Gerald R. Ford photo

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Representatives of Greater Milwaukee Ethnic Organizations.

April 02, 1976

FIRST, LET ME express my deep appreciation for all of you being here. And after I make a few prepared remarks, I will look forward to the opportunity of responding to any questions, whether it is on the subject matter that I am speaking on or any other subject, whether it is domestic or international matters.

I am reminded, as I see some of the faces here, of the meeting that we had with some of you, at least, in the Cabinet Room at the White House on July 25, as I recollect. At that time, some 30 leaders of the Eastern European community met with me to discuss problems relating to Western Europe and related matters. I understand, however, that that was the very first time that a President of the United States met with leaders representing the interests of so many Americans concerned about Eastern Europe.

I think on our Bicentennial anniversary, it is particularly appropriate that we in government recognize the great contributions of our citizens from Eastern Europe. Before departing for the European Security Conference in Helsinki last July, I stated my policy very categorically in reference to Eastern Europe. And at this time, let me reiterate that statement. I worked on it myself; I am very proud of it, and I think oftentimes it is not read in proper context.

It goes like this--It is the policy of the United States, and it has been my policy ever since I entered public life, to support the aspirations for freedom and national independence of the peoples of Eastern Europe with whom we have such close ties of culture as well as blood by every proper and by every peaceful means.

I stated my hope and expectation that my visit to Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia would again demonstrate the friendship and the interest in the welfare and progress of the fine people of Eastern Europe. This remains my policy, regardless of what any Washington experts or anti-Washington experts may say or write.

On July 29, 1975, in the market square of Krakow, Poland, I told a good many thousands who were assembled there that I was standing only a very few feet from the plaque marking where General Kosciusko stood and took his very famous oath to fight, to regain the independence of Poland and the freedom of all Poles. I said I was very proud to be in a place so rich in Polish history and so closely associated with the Polish hero in our own struggle for independence in the United States.

During my visit to Belgrade, I said that Americans particularly admired Yugoslavia's independent spirit. I said whenever independence is threatened, people everywhere look to the example of the struggle of Yugoslavian people throughout their history. They take strength and they take inspiration from that example. America's interest in Yugoslavia's continued independence, integrity, and well-being, expressed often in the past, remains undiminished.

In the joint communiqué which President Ceausescu and I signed in Romania,1 we emphasized our support for a just and equitable international order which respects the right of each country, regardless of size or political or economic or social system, to choose its own destiny, free from the use or threat of force.

1 See 1975 volume, Item 465.

When I returned from Europe, I told the American people that I was able to deliver in person a message of enormous significance to all Europeans. My message was very clear: America still cares. And the torch in the Statue of Liberty still burns very brightly. We stand for freedom and independence in 1976, just as we stood for freedom and independence in 1776.

I have recalled these events because they underline the fact that my policy, America's policy toward Eastern Europe is fully, clearly, and formally documented. It is a creative and cooperative policy toward the nations of Eastern Europe. It is the policy that embraces our most important ideals as a nation. It is a policy that I have repeated in messages to Americans of Estonian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian ancestry--and I add the Latvian people, that I know so well in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, know of my deep concern and devotion and friendship with them.

What it amounts to--there is no secret Washington policy, no double standard by this Government.

The record is positive, consistent, responsive to your concerns, and I say it is indisputable. The United States strongly supports the aspirations for freedom, for national independence of peoples everywhere, including the peoples of Eastern Europe. I have followed this policy in my visits to Eastern Europe and in my meetings with Eastern European leaders here as well as overseas.

Our policy is in no sense--and I emphasize this--in no sense to accept Soviet dominion of Eastern Europe or any kind of organic union. Nor is it in any way designed to permit the consolidation for such dominion. On the contrary, the United States seeks to be responsive to and to encourage as responsibly as possible, the desires of Eastern Europeans for greater autonomy, independence, and more normal relations with the rest of the world.

This is the policy that I will continue to pursue with patience, with firmness, and with persistence--a policy from which the United States will not waiver. Thank you very, very much.

