John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

November 08, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. Ladies and gentlemen, I have several statements to make.

[1.] I am delighted to announce that General Eisenhower has agreed to serve as the first chairman of the board of trustees of a new people-to-people. organization. The purpose of the new organization will be, and I quote: "To foster contacts between citizens of the United States and people of other lands in every way possible."

The original people-to-people organization was formed in September 1956 by a group of leading American citizens at a White House conference.

The new organization will provide a private, centralized coordination and fund-raising leadership for the activities and projects of the people-to-people program, which has been a matter of great interest to General Eisenhower.

I consider it a great honor to be able to serve as honorary chairman of this outstanding citizens organization.

[2.] Secondly, General Taylor has returned and he and his colleagues have reported their findings to me and to other members of the administration. In the next few days we shall be considering carefully the grave problems which have been posed by both externally supported violence and the natural disaster of a great flood .in South Viet-Nam. Our-concern is to find the most effective way of sustaining the progress of the people of South Viet-Nam, and obviously this is a matter on which we shall need to coordinate our activities with those of the Government of South Viet-Nam.

Therefore General Taylor's findings will need review not only in this Government but discussion with the Government of South Viet-Nam, and at this stage I have no public announcement to make.

[3.] Third, finally, I want to comment on the success and significance of the first meeting of the joint United States-Japan committee on trade and economic affairs, which was held in Japan last week.

This joint Cabinet group was led by Secretary Rusk on our side and Foreign Minister Kosaka for the Japanese.

It succeeded in extending the concept of American-Japanese partnership to the economic and trade field and, I think, was a most important step forward in the relations between both of our countries.

Japan is our second largest trading partner and we are her largest trading partner.

Moreover, our merchandise export to Japan greatly exceeds the imports that we receive from her. In the first 6 months of this year, our merchandise trade surplus with Japan totaled $433 million.

In addition, Japan also plays a key role in the economy of Asia, and free world economic objectives depend to a very important extent on her cooperation.

This conference was characterized by a frank exchange of views, and I believe that economic cooperation between our two countries can be expanded by further meetings, and we are looking forward to the next annual meeting of the joint committee to be held in Washington in 1962. Thank you.

[4.] Q. During the past campaign, the political campaign last year, specifically in October, you and others spoke of the serious deterioration of our military strength in relation to that of Russia. In recent weeks, however, you and the top officials of the Pentagon have spoken of our measurable superiority to Russia in military strength. I'd like to ask you, sir, what's happened since the campaign and now? Did you during the campaign possibly not have as much information as you derived later, or do you say, sir, that the improvement in our military position has resulted from the activities solely of your administration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the phrase that I used in my announcement last week was that the United States would not trade places with anyone.

My statement to which you referred was echoed by a good many members of the previous administration as well as members of my own party. I think President Eisenhower himself said, and I quote him, that we are somewhat behind in the long-range missile field. General LeMay, in testimony before congressional committees, expressed concern that in overall military strength we would be behind in 1959. Admiral Radford expressed concern about the defense of the United States--the continental United States.

We have, as you know, since coming into office made requests for over $6 billion in increase in our national defense, and we have speeded up our Polaris program, our Minuteman standby capability; we've increased the number of SAC which is on a 15-minute alert--now 50 percent of SAC-and we have made important contributions to strengthening our conventional forces.

We attempt to keep our information up to date, and we are doing so to the best of our ability. And, based on our present assessments and our intelligence, we, in my words, would not trade place with anyone in the world. And that represents our judgment as of now. But it's a matter to which we must give continuing study.

We're going to ask for additional funds for defense next year, and we are going to continue to maintain the most careful assessments of our intelligence and capabilities and that of our adversaries, as well as our commitments, so that statements that I made represented the best of my information based on public statements made by those in a position to know in the late years of the nineteen fifties.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, would you give us your view of the elections Saturday and yesterday--whether they may reflect public reaction to your administration or to the part that you and Mr. Eisenhower took in them? Can this type of election be a political barometer?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am always reluctant to claim that what happens in one election with one set of candidates necessarily means it will happen again at a later date with a different set of candidates. But as I believe if Mr. Gonzalez and Mayor Wagner and Judge Hughes had lost, that it would have been interpreted as a stunning setback for this administration. I will break my rule and say that the fact that they all won constitutes a source of satisfaction to us.

