John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

September 12, 1963

THE PRESIDENT, Good afternoon.

[1.] Ladies and gentlemen, I want to stress again how important it is that the United States Senate approve the pending nuclear test ban treaty. It has already been signed by more than 90 governments, and it is clearer now than ever that this small step towards peace will have significant gains. And I want to commend to the American people the two distinguished and outstanding speeches made by Senator Mansfield and Senator Dirksen, the Majority and the Minority Leaders, who in the great tradition of American bipartisanship and national interest I think put the case most effectively.

This treaty will enable all of us who inhabit the earth, our children and children's children, to breathe easier, free from the fear of nuclear test fallout. It will curb the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries, thereby holding out hope for a more peaceful and stable world. It will slow down the nuclear arms race without impairing the adequacy of this Nation's arsenal or security, and it will offer a small but important foundation on which a world of law can be built.

The Senate hearings and debate have been intensive and valuable, but they have not raised an argument in opposition which was not thoroughly considered by our military, scientific, legal, and foreign policy leaders before the treaty was signed.

This Nation has sought to bring nuclear weapons under international control since 1946. This particular kind of treaty has been sought by us since 1959. If we are to give it now only grudging support, if this small clearly beneficial step cannot be approved by the widest possible margin in the Senate, then this Nation cannot offer much leadership or hope for the future.

But if the American people and the American Senate can demonstrate that we are as determined to achieve a peace and a just peace as we are to defend our freedom, I think future generations will honor the action that we took.

[2.] Secondly, I would like to say something about what has happened in the schools in the last few days. In the past 2 weeks, schools in 150 Southern cities have been desegregated. There may have been some difficulties, but to the great credit of the vast majority of the citizens and public officials of these communities, this transition has been made with understanding and respect for the law.

The task was not easy. The emotions underlying segregation have persisted for generations, and in many instances leaders in these communities have had to overcome their own personal attitudes as well as the ingrained social attitudes of the communities. In some instances the obstacles were greater, even to the point of physical interference. Nevertheless, as we have seen, what prevailed in these cities through the South finally was not emotion but respect for law. The courage and the responsibility of those community leaders in those places provide a meaningful lesson not only for the children 'in those cities but children all over the country.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, last year when you discussed resumption of nuclear testing in a public speech, you anticipated difficulty in being able to keep topflight scientists operating on standby preparations; you doubted that large-scale laboratories could be kept fully alert. And you said this wasn't merely difficult or inconvenient, but that after thorough exploration you had determined that keeping laboratories fully alert on a standby basis would be impossible. Could you tell us, sir, what has happened since then to change your mind about this?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I believe that what I was talking about then was a comprehensive test ban treaty. Obviously, if you had no underground testing, the laboratories would atrophy. I stated at that time, or on other occasions, that if we could get a responsible, comprehensive test ban treaty that I would be willing to take that risk. But we didn't get a comprehensive test ban treaty, but only a limited one. Under that limited agreement it is possible to carry on underground testing, and, therefore, we will not have the deadening of the vitality of the laboratories. Instead, the underground testing will continue, free from fallout, but the scientists will be able to engage in their work. They will be maintained, the laboratories will be maintained, and therefore I think that we are faced with a different situation than the one that I responded to earlier in the year.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, do you plan to address the U.N. General Assembly session later this month, and will you meet with Mr. Gromyko there or here?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I plan to address the United Nations General Assembly later this month. The meeting with the Foreign Minister--and I am going to meet with other foreign ministers when they come--I assume will be in Washington.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the prevailing confusion, is it possible to state today just what this Government's policy is toward the current government of South Viet-Nam?

THE PRESIDENT. I think I have stated what my view is and we are for those things and those policies which help win the war there. That is why some 25,000 Americans have traveled 10,000 miles to participate in that struggle. What helps to win the war, we support; what interferes with the war effort, we oppose. I have already made it clear that any action by either government which may handicap the winning of the war is inconsistent with our policy or our objectives. This is the test which I think every agency and official of the United States Government must apply to all of our actions, and we shall be applying that test in various ways in the coming months, although I do not think it desirable to state all of our views at this time. I think they will be made more clear as time goes on.

But we have a very simple policy in that area, I think. In some ways I think the Vietnamese people and ourselves agree: we want the war to be won, the Communists to be contained, and the Americans to go home. That is our policy. I am sure it is the policy of the people of Viet-Nam. But we are not there to see a war lost, and we will follow the policy which I have indicated today of advancing those causes and issues which help win the war.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, some opponents of the test ban treaty have expressed the fear that once the treaty has been ratified it might then be possible later by Executive action to amend the treaty so as to further limit the freedom of action of the United States. What is your reaction to these suggestions?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I can give a categorical assurance that the treaty, as you know, cannot be amended without the agreement of the three basic signatories. The treaty cannot be changed in any way by the three basic signatories, and the others, without the consent of the Senate. And there would be-of course any proposal to change the treaty would be submitted to the usual ratification procedure followed by or prescribed by the Constitution. In addition there would be no Executive action which would permit us to in any way limit or circumscribe the basic understandings of the treaty. Quite obviously this is a commitment which is made by the Executive and by the Senate, operating under one of the most important provisions of the Constitution, and no President of the United States would seek to, even if he could--and I strongly doubt that he could, by stretching the law to the furthest--seek in any way to break the bond and the understanding which exists between the Senate and the Executive and, in a very deep sense, the American people, in this issue.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, two books have been written about you recently. One of them, by Hugh Sidey, has been criticized as being too uncritical of you, and the other, by Victor Lasky, as being too critical of you.1 How would you review them, if you have read them?

THE PRESIDENT. I thought Mr. Sidey was critical, but I have not read all of Mr. Lasky, except I have just gotten the flavor of it. I have seen it is highly praised by Mr. Drummond and Mr. Krock and others, so I am looking forward to reading it, because the part that I read was not as brilliant as I gather the rest of it is, from what they say about it.

1Sidey, Hugh, "John F. Kennedy, President" (New York, Atheneum Publishers, 1963); Lasky, Victor, "JFK, the Man and the Myth" (New York, The Macmillan Co., 1963).

[8.] Q. Mr. President, as a parent, do you think it is right to wrench children away from their neighborhood family area and cart them off to strange, faraway schools to force racial balance? I notice you said that you did not approve of racial quotas in employment. Now, do you approve of forcing racial quotas in schools?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the question, as you described it--I would not approve of the procedure you described in your question. Now, a lot of these, of course, depend on the local school districts, and I would have to see what the situation was in each district. But I would not have any hesitancy in saying no to your question. I would not approve it. But this in the final analysis must be decided by the local school board. This is a local question. But if you are asking me my opinion, faraway strange places and all the rest, I would not agree with it.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, there are consistent reports that you are about to consider a more sweeping Executive order dealing with an end to discrimination in housing. Have you any comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. No. The order we now have is the one we plan to stand on.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, in the past you repeatedly stated that the United States strongly wished the United Nations to develop as an instrument of strengthening the peace and cooperation among the states. What concrete new efforts is your administration going to take toward that goal at the forthcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly?

THE PRESIDENT. That is going to be really one of the, I suppose, central matters that I will discuss when I speak before the United Nations in just a few days. Perhaps that will be the best place to discuss it.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, in your statement of just a few moments ago on South Viet-Nam, would you consider that any significant changes in the policy of South Viet-Nam can be carried out so long as Ngo Dinh Nhu remains as the President's top adviser?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that, aside from the general statements which have been made, I would think that that sort of a matter really should be discussed by the Ambassador-Ambassador Lodge--and others. I don't see that we serve any useful purpose in engaging in that kind of discussion at this time.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, Governor Rockefeller says that he may have to withdraw his pledge not to raise taxes in New York State. The grounds he gives is that you had promised to achieve a certain economic growth rate in the country and you failed to keep that promise and therefore he feels relieved of this pledge. Could you comment on his statement?

THE PRESIDENT. I saw all of those campaign statements that were made in the fall of 1962, about how New York had moved ahead, and all of the rest, and I didn't see any acknowledgment that it was due in any way to the economic measures we have taken since 1960 to provide for an increase in economic growth.

I think there has been a substantial increase in the economic growth, and New York has shared in it. I don't know what grounds on which Governor Rockefeller categorically made an assurance to the people of New York in the fall of 1962 that is now impossible to fulfill. If he feels it is my fault, then I am prepared to accept that.