Now, I will be very glad to answer any questions. And as I said, you can ask them about the subjects that I have discussed, but if you want to broaden it, I will be delighted to do so.


Q. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, it is an extraordinary privilege to welcome you to Milwaukee--a truly cosmopolitan, ethnic cross section of America. This is exemplified by the fact, Mr. President, that every fall we have an international folk fair here, and we have over 30 different ethnic groups.

We have 100,000 people attending this affair. I intend to be brief and concise.

First of all, the Americans with ethnic ties are very appreciative of your services to America during the time of immediate post-Watergate. And we will always remember this, and our prayers were with you every day during this period. However, this is a two-way street, and the name of the game, off the record, is voting. And I feel that we would like to offer you a service for your consideration in loyalty to fairness and justice of the Eastern and Southern European countries. Consequently, I would like to make a few brief observations.

The different nationality groups have been in the camp of the Democratic Party since Roosevelt's time. This is a known fact. Now, during the 1972 campaign of Nixon, I was surprised and amazed to see this ethnic group go along with Nixon and his campaigners. And it was amazing in my own office among the patients and the factories, the areas I traveled in America, and it was a surprise.

However, this was short-lived. And right after the 1972 election, our group not only became disenchanted with the national recovery and the plight of our people but it became bitter over the fact that it was denied the few band-aids, promises, and the minimum tokenism, too.

Consequently, Mr. President, something specific by you and through your administration must be done to win back this allegiance which was so shortly held by Nixon. Surprisingly, very little needs to be done. Specifically, the consensus I gather, talking to various ethnic groups around the country, number a few things.

Number one, the ethnic heritage studies. We ask the administration to give this full support. We, the ethnics, have paid our taxes, have supported the United States Government and the Armed Forces. And the highest number of enlistments in the First and Second World Wars have been silent, have manned the factories, and so on and so forth, and we ask very little in return. This was the first gesture by the United States Government towards the ethnic groups.

First, $100 million was supposed to be funded. They cut it down to $20 million, and finally they cut it down to $1.8 million, and this was also supposed to be eliminated until a last ditch stand. Now, we are not going to march in protest to Washington, D.C., but the ethnics will show it at the voting polls and, consequently, I ask that this administration give consideration. Secondly--


Q. Wait.

THE PRESIDENT. Let me say first, on the question of appointments and recognition, I think we have in our presence here now Mitch Kobelinski, who is in charge of the Small Business Administration.

Number two, on the ethnic education matter, about a week ago, the Office of Management and Budget and myself were discussing this with the head officials in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. And they are seeking a way, within the funds that have been appropriated, to continue the $1.5 million for that program. So, I can't say today that it is accomplished, but there are people in the top of HEW and in OMB who are working on it, and I am confident that they will find a solution.

Ask one more, and then I want to answer questions from some others.

Q. The second point I want to bring out--and I will be all through in a minute and a half--and that is the affirmative action program. We strongly request that the President, by Executive order, include Eastern and Southern Europeans in the affirmative action program if this is possible.

And thirdly, we ask in regards to the 1980 Federal Census--this is very important to the ethnics--we ask that all ethnics be included in the census. Now, only the first and second generation is included. You forget about the third, while the blacks and the Latins are always counted. This is important in many areas. And we request that--

THE PRESIDENT. One more, and then I have got to get on here.

Q. I agree with you. [Laughter]

We request that the United States publications that appear in Poland and other satellite countries have the same privilege--and they are allowed to be circulated in America--that these publications be allowed to be circulated in Europe.

The last point that we wanted to get support of--and this will take 10 seconds-is that the House bill number 9466, in regards to establishing a commission on security and cooperation in Europe, so we can follow through on the deals that we make with Russia and other countries. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. On that last point, the European Security Conference agreement provided that there should be, within 2 years, another meeting to determine whether the agreements that were signed were lived up to. And we have people in the Department of State who are following it very closely, and we will be prepared in 1977 to go there and to make certain that what was agreed to in Helsinki is being carried out.

Q. Mr. President, we, here in Milwaukee, are very appreciative of the fact that in your administration you have appointed someone as the Special Assistant for Ethnic Affairs--the office that was long overdue, and I think this will help us in our area of making ourselves heard to you.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think we have a great person. I think we have an excellent representation of the ethnic groups in the White House. And so I am sure that I will hear if I make any mistakes, and he will forewarn me if I am about to. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, Bronko Terzich from the Serbian-Americans. As we spoke a little earlier, I indicated that if there is anything this group can offer you, it is the firsthand experience and knowledge of communism and totalitarian government. And I hope that you accept the counsel of those people here--that first generation that fought its way out of Eastern Europe and sought out the United States as the ideal homeland for their families.

Along with that line, there is a concern now about our current defense stand, our current strength. We spoke a little earlier about the National Guard and the fact that numbers are down--our military budget is the smallest as the percentage of the GNP it has ever been. Many of the people here that have been in the countries prior to World War II skimped on their military, now find themselves in enslaved nations. I wanted your comments on the military budget and the defense spending.

THE PRESIDENT. Let me first tell you that in January of 1975, I submitted to the Congress the largest peace-time military budget in the history of the United States. Unfortunately, the Congress cut it by $7.5 billion. The cut was too big, and if reductions of that magnitude were to go on, we would be in jeopardy.

On the other hand, in January of this year, to make certain that we keep the momentum going for our military capability so that we are unsurpassed, I recommended the largest military budget in the history of the United States, peacetime or wartime. It is $112.4 billion, with a $1,800 million increase in strategic funding, $4.8 billion in conventional force increased funding, a $1 billion increase in research and development, and a number of other increases. It was an increase of about 11 percent and, as you know, the budget for next year in many domestic programs is being reduced.

So, in defense, for the budget of the fiscal year 1977, I recommended a military budget that turns the trendline upward to maintain our unsurpassed military capability.

Now, let me take our strategic forces. Before I do it, I want you to know that I spent 14 years in the Congress of the United States, spending most of my time in military appropriations hearings. We would go 7 months a year, 5 hours a day, 5 days a week listening to Secretaries of Defense, Secretaries of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Chairmen, and Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think I know something affirmatively about military programs and the history of what we have had, what we have now, and what we need.

All right, let's take our strategic forces right now. Our ballistic missiles are more accurate than those of the Soviet Union. Our ballistic missiles in the covers that they are in, the launch pads they are on, are more survivable than those of the Soviet Union. But the most important fact is we have a ratio, as I recall, of roughly 2 to 1 more warheads than the Soviet Union has.

Now, it is warheads that do the damage if they are called upon to be utilized. So if we are ahead in warheads, I think we have the necessary capability. For what reason? To deter aggression, to maintain the peace, and to protect our national security.

But this is not all of our strategic capability. We have a 3 to 1 ratio over the Soviet Union in strategic bombers--3 to 1--and we are following on the B-52's, which is our current strategic bomber capability, with the B-1, if we can get the Congress to fund it, if we can get the Congress to give us the money to carry on.

Let's turn to the submarine situation. We have the Polaris, we are moving in-we have the Poseidon, and I have requested additional funding for what is called, the Trident, which is a much more capable submarine for ballistic missile purposes.

But now let's take, having mentioned the Navy--I heard somebody or read somebody saying that we were outnumbered in the Navy, and they quoted the figures, as I recall, of 1,100 to 400, something like that. That is an oversimplification. It shows that you are comparing apples with oranges. We have about a 3 to 1 ratio over them in tonnage. Some people try to take numbers and compare a torpedo boat with an aircraft carrier. Now they don't quite relate to one another.