They won because they were effective candidates. But they all ran as Democrats. And I believe that it indicates that the American people believe that the candidates and parties in those areas as well as nationally are committed to progress, and that's what they're committed to. So I'm happy and I suppose someday we'll lose and then I'll have to eat those words. [Laughter]

[6.] Q. Can you give us the latest, sir, on the Berlin crisis, which seems to have quieted down a bit, and also your views regarding the talk of possible trips to the summit again to discuss this problem?

THE PRESIDENT. No. In answer to your last part of the question--I know of no proposed trips to the summit. In the first matter, this is a matter of continuing, of course, concern. And Chancellor Adenauer is coming to the United States shortly and I think that his trip is of vital importance in our consideration of the entire matter of Berlin, Germany, Europe. We are anxious to get his views. We are anxious to make sure that our policies are concerted, and therefore I'm delighted that he is coming and I'm delighted that he's bringing members of his new administration with him.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, this is the first anniversary of your election last year, and in the campaign that preceded that election there was considerable talk on the part of both candidates and both parties about a number of very specific subjects--Cuba, for instance; the economic growth of the country; the prestige of the Nation with other countries; hard-core unemployment, and an Executive order to end racial discrimination in housing. I wonder if you could assess for us these issues in the light of your year in office and if we might know, if you were campaigning again today, if the emphasis of your campaign might be somewhat different?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it would be exactly what it was. We have met a good many of these commitments and I'm hopeful before our term is ended that we will meet the others. But we have passed a minimum wage of $1.25 an hour. We have made it possible for men to retire at 62. We did pass the area redevelopment bill for areas of chronic unemployment--which had been vetoed twice. We did pass the most broad-range housing bill that had been passed since 1949. We did provide additional funds for pollution. And we did, I think, in a whole variety of areas, take actions which benefit the people.

The fact of the matter is that since we took office in January, our national income or gross national product has gone up from around $501 billion to--it is our calculation by the--within the two quarters immediately ahead, our gross national product will be $565 billion and--which represents a substantial increase and, I think, is of particular importance in sustaining our many burdens.

Unemployment in October now stands at 3,900,000. There are more people working than ever before--67,800,000. The number of people in industry has gone up 2,000,000 since we took office in January--who have jobs.

Now I am not saying that these problems are solved because, in a sense, they're never solved. And there are areas which are still unfinished. Medical care for the aged, which we are going to recommend to the Congress in the coming session.

We have, I think, made substantial progress in the field of civil rights. To conclude there have been more suits filed to provide for voting and there will continue to be a concentrated effort by this administration to make it possible for every citizen to vote under the laws and the directions provided by Congress.

We have put more people to work, under our Vice President's committee--unemployment-than there was ever done in the previous 8 years in the last 8 months.

And I think that in voting, in the activities of the Justice Department, in education, in other areas, we are making substantial progress with a good deal left unfinished. And we'll meet our commitments before we're finished.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, in view of our overall military position and your statement that you would not trade places, many people are wondering how you might eventually justify the possible resumption of nuclear testing in the atmosphere.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've stated that I felt it incumbent upon us to maintain our lead; that we have not concluded as yet our analysis of Soviet tests, and if we felt that our present position in this very vital area has been endangered by Soviet tests, then we would have to take action to protect our security. So that, I also said, we would not test for political or psychological reasons unless we feel it militarily necessary. And, in the meanwhile, because there is a long time gap, we have ordered preparations to be made.

The Soviet Union tested while we were at the table negotiating with them. If they fooled us once, it's our own fault; if they fool us twice, it's our fault.

Q. On this question of nuclear testing, sir, Soviet officials have asserted in recent days that the United States in total has fired a larger quantity of megatons than all the Soviet tests. Is this statement true?

THE PRESIDENT. The Soviet Union with the most recent tests have put into the air about 170 megatons, the United States and Great Britain combined about 125 megatons, France less than one megaton. What is significant in this area, of course, is the amount of megatons put in the air and the condition under which the bombs may be exploded as it might affect fallout. And I don't think that there is any doubt the Soviet Union is first in that very dubious category.

[9.] Q. Last spring the Secretary of State indicated that an embargo was about to be imposed on imports from Cuba-sugar--not sugar, pardon me--tobacco, molasses, vegetables. Nothing has happened; that's months ago. Could you throw some light on that point, please, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, when the limitations were put on trade by the previous administration, there was exempted food and drugs which amount to around $12 million a year. And it would be impossible for us to break, to stop, that trade unless we enforce the Trading With the Enemy Act.

This has been a matter continually before us, but we are not anxious to be in the position of declaring war on the Cuban people by denying them essential food and also denying them medicines, and therefore this administration, like the previous administration, has been reluctant to take that action, but it's a matter that will be before us continually, and if it seems like the proper action, we'll take it, but our dispute is not with the Cuban people but with the Communist control of Cuba.

[10.] Q. Could you enlighten us, sir, as to why you're not having these press conferences more frequently, especially as to whether anything in particular you don't like about them or anything we might do on our part to encourage you to meet with us more often?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I like them. But-sort of--(laughter)--but I will--let me just say that I'll hold these--I'm anxious to hold press conferences as often as I believe it to be in the public interest. Now, we do hold--Mr. Salinger holds one or two press conferences a day. We put out a good many statements from the White House, members of the Cabinet speak around the country, we attempt to carry out communications to the extent possible. We're even having these regional meetings.

We are involved in a number of very sensitive matters on the question of Berlin, and I'm--I talk not only to the American people but also to our allies, to those who are opposed to us and our enemies, and those who are neutral, and, therefore, I feel that the schedule as we have recently had it is in the public interest. But I would have no objection to having them two or three times a week if I thought at that time it was in the public interest.

I had them nearly every week and I'm sure I will again when Congress is back. But most of the matters now before us deal with matters of foreign policy, and this seemed to be the most appropriate schedule in view of the public interest.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, how do you feel about the Postmaster General's statement that he yielded to political pressure to reinstate a postal employee considered unsuitable?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that Mr. Day probably feels that he would like to recast that statement, and, as I understand it, it was submitted to a board of review. The charges, although with the exception of one, were dismissed unanimously. One was considered and there was a 2-to-1 vote. It seems to me that that is the procedure that is best to follow without resort to political pressures of any kind. And I think that's what the Post Office and everyone else should do, and I hope they will. But--and I think that's Mr. Day's view.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, what significance to the West, in the course of the cold war, do you see in the current open rift between Red China and Russia?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that it's not--that none of us can talk with precision about the details of the relationships between Russia and China. It is a matter of surmise, and on this experts may differ. Therefore, I don't feel that it's probably useful now for us to attempt to assess it. I think we can judge better by actions. And we can--we'll have an opportunity to witness those actions in the coming weeks and months.

That's what really counts, not the--altogether the dialectics, but what result the varying philosophies which animate the Communist world--what resultant actions-their different view of Marx and the different interpretation of the Communist doctrine; what action it brings them to, and what threats it poses to the free world. That will give us a more precise answer to your question.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, there is a great deal of confusion among the public in regard to fallout shelters. Many people--people apparently aren't sold on building home shelters. Do you have any comment that might be helpful today on any aspect of this matter?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, as you know, none of us were really interested--I think that includes us all--in civil defense really until this summer and until we began to recognize the change in weapon technology which gave the Soviet Union the power to reach the United States with missiles as well as bombers, the destructive nature of the weapons, and also the fact that our two systems were in conflict in various areas.

We asked for additional appropriations, therefore, this summer for civil defense. We are--we asked for five times and received five times as much as we had the previous year.

Now, it's very difficult in a large country, with varying problems of geography, with 180 million people, to suddenly organize a civil defense program when so much depends on the cooperation between the Federal Government assigning it its proper responsibility, the State government, the local community, and the individual.

I stated that in July--that we were going to send a book giving the latest information that we had to every household, and I'm hopeful that that book will be completed before the end of this month.

But I'm--we are very conscious of the difficulties. We are very conscious of the desire of people to have accurate and precise information.

But it was not really, in my opinion, until August that this became a matter of great public urgency. The responsibility for shelters was then transferred to the Department of Defense and I believe that the booklet will be helpful, but it will be a--must be recognized that each family, each community, each State, and the Federal Government are all going to have a role, and we desire to interpret that role with precision so that we are moving ahead on it.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, some of the press in your country and India say that our Prime Minister is more pro-Communist and pro-Russian than he is Western. Now that your talks have concluded after the last 3 days, please tell us how you feel? Do you believe that he was either consciously or unconsciously against the interests of the United States or Western countries? Do you believe that he was for the cause of world peace? And please give us some idea of your talk with him?

