John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

October 11, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. I have several announcements to make.

[1.] You will recall that in my recent address to the United Nations General Assembly I expressed concern of this Government over the situation in southeast Asia, particularly in the attacks on the people of South Viet-Nam.

With this situation in mind I've asked General Taylor, with the wholehearted endorsement of Secretary McNamara and General Lemnitzer, to go to Saigon this week to discuss with the President and American officials on the spot ways in which we can perhaps better assist the Government of Viet-Nam in meeting this threat to its independence.

General Taylor will be accompanied by a small staff from the various departments of Government which are concerned.

[2.] Secondly, I have today announced my intention to appoint a panel of outstanding scientists, doctors, and others to prescribe a program of action in the field of mental retardation.

This condition strikes those least able to protect themselves from it. It affects not only the people involved but also the members of their family.

It is a serious personal matter to at least 1 out of every 12 persons, disables 10 times as many as diabetes, 20 times as many as tuberculosis, 25 times as many as muscular dystrophy, and 600 times as many as infantile paralysis.

At one time, there was practically no effective program in the field of mental retardation. Wherever possible the children were committed to institutions. They were segregated from normal society and forgotten except by the members of their family. Only in isolated cases was an effort made to bring them back into useful lives in the community. They suffered from lack public understanding and they suffered from lack of funds.

The situation today is better. Most attempts still take the form of therapeutic research and treatment. The central problems of cause and prevention remain unsolved. And I believe that we, as a country, in association with scientists all over the world, should make a comprehensive attack. It is a matter of the greatest possible interest to me, and I am going to meet with the panel next week. Thank you.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, at our last news conference you were hopeful but not, as I recall, wholly sanguine about prospects for a Berlin settlement. In the meantime, have there been any developments, including the Gromyko talks, or any new information in hand, to raise hopes for a solution?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I would say that we are still anxious to have a solution which will lessen the threat of war and which, we would hope, could improve the security of the people of West Berlin. We have had not negotiations but exploratory talks--Mr. Rusk with Mr. Gromyko on three occasions, and I had a talk with him and the Prime Minister yesterday--in an attempt to determine the precise position of the Soviet Union on the various questions dealing with access, the free city, the question of boundaries, and all the rest. We have not, as I have said, carried out any negotiations, nor will we.

We will now continue the talks with Ambassador Thompson in Moscow, I hope. He is back here for that purpose and will be returning shortly. And we are going to be now in the process of consulting with our allies in order to determine a common Western position on these matters which are at issue.

So that I don't think that we can come to any conclusion as to what the ultimate outcome will be, though the talks which we had with Mr. Gromyko did not give us immediate hope that this matter would be easily settled.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, I believe recently you spoke to a group of New Jersey publishers about your forthcoming plan involving fallout shelters that might be quite economical. In this general range of interest, sir, do you have personally fallout shelters in any of the residences that you frequently use? I'm thinking particularly of your house in Hyannis or in Middleburg or in Palm Beach or at Newport.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, they're not all my residences, I'm sorry to say--[laughter]-but I would say that there are naturally provisions for the protection of those in the Presidency and in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others who would have to maintain responsibility in case of a military action. Though of course there's no sure answer for anybody.

We--obviously you cannot build a shelter in the accepted sense of the word for the kind of money which we have talked about. But we can provide directions whereby a family can take steps to protect themselves on a minimum basis and give them--members of the family--some hope that if they're out of the blast area they could survive the fallout. And by the middle of November we hope to suggest some of the steps that every homeowner could take.

My own feeling is that these shelters are most useful and most important, and we're going to live through a long period of constant tension with these dangerous weapons which will be proliferating, and, therefore, anything that we can do to increase the chances of protection for our families ought to be done.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, a recent public opinion poll showed that a majority of the American people are more worried about a war breaking out now than they have been in any time in recent years. Would you address yourself to this poll, sir, and Whether you share that view or just how do you feel about it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that they're naturally and quite correctly concerned because there is a collision in the points of view which the Western powers have taken in NATO with that of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw bloc countries over Berlin, and this area is extremely vital.