An aircraft carrier that costs a billion dollars and has probably 125 strike aircraft, that has probably a tonnage of 80 million (thousand) tons, is a lot more powerful than some torpedo boat. So, you have to understand what people are comparing. And it is a distortion, it is a misleading statement for people to quote numbers without quoting what the military capability is. And I think it is unfortunate for this country that misleading statements like that are made. It could alarm the American people, it could have an adverse impact on our allies, and it could encourage our enemies. And I think it is very unfortunate.

Q. Mr. President, I would just like to say that we, the American people, feel honored having you as President for your frankness and honesty in bringing the truth to Government--to the American people.


Q. Mr. President, do you believe we are committing suicide by shackling our information-gathering sources abroad by publishing the names of those people that serve this country abroad in a very important field?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that some of the information that has been given out as to people who represent us abroad is very harmful to our intelligence gathering capability. I think one of the most tragic incidents was when some, I think, underground newspaper in Greece published the name of a man named Richard Welch. And the net result is Richard Welch was assassinated. I think that is unforgiveable, unconscionable, indefensible. And we cannot get people to work for the United States if we can't give them the assurance that their identity and whatever else is needed is protected. And these publicity seekers in this case, whoever they were--and I don't know--resulted in the murder, the loss of life of a father. I think it is unconscionable.

Q. Mr. President, Vytas Paukstelis from the American Lithuanian community. Over the past years we have been watching detente work. It is our sincere feeling that it is working one-sided--it is one-sided; that is, it is working largely for the benefit of the Soviet Union. What are we doing to turn this trend around?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I respectfully disagree with your appraisal that it is harmful and beneficial to the United States. As a matter of fact, I think it has been a two-way street. And from our point of view, I think we have done very well.

Let's take the Helsinki agreement which many people have castigated. The Helsinki Conference was the greatest political liability, propaganda loss to the Soviet Union, period. The net result is that we have forced the Soviet Union and others who signed, that, number one, they have to give far more humane treatment--the getting together of families, the movement of press personnel back and forth across the borders. The Helsinki agreement, for the first time in writing, authorizes peaceful readjustment of borders. The Helsinki agreement, under no circumstances, wrote into a legal document the existing borders. There were 33 nations there, as I recollect, including a representative from His Holiness. And I don't believe that His Holiness would have his representative sign a document that would be, under any circumstances, inhumane. What I am saying is, it was a propaganda liability to the Soviet Union.

Now we are insisting, whether it is in SALT I or in the SALT II negotiations, that it is a two-way street. And as long as I am President, it will be nothing other than a two-way street.

Q. Mr. President, Americans of Ukrainian descent in this country are deeply concerned about the persecution of the Ukrainian intellectuals in political prison in the Soviet Ukraine. Under the interpretation of the Helsinki Conference, or for purely humanitarian reasons, what can our Government do to help them to get freed?

THE PRESIDENT. The first thing you can do, if you would, give me the names or give somebody on my staff the names---

Q. Valentine Moroz is one of the most prominent

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I have heard of that.

Q. Vyacheslav Chornovil and Vasyl Romaniuk--and they suffer inhumane treatment for the crime of no more than writing three novels. Now, does the Helsinki Conference guarantee their right of speech for free expression or religious feeling?

THE PRESIDENT. It does not involve that particular aspect. It does involve the reuniting of families. It does involve some of the other humane things, but it does not seek to interpret or to change local laws in that sense.

But let me give you an example. Remember this Lithuanian, Kudirka, who tried to escape from a Soviet fishing boat and got on board an American Coast Guard vessel and then was put back? This was before I was in the White House. I want you to know--and I saw him--where did we see Kudirka the other day? Some place in the last month or two I saw him, and he was very grateful because he knows through my personal intercession he got back here and is in the United States. .

Q. What can our Government do from a humanitarian point of view to intercede on their behalf, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if you will give me the names, we will undertake it.

Q. Sir, I wrote you a letter and I delivered it to Mr. Kuropas.2

THE PRESIDENT. All right, fine.

