Harry S. Truman photo

Remarks and Question and Answer Period With the National Conference of Editorial Writers.

October 17, 1947

THE PRESIDENT. I notice Mr. Mencken told you that you were no use--[laughter]-and that's not the first time I have disagreed with Mr. Mencken.

I make it a point to read a great many editorials. They are, most of them, thoughtful and well written, and are exceedingly useful to the welfare of the country. I can't say that for all of them, but that is true in any business, there are people who are outside the pale. And you have that to contend with, just as I do in politics.

[1.] I know that you are interested somewhat in the policy that the United States is pursuing. You have a right to be interested in it, because it is your policy. It is a policy that we have been interested in from time immemorial--and that is world peace. We have never wanted anything but peace, peace in the world that is a peace that will work for the welfare of all the citizens in all the countries of the world.

The war ended suddenly. The German war ended just about 3 weeks after I sat down at this desk. All the prophets said that it would last 6 months longer. The Japanese war ended about 3 months afterwards, the 14th of August, and all the prophets said that it would last a year after the Germans had folded up. In that year we had appropriated $105 billion for war expenses. In October of that year, I made an order of rescission for $55 billion of that war expenditure, because it was no longer necessary to buy tanks and planes and guns and ammunition after the Axis powers had folded up.

This policy which we are endeavoring to pursue is one in which we will be asked to make expenditures in the interests of peace. The Marshall report calls for an expenditure over a 4-year period of some 16 to 22 billions of dollars, about one third of the rescission which I made in October for 6 months of war.

The idea of the rehabilitation of the war torn countries is to put them on a self-supporting basis, which is entirely to our selfish interest. There is only one other alternative to that.

There are two ideologies in the world now. We have, under our Constitution, a Bill of Rights. The right of the individual is the foremost thing in the formation of our form of government. The other ideology believes that the individual is the slave of the state, to be sent where they tell him, to do what they tell him, to act as they tell him to act.

In July of 1945 I made a trip to Potsdam to see if we could implement the preliminaries of a peace in the world. We made some progress, and made certain specific agreements in relation to what was to come afterwards to a peace that would affect the whole world.

Before that time--some time before that time, there had been a worsening of our relationships with one of our great allies, the one that has come out of the war apparently in better shape than any of those who went into it. Those relationships continue to grow worse, and we found by trial and error--I hope not too many errors--that we had to assume a position of firmness in our effort to get a workable peace in the world.

We have never wanted anything but peace. We didn't ask for territory, we didn't ask for reparations. All we asked for is a restoration of those principles for which we stand on, based on a just peace that will affect every country in the world to its welfare and benefit. We don't want to tell any country how to run its internal affairs, or what to do in regard to its domestic policy. We do want the United Nations to become a going concern. And that, I think, is our only hope for a lasting peace.

We have only one other alternative, which is to go back into our shell. We may have to go back to that $105 billion a year expenditure, which nobody with any sense in his head wants to do.

We have established a going policy. You are a part of that policy. It is a bipartisan foreign policy of the United States of America, not the President's policy, or the policy of the Secretary of State. It is the policy of this country, of the United States, and you are just as much in it as I am.

I want to bring that home to you, so that when you write your editorials, try and get all the facts in relation to the foreign policy before you make up your mind. I have been sitting here for 2 1/2 years, trying to get all the facts, and I haven't got them all yet! So you know it must be a rather difficult problem. But we are here, trying to give you as much information as is possible for us to give you, and to give you the facts as they are.

You have a tremendous influence on the welfare of this country. You can either make it or break it. I say that advisedly, although I would much rather have a good headline writer than a good editorial writer, any day. [Laughter]

If you have any questions that you want to ask, I will do my best to answer them. I am used to that.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, this may seem trivial, but I think it would interest us. You say you read a great many editorials. Could you tell us a little about how they are screened, whether they come to you, what method--

THE PRESIDENT. No sir, I take the papers themselves, and I read at least a dozen daily papers every day. Then there are a great many instances where editorials are mailed to me from out of town. But I spend--you see, I get up before daylight every morning-I have the reveille habit--and I spend a good part of that time going over all the Washington papers and the New York papers, Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Bulletin, and any others that I have time to read. But I read them myself because I like to read them. And I find out lots of things about myself that I never heard of. [Laughter]

Q. Ever read any from beyond the Alleghenies regularly?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I get the St. Louis post-Dispatch, sometimes the Pittsburgh papers, and the Kansas City Star. On occasion I get some west coast papers. That is, editorially they are--of course, by the time they get here the news is stale, but I usually read the editorial pages of these papers. The Morning Register I read sometimes, and Chicago papers--always very fond of the little afternoon Chicago daily 1 consolidated with the Chicago Sun. I never thought much of the rest of the Chicago papers. [Laughter]

1 Chicago Times.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, can you offer us any suggestions on how we can help the food-saving campaign ?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes I can. The idea and object of the food-saving campaign is just one thing, that is, to keep people from starving to death this winter. We have an immense wheat crop this year, but our corn crop is short. What we are hoping to do is getting the people who feed livestock and poultry, and things of that kind--and the distillers and brewers to make a little less alcohol, leaving a little less grain to be put out to livestock and poultry, and see if we can't get enough additional grain so as not to allow people to starve to death.

Of course, after the Napoleonic war, immense numbers of people in Europe starved to death. There wasn't any United States in existence at that time large enough to contribute to the starving people. They simply starved. We don't want to see that. It's a food-saving program to see if we can't keep these people from starving. When they tell you that exports of grain are principally because of the present market situation, that is a mistake, for the simple reason that we have always exported, anyway, anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent of our wheat crop, and it is not unusual to export 570 million bushels of wheat out of a 1,400 million bushel crop. That is not out of line at all. That has been the average for the last 30 years.