THE PRESIDENT. In answer to your question, I have never thought, quite obviously, that--to use your phrase--that Mr. Nehru works consciously or unconsciously for the Communist movement, and I know of no rational man in the United States who holds that view. There are matters on which we differ, as the Prime Minister said in "Meet the Press" on Sunday, that "geography dictates a good deal of policy" as well as internal conditions, so that, quite obviously-and tradition, culture, the past, all this affects foreign policy.

So that there are areas where we differ, but I do not know any figure in the world, as I have said on other occasions, who is more committed to individual liberty than Mr. Nehru, and I think the people of India are committed to maintaining their national sovereignty and supporting liberty for the individual as a personal and cultural and religious tradition. We are going to disagree, but I'm sure it's possible for us to disagree in the framework of not charging each other with bad faith.

I have a high regard for the Prime Minister. It has become higher during our conversations. I've attempted to explain to him some of the areas of responsibility which the United States faces, and he has given me his views on a number of important questions, so I regard the talks as most valuable--[ inaudible ]--all matters affecting our countries and the personalities that may be involved.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, as you know, during the recent German crisis there's been a great deal of anxiety both in Germany and in this country about what our views are on the problem. Now that Dr. Adenauer has been invited to this country, can you give us a general idea of what you see as the future role of Germany, including East Berlin and East Germany, and also the question of rearming Germany or arming her with nuclear weapons?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that these are some of the matters which we will discuss with Chancellor Adenauer and involves his country and our country, and I think that it will be better to wait a few days when I will have a chance to see him.

On the question of arming them with nuclear weapons, as you know, Dr. Adenauer has stated West Germany does not intend to do so. And on the general matter of arms, I know that charges were made in regard to the remilitarization of Western Germany. Western Germany has almost no air force, very limited navy, has now nine divisions. Eastern Germany, which is far less in population, has substantially larger ground forces. And I think the effort to suggest that Dr. Adenauer, who is a distinguished European, who has brought about a reconciliation between France and Germany, who has brought the Common Market--helped bring the Common Market about, who has met his responsibilities under NATO, is a--represents a revanchist attitude, I think is wholly wrong. But on the details, I think this is what we should talk to Dr. Adenauer about.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, recently there have been statements by several people inside and outside the Government that the United States needs a major change in its trade policy, a major liberalization in trade policy. We haven't heard from you on this score during this immediate period of policy formation. What is your feeling about the need for change and, specifically, do you feel that the administration should seek to have the change made next year.

THE PRESIDENT. We have had several meetings in the administration about the matter and we'll be having others and will make recommendations to the Congress at the first of the year. I think that, quite obviously, we have to begin to realize how important the Common Market is going to be to the economy of the United States. One-third of our trade generally is in Western Europe, and if the United States should be denied that market, we will either find a flight of capital from this country to construct factories within that wall, or we will find ourselves in serious economic trouble.

On the other hand, we have obligations, for example, to Japan, and we have concern about our relations with Latin America, and what will happen to them, dependent as they are upon raw materials and on western European markets--where will they be left? These are all matters which we are now considering.

But I think that the people of this country must realize that the Common Market is going to present us with major economic challenges and, I hope, opportunities, and that this country must be ready to negotiate with the Common Market on a position of equality, as far as our ability to negotiate to protect our interests and the interests of those that are associated with us.

I think that one of our problems in the United States--and I think that it's illuminated by the statistics on Japan--we've read a good deal about the threat of Japanese goods coming into the United States, and I can understand where it is a concern. But here is a country where in the last 6 months a half billion dollars has been on our side, a balance of payments contributing to our dollar surplus and our gold balance.

Well, now we cannot just sell and never buy, and if all those who recognize the benefit to the United States--workers, industry-in an almost $5 billion to $6 billion surplus which we have every year, recognize how essential that is to our security, will speak as loudly as those who are hurt, we can get an adjustment, I think of the public interest.

But, in answer to your specific question, we are considering the matter and we will come to the Congress in January and make our recommendations. But the matter is by no means complete. The details of the Common Market, for example, and its effect upon us, will not be obvious probably until '63 or '64, and we have to attempt to go to the Congress at a time when we can be most successful. My judgment is that the time to begin is now, but as a matter of final decision, I think we'll have to wait about 2 or 3 more weeks.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, how much more do you think you will have to do to assure American business leadership that you are not anti-business and, in fact, do you think they need any special assurance?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if to be an--to stop them from saying we're anti-business we're supposed to cease enforcing the antitrust law, then I suppose the cause is lost.

There has been a--nearly a 10 percent increase, as I have said, in our gross national product. We have cut the flow of gold since January 1 even though we still have a serious dollar problem--it was almost $1 billion last year in gold lost, it's $76 million so far this year. We have had a very slight increase in the cost of living. In fact, wholesale prices are down. We've had less strikes than we've had any time in 20 years.

This country cannot prosper unless business prospers. This country cannot meet its obligations--its tax obligations and all the rest--unless business is doing well. Business will not do well and you will not have full employment unless they feel that there's a chance to make profit.

So that there is no long-range hostility between business and the Government. There cannot be. We cannot succeed unless they succeed. But that doesn't mean that we should not meet our responsibilities under antitrust, or that doesn't mean when we attempt to pass a bill on taxes to prevent tax havens abroad or a flood of capital which affects our gold balances--that doesn't mean we're anti-business. It means that we have to meet our public responsibilities. So that I think in the long run that most businessmen know that we are allied--as we are with labor and the farmer--in trying to keep this country going.

[18.] Q. On nuclear tests, in view of the fact that the Soviets have exploded 31 or more devices in the atmosphere, I think it's generally agreed that they're improving their nuclear weapons technology. Now this means that they're getting stronger in relation to the United States. Wouldn't it also mean that if we do not test in the atmosphere, that we're willing for the United States to become weaker with relation to the Soviet Union than we were, say, last summer?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've stated that I thought that the United States was in a position that was powerful--Mr. Gilpatric said "second to none." I said it was our obligation to remain so. And that is what we intend to do. And therefore, as you suggest, these calculations will have to be made and a decision reached. And pending these calculations, we are making our appropriate preparations.

Q. Mr. President, Dr. Pauling said that the biggest Russian bomb would cause 40,000 gross mutations in the next three or four generations. This remark has been criticized by some scientists because he didn't say that this--if this was true--it would be spread over 34 billion people, and that this leads to an exaggerated fear of fallout. Do you think there is in the popular mind an exaggerated fear of fallout, because of statements like that?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that anyone feels that if one individual, whether it's among many billions, is--particularly an individual three generations from now--finds their life warped by radiation, of course it's a concern to anyone. And we should, therefore, approach atmospheric testing with the greatest caution and hesitancy, as I've already indicated.

On the other hand, of course, we have a responsibility to the freedom of hundreds of millions of people--including the citizens of our own country. So we cannot--we have to attempt to balance off our needs. But I've said we would never, because of the reason whether Mr. Pauling's statistics are accurate or not, one is enough--that we would never test for political or psychological reason, but only if we felt that the security of the United States was endangered, and therefore the free world, which does affect this generation and others to come. So we must balance off our risks.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, the Democratic platform in which you ran for election promises to work for equal rights for women, including equal pay, and to wipe out job opportunity discriminations. Now you have made efforts on behalf of others. What have you done for the women, according to the promises of the platform?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm sure we haven't done enough. [Laughter] I must say I am a strong believer in equal pay for equal work, and I think that we ought to do better than we're doing, and I'm glad that you reminded me of it, Mrs. Craig. [Laughter]

[20.] Q. Mr. President, the boys and girls of the high school at Columbus, Ind., sent you a wire a week or so ago in which they reminded you that you had invited them to bring you any problems that they had. Their problem was that Joseph Turk, their Russian instructor--a very hard-to-find gentleman--was being taken off to be a clerk-typist in the Army. Has their request come to your attention and have you taken any action on it?

THE PRESIDENT. No, it hasn't come to my attention, and we will give it to the responsible groups. I agree that the problem of bringing teachers in is a difficult one. But I think we ought to let the Defense Department make that judgment.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's eighteenth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, November 8, 1961.

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

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