I must say he is not really the only one. I got, I suppose, several thousands of letters when the stock market went way down in May and June of 1962, blaming me, and talking about the "Kennedy market." haven't gotten a single letter in the last few days, about the "Kennedy market" now that it has broken through the Dow-Jones Average. So Governor Rockefeller is not alone in his disappointment.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, speaking of letters, there have been suggestions that you are putting Mr. Gronouski into the Cabinet to pay some old political debts in Wisconsin as well as to lay the basis for future political support elsewhere. Would you tell us your reasons for naming him?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I met Mr. Gronouski in 1960 in Wisconsin. He was--and he is--a distinguished public servant, and he has had a fine war record, and he was a Ph.D. of the University of Wisconsin, and he is in charge of taxation, and he was highly recommended, and is a very good administrator. I don't know why it causes quite so much excitement when the name is Gronouski as opposed to when it may be Smith or Brown or Day. I think that--or even Celebrezze.

I think that--the issue is whether he is of Polish extraction and therefore it must be political, but if he is not of Polish extraction, it is not political. And I am not sure that I accept that test. I think Mr. Gronouski is a fine public servant and I am glad to have him here, and I think we just happen to be fortunate that his grandparents came from Poland.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, in a Chicago speech last night, Senator Goldwater said there are not 10 men in America who know the full truth about Cuba, all the facts of the test ban treaty, or the commitments made on behalf of this Nation with governments dedicated to our destruction. He seems to be hinting that you made secret agreements both in the Cuban settlement last fall and to obtain the test ban treaty. Could you say unequivocally that there were no commitments, or would you care to comment on Senator Goldwater's comments?

THE PRESIDENT. There are no commitments, and I think that Senator Goldwater is at least one of the 10 men in America who would know that is not true. I think there are a good many other men. The fact of the matter is, as you know, we offered to have the correspondence on the test ban treaty made available to the leadership of the Senate. It stands on its own. So I can tell you very flatly there were no commitments made that have not been discussed or revealed. I think most people know that.

Q. Would you care to comment further on this type of attack by Senator Goldwater? THE PRESIDENT. No, no. Not yet, not yet.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, some persons in criticizing your policies and your comments on Viet-Nam say that you are operating on the basis of incorrect and inadequate information. What do you have to say about it?

THE PRESIDENT. I am operating on the basis of, really, the unanimous views and opinions expressed by the most experienced Americans there--in the military, diplomatic, AID agency, the Voice of America, and others-who have only one interest, and that is to see the war successful as quickly as possible. I would say that I understated their concern about the matters in Viet-Nam. We have no other interest.

In addition, I think we are fortunate, as I have said before, to have Ambassador Lodge there, and I will say that any statement I have made expressing concern about the situation there reflects his view, and reflects it in a very moderate way.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, the American Legion meeting in Miami adopted a resolution today asking the United States to "proceed boldly alone" to end the Communist rule in Cuba if the other hemisphere nations do not assist us, and they say that we cannot have coexistence with communism in this hemisphere, and that there has been a lack of effective action by our Government since the Castro regime began back in 1959. Could you comment, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well, we have taken every step we could short of military action to bring pressure on the Castro regime-shipping, trade, all the rest. It has been relatively isolated in this hemisphere. It is quite obvious now that it is a Soviet satellite-Mr. Castro is a Soviet satellite.

Finally, though, once you get beyond these words, you finally talk about military invasion of Cuba. That I do not think is in the interest of this country. I regard that as a most dangerous action, an incendiary action which could bring a good deal of grief not only to the people of the United States, but to Western Europe and others who are dependent upon us. I do not think that is wise. Those who advocate it should say it, but I don't agree with it.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, the Air Force Association yesterday openly condemned the test ban as a danger to this country. How do you feel about the propriety of an appreciable proportion of its members, being serving officers of the United States Air Force under your command, and thus contradicting their Commander in Chief and their Secretary of Defense?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I wouldn't--I think the Air Force Association is free to give its views. I am sure--I don't know exactly the membership of its resolutions committee, and I do not know how the vote ran and who took what position. But the fact of the matter is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff favored this treaty, and the Secretary of Defense favored it, and General Lemnitzer favored it, and the Unified Command has favored it, and I think that the treaty is in our interest.

Of course there are going to be people that are opposed to these actions, but I think the greater risk is to defeat it. So I would not suggest any reproof in any way of those who made their judgments. I just don't agree with it.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, how do you feel about Senator Church's proposed resolution that you withhold further aid to Viet-Nam if certain changes in policy and personnel are not forthcoming?

THE PRESIDENT. I think his resolution reflects his concern. He is particularly interested in the Far East, as is Senator Carlson and some other Senators. I have indicated my feeling that we should stay there, and continue to assist South Viet-Nam, but I have also indicated our feeling that the assistance we give should be used in the most effective way possible. I think that seems to be Senator Church's view.

[19.] Q. The Young Democrats out in the West have taken some unusual stands on Red China and East Germany, Cuba, and Viet-Nam. Have you seen them and would you care to comment on them?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I didn't agree with any of them. I don't know what is happening with the Young Democrats and Young Republicans, but time is on our side.

[20.] Q. Are you giving any thought, sir, to the withdrawal of American dependents from Viet-Nam?

THE PRESIDENT. As I have said, I think that any matter which we are now considering should best be considered by the Government, and any conclusions we come to should be made public when it is the appropriate time.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, have you given any thought to some of the proposals advanced from time to time for improving the Presidential press conference, such as having the conference devoted all to one subject or to having written questions at a certain point?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have heard of that, and I have seen criticisms of the proposal. The difficulty is--as Mr. Frost said about not taking down a fence until you find out why it was put up--I think all the proposals made to improve it will really not improve it.

I think we do have the problem of moving very quickly from subject to subject, and therefore I am sure many of you feel that we are not going into any depth. So I would try to recognize perhaps the correspondent on an issue two or three times in a row, and we could perhaps meet that problem. Otherwise it seems to me it serves its purpose, which is to have the President in the bull's-eye, and I suppose that is in some ways revealing.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, a Negro leader who helped organize the March on Washington says that he feels you are greater than Abe Lincoln in the area of civil rights. Apparently a lot of other Negroes support you. The latest poll showed that 95 percent probably would vote for you next year. Now, in your opinion, Mr. President, does this political self-segregation on the part of the Negroes, combined with continued demonstrations in the North, pose any problems for you as far as the electoral vote in the North is concerned next year?

THE PRESIDENT. I understand what you mean, that there is a danger of a division in the party, in the country, upon racial grounds. I would doubt that. I think the American people have been through too much to make that fatal mistake. It is true that a majority of the Negroes have been Democrats, but that has been true since Franklin Roosevelt. Before that a majority of them were Republicans. The Republican Party, I am confident, could get the support of the Negroes, but I think they have to recognize the very difficult problems the Negroes face.

So in answer to your question, I don't know what 1964 is going to bring. I think a division upon racial lines would be unfortunate--class lines, sectional lines. In fact, Theodore Roosevelt said all this once very well way back. So I would say that over the long run we are going to have a mix. This will be true racially, socially, ethnically, geographically, and that is really, finally, the best way.

Q. Mr. President, this is a related question. It is about the Gallup poll. It has to do with a racial question. Agents of Dr. Gallup asked people this question: Do you think the Kennedy administration is pushing integration too fast or not fast enough? Fifty percent replied that they thought you were pushing too fast. Would you comment?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think probably he is accurate. The fact of the matter is, this is not a matter on which you can take the temperature every week or 2 weeks or 3 weeks, depending on what the newspaper headlines must be. I think you must make a judgment about the movement of a great historical event which is taking place in this country after a period of time. You judged 1863 after a good many years--its full effect. I think we will stand, after a period of time has gone by. The fact is, that same poll showed 40 percent or so thought it was more or less right. I thought that was rather impressive, because it is change; change always disturbs, and therefore I was surprised that there wasn't greater opposition. I think we are going at about the right tempo.

Q. Mr. President, in a related area of civil rights, after the events in Alabama this week, we have the situation now where the schools have been desegregated in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, practically all of the States of the Deep South. Do you have a feeling that perhaps a milestone has been reached in this area, or do you see a continued really step-by-step progress from one city to another?

