation and agreement.

But there are others which are not susceptible to negotiation.

There is nothing to negotiate when one nation disregards the principles of international conduct to which all the members of the United Nations have subscribed. There is nothing to negotiate when one nation habitually uses coercion and open aggression in international affairs.

What the world needs in order to regain a sense of security is an end to Soviet obstruction and aggression.

I will give you two clear illustrations of what I have in mind.

The situation in Greece has caused a great deal of uneasiness throughout the world. It has been the subject of a series of investigations on the part of commissions of the United Nations. The facts have been established over and over again by these investigations. They are clear beyond dispute. Some twenty thousand Greek guerrillas have been able to keep Greece in a state of unrest and to disrupt Greek recovery, primarily because of the aid and comfort they have been receiving from the neighboring countries of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania.

Last October, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling upon Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania to stop their illegal aid and comfort to the Greek rebels. This resolution was agreed to by more than two-thirds of the membership of the United Nations. But it has been boycotted by Russia.

The situation in Greece requires no special negotiation, or discussion, or conference.

On its own initiative the Soviet Government can cease its boycott of the United Nations recommendation. It can join with other nations in stopping illegal foreign support of the Greek guerrillas so that Greece may have an opportunity for peaceful reconstruction.

If the Soviet Union genuinely desires to make a contribution to the peace and recovery of the world, it can prove it in Greece.

The situation in Korea is also disturbing. There the Soviet Government has defied the clearly expressed will of an overwhelming majority of the United Nations, by boycotting the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea. This commission was created last fall by the General Assembly to help set up a Korean national government based on free and democratic elections.

The Soviet boycott has prevented the residents of the northern zone of Korea from electing representatives to establish a unified national government for Korea.

The situation in Korea requires no special negotiation, or discussion, or conference.

On its own initiative, the Soviet Union can abandon its boycott of the United Nations Commission. It can permit the people of North Korea to work with their compatriots in the south in creating an independent and democratic nation.

If the Soviet Union genuinely desires to make a contribution to peace and recovery in the world, it can prove it in Korea.

In these questions, as in all others, there are practical ways for the Soviet Union to show its good faith by proper action.

The United States will always respond to an honest move by any nation to further the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations.

But no nation has the right to exact a price for good behavior.

What is needed is a will for peace. What is needed is the abandonment of the absurd idea that the capitalistic nations will collapse and that the instability in international affairs will hasten their collapse, leaving the world free for communism. It is possible for different economic systems to live side by side in peace, one with the other, provided one of these systems is not determined to destroy the other by force.

I have said before and I repeat now: the door is always open for honest negotiations looking toward genuine settlements.

The door is not open, however, for deals between great powers to the detriment of other nations or at the expense of principle. We refuse to play fast and loose with man's hope for peace. That hope is too sacred to be trifled with for propaganda purposes, or selfish advantage, by any individual or nation. We are interested in peace--not in propaganda.

We shall judge the policy of every nation by whether it advances or obstructs world progress toward peace and we wish our own policy to be judged by the same standard.

I stated our American policy for peace at the end of the war. It has been restated many times, but I shall repeat the essential elements of our policy again so that there can be no misunderstanding anywhere by anyone.

"We seek no territorial expansion or selfish advantage.

"We have no plans for aggression against any other state, large or small.

"We have no objective which need clash with the peaceful aims of any other nation."

The United States has been conscientious and consistent in its devotion to those principles.

We have sought to assist free nations in creating economic conditions under which free institutions can survive and flourish.

We have sought through the United Nations the development of a world order in which each nation feels secure under law, and can make its contribution to world civilization in accordance with its own means and national tradition.

We have sought to help free nations protect themselves against aggression. We know that peace through weakness has proved to be a dangerous illusion. We are determined, therefore, to keep strong for the sake of peace.

This course is not an easy one. But it is the practical, realistic path to peace. It has required, and will continue to require, hard work and some sacrifice by the people of the United States. But from many quarters there is tangible evidence that it is succeeding.

This is the course we must follow. I do not propose that we shall be turned aside by those who want to see us fail.

Our policy will continue to be a policy of recovery, reconstruction, prosperity--and peace with freedom and justice. In its furtherance, we gladly join with all those of like purpose.

The only expansion we are interested in is the expansion of human freedom and the wider enjoyment of the good things of the earth in all countries.

The only prize we covet is the respect and good will of our fellow members of the family of nations.

The only realm in which we aspire to eminence exists in the minds of men, where authority is exercised through the qualities of sincerity, compassion and right conduct.

Abiding devotion to these ideals, and profound faith in their ultimate triumph, sustain and guide the American people in the service of the most compelling cause of our time--the crusade for peace.

I believe the men and women of every part of the globe intensely desire peace and freedom. I believe good people everywhere will not permit their rulers, no matter how powerful they may have made themselves, to lead them to destruction. America has faith in people. It knows that rulers rise and fall, but that people live on.

The American people, from the mighty rostrum of the United Nations, call out to all peoples of the world to join with them to preserve the peace.

Note: The President spoke at 4 p.m. in Memorial Stadium at the University of California. His opening words "President Sproul" referred to Dr. Robert G. Sproul, president of the university. The address was carried on a nationwide radio broadcast.

Harry S Truman, Commencement Address at the University of California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232479

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives