Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the Governors' Conference, Seattle, Washington.

August 04, 1953

Governor Shivers, Governor Langlie, my friends:

It is a little bit of a misnomer to call this an address. I am here for a number of purposes, but among them is not that of making a long and so-called important speech for the record.

The first thought that strikes me, as I stand up, is that Governors' conferences have changed their type a bit. They used' to have a table something like this, all right, but they did not have so much pulchritude in the rear. I did not know that there was an audience of this kind. Nevertheless, while I had on my mind to talk of things that I thought would be of interest to the Governors, I hope that the remainder of the audience won't find these things too boring.

Now, first of all, I am here for a very simple purpose, because of my indestructible conviction that unless we preserve, in this country, the place of the State government, its traditional place-with the power, the authority, the responsibilities and the revenues necessary to discharge those responsibilities, then we are not going to have an America as we have known it; we will have some other form of government. And my thought was that if could come here to pay my tribute of respect to the great responsibilities that you men as executive heads of your States must carry, on behalf of all our people, then that alone would justify my trip.

Now, within this concept, of course, is that of the need for the executive heads of each of these States to perform services for their people, the people for whom they serve as chief executives, that are almost without scope and without limit. By this I mean that merely because a chief executive signs the bills that are presented to him, presents to his legislature a program that he believes to be conceived in the best interests of his State, that is not enough. In this modern and complex time, the problems that affect each of our lives very intimately and very definitely, are very difficult to understand. A chief executive in no matter what echelon, be it city, State, or Federal, has many sources of information, accurate information, that are often denied to the people in general. Or if they are not denied, they come to the people through certain reports that are difficult to relate one to the other, and therefore to see their significance.

I believe that a chief executive has, among other things, the responsibility of informing his own commonwealth--his own State--about these major problems all the time, be it Korea, Indochina, taxes, the debt limit--no matter what. He has the chore of using the facilities open to him--including that of making talks. He has the chore of trying to inform the people in that State, so that they will in turn support reasonable programs, nationally as well as statewide. And indeed, I think at this point, national and statewide, it is again very, very difficult to establish a clear dividing line.

We know this: unless the United States is prosperous, unless it is strong, unless it is secure, there is no strength, there is no prosperity, there is no security for any State. Consequently, we instantly conclude there is no true division in the scope of our concern for the people we are attempting to serve. The dividing line we seek is really how we coordinate our several functions so that we are not doing exactly the same thing but so that the efforts of each complement the other.

That is the reason that one of the first acts of mine when went to Washington--and supported by a Cabinet, and indeed by advisers that are now sitting around this table and occupy Governors' chairs--I asked for a Commission that would study this proper division between State responsibilities and Federal responsibilities--not for one instant meaning that we divide our concern about these major problems of the world, in which we have the responsibility of helping to inform our people. And I do not mean at all that that is an exclusive job--there are many other agencies that have to help to do this. But we have that responsibility. I do mean that unless we find a way of dividing up these responsibilities, we are bound to blur too indefinitely the line that divides our several functions, and eventually, as I say again, it will not be the American system as we have known it.

Now, this goes into every field of activity of which I can think. Long years ago, you know, they attempted to establish security establishments; that was the combination of regular and professional groups, supported by what we call national reserves, and then the State National Guard which we later federalized. All of that was done in an effort to bring together the best capabilities of the State and of the national Government to provide security for us at all times, and with the least possible cost. And indeed, in spite of the criticism that has been directed at it, I believe this: I believe if every citizen, every State, and the national Government would do its proper job under that concept, it would still be a good one for the United States. The trouble of it is jealousies develop, inefficiencies, then recriminations start, and we have more fun criticizing than we do working constructively.

It is odd--of course it's no new discovery of the human mind-but it is odd, isn't it, that we have so much more fun calling the other fellow a so-and-so, than getting out and doing something to correct either the error that he has committed, or that we may have committed. It is probably one of the things, though, that no executive is ever allowed to forget, even for a minute.

If we go into the field of agriculture, if we go into the field of Federal power, and the conservation of all the resources of the United States, we find this same community of purpose, with the necessity for division of responsibilities obtaining it.

As I understand it, this morning you are going to try, in a round-table conference, to sort out in your own minds, and possibly sort out in our minds, what these divisions should be. Certainly I know of no one in the Federal Government today, no matter what his job, who thinks he knows all the answers. He cannot fail to benefit from discussion on those subjects. In certain instances, I think, there are obvious truths that prevail. Unless we are partners in some of these things, they cannot be done. But if partnership is going to consist only in talking about local rights and central responsibilities--responsibility particularly when it is financial--if that is going to be the pattern, there is no hope.

When we share responsibility, we share responsibility all the way through, financial as well as for seeing that a thing is effectively operated. If we obey this principle the closer we keep government and every kind of governmental responsibility and authority close to the people, calling in the Federal Government where there is a clear service for it to perform, which could not be performed adequately without its cooperation and its partnership; then, I think, we will be headed in the right direction.

This thing applies to this great problem--I don't know whether you have yet talked about it, but I am sure it is one of the subjects of your conference: civil defense. Civil defense is absolutely impossible without the complete and enthusiastic cooperation, not merely of Governors, not merely of mayors, but of every man, woman, and child in the United States. Here is one thing that can't be handled except by people themselves. It is perfectly clear that the first thing that is needed, if you are going to have an effective civil defense against a possible attack in this country, is an ordered or disciplined movement and action on the part of the people in the face of emergency. Just as you train young children to go in orderly fashion toward the nearest exit in school in case there is fire or emergency, that is the way people must be trained or instructed.

If they are unwilling to accept that, there is no hope of digging shelters. You could dig all the shelters in the world and kill all the people trying to get into them, if they were in panic. They wouldn't even know where they were. Some of you people, possibly a good many of you here, have been present in a heavy bombing raid. You have seen the panic that overtakes people. The indispensable ingredient of any civil defense is some self-control. And that is all that discipline is. On top of it, then, is an ordered plan that takes people to a position and place of safety. On top of that, you can build a number of artificial and organized defenses, even to include your warning services and things that the Federal Government takes over in the field of actual active defense. But without this orderly action on the part of the civilian population, all civil defense measures will fall flat to the ground.

As it is today, suppose we had a drill out in front of the biggest, department store in Seattle. Any American would feel self-conscious if you gave him the job, let us say, of going out and helping to drag in the fire hose, or getting out the medical supplies that were stored in one of the corners, or standing out on the sidewalk with a bucketful of sand. He sees the population going by. He feels self-conscious and embarrassed.

Now, there's the job that leadership has to overcome. How are we going to get America to do these things, seriously and soberly and knowing they are necessary?

The Federal Government has a very wide, definite, fixed responsibility in this whole program. But they can never do it unless localities down to the last individual will cooperate.

I could go on enumerating every kind of problem that comes before us daily. Let us take, though, for example, one simple problem in the foreign field. You have seen the war in Indochina described variously as an outgrowth of French colonialism, and its French refusal to treat indigenous populations decently. You find it again described as a war between the communists and the other elements in southeast Asia. But you have a confused idea of where it is located--Laos, or Cambodia, or Siam, or any of the other countries that are involved. You don't know, really, why we are so concerned with the far-off southeast corner of Asia.

Why is it? Now, first of all, the last great population remaining in Asia that has not become dominated by the Kremlin, of course, is the sub-continent of India, including the Pakistan government. Here are 350 million people still free. Now let us assume that we lose Indochina. If Indochina goes, several things happen right away. The Malayan peninsula, the last little bit of the end hanging on down there, would be scarcely defensible--and tin and tungsten that we so greatly value from that area would cease coming. But all India would be outflanked. Burma would certainly, in its weakened condition, be no defense. Now, India is surrounded on that side by the Communist empire. Iran on its left is in a weakened condition. I believe I read in the paper this morning that Mossadegh's move toward getting rid of his parliament has been supported and of course he was in that move supported by the Tudeh, which is the Communist Party of Iran. All of that weakening position around there is very ominous for the United States, because finally if we lost all that, how would the free world hold the rich empire of Indonesia? So you see, somewhere along the line, this must be blocked. It must be blocked now. That is what the French are doing.

So, when the United States votes $400 million to help that war, we are not voting for a giveaway program. We are voting for the cheapest way that we can to prevent the occurrence of something that would be of the most terrible significance for the United States of America--our security, our power and ability to get certain things we need from the riches of the Indonesian territory, and from southeast Asia.

Now that is the kind of thing that it is not good enough that someone just shouts in Washington. All of us must understand it, because out of that kind of thing grows the need for taxes. The security of the United States is not just the business of the Secretary of Defense and the Congress and the President and the Secretaries of the Services. It is the business of every man, woman and child. And if it is their business, then it is the business of all of us. We need help. I don't care what the problem is.

I think I have done all this talking, my friends, just to get back to this one truism. Unless the Governors of the States-and you notice I am talking to you regardless of partisanship; I don't give a "hoot" whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, in this kind of job you are Americans. In the Federal Government we are Americans. Unless we can cooperate on the basis of understanding of the facts, and progress steadily, surely, and confidently in carrying out a program that we believe will establish the security of the United States, not only from a gun, from a bomb, from some kind of destructive act of an enemy, but in its economy to make sure that its surpluses are carried abroad and in return for those surpluses we get back the raw materials and other articles that will allow these people to buy these surpluses; unless we have that kind of economic strength, we are going to have to live a very different kind of life than we do.

This can all be done only through cooperation. This is not partisan policy. No one has a monopoly on truth and on the facts that affect this country. We must work together.

Now, I have said things, probably, that you have heard every time someone has gotten up. All of us protest our readiness to cooperate. As I see it, one of the basic purposes of such conferences as these ought to be to pinpoint the ways we will get together and to work together. Because of my utter conviction in this direction, I invited you, as you know, to come to Washington. I have come out here. I will probably accept every invitation you ever extend to me and I will send you more.

I want to describe something to you, for just a moment. probably long ago used up my time; but you know, there is one thing about being the President, it is hard to tell him to sit down. I have heard a lot of speakers get up and paint for us two brilliant crossroads--the United States is at the crossroads, follow this road to security and salvation, this one to destruction and death. I don't believe any such thing. And I don't believe it ever has been true. If these roads were so clearly marked out, and we could convince ourselves that here was the road to salvation, and there to destruction, we would have sense enough to follow this road. The facts are not those at all. The facts are that out here on the extremes of these problems are paths that will lead us to destruction, one in one way, one in another. What we have got is a great hinterland in between these two roads, and through them is some kind of practicable route for all of us to walk together to decency and to progress. Not to immediate salvation and the rainbow's end, not at all--but to progress to doing something for 160 million people, and in doing so, to do something also for all the world. Because we are all interlocked, just as the State and the National Government is, at home.

Now, what our problem is--the very difficult problem--is to find these trails, these trails through these great extremes--difficult to climb, difficult to discern, difficult to mark out, sometimes, because it is done by the process of trial and error. But that is our job. And we should measure up to that, with all the work, all the disappointments, the frustrations, such as when the Senate won't extend the debt limit when you know you need it--you had that explained to you last night. Of course, there are frustrations, and there are disappointments and setbacks, but unless we continue intelligently and assiduously, together, to search out that proper route in this maze of broken hills and rough country, then we are not doing our duty. We are not carrying out our oaths that each of us take.

Now, I have heard the Federal administration criticized much in the last 6 months because they say, "Where is the program?" "What are you going to do in farm policy?" Well, it's pretty difficult to do anything, and to give you one little farm policy in nice choice words, when one group wants grain prices as high as they can, and the cattle and poultry raiser or the dairy producer says, "If you don't get these grain prices down, there's going to be no agriculture." So these aren't simple little things.

The program is this: to work with all those of like mind who are devoted to the United States of America and find ways in which progress, in which work, in which thought and intelligent action will help us all. Not just the farmer, not just the laborer, not just the capitalist, not just the banker--all of us. Help us move forward a little bit to a better life, a better spiritual life, intellectual opportunity and material well-being.

Now, I have gone a long ways around the "cabbage patch" this morning to tell you why I am here. But I hope that out of these rather wandering thoughts and statements you have discovered something of why a number of my Cabinet and 1--and other assistants in Washington.. came out here to meet with you. We regard it as a rich opportunity, and that is why we are here.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle, Wash. In his opening words he referred to Governor Allan Shivers of Texas, Chairman of the Governors' Conference, and to Governor Arthur B. Langlie of Washington.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Governors' Conference, Seattle, Washington. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231870

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