Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to a Group of Editors and Broadcasters Attending a National Conference on Foreign Policy

April 21, 1964

Ladies and gentlemen:

I wish we could have better weather. You are here in the White House Rose Garden. We have beautiful roses on all sides of you here. The thorns are all in the next office, to the right. We have Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy and Mrs. Paul Mellon to thank for this beautiful garden. They worked on it for many months. We are enjoying all of its beauty this year.

I am glad you could come here before you went home to let me have a very brief visit with you. You occupy a very important place in American life. The destiny of our children is going to depend on the leadership of the present. What is written in your papers and the way in which you conduct your business helps millions of Americans in hundreds of cities and towns in shaping the kind of world that we are going to live in.

These views, in turn, affect the actions of your representatives in Congress. They affect the Presidency. They provide the solid framework for public opinion which is both the principal support and the principal limitation of democracy.

I am glad that you have come to Washington. I am glad that you are letting us help you do one of the most important jobs in the Nation, to try to help inform our people.

Behind me you can see the historic office of the Presidency. Every day there comes to that office new problems and new crises and new difficulties demanding discussion and consultation and decision.

This process of dealing with these day-today problems must, of necessity, consume much of the energy and much of the time of the President. But the Presidency also has another function, one which is not very easy to describe. That function can only be performed from that office. It is the effort to relate daily problems to the long-term prospects of a great nation. It is the effort to try to decide today in a manner which will lead to wise decisions and large possibilities in the future.

We must do this possessing no gift of prophecy, no special insight into history; instead, I must depend, as my 35 predecessors have depended, on the best wisdom and judgment that can be summoned to the service of the Nation. On that basis we try to decide what the only dimly perceived challenge of the future requires of us today. This is the responsibility which your Government owes to your children and to your children's children, to those who will live in this land long after we have taken our leave.

Every night when I go to bed I ask myself, "What did we do today that we can point to for generations to come, to say that we laid the foundation for a better and more peaceful and more prosperous world?"

I would like to talk to you about one area in which we can see with some certainty the shape of things to come. That is the fight against poverty around the world. We are waging an all-out war against poverty here at home. We are committed to pursue that war to final victory. But we are also engaged in that same battle on 100 different fronts around the world, in 100 or more nations.

We do this for two reasons: first, for the first time in history, man has the real power to overcome poverty. We have proved that by the wise application of modern technology. The determined labor of skilled men and women can ultimately produce enough food and clothing and shelter for all mankind. The possession of new abilities gives us new responsibilities and we want to live up to those responsibilities. That is our Christian duty.

Second, we now know that the progress which others make in satisfying their own desire for a better life will ultimately affect our own future and our own prospects, for we are now a part of a single world community, and you no longer can confine your activities or your influence to your local county seat. Names such as Saigon, Rio, and the Congo once stirred only thoughts of romantic adventure and great, mysterious distance, but today, as we meet here, we follow the events of those capitals with a close concern based on the knowledge that what happens there today will surely affect our action and our hopes here tomorrow.

That is why you and I have a special responsibility to explain the problems of the developing world abroad to the American people at home. We must do better than we have done in explaining why our children's welfare and the welfare of our country may well depend on the wisdom and the foresight that we show in working with the people of other lands. To do this, we must first understand clearly how most of the people of the world live.

I discussed in New York yesterday,1 and it took me 41 minutes to complete it, just a brief description of the problems that exist in certain areas of the world. Only by doing so can we truly understand the marvel of our own good fortune in this country.

On three continents, in dozens of countries, hundreds of millions of people struggle to exist on incomes of little more than a dollar a week. In the 112 or more nations, only 6 of them have an income of as much as $80 a month--Sweden and Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Here we ought to get down on our knees every night and thank the good Lord for our blessings, that our income can be more than $200 a month, when more than two-thirds of the people of the world have less than $8 a month.

These people have less to spend each day on food and on shelter and on clothing, and on medicine and on all of their needs, than the average American spends at his corner drug store for a package of cigarettes. They live in rundown country shacks of tar paper. They live in city slums. They live without heat or water or sanitation of any kind.

Their children have no schools to go to. They have no doctors or hospitals to attend. Their life expectancy is somewhere between 35 and 40 years of age. Worst of all, many of them live without any hope at all. They see no escape from the ancient cycle of misery and despair.

These are not new conditions. Poverty and hunger and disease are afflictions as old as man himself. But in our time and in this age there has been a change. The change is not so much in the realities of life, but in the hopes and the expectations of the future. If a peaceful revolution in these areas is impossible, a violent revolution is inevitable.

We who stand here in peace and security, and prosperity, must realize that we are greatly outnumbered in this world, more than 17 to 1 in population, in area, in race, in religion, in color. You take any criteria and measure yourself by that standard, and you will find that we are in a very small minority.

I sat here the other day and talked to a most prosperous American. He came to tell me of the successes in this country where he owns more than a million acres of land, and to discuss the 100,000-acre ranch that he once owned in Cuba--that he once owned in Cuba!

So today, as we meet here, we must realize that these young, teeming masses are determined to have some of the better things of life.

I stood in an African hut on another continent not many months ago, and I saw a mother with a baby on her breast, one in her stomach, and one on her back, and eight on the floor of this adobe hut. I thought of my own mother and the trials that she had raising her family. As I looked into this African mother's eyes, I saw the same look in that mother's eyes that I saw in my own mother's eyes when she was determined that her children would have food, clothes, and an education.

You hear me when I tell you that in the world we are outnumbered 17 to 1, but these numbers, these masses of humanity, are either going to make a peaceful revolution possible or they are going to make a violent revolution inevitable. All you have to do is turn on the television and see the young student riots in nation after nation. So the television and the radio sets--the wonders of communication--to us are delightful instruments of pleasure, and to some of us they are important aids to business. But they have become the instruments of revolution in the rest of the world.

The shrinking of distances, the ready access to information about other countries and other people, have made these folks aware that a better life may be within their grasp, and a better life is possible. They now know that the conditions that their fathers accepted with weary resignation are no longer inevitable. They know now that depression and despair are not the ordained lot of man.

This knowledge has helped create the worldwide movement of vast portent which we know as the revolution of rising expectations. The meaning of this revolution is very simple: It means that people in the rest of the world want for themselves the same things that you and I want for our loved ones, for our friends, and for our children, and that most of us already have.

They intend that their families shall live a decent life and that they have a job that gives them survival and dignity. They intend that their children shall be taught to read and write. They intend that the hungry shall be fed and the sick shall be treated. They intend to take their place in the great movement of modern society, to take their share in the benefits of that society.

These just desires, once unleashed, can never again be stifled. The people of the developing world are on the march, and we want to be beside them on that march. I can think of nothing that would give me more satisfaction than the knowledge that I could believe that you wielders of the pen and you molders of opinion, you leaders in public life, could take your stand this morning on the side of preserving humanity and uplifting it throughout the world.

Our gross national product in this, the richest of all nations, this quarter, is running at the rate of $608.5 billion, $608 billion. We are asking to distribute in the form of help, aid, and military assistance to all the nations who want to have freedom less than one-half of one percent of that amount--$3 billion 400 million.

But because of what we call it, and because of how it has been administered, and because it is far away, we don't realize that this investment is not only one of the most Christian acts that this great, powerful, rich country could do, but it is an act of necessity if we are to preserve our image in the world and our leadership in the world and, most of all, our society.

Oh how I would like to feel that we could, here in this Rose Garden today, launch a new movement to develop a greater society, a better society in all the world, not only by driving poverty from our midst here at home--it was one-third of the ill fed, ill clad, and ill housed when Mr. Roosevelt was here; today we have it down to one-fifth--but that we could drive that one-fifth into the basements and pull a better cover over the land, and we could also make some steps to developing taxpayers instead of just taxeaters, and helping others help themselves, following the Golden Rule not only at home but abroad, saying to these 112 nations, "We are going to do unto you as we would have you do unto us if our positions were reversed."

We must help developing countries because our own welfare demands it. It takes no great gift of foresight to realize that unless there is progress and unless there is growing satisfaction of just desires, there will be discontent and there will be restlessness. The developing world would soon become a cauldron of violence and hatred and revolution without some assistance.

How would you feel if you were a member of a family whose total income was less than $80 per year? Yet a majority of the people of the world have incomes of less than $80 a year. Under such conditions, communism, with its false and easy promises of a magic formula, might well be able to transform these popular desires into an instrument of revolution. That is why every American who is concerned about the future of his country must also be concerned about the future of Africa and Asia and our old friends in Latin America.

No President who looks beyond the immediate problems which crowd his desk can fail to extend the hand and the heart of this country to those who are struggling elsewhere. We help these countries in many ways, through trade and raw materials and manufactures, with the Peace Corps now working in more than 40 of them, through programs of economic assistance, through the exchange of scholars and students and ideas.

We know that we have much to gain from them. We know that we can learn from their cultures, from their arts, from their traditions, for many of them are as rich in spiritual treasure as they are poor in material goods. These are Government programs, but it is also important for cities and towns, for private organizations and private individuals, to become interested and involved in the affairs of the world.

So I hope you will make this one of your first orders of business when you return to your homes. You can do this in many ways.

Your communities can establish direct contact with communities in other countries. You can arrange for exchange of visits. You can arrange for help to schools and hospitals in a similar community, in a sister country, in a developing land.

You can try and establish scholarships to bring deserving students to your local college or to your local high school for education. You can arrange programs of study and discussion about the problems of these other countries that a good many of your folks have not read about or studied about. You can conduct exhibits or performances of the arts and music, folklore, of others.

These are just a few examples of the multitude of possibilities which are open to those who are willing to assume a personal responsibility for America's interest in the rest of the world. We must never forget that concern and sympathy are often as important as material assistance. This must not be a patronizing concern, but it must be the concern of equal for equal, the concern of brother for brother.

As you all know from our own experience, people everywhere are as hungry for respect as they are hungry for bread. So, I hope you will explain this to your people, and as leaders of local opinion, I hope you can begin to shape in your local communities a fruitful collaboration between your people and the peoples of the lands.

You are a part of the world. You are going to live in it. There are societies in other lands that are now venturing to take the same step that your colonial forefathers took, your revolutionary forefathers took, when they brought into existence this, the most powerful of all nations.

America's great strength in world affairs is not in Washington. It rests on dedicated labor of private institutions. It rests on organizations and local governments. It rests on the leaders and molders of public opinion, of which you are a substantial part.

If we can summon that strength to our relations with the developing world, then we will have a weapon which our adversaries cannot ever hope to match. Then, and only then, will all Americans be proudly joined in a great adventure which unites the highest of our national ideals and the most important of our national needs.

If I could leave one hope and one wish with you, it would be as a result of your visit here and of your study and application of what you have learned in your discussions, that upon your return home you could put the spotlight of your own community on the spotlight of other communities in the world, and somewhere out yonder you could lend a helping hand to lift up and to lead a people who are not as fortunate as we are. I believe that that would give you and your community a satisfaction that will never come from a paycheck.

I think that if you can provide that leadership, America will not only continue to be the leader of the world but we will be justified in being the leader of the world.

But if we sit here just enjoying our material resources, if we are content to become fat and flabby at 50, and let the rest of the world go by, the time will not be far away when we will be hearing a knock on our door in the middle of the night, and we will be hearing voices clamoring for freedom and independence and food and shelter, just as our revolutionary forefathers clamored for it. Somehow, some way, the Lord in his Heaven will see that it is provided.

So I appeal to you leaders this morning, and to thank you for helping us produce the most prosperous nation in the world; asking you to accept with me the responsibility of developing a greater society, one that, in generations to come, our children can be proud that we participated in, and looking at the rest of the world and trying to provide the calm leadership that is necessary in this frightful hour.

Yesterday I talked about our problems in Asia and Europe and Latin America and Africa, to the publishers in New York. We announced a reduction that we had made in a very important area. Other nations, in order to be sure that we took no steps toward peace that they didn't match, came along and made a simultaneous announcement. So you can learn from precept and example.

If the results of your endeavors here in Washington are to gain enough inspiration to return to your desks and ask the people of our land to lead the others in ignorance and darkness and disease and all the ancient enemies of mankind that are fighting in other parts of the world, that you are going to take up your shield and try to help them strike them down, it would be a great day in America, when we met in the Rose Garden and launched this kind of an effort.

Thank you and God bless you.

[A question and answer period followed.]

I don't know what your engagements are, but someone suggested that those of you who are out of town, and who don't have an opportunity everyday to come here to the White House, that you might want to ask some questions of your President. I will be glad to take some time, if you can take it. If any of you have any questions that you would like to ask, I will be glad to attempt to answer them.

[1.] Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't. I hope to make that trip next week, certainly in the next few days. We have had the railroad strike on and we are making some progress on it. We hope that we shall have concluded with the deliberations in a few hours or days. Then I expect to make plans for my Appalachia trip, to carry me into several States.

Q. Will Kentucky be on that trip, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, sir, Kentucky will be.

[2.] Q. How many visitors do you have here at the White House?

THE PRESIDENT. We had a record one day last week of some 24,000 in 1 day.

[3.] Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. I wish I were in Arizona today. I would like to be enjoying some of that wonderful sunshine. I don't know when I will get out there, but I always enjoy coming.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, do you feel like your honeymoon with the press is over?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have never felt that I had a honeymoon with it. I think that the press have very serious responsibilities, as most of us who live in the 20th century have, and I think that they are constantly trying to be alert to those responsibilities. They do their job as they see it, and I try to do mine the same way. So far as I know we are both working reasonably well together.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, Carl Rowan told us this morning that the Communist nations were making much of the increase of immorality in this country. How are we reacting to that?

THE PRESIDENT. I am sorry to see delinquency and immorality wherever you see it. I think we must be alert to it and be conscious that it exists, and be constantly doing all we can to eliminate it. I think it is very much like poverty--we must try to drive it from the American scene.

On the other hand, I think that at times we exaggerate our own evils. I see so many things that are better now than they were when I was a boy that I don't think all is bad. I am not too depressed or distressed at the future of our society.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, would you like to comment on the current stand of the Republican Party?

THE PRESIDENT. I would like to comment on something about the Republican Party--I didn't hear the rest of your question.

Q. Current stand, current stand.

THE PRESIDENT. I think that it is very important that we have a two-party country. I am a fellow that likes small parties, and the Republican Party is about the size I like. Some of the most able and patriotic men in the country belong to the Republican Party. I don't know just which one speaks for it. I said yesterday I want all the candidates, major candidates, to be briefed on world affairs, our foreign policy, and our defense policy, because no one should be discussing these issues who is not well informed on them.

We are going to make available to all the major candidates all the information that we have and that they would like to have in this field. I am hoping that we can have a constructive Congress, that we will not have opposition just for the sake of opposition. I have never believed it is the duty of the opposition party to oppose. I believe it is the duty of the opposition party to support the President if he is right, and to oppose him if he is wrong, and never just to have blind opposition for opposition's sake. I felt that way when I was in the opposition, and minority party, under President Eisenhower.

I am hoping that the members of the Republican Party in the Congress will help us pass our poverty program, help us pass our food stamp bill, help us pass our civil rights bill, which they helped do in the House of Representatives. The Republicans helped pass it there, and I hope they will help pass it in the Senate, help us pass a pay bill so that we can keep some of the best people in Government; help us pass a medical care bill for the aged, because everyone has a father, mother, uncle, cousin, aunt, or someone who is going to need medical care in his age.

I have appealed to the best that is in them and tried to appeal to the greatest that is in them for support to that program. How much results I will get will depend on the roll calls a little later down the road. But I am not going to make any blanket denunciations. The Democratic Party has no mortgage on patriotism and no mortgage on what is best in the national interest.

I am going to always, when I am dealing with the Republicans, do like I do when I am dealing with other people in the world. I am going to keep my guard up and my hand out.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, the immigration bill--

THE PRESIDENT. The immigration bill is very high on our priority list. We have had a meeting here at the White House. We called the leaders of the Congress in and urged them to begin hearings. We have made our recommendations. We would be very happy and like it very much if they could pass the bill this session.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, how do you feel about the events in southeast Asia after the report of the Secretary of State? 2

THE PRESIDENT. I think we have a lot of problems out there that will require our best talents and best efforts. I am meeting with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense to review some of the details of his report today at lunch. I think that our position there is somewhat like it was 10 years ago, in 1954, when then-President Eisenhower wrote the then-President of South Viet-Nam and said, "We want to help you help yourselves. If you want to save your country and have freedom in your country, we want to help you do it."

That is what we are trying to do there now. We think it is very important that the freedom of South Viet-Nam be preserved. If their enemies and their neighbors would quit attacking them and go on back home, we could have peace in that area. But since they won't do it, we are going to advise them and help them in every way we can to preserve freedom.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, the Cuban crisis-do you foresee a new Cuban crisis?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to predict any new crisis anywhere. I have enough on my hands now. I do think that it is essential that we maintain surveillance and know whether any missiles are being shipped into Cuba. We will have to maintain our reconnaissance and our overflights. Any action on their part to stop that would be a very serious action. And we have so informed them and informed their friends.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us when we might expect a complete report from the Warren Commission?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think that they have any particular deadline. It is a very thorough commission, made up of the most able men in this country, a very patriotic group. They are taking testimony today. The Governor of my State, who was wounded in Dallas, is here testifying and I will see him as soon as I finish with these questions.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us about the current status of the rail negotiations and what you will do?

THE PRESIDENT. The current status of the rail negotiations? We think that collective bargaining is hard at work. We are determined not to bury collective bargaining.

We talk a lot about free enterprise, like. the weather, but we don't often do much about it. So we are asking the free enterprise system to work, and asking the employer to negotiate with the employee, and for them to try to resolve their differences. They know more about their differences and the answers than anyone else. So we are asking them to do it.

They worked all night long last night, and took out a little time this morning for a little sleep. They are meeting again at noon. They will resume until they have reached an agreement.

Q. Can you tell us, sir, what you will do if the 15-day negotiations--

THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn't want to anticipate action that might interfere with collective bargaining. I think it is best to let them go on and proceed on the assumption, if we can, for just a few more days, that it is going to work and that they will find an answer. Then it won't be necessary for me to take any action.

I want the record to show that this was an advertised meeting, and ample notice was given. And we did have television present on the ground.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

1 See Item 272.

2 See Item 274.

Note: The President spoke at noon in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to a Group of Editors and Broadcasters Attending a National Conference on Foreign Policy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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