Then, too, so many of our people have become able to eat more and to live so much better than they have lived in the past, that they scramble for food grains, and for meat, and things of that kind. It has become immense.

And there is also some connection with--I shouldn't bring in politics--but the price control situation, if you want to read the history on that, you will find that our present difficulties now result from that, just as it was prophesied by the President of the United States. But we are faced with a condition and not a theory. We must find a way to feed these people.

Q. Mr. President, many of the farmers of our section are holding their grain over because of income taxes. Has there been any effort to give them--sell them--

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well, I don't know about that tax thing. I don't think there is anything you can do on the tax thing, but an effort is being made by the Department of Agriculture to approach the problem on the ground and see if we can't get the farmers to sell to us directly, for the purpose for which we are going to use this, as we did last year. We had a difficult last year, if you remember, on account of the crop failure in the Southern Hemisphere. This year we are going to try the same plan we tried last year: to sell his grain directly to the Department of Agriculture for shipment abroad, so that will not make it cost quite so much, and I think will help the farmers, too; but I can't answer yet. In the history of a great many years, the farmer has been worried about this, and I am glad he is worried about it.

[4.] Q. Can you tell us anything more about the present outlook for a special session?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I can't give you any information on that, for I haven't all the facts together, as yet. As soon as I have all the facts on my desk, I will be able to see the situation as it is. I had the Ambassador from Great Britain in here yesterday-our Ambassador, Mr. Douglas; and General Clay, and Mr. Murphy from Germany in here this morning--I receive Bedell Smith tomorrow.1 And then the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce, the Secretary of State, are in conference with the Food Committee. And as soon as I get all those facts together, then I will tell you whether there will be a special session or not, but I can't tell you now. I can't operate on "by guess or by God." [Laughter]

1 The President referred to Lewis W. Douglas, U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain; Lt. Gen. Lucius D. Clay, U.S. Deputy Military Governor in Germany; Robert D. Murphy, U.S. political adviser in Berlin; and Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, when do you expect the Harriman report on our resources ?

THE PRESIDENT. It will be ready, I think, within the next 2 weeks.2

Mr. Ross: The Krug report is out now.

THE PRESIDENT. Has it been released?

2 See Item 219.

Mr. Ross: It will be released for Sunday morning.

THE PRESIDENT. It will be released Saturday evening.1 And that Krug report is necessary, and the information is necessary for the Food Committee and for Harriman's committee before they can finally come to a conclusion on what they will report.

1 See Item 212.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, is there immediate danger of a march of events in such countries as Greece, Italy, and possibly France, getting ahead of the mechanics of help to those countries ?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes there is. Yes there is. That is one of the worries that the President has to go through with. But our system of government requires a rather slow-motion approach to the thing. We have to proceed in the regular way, or we can't get anything done. It takes time. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of work in order to get these things coordinated so that they will work. I hope it will be in time, on France and Italy.

Q. How about Greece ? Do you think we are--

THE PRESIDENT. I think we are possibly on time in the Greece situation. If France and Italy blow up, Greece is gone too, so there you are.

Q. Mr. President, what is your reaction as to those statements that the European peoples are not using enough effort on their own?

THE PRESIDENT. That may have some basis in truth. But I would like to make a statement on that situation, from this viewpoint. The cream of the crop of young men in Great Britain, in France, in Germany, and in Italy, has been wiped out--in two generations. Two generations of young men have been wiped out. France was under the heel of the conqueror for nearly 4 years. Nearly every other country in Europe was overrun in exactly the same way by the ruthless Nazi machine. Those people are discouraged and tired, and they haven't enough to eat.

Suppose you had to live on a meal for a week that I saw presented to me the other day by a fellow who came back here from England. You wouldn't feel like working much yourself, if you were in that condition. The thing that we have got to do is to revive the spirit of those people, keep them from starving to death so that we can get them in a mood to work. I can't blame them, seriously, for being that way.

Q. Do you contemplate sending them some agricultural implements?

THE PRESIDENT. Doing that right now. Doing that right now. That is our principal export to Greece--agricultural implements and mules, and things of that kind.

Q. Is there anything you can pass on to us from the gentlemen who have just returned from Germany? Some of us are much interested in that.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think there is anything I can say to you now that would be of use to you, until I get ready to make this final report on the whole thing. Then I will give it to you. I can't talk about Germany without putting the whole picture on the table, and I am not ready to do that yet, because I haven't got it all.

Leslie Moore (Chairman of the National Conference): Thank you very much, Mr. President. We don't want to take any more of your time. We are grateful for this. These men could ask questions all day long, you know.

THE PRESIDENT. I will do my best to answer them. I don't know whether I can give you the answers you want.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, are we going to get any credit in the United States for sending all this stuff to Europe ? It has frequently been said we don't--that they don't understand.

THE PRESIDENT. YOU know, we have no propaganda machine in the United States, and the little one we had the Congress abolished; but I am not doing this for credit. I am doing it because it's right, I am doing it because it's necessary to be done, if we are going to survive ourselves. That's the best answer I can give you.

NOTE The President spoke in his office at the White House at 12:40 p.m. The meeting is carried in the White House Official Reporter's records as the President's one hundred and twenty-fourth news conference. The Official Reporter noted that permission was granted at the close of the conference for direct quotation of the following statement, based on the reply to the final question: "We are not doing this for credit; we are doing it because it's right and because it's necessary."

Harry S Truman, Remarks and Question and Answer Period With the National Conference of Editorial Writers. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232443

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