Radio and Television Address to the American People Prior to Departure for the Big Four Conference at Geneva.
[Delivered from the broadcast room at the White House at 8:15 p.m.]
Good evening friends:
Within a matter of minutes I shall leave the United States on a trip that in some respects is unprecedented for a President of the United States. Other Presidents have left the continental limits of our country for the purpose of discharging their duties as Commander in Chief in time of war, or to participate in conference at the end of a war to provide for the measures that would bring about a peace. But now, for the first time, a President goes to engage in a conference with the heads of other governments in order to prevent wars, in order to see whether in this time of stress and strain we cannot devise measures that will keep from us this terrible scourge that afflicts mankind.
Now, manifestly, there are many difficulties in the way of a President going abroad for a period, particularly while Congress is in session. He has many constitutional duties; he must be here to perform them. I am able to go on this trip only because of the generous cooperation of the political leaders in Congress of both political parties who have arranged their work so that my absence for a period will not interfere with the business of the Government. On my part I promised them that by a week from Sunday, on July 24th, I shall be back here ready to carry on my accustomed duties.
Now it is manifest that in such a period as I am able to spend abroad, we cannot settle the details of the many problems that afflict the world. But of course I go for a very serious purpose. This purpose is to attempt with my colleagues to change the spirit that has characterized the intergovernmental relationships of the world within the past ten years. Now--let us think for a moment about this purpose. Let us just enumerate a few of the problems that plague the world; the problem of armaments and the burdens that people are forced to carry because of the necessity for these armaments; the problem of the captive states, once proud people that are not allowed their own form of government--freely chosen by themselves and under individuals freely elected by themselves; the problem of divided countries, people who are related to each other by blood, kinship and who are divided by force of arms into two camps that are indeed expected to be hostile to each other.
Then we have the problem of international interference in the internal affairs of free governments, bringing about a situation that leads to subversion, difficulties and recriminations within countries--sometimes even revolutions.
These problems are made all the more serious by complications between governments. These problems of which I speak often have arisen as an aftermath of wars and conflicts. But governments are divided also by differing ambitions, by differing ideologies, by mutual distrust and the alarm that each creates. Because of these alarms, nations build up armaments and place their trust for peace and protection in those armaments. These armaments create greater alarms, and so we have a spiral of growing uneasiness and suspicion and distrust. That is the kind of thing that the world faces today. For these things there is no easy settlement. In the brief time that this conference can exist it is impossible to pursue all of the long and tedious negotiations that must take place before the details of these problems can be settled.
Our many postwar conferences have been characterized too much by attention to details, by an effort apparently to work on specific problems, rather than to establish a spirit and attitude in which to approach them. Success, therefore, has been meager. Too often, indeed, these conferences have been mere opportunities for exploitation of nationalistic ambitions, or, indeed, only sounding boards for the propaganda that the participants wanted to spread to the world.
If we look at this record we would say, "Why another conference? What hope is there for success?" Now, the first thing that I ask you is, "Do we want to do nothing; do we want to sit and drift along to the inevitable end of such a contest--new tensions and then to war or at least to continuing tensions?"
We want peace. We cannot look at this whole situation without realizing, first, that pessimism never won any battles, whether in peace or in war. Next, we will understand that one ingredient has been missing from all these conferences. I mean an intention to conciliate, to understand, to be tolerant, to try to see the other fellow's viewpoint as well as we see our own. I say to you, if we can change the spirit in which these conferences are conducted we will have taken the greatest step toward peace, toward future prosperity and tranquility that has ever been taken in the history of mankind.
I want to give you a few reasons for hope in this project: first, the people of all the world desire peace--that is, peace for people everywhere. I distinguish between people and governments here for the moment, for we know that the great hordes of men and women who make up the world do not want to go to the battlefield. They want to live in peace--not a peace that is a mere stilling of the guns, but a peace in which they can live happily, and in confidence that they can raise their children in a world of which they will be proud.
That common desire for peace is something that is a terrific force in this world and to which I believe all political leaders in the world are beginning to respond. They must recognize it.
Another item. Did you note this morning the speech made by Premier Bulganin in Moscow? Every word he said was along the lines that I am speaking. He talked of conciliation and tolerance and understanding. I say to you, I say to all the world, if the words that he expressed are as truly reflective of the hearts and minds of all the people in Russia, and the hearts and minds of all the people in all the world everywhere, there will be no trouble between the Russian delegation and our own at this coming conference.
Now I want to mention another item that is important in this conference. The free world is divided from the Communist world by an iron curtain. The free world has one great factor in common. We are not held together by force but we are held together by this great factor.
It is this. The free world lives under one religion or another. It believes in a divine power. It believes in a supreme being. Now this, my friends, is a very great factor for conciliation and peace at this time. Each of these religions has as one of its basic commandments words that are similar to our Golden Rule--"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This means that the thinking of those people is based upon ideas of right, and justice, and mutual self-respect and consideration for the other man. This means peace, because only in peace can such conceptions as these prevail. This means that the free people of the world hate war; they want peace and are fully dedicated to it.
Now, this country, as other free countries, maintains arms. We maintain formations of war and all the modern weapons. Why? Because we must. As long as this spirit that has prevailed up to now continues to prevail in the world, we cannot expose our rights, our privileges, our homes, our wives, our children to risk which would come to an unarmed country. But we want to make it perfectly clear that these armaments do not reflect the way we want to live. They merely reflect the way, under present conditions, we have to live. Now it is natural for a people steeped in a religious civilization, when they come to moments of great importance--maybe even crises such as now we face--to turn to the divine power that each has in his own heart, for guidance, for wisdom, for some help in doing the thing that is honorable, that is right.
I have no doubt that tonight throughout this country and indeed throughout the free world, that such prayers are ascending. This is a mighty force, and it brings to me the thought that through prayer we could also achieve a very definite and practical result at this very moment.
Suppose on the next sabbath day observed by each of our religions, Americans, 165 million of us, went to our accustomed places of worship, and, crowding those places, asked for help, and by so doing demonstrated to all the world the sincerity and depth of our aspirations for peace. This would be a mighty force. None could then say that we preserve armament because we want to. We preserve it because we must.
My friends, Secretary Dulles and I go to this conference in earnest hope that we may accurately represent your convictions, your beliefs, your aspirations. We shall be conciliatory because our country seeks no conquest, no property of others. We shall be tolerant because this nation does not seek to impose our way of life upon others. We shall be firm in the consciousness of your material and spiritual strength and your defense of your rights. But we shall extend the hand of friendship to all who will grasp it honestly and concede to us the same rights, the same understanding, the same freedom that we accord to them.
We, the Secretary and I, shall do our best with others there to start the world on the beginning of a new road, a road that may be long and difficult, but which, if faithfully followed, will lead us on to a better and fuller life.
Thank you and goodnight.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Radio and Television Address to the American People Prior to Departure for the Big Four Conference at Geneva. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233264