Western Europe is an area of great resources and the Soviet Union has long had policy ambitions in this area, so that this is a very, very serious matter unless we can reach a peaceful accommodation.

In addition, there are other areas where we can become involved. And as the weapons now are so annihilating, it causes the American people to be quite rightfully concerned.

Our ambition is to protect our vital interests without a war which destroys and doesn't really represent a victory for policy.

But we happen to live--because of the ingenuity of science and man's own inability to control his relationships one with another, we happen to live in the most dangerous time in the history of the human race.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, Communist China's Foreign Minister has indicated that high-level talks at the foreign minister level with the United States would be, as he says, acceptable, provided the United States took the initiative. How do you feel about this?

THE PRESIDENT. Well I--we are, of course, having conversations at the present time at Geneva. The Chinese Communists are represented at the conference over Laos, and there are therefore many channels through which any exchange of views could flow.

We have been meeting periodically, for the last 3 or 4 years, for a period at Geneva and, of course, most recently at Warsaw in which we talked about the question of the exchange of prisoners, or rather the release of prisoners, and other matters. So that I would feel that these efforts will continue at Geneva and they will continue at Warsaw.

But we have not seen any evidence as yet that the Chinese Communists wish to live in comity with us, and our desire is to live in friendship with all people. But we have not seen that attitude manifested. In fact, just a few days ago there was a statement about Berlin that was quite bellicose.

[7.] Q. There have been charges that we have not adequately maintained the strength or the credibility of our nuclear deterrent and that we also have not fully convinced the leaders of the Soviet Union that we are determined to meet force with force in Berlin or elsewhere. What is your reaction to those charges?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have made many statements. I have made them and they've been as precise as I could make them. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, other Western people in positions of responsibility have all talked of our determination to maintain our vital interests in this area.

I think probably--aside from any domestic reasons for this kind of criticism--it's that everyone realizes that these weapons are, as I said, extremely dangerous and that the Soviet Union has a long-range bomber and missile capacity, as we do, and that, as I've said, we move through a period of maximum hazard. So that naturally anyone would be reluctant, unless all else had failed, to destroy so much of the world.

But we have indicated that we will meet our commitments with whatever resources are necessary to meet them and we also add that we hope it will be possible that accords can be reached which will protect the interests and freedom of the people involved without having to go to this--these extreme weapons.

Now I would like to point out two or three details about the effort we've made in the field of national security and national defense.

Since January, we have added more than $6 billion to the national defense budget, which is more than a 14-percent increase over the previous budget.

In strategic forces, which are the nuclear forces, we have ordered a 5n-percent increase in the number of Polaris submarines to be on station--battle station--by the end of 1964; a 5n-percent increase in the number of strategic bombers on 15-minute ground alert at the end of runways, which is already in effect; a 100-percent increase in our capacity to produce Minuteman missiles against the day when that production capacity may be needed, and a similar increase in Skybolt and other programs which affect our strategic arm.

Now to strengthen our nonnuclear forces--and I think this is important--we have called up two additional divisions and many thousands more--particularly in the air; we've increased by 75 percent our modern long-range airlift capacity; we've increased our antiguerrilla forces by 150 percent; we've stepped up the delivery of the M-14 rifle from a maximum of 9,000 a month to 44,000 a month and taken other steps to bring the Army, Navy, and Marine units to full strength in terms of manpower and equipment. And we still have some-way to go.

But it does indicate our feeling that we should be stronger and also that there should be a balance in the forces that we have.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, following up this same subject, sir, it has been reported that you have been angered or at least disturbed by what has been described as partisan criticism of your foreign policy.

It has also been reported that some members of your administration, possibly including yourself, have felt that sharp Republican warnings against appeasement have constricted the room that you may have to negotiate with the Russians. Would you discuss these points?

THE PRESIDENT. No--I'm going to attempt to, as I have said, to protect our vital interests and see whether it's possible for us to reach an agreement in this matter which will not necessitate a war which could mean so much destruction for so many millions and millions of people in this country and elsewhere.

Now, I'm going to continue to do that and we'll do the best we can and we'll see what happens.

Everyone is free to make any attacks they want. I think what would be most helpful to the Nation today would be constructive and frequently critical alternatives--suggestions for alternative courses of action--and not merely rather generalized statements which throw very little light on very complicated and dangerous matters.

But I would never suggest that the battle of the mimeograph machines between the Republican Committee and the Democratic Committee should cease, only that it should perhaps be wiser.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, in your July speech you said that you didn't want to negotiate on a basis of what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable. In your talks with Mr. Gromyko, sir, what did you talk about that was theirs?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think really it's particularly useful at this time to attempt to go into precise detail. Most of the--a good deal of the information in the talks has already been printed in the press. These talks, if they're not going to turn into merely exchanges of propaganda, should at least have the value of some degree of privacy.

I've stated that we have not been engaged in negotiations, no agreements have been reached but merely an attempt to explore what are the positions of the various powers.

I've already characterized my view of these talks and I think that with the information, which has been quite lucid and only slightly inaccurate, I think we can proceed on to additional talk.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, in reference to your decision to send General Taylor to Viet-Nam, there may be some interpretation of that decision as implying confirmation of reports that you intend to send American forces to Viet-Nam or to Thailand or to Laos. Can you give us your appraisal of the conditions under which you might find it necessary to send troops in?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we're going to wait till General Taylor comes back and brings an up-to-date description of the situation, particularly in Viet-Nam. As you know, in the last 2 or 3 months there has been a large increase in the number of the forces that have been involved. There has been evidence that some of these forces have come from beyond the frontiers. And General Taylor will give me--and the Joint Chiefs of Staff--an educated military guess as to what the situation that the government there faces. Then we can come to conclusions as what is best to do.

[11] Q. Mr. President, if it becomes necessary for the House to elect a new Speaker, would you be likely to express, either publicly or privately a preference for any candidate?

THE PRESIDENT. The House has a Speaker; and the House will elect its next Speaker; and I would think it would be unwise for anyone outside the House to attempt to indicate a preference. This is a matter for the House. I'm sure they'll choose wisely.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, in addition to the criticism that's been heard in some quarters of your foreign policy, there's also been some criticism of your domestic program and it encountered some trouble in Congress. Does your decision to make speaking engagements in the West and the announced series of appearances of some of your Cabinet members indicate a feeling that it's now time to take your program to the country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, on the last part, we are having the members of our Cabinet speak at nonpartisan meetings upon invitation in various parts of the country to talk to them about some of the domestic programs that we have worked on and could work on in the future.

My own trip is very limited. I'm going to speak in Washington at the 100th anniversary of the University of Washington, and also at a dinner--the 25th anniversary of Senator Magnuson's service in the Senate-and will then go the next night to speak at the 50th anniversary of Senator Hayden's coming to the Congress, in Arizona. And those are my only speeches.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, going back to Berlin, I think the American people are confused by what they read and hear about Berlin. One day they read or they're told that American officials are encouraged by the outlook. Another day they read that they're not encouraged, that they're gloomy. One day we're going ahead, the next day we're going back. Mr. President, does the real situation fluctuate that much? As a one-time journalist who became President, how does it look to you?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, a lot of journalists had bad luck--[laughter]--and I know these stories based on recent conversations that there have been, I think, from New York, exchanges between Mr. Rusk and Mr. Gromyko.

There seemed to be more hope in the stories that came out of my meeting with Mr. Gromyko. I think it would be--I see no evidence as yet that there is any clear solution to Berlin. There still seems to--there still are very major differences of view.

Now I feel that the three talks he had and the talk I had at least helped to make more precise those differences.

We now will continue some more and in addition--and I think this is most important-the Germans will have a new government shortly and be able to participate with perhaps more vigor in making Allied policy with the other NATO countries, and then we can get a better idea as to how it's all going to end up.

There is--I would say that there have been, as I have said, no negotiations in the sense that we made proposals and they made them.

What there has been is a description of the kind of solution that they would like to see. And I must say that I have not found substantial changes in that policy as it was previously expressed some months ago.

There has been, and I think this may explain the stories, a desire to discuss these matters and a--statements about a desire to reach a peaceful accord. But on the substance we are not in sight of land.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any feeling about whether members of your administration should belong to the Metropolitan Club here in Washington?

THE PRESIDENT. It seems to me that where everyone eats and the clubs that they belong to--private clubs--is a matter that each person must decide himself, though I personally approved of my brother's action--the Attorney General.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, written into the foreign aid bill is a clause which says that there should be more stress on giving aid to friendly countries, countries that share our view on major world problems. In view of the decision to review aid to Ghana's Volta River project, could you elaborate on how far you think a country should go towards agreeing with us on these major issues?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that they should--what--we're not attempting to use our aid in order to secure agreement by these countries with all of our policies. The phrase that was used in signing the mutual security bill was that we should give particular attention to the needs of those countries which share our view of the world crisis.

Our view of the world crisis is that countries are entitled to national sovereignty and independence. That is all we ever suggested. That is the purpose of our aid--to make it more possible.

Now if a country has ceased to choose national sovereignty or ceased to choose national independence, then, of course, our aid becomes less useful. But that is a different matter from suggesting that in order to be entitled to our assistance, particularly as a good percentage of our assistance today is in the form of loans, that they must agree with us, because quite obviously these people in the underdeveloped world are newly independent. They want to run their own affairs.

They would rather not accept assistance if we have that kind of string attached to it. Therefore, I think we ought to make an educated guess. But it's not an easy matter. These countries are passing through very difficult times and they're going to swing one way and then another. But in general, our object is that they maintain their independence. We hope it's theirs.

[ 16.] Q. Mr. President, considering what we may know now about the--may have learned now from the Russians on nuclear shots and what we do know now about our own underground explosion, do you think it's probable, in order to keep up with the state of this art, that we'll have to go to atmospheric testing in the near future?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, quite obviously if at the conclusion of this immediate series of tests, the Soviet Union was to propose an un-inspected moratorium--that would not be very helpful in view of the experience we've gone through this year. We will be glad to negotiate, but we will not feel that the moratorium will be extended during the period of negotiation.

As to what kind of tests we will operate, we--I am extremely sorry that we were not able to get the Soviet Union to accept the proposal to ban atmospheric testing by the Prime Minister and myself.

They've made over 20 tests in the atmosphere, and we have to make a judgment as to what is in the best interests of our security, and that is a matter which is being studied. For the present, our tests are underground, and we feel that's in accordance with our security.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, do you feel that the Nation has reacted positively to your May 25 appeal to send a man to the moon? And do you feel that progress is being made on Projects Mercury and Apollo?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, until we have a man on the moon, none of us will be satisfied. But I do believe a major effort is being made. But as I said before, we started far behind, and we're going to have to wait and see whether we catch up.

But I would say that I will continue to be dissatisfied until the goal is reached. And I hope everyone working on the program shares the same view.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, did you make the decision for us not to use force to stop the building of the wall in Berlin? And if you had it to do over again, would you make the same decision? Or what would have been the alternative if you had not made that decision?

THE PRESIDENT. As you know, Eastern Berlin and East Germany have been under the control of the Soviet Union; really, since 1947 and '48. There's not been four-power control and they have controlled this area.

There are many things that happen in Eastern Europe, as I said in my United Nations speech, which we consider to be wholly unsatisfactory--the denial of liberties, the denial of political freedom, national independence, and all the rest.