THE PRESIDENT. Step by step, I would think. What is impressive, as I said--and I don't think we realize the full significance of it-is that most of the work really has been done by southerners themselves. In the case of Alabama, the five Federal judges who signed that order were all from Alabama--all grew up in Alabama--and I am sure shared the views of the majority of Alabamians who, I think, are not for desegregation, but, nevertheless, met their responsibilities under the law, which we are trying to do. And I think what has happened in South Carolina, Florida, in the last few days, Georgia--I think it is an impressive story. It is slow, step by step, but it will continue that way. But this Nation is passing through a very grueling test, and with the exception of a few aberrations, I think we are meeting it. And I say "we" in the national sense. We, as a country, are doing quite well. We have to do better, but I think there is some cause for satisfaction in most of the events that happened in the last 2 weeks.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, in your view, what impact will the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Richard Russell's opposition to the test ban treaty have on the Senate vote on the pact?

THE PRESIDENT. I think he is highly respected, probably the most individually respected, perhaps, in the Senate, and therefore what he says is going to have some influence. On the other hand, it seems to me the whole weight of opinion makes this essential. I think the Senate is going to approve this. We can't turn our backs and tell 90 nations who have now signed it that the lid is off, the atomic age has come in all of its splendor, and that everyone now should begin to test in the atmosphere--which, of course, everybody would have to do if this treaty fails. This would be the green light for intensive atmospheric testing by a number of countries. You couldn't possibly stop it. This would be the end of an effort of 15 years. I don't think the United States would want to take on that responsibility.

Q. Mr. President, what significance do you see in the failure of Cuba so far to sign the treaty? Do you think, specifically, that this reflects any new friction between Cuba and Russia? And also I was wondering whether it is satisfying to be called more imperialistic by Castro than Eisenhower was.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, lately, I have had so many things said about me that I thought what Castro said was not particularly bad. He is attempting to demonstrate he is an independent figure. That is what he is attempting to do. I think probably he may sign finally, I don't know. We made it very clear in my letter to Senator Dirksen that if there is any breach in the treaty which involves Cuba, that appropriate action will be taken.

Therefore, this is a gesture of protest against what is obvious. But I don't put much significance on it. As far as what he says, I think it would be--I don't know.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, last week, Admiral Anderson expressed concern that there is too little trust and confidence between civilian and military officials in the Pentagon. Also, the Admiral said that he favored legislation introduced by Congressman Vinson to fix the tenure of members of the Joint Chiefs at 4 years. I wonder if you would comment on these points in the Admiral's speech.

THE PRESIDENT. He felt very strongly about the matter and made his speech, and that was all right. Now secondly, on the question of the 4 years, I am not for that. I think that any President should have the right to choose carefully his military risers. I think the 2-year term fits very well. I am for the 2-year term. I think, not just in my case but I would think for those who come afterwards, I think they will be better served.

[25.] Q. Mr. President, the President of Pakistan said yesterday in his interview that he may have to make an alliance with the Chinese because of his fear of our arming India further. Is there any way this Government can, or has it been able to give assurances either to the Indians or to the Pakistani which would quiet this mutual fear which seems to plague both of them?

THE PRESIDENT. I can tell you that there is nothing that has occupied our attention more over the last 9 months. The fact, of course, is we want to sustain India, which may be attacked this fall by China. So we don't want India to be helpless--there's a half billion people. Of course, if that country becomes fragmented and defeated, of course that would be a most destructive blow to the balance of power. On the other hand. everything we give to India adversely affects the balance of power with Pakistan, which is a much smaller country. So we are dealing with a very, very complicated problem because the hostility between them is so deep.

George Ball's trip was an attempt to lessen that. I think we are going to deal with a very unsatisfactory situation in that area. My judgment is that finally Pakistan would not make an alliance with China. I think she will continue to make it very clear to us her concern about the rearmament of India and her strong conviction that she must not be put at a military disadvantage in relationship to India. But that would be much different, I think, than a formal alliance, because that would change completely, of course, the SEATO relationship and all the rest.

So we are trying to balance off what is one of our more difficult problems. This is true, of course, in other areas, in the Middle East, but I would say it is most complicated right now in India. We had hoped that a settlement of the Kashmir dispute would bring about an improvement in the relations between the countries, but Kashmir is further from being settled today than it was 6 months ago. So I think we are just going to have to continue to work with this one.

Thank you.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President's sixty-first news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Thursday afternoon, September 1963.

John F. Kennedy, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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