Harry S. Truman photo

Commencement Address at the University of Missouri.

June 09, 1950

Mr. President, members of the faculty, distinguished guests, and the Class of 1950:

I am very glad to take part in these graduation exercises at the University of Missouri.

The young men and women graduating here today deserve congratulations, for they have proved that they are able to think for themselves, and to work hard day by day to reach a truly worthwhile goal.

These university graduates, and their fellows at other schools all across our country, should be congratulated for another reason, too. They should be congratulated because they are entering a world of greater opportunities than young people have ever entered before.

You hear a lot of talk these days to the effect that the world is full of dangers, and that our civilization is heading straight for disaster. Of course, the world is full of dangers--the world always has been full of dangers, for people in every country and at every period of history.

As men have gained more scientific knowledge the dangers which could come from the misuse of that knowledge have grown greater. But by the same token the opportunities for human advancement have also become greater.

Our scientific achievements can be used for good, and need not be used for evil. Our civilization need not wind up in disaster; it can go on to greater heights. Those who are frightened and dismayed do not have faith that men will use scientific advances for good ends. They see only the dangers in the world and not the opportunities.

But those who understand a free society have faith that we can use our knowledge for human advancement.

For the essential meaning of a free society is that free men, facing the practical realities of any situation, can choose the course that will provide for their common protection and advance their common welfare.

Our history shows that men working together through the democratic process can find the right solution to new problems.

The democratic process is not always easy. It involves us in great public debates. Emotions are aroused and feelings run high.

But when the shouting is ended and the decision is taken, the resulting choice rests on the solid foundation of the common wisdom of the people. Dictators and tyrants, who thought our political debates indicated indecision and weakness, have found to their dismay that, instead, those debates are a source of wisdom and a sign of strength.

The ability of our democratic process to find proper solutions for difficult problems has been dramatically demonstrated again in the last 5 years in the field of foreign policy.

When the war ended, in 1945, the American people found themselves in a situation unique in their experience. By the circumstances of history, we became the strongest single nation on earth. Most of the other great nations of the world were prostrate. Our help and leadership were essential to assist them to recover, and their recovery was vital to our own security and .prosperity.

Furthermore, it soon became clear that one nation did not want to help the world to recovery. Instead, that nation wished to prolong and intensify the misery of others, so that it could gain domination over them. The plain intent of that nation was to overthrow the tradition of freedom which is shared by our country and many others.

In this situation, the United States faced a clear choice, which was debated up and down our land. We could choose to abandon the rest of the free world and try to become strong enough all by ourselves to withstand Communist aggression. Or we could choose to work with other countries to build the combined strength necessary not only to withstand aggression, but also to achieve peace and human advancement.

You know the outcome of that debate. The overwhelming choice of the American people was--and is--against the dangerous futility of isolationism and for full cooperation with other nations toward peace and freedom.

We have backed that choice with deeds. Our strong support of the United Nations, our vital contribution to the European recovery program, our ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty, our military assistance to the common defense of free nations--these and many other actions are part of our strong, positive program to achieve a just and lasting peace.

Our program for peace and freedom is necessarily designed at present to build a strong community of free nations which can resist Communist aggression, whether that aggression takes the form of internal subversion and external attack. At the same time, our program for peace is designed ultimately to create conditions in which all men and all nations can work together in mutual trust and mutual benefit.

Our peace program is designed to bring the free nations together in common action. It is also designed to support the United Nations as the political basis for a world order among all nations.

Our peace program includes military security measures--through our own efforts and through the combined efforts of the free nations. Those military security measures are defensive only, and we look forward to the day when international forces under the United Nations will keep the peace of the entire world.

Finally, our peace program includes economic measures which will make it possible for people to be secure and lead fuller lives. These measures are necessary, at this time, to enable the free nations of the world to resist Communist imperialism. But our economic measures, as far as possible, are designed so that any nation which sincerely wishes to work for human betterment can join in them.

It is about these economic measures in our program for peace and freedom that I speak particularly today.

Since the war ended, we have embarked upon a new era of economic cooperation with friendly nations. As this work moves forward, we must appraise our progress from time to time and make new plans for the future. We can't stand still. No nation can stand still. It can only go forward or disintegrate, and we are not disintegrating.

You will recall the great purpose that inspired our aid to Europe under the Marshall plan. We sought to help the countries of Europe restore their war-shattered economies so that their people could once again enjoy a decent standard of living--so that they could protect themselves from totalitarian threats to their security. In short, the purpose of the Marshall plan was to enable the people of Europe to save their freedom and use their resources for peace. We have always regretted that the Communist leaders did not permit the peoples of Eastern Europe to participate in this recovery effort.

The results of the European recovery program in the participating countries have been most remarkable.

The nations of Western Europe, with the Marshall plan aid, are setting new records of production and approaching the restoration of prewar standards of living. Industrial production in Western Europe has increased 30 percent in the last 2 years. The diet of the people there has been restored almost to the prewar level.

Furthermore, the countries of Western Europe have been able to get their national finances on a sounder basis, and to obtain sufficient goods so that they could lift most of their rationing and price controls. They have reduced trade barriers and have increased trade among themselves by 50 percent in the last 2 years.

As a result, there has been a great revival of faith in freedom and hope for the future among the Western European countries. The numbers and the influence of Communists within their borders have been steadily receding. In the last 2 years, the Communists have received progressively fewer votes in every election held in the Marshall plan countries.

Today, every one of the Marshall plan countries is stronger and better able to resist communism and to work for peace than at any time since World War II ended.

In addition, our aid under the Marshall plan has indirectly strengthened many countries outside of Europe and has helped to restore the flow of international trade.

Despite the steady progress they have made, most of the nations of Western Europe are still not economically self-supporting. If we were to take away our assistance now, they would still be unable to pay for all the things they need to buy from us and from other countries. The result would be a sudden drop in the living standards, weakened defenses, and a greater opportunity for the Communists to move in.

That must not happen--it would be disastrous for Europe and for us too. Instead, we must keep on working to build the sound economic conditions without which there can be no security or progress for free men.

Our work for this purpose will be largely carried on for 2 more years under the Marshall plan. But our vital national interest in a healthy world economy will not end in 1952. It will be just as necessary then as it is today to have a secure economic foundation for world peace. This secure foundation requires not only a successful recovery from the devastations of war. It requires the kind of dynamic progress which proves that the way of freedom can satisfy the economic needs of man.

The economic well-being of other free nations around the world is important to our common effort for peace. It is also important to our own economic well-being.

Last year we exported goods worth $12 billion--a large part of them to Europe. These exports consisted of wheat, cotton, and tobacco, dried fruits, machine tools, and textiles, and many, many other products of our farms and factories.

If our exports are to continue at a high level, other countries must have some means to pay for them. At the present time, other countries are selling far less to the United States than they are buying from the United States. Our imports last year were valued at $7 billion--$5 billion less than our exports.

Of the $12 billion of our total exports, the sum of $5 billion was made possible by the aid which we furnished under the Marshall plan and other foreign aid programs. These aid programs can be substantially reduced this year, and in later years, as the recovery and economic development of other nations progresses. Obviously, we do not want to continue our extraordinary financial assistance to other countries any longer than necessary. That is why we must look ahead to plan for the changes that will be necessary to assure a high level of normal trade and investment among nations as our aid programs are reduced.

Many of those changes can be expected to occur naturally.

As our own economy grows, we will naturally import more goods than we do now; this will add to our own standard of living without causing any substantial dislocation to our domestic producers. At the same time, increasing our imports will make more dollars available to other countries with which to buy our goods.

In addition to this, as economic and political conditions become more stable in other countries, we should plan to make larger investments abroad. This will be good business for us, and also will make more dollars available for purchases here by other countries.

We can also expect many more Americans to travel abroad in the years ahead, and the dollars they spend in other countries will be a considerable source of purchasing power of our goods here at home.

The Government is now undertaking to determine the extent to which we can count on such natural adjustments as these, and the extent and character of the other actions we should plan to take in order to achieve a sound and healthy flow of international trade and investment. This whole problem is being studied under the leadership of Mr. Gordon Gray. Later this year, I expect him to submit recommendations concerning the actions, both public and private, we should take toward this goal.

In this process, the advice of interested private citizens and groups will be actively sought. We shall need the wisest and most mature thought on this subject we can obtain, for world economic prosperity is vital to the success of our efforts for peace.

We know already some of the things we must do. We know, first of all, that we must continue to reduce our tariff and other import barriers in return for similar reductions by other countries. Furthermore, we must develop international principles for fair trade, such as those which would be established by the International Trade Organization, the charter of which is now before the Congress for approval, and has been there for quite some time. I hope they will act on it someday.

We also need what has become known as the point 4 program if we are to build a healthy world trade and investment. Under this program we will help to raise the standards of health, education, and production in the underdeveloped areas of the world. We need to do this in our own interest as well as in theirs.

Some people seem to think that if we help the underdeveloped areas produce more, our sales abroad will be cut down. Those people just do not understand how such things work out.

When various parts of our own country, such as the Middle West and the Far West, were developed, there were a lot of people who thought that would be bad for the East. But it didn't work out that way. Instead, the development of our West meant more prosperity for our whole country, the East included. And the same thing will happen with the industrial and agricultural growth in the underdeveloped areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. As they grow in economic strength and prosperity, they will increase the economic strength and prosperity of the whole world.

Point 4 program is a constructive, creative enterprise, full of promise for a better future. We, in our country, can understand that sort of enterprise, for we are a strong, youthful Nation, with the enthusiasm and vigor that characterizes free men.

The world into which this college class is graduating today needs that sort of constructive, creative leadership in foreign economic affairs. I hope some members of this class will go into that field of endeavor.

If you do, you can be confident that you are working for peace. For the peace we seek is essentially a condition in which man's creative abilities can be exercised, freely and in cooperation with his fellows, toward a better world for us all.

You know that if we are to have that kind of peace we must be willing to work hard and long for it. We must be willing to bear the temporary costs of defensive armaments as well as those of constructive economic development. But those costs of defense do not express Our true purpose--we assume them so that we can achieve our true purpose, which is to work constructively for human advancement in a free society.

That purpose is worthy of your devoted efforts, and I am sure that you will make that effort. For the young and the free can look beyond the immediate difficulty to the promises of the future.

Oh, I wish it could be my privilege to be graduated here today with you. How I wish I could see the next 50 years. We are facing the greatest age in history. Some of you will see a world of untold and unimagined wonders. Read Alfred Tennyson's "Locksley Hall." He saw the future about a hundred years ago. How much greater a future you face only the greatest imagination can foresee. Face it with courage, with ideals, and high moral conviction, and God will reward you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:05 a.m. at the university stadium in Columbia, Mo. His opening words "Mr. President" referred to Dr. Frederick A. Middlebush, president of the University of Missouri.

Due to a rainstorm the ceremonies were shortened and the honorary degree recipients, including the President, were given their degrees at Jesse Hall, located on the campus of the university.

The address was carried on a nationwide broadcast.

For the President's remarks immediately following his address, see Item 160 [1].

Harry S Truman, Commencement Address at the University of Missouri. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230762

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