2 Myron B. Kuropas, Special Assistant to the President for Ethnic Affairs.

Q. Mr. President, I am a Serbian Orthodox priest from Cudahy. I am a Yugoslavian immigrant and also a citizen of the United States. I would like to inform you that in our Orthodox Church services, we always pray for you and for your health, so I guess I deserve to ask you a question. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. If I don't answer it right, will you still pray for me? [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, I cannot change our books. That's in our rites. [Laughter] Last December, my brother, who was the mechanical engineer and doctor of engineering--he was the professor at the university--he was killed in Tito's jail. And I read this morning's newspaper that he said that they are sentencing those people who are pro-Soviets--he does not have anything to do with the pro-Soviet regime. His father is--my brother from my father's brother--that's my cousin. He does not have anything to do with Soviet. His father was the (inaudible). He fought against communism. He invented three inventions over there, and they didn't recognize them. So, he fought against communism, and they put him in jail. And at 9 today, in jail, he was killed. So, you can expect me to ask you a question, to give you information on this.

I came to this country 13 years ago, and I am proud to live in this country. And I am grateful that you invited ethnic groups to discuss this. I would like to say this: I lived in Yugoslavia for 22 years, and I know that Yugoslavia is not independent; she is still an enemy of the United States. And financial aid which the United States Government sends to Yugoslavia is not used for the people, but for their leaders and rulers to prolong their regime and to enjoy American dollars that might be available.

The Yugoslav Government sent a field hospital to North Vietnam while still the United States was fighting in North Vietnam. The same money which the United States gave them, they bought a field hospital to send to help North Vietnam Communists, against this country.

Secondly, I do not think that visits to Yugoslavia helped the people in Yugoslavia, because that helps the Communist government to kill traits of freedom which those freedom lovers still have in their hearts. That helps the Communist government to survive longer. And I would appreciate if you would consider that in your next trips which you might plan, or in your next financial aid which you are going to send or not to send to Yugoslavia, because in that way the Americans are helping the Communist government in Yugoslavia to survive. We are helping that regime to survive.

I am grateful to be here. Thank you very much for coming to Milwaukee and visiting us ethnic groups. I will still pray for you. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, thank you very much.

I think we all recognize that in those Communist-dominated countries in Eastern Europe, there is far from the kind of freedom that we enjoy in this country. On the other hand, I think we have to recognize in the case of Yugoslavia, back in about 1950 or 1951, there was a distinct break--was. it 1948?from Stalin's Soviet Union. That was the first breach in the solid European-Asian Communist hierarchy.

In the interim time, there has been that continued attempt to get more independence from the domination of the Soviet Union. And in more recent years, we have had Romania move to a more independent status. There are indications that several of the other Eastern European countries, to the degree that they can--and you know probably better than I, in some of those countries it is very difficult for a government to adopt a total independence from the Soviet Union.

It is a slow process, but from our point of view, as people interested in human beings, interested in freedom, interested in national independence, I think we have to keep pressure on and help in any way we can. And I can assure you that as far as I am concerned, we will do so.

Q. Mr. President, I am Paul Anton with the American Greeks. The question I have is: We, the Greeks, are concerned about the $1 billion military aid to Turkey. Turkey is starting war already with Greece. What do you suggest in that situation? Even though the American bases would be strictly under Turkish control, we are still going to give $1 billion aid to Turkey.

THE PRESIDENT. The gentleman refers to the negotiated military treaty with Turkey, which was concluded several weeks ago, subject now, of course, to Senate confirmation.

There are several involved questions here, but let me take the first one of just the treaty. The United States has, as a part of our NATO contribution, a very significant U.S. military operation in Turkey. I can't recall precisely how many U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy personnel are stationed in Turkey. We have, as I recall, some 10 fairly sizable, very important military bases in Turkey, including three to five extremely important intelligence-gathering stations where we use the most sophisticated hardware for the gathering of intelligence relating to the Soviet Union.

Now, all of those people, all of those bases are on Turkish soil. I think we have to expect to pay them something. Now, that is why the agreement was reached.

But let's now turn to Greece. We are right in the same kind of a negotiation with Greece, because the United States, as a part of our NATO contribution, also has U.S. military personnel in Greece, and we have U.S. military bases in Greece. I think as soon as the negotiators can conclude it, we will probably have a U.S. Greek treaty of somewhat the same kind.

The United States, as a partner in NATO, has to make a contribution when we put our people on their soil with our military hardware. In both Greece as well as in Turkey, we are using their soil, using their country for our mutual defense.

Now, the other question I think you probably are asking is, what about Cyprus? A quick review of the history.

As you know, in July of 1974, the then Greek Government tried to throw Makarios out, assassinate him, and put a man named Sampson in. They were unsuccessful. They did not achieve the assassination of Makarios, and they were not successful in getting Sampson in.

Then, the Turks reacted and sent in up to 40,000 Turkish military personnel. Since August of 1974, we have had this stalemate on Cyprus, and I think it is unfortunate. I think it is tragic because you have somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees, and I think that is one of the saddest things in current history.

We are working very hard to try and get Clerides, the Greek-Cypriot negotiator, and Denktash, the Turkish-Cypriot negotiator, to settle this tragic situation. They have made headway; they are making progress. And if we can be a little more patient, I think we will get a settlement between the Greeks and the Turks, between Denktash and Clerides, and that tragedy will be over.

We are doing our utmost. As you know, it is a long-standing rivalry between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus as well as other matters--the Aegean Sea. I can just say we are trying to be fair, to get a settlement of Cyprus and, if we do, we will strengthen NATO. And if we get these two treaties--one for Greece, one for Turkey--it will improve our capability to help in that end of the Mediterranean.

Q. Mr. President, I would have many questions, but I would like to fulfill one question of my daughter. She told me if I have a chance, to wish you health as President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very, very much, sir. Give her my very best, please.

Q. Mr. President, about a day ago or so, we listened on the television. Your opponent was speaking. I think one of the points that he was underlining was that it was a kind of a general decline in the moral--I am not speaking about the hardware--it was kind of a moral defeat on the part of the United States.

The same echo--it was echoed also by Alexander Solzhenitsyn--one is kind of a native American speaking, and the other is one who has come from the Soviet Union, and he emphasized the same thing.

Would you reassure us--and I am sure that you feel the same as I do feel-that your administration is doing the best to kind of dispel this kind of a belief? Would you tell us something about this? We are doing the best to kind of keep not only the military strength but also the moral leadership.

THE PRESIDENT. It is my very strong, personal belief that this administration, represented by me and by the others who hold positions of great responsibility, approach every problem from a moral position plus an equitable position. I don't think you can achieve an equitable settlement unless you have a moral position to begin with, and so what we are trying to do--and whenever we negotiate--is to adopt what we think is right in our conscience from a position of morality and, at the same time, achieve it without going to war. And I think we are making headway.

We aren't compromising, and we aren't sacrificing. And anybody who says we are does not know the facts. There is no evidence whatsoever that this administration has done anything to step back from a position of morality and good conscience in dealing with any of the Communist countries. As a matter of fact, all of my public life, I entered as a person who believed in helping our friends around the world trying to stand up for freedom on this side and the other side of the Iron Curtain.

One of the amusing things is, really, that in the 25-plus years I was in the Congress, I was known as the biggest military hawk in the Republican Party or Democratic Party. I mean, that's a fact. So you aren't going to have to worry about any retreat on my part from either moral or equitable or military position.

Q. Mr. President, I have been asked to thank you on behalf of all these ethnic leaders, and I think they all recognize that you are the best friend that ethnic Americans have ever had in the White House.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. Thank you very much. I have really enjoyed it. I will have to go out and swim or walk or something.

I want to thank the wonderful hosts here as well as all of you, for one of the most delightful luncheons. It is a great privilege and a great pleasure to see you all.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. at Mader's Restaurant in Milwaukee, Wis.

Gerald R. Ford, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Representatives of Greater Milwaukee Ethnic Organizations. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives