Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference

November 14, 1957

Mr. Secretary, My Fellow Citizens:

There are a number of reasons why I wanted to come and greet this group, and only a few minutes ago I found another reason which made it so that no one could have kept me away. They said this is one meeting, one conference, that costs the government not one single cent. I can't tell you what a real relief that is and what a reason it is for me attempting to offer you not only my congratulations but my grateful thanks.

Some years ago, there was a group in the staff college of which some of you may have heard, Leavenworth Staff College. This was before our entry into World War One, and in that course it was necessary to use a number of maps and the maps available to the course were of the Alsace-Lorraine area and the Champagne in France. But a group of "young Turks" came along who wanted to reform Leavenworth. They pointed out it was perfectly silly for the American Army to be using such maps which could after all be duplicated in other areas without too much cost--they would get some area maps where the American Army just might fight a battle. So they got, among other things, maps of the area of Leavenworth and of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and in succeeding years all the problems have been worked out on those maps. The point is, only about two years after that happened, we were fighting in Alsace-Lorraine and in the Champagne.

I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of "emergency" is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.

So, the first thing you do is to take all the plans off the top shelf and throw them out the window and start once more. But if you haven't been planning you can't start to work, intelligently at least.

That is the reason it is so important to plan, to keep yourselves steeped in the character of the problem that you may one day be called upon to solve--or to help to solve.

Now in the statements I have made, I don't mean to say there are not some verities, some unchanging truths, although again, to quote a military man: The only unchanging factor in war is the most changeable, uncertain, unpredictable element in war, and that is human nature. But the human nature of today is exactly what it was, apparently, in the time of Pericles and Alexander and down through the ages to this day. Everything else, even terrain, even weather, seems to change.

So you do have that one point from which to start, that you are going to have the same kind of people to meet with, the same kind of human problems to solve that your predecessors have had all the way back to the Pharaohs. Otherwise, I wouldn't pin my faith to the tomes we piled up and to the plans, although there will be in them some statistics that are correct, probably, unless the reserves of nickel and so on which you are counting on are all hit by some horrific bomb. But you must plan, you must learn, you must steep yourself in these problems against the time of an awful catastrophe and we must study.

I am not sure to what extent the great movement toward more dependence upon science can help you in your work. I understand that some of our military people have been before you and you know how very definitely the Armed Forces are swinging in that direction. One figure that always astounds me every time I read it and every time I repeat it is that in the defense forces alone today there is spent annually some five billion, two hundred million .dollars without adding to our arsenal of weapons by one single item. That money is spent in research and development. Well, to a poor country boy from Kansas, five billion, two hundred million is still not to be talked about lightly. It is a figure that must represent to each of us the significance of this great dependence that the government, in the event of an emergency, has upon science. And I assume that somewhere in most of your jobs, you will find a similar connection even if not in that scale or if the dependency is not so obvious.

So I say again, as you come back here, as you meet among yourselves, meet some of the other men that will be working on similar jobs in the Department or Agency to which you are assigned, you are doing a great service to the United States, because you are planning, you are doing those things which make it possible for you to carry forward in the event of an emergency these things that must be done, or there is no help for us.

It is well to remember that the defense of the United States is accomplished by all the United States, not merely by defense forces. I like to think of the defense of the United States as an enormous machine, the power of which is supplied by the spiritual strength and the economic productivity of our country. It is communicated to the Armed Forces through a variety of establishments, but the major part of it through governmental agencies. And the Armed Forces themselves are nothing but the cutting edge of a great machine that must have power and must be properly applied, must be sustained in all its strength, before it can be effective.

You are part of the whole machine that will keep that cutting edge sharp and efficient. You not only help keep the economy and the government moving itself; you are part of the hinge between the whole great 172 million of us and those that are in the Armed Forces.

These things I feel very deeply, and so it is difficult indeed for me to find the proper words in which to say to such a group as this "Thank You." Possibly there are no better words than just those two, because coming here at your own expense you are setting an example for everybody in your community that may know you. You come here to prepare yourselves to be ready, to plan, so that if this country should ever, unhappily, have to face the ultimate in threat, there will be a strong body marching in, mobilizing in and behind the government, to make certain that we overcome whatever enemy may attack us, and to restore life to a free system as quickly as it is humanly possible to do so.

And so again I say, when I use those words "Thank You," I mean them from the bottom of my heart.

Goodbye and good luck.

NOTE: The President spoke in the Departmental Auditorium at 3:30 p.m. His opening words "Mr. Secretary" referred to Sinclair Weeks, Secretary of Commerce.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233951

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives