Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to Employees of the Department of State.

December 05, 1963

Mr. Secretary--

First of all I should like to introduce to you one of the great Americans that I have been privileged to know, the next in the line of succession, the very able Speaker of the House of Representatives, John McCormack.

Mr. Secretary, Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Americans:

I know you understand that the hours are heavily burdened, burdened by work that we must not neglect and by heartache that we cannot escape. Burdened as we are, I have asked that you be called together this afternoon so that I might come here, in person, to express to you, to each of you, a personal message--and that message is my very deep gratitude, my very deep appreciation, for the performance of everyone in our Department of State, in our AID program, in our USIA during this difficult period--and talk with you for a few moments about the work that is ahead for your country.

In the days since November the 22d, you have faced a very sensitive and exacting challenge--here and around the world. If a misstep occurred anywhere, I am unaware of it. The steady, the responsible, the dedicated quality of this State Department and the related agencies has seldom shown more clearly and has seldom served America more ably. In those first stunning moments 2 weeks ago, I cannot remember every thought that flashed before me, but I do remember thinking with great relief that Dean Rusk was on the job. One of the first things that I want you to know is that I have profound confidence in your great Secretary of State.

As I have begun to work on urgent national security problems, I have found that in nearly every case the problem was one with which I had at least some degree of familiarity. For this head start, two men are responsible: John F. Kennedy and Dean Rusk. No President in history was ever more attentive or more thoughtful or more generous to his Vice President's role than President Kennedy. I doubt if any Secretary of State ever approached the interest, the patience, and the understanding of Dean Rusk in this same regard. My own gratitude is great.

I have many friends in this Department. I doubt that many Presidents have ever had, with top members of the Department, the close and the warm and the trusting friendship that I enjoy this afternoon so proudly with George Ball, with Averell Harriman, with Alexis Johnson, and with Bill Crockett. And I have three younger friends who have worked most effectively on assignment to me in the Vice President's office; and if you would indulge me I would like to thank them too, today: Robert Skiff, Sam Gammon, and Lee Stull.

There are others in the Department who are trusted friends, and I will have a chance to know many more of you at firsthand in the months ahead. For I want you to know that I look upon the Department of State, under the President, as the central force in the framing and execution of the foreign policy of this country. Often in the past this service has been made difficult by misunderstanding and by intemperate criticism. Nothing is more important, in my judgment, than that all officers of the United States Government should be proud of their responsibilities and confident of the backing of their superior officers. The Department of State will get that kind of backing from me. I shall look to this department for initiative in proposal, energy in action, and frankness in advice.

This is no time for a full-scale address on our foreign policy, but I would like now to give you a few comments upon the basic issues ahead of us as I see them. Let me begin with the summary I used in speaking to the Congress: "I rededicate this Government to the unswerving support of the United Nations, to the honorable and determined execution of our commitments to our allies, to the maintenance of military strength second to none, to the defense of the strength and stability of the dollar, to the expansion of our foreign trade, to the reinforcement of our programs of mutual assistance and cooperation in Asia and Africa, and to our Alliance for Progress in this hemisphere."

We live in a rapidly moving world. There will be new burdens and new challenges, and we must respond with resourcefulness and responsibility. But in my mind we are branches of a single tree. The trunk of that tree is the simple, single proposition that we must find a way to insure the survival of civilization in this nuclear age. That, to 'me, is the greatest single requirement on the world's statesmen today. And from this, in turn, there follow two basic rules for all of our policies that just a moment ago I enunciated to the first meeting of our National Security Council: America must be strong, but America must be temperate and America must be just.

On strength and the need for fully effective defenses I yield to no one. I have been concerned with the strength and effectiveness of our Armed Forces for 30 years, and I mean to continue with energy the great work which Bob McNamara and the Defense Department have carried forward in the last 3 years. He and I have reemphasized the need for economy in recent days and we mean that--but we do not mean the kind of economy that cuts into the necessary strength of the Armed Forces. The basic improvement in the balance of power in the last 3 years is one-half of the explanation for the sense of hope that was developing in President Kennedy's last months. I have not become President to give away this advantage.

Yes, we must be temperate and just. One of my first concerns has been to make it clear to the Soviet Union, and to Mr. Khrushchev personally, that the United States will go its part of the way in every effort to make peace more secure. I do not agree with everything that Mr. Walter Lippmann says, but I do agree with him on the importance of the progress that we have made in this area in the last 3 years. I made this point forcefully to Mr. Mikoyan at the same time that I was emphasizing our continued and intense interest in the strength of our alliances to such men as Chancellor Erhard and Prime Minister Douglas-Home. I strongly supported the limited test ban treaty, and I want Bill Foster to know that I look on his work as part of national security just as much as the work of Secretary Bob McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I won't take your time today to give you views on all the major questions that we will be working together on, but I do wish to mention my special concern with two problems.

(1) We are heavily committed in South Viet-Nam, with 18,000 of our fellow American citizens there, and we should, all of us, not go to bed any night without asking whether we have done everything that we could do that day to win the struggle there and bring victory to our group.

(2) We have to live on the same planet with the Soviet Union, but we do not have to accept Communist subversion in this hemisphere--or indeed in any free country that can use our help effectively. But especially in this hemisphere I think we should let no day pass without asking what more can we do against Communist subversion and against subversion of the Castro Government in particular. But being against subversion is not just a matter of fighting communism. We have the positive job of helping to make the democratic system effective and attractive, both in our own country and wherever we have influence. This positive job, too, is of first importance.

I'll make just one more comment. We are all here today to serve the interests of the United States, but I think that we can serve that interest better if we always remember that the other man sees things in his own way. We need to show patience and understanding of other systems as well

as of our own.

And each of us should ask himself when he deals with other nations how he would feel if he were in the other fellow's place. That of course is part of your training and some people think that maybe you have overdone k. But I myself believe that we can and that we must combine understanding of others with effective pursuit of our own true interests.

That is the job we must do together. I count on your support and I came here today on my own invitation to tell you and to tell Secretary Rusk that you can count on mine.

Note: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. in the Department of State Auditorium. His opening words "Mr. Secretary" referred to Dean Rusk, Secretary of State. Later he referred to Representative John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, Speaker of the House of Representatives; George W. Ball, Under Secretary of State; W. Averell Harriman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; U. Alexis Johnson, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; William J. Crockett, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration; Robert W. Skiff, Samuel Rhea Gammon III, and Lee T. Stull, who served, consecutively, as Foreign Affairs Aide to Mr. Johnson when he was Vice President; Nikita S. Khrushchev, Chairman, U.S.S.R. Council of Ministers; Walter Lippmann, editor and author; Anastas I. Mikoyan, U.S.S.R. Deputy Premier; Ludwig Erhard, Chancellor of Germany; Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Prime Minister of Great Britain; William C. Foster, Director, United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; and Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense.

The President's remarks have been transcribed from a tape recording. Although excerpts of the remarks were quoted or paraphrased by the Press Secretary at his news conference held at 5:22 p.m. on December 5, the text was not made public as a White House press release.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to Employees of the Department of State. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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