And that is a matter of equal concern in the action which you described. These are areas which the Soviet Union has held since the end of World War II, for over 16 years.

Q. Mr. President, you spoke of seeking a common Western position. Are we far apart and at what level do we have to seek it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think we're going to be meeting next week in Washington and by those who are particularly competent here among--we've had almost daily conversations, and as I say I'm hopeful that when the new German Government assumes its responsibility we can come to more final conclusions as to what our next approach should be to the Soviet Union.

I believe there are basic agreements among the Western Allied powers, but these are matters which should be carefully explored and I think we can only explore them with success since the talks with Mr. Gromyko because I think they've helped illuminate the matters which we must decide.

[19.] Q. We are told that your defense expenditures this year and next year will be vastly increased. Will they be increased so much that they will curtail your legislative program, especially for revision of the tax structure?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, in answer to the last part of your question, we had hoped before the Berlin crisis came out that we might have a, if business came back, we might have a $3 billion surplus which would have permitted a tax reduction. As you know since the July callup decision, which was $3,500 million we've lost that hope.

We still have a strong desire to balance our budget. But I cannot predict what extra military demands may be made in the next month or two which may lessen that chance. But our present intention is to balance our budget unless military increases--and only military increases--threaten that object.

Q. Mr. President, in your July speech on this same subject, you said that if it was necessary to balance the budget you would increase taxes. Do you still feel that way?

THE PRESIDENT. I would, if we can--for example, there isn't any doubt that if we had been able to persuade the Congress to accept the $600 million or $700 million increase in postal rates it would have assisted us in our responsibility. We will increase--we will secure sufficient revenue to balance the budget unless there is excessive and substantial-and they may come, because of the events in southeast Asia or Western Europe.

Whether we should--at that time we will then make a judgment as to how much we can cut from nondefense expenditures and, secondly, how much of a tax burden can be sustained without strangling the recovery.

We don't want to--which I think is one of the difficulties--the recovery of '58 which was aborted in 1960, so that we don't want to provide a tax structure which already is very heavy--and brings in tremendous receipts at full employment--we don't want it to result in waste of resources and manpower. So that's the judgment we must make.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, could you give us your assessment of the vigor of the economic recovery, particularly in the light of statements by organized labor that we may have five and a half million unemployed by next February?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we've had a 10-percent increase in the second quarter and a 5-percent increase in the third quarter, and we are going to continue to have a substantial increase in the next quarter.

I think we're producing more cars this quarter probably than any year since 1950 and we've had less increase in the cost of living in a recovery than we've had in 10 or 12 years. So that the private sector is moving ahead.

The problem of unemployment continues because of technological changes and increases in the population and we do not have--unemployment is now at about 4 million. We do not--I am still as concerned as they are that we could have a great boom and still have the kind of unemployment they describe.

[21.] Q. Sir, do you believe your letter to the steel companies has had the desired effect that there will not be a steel price increase this fall?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that the steel companies are going to make a judgment based on what they consider to be in the public interest and in line with their own responsibilities, and I think it's their judgment and I'm hopeful that they will make a judgment which will assist our economy.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, on Berlin, the Russians seem to be making a considerable effort to cut any relationship between West Berlin and West Germany, even the relationship which now exists. Do you consider that any settlement of the Berlin issue will have to include free access for West Germans and West Berliners back and forth and other relationships between the city and the country as well as access to the Allied forces themselves?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that without going into the details, as I said at the beginning, it's quite obvious that we're not only talking about the freedom of the city but also its viability, economic as well as political, and it operates under the greatest possible difficulties, 100 miles within an area controlled by the Soviet Union, so that this tie with the West--West Germany and other sections of the west--is very vital to its remaining more than just a shell, so that we will be concerned with the viability and vitality--economic vitality--of the city in any agreement that we're able to make--if we can make an agreement.

Reporter. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's seventeenth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4:30 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, October 11, 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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