Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

March 11, 1959

THE PRESIDENT. The only announcement I have is that there are 24 editors visiting us this morning and if they are here, I certainly extend, on my behalf and I should think on yours, a cordial welcome to them. They are from 24 different countries.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, you have been quoted as having told the congressional leaders with whom you met last week that you believe Soviet strategy in the Berlin crisis and over the long run is to get the United States to spend itself into bankruptcy.

Do you hold that view, and if you do, could you elaborate on it?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know that it has any application, particularly, to the Berlin situation as of now; but I have said this time and time again. As a matter of fact you don't have to quote me, quote the Communists. If you have read their books and their writings, why, you know that one of the things by which they hope to weaken the free world is to show that free enterprise can't work, can't afford to do the things it needs to do.

Q. Thomas N. Schroth, Congressional Quarterly: Mr. President, both Houses of Congress plan to take up the Hawaiian statehood bill today. Do you have any words of encouragement for them?

THE PRESIDENT. For a long number of years I have been talking on this same subject. I didn't realize they were both coming up, coming up today. But I think in my very latest State of the Union Message, I said again that I hoped that this would be acted on promptly. And I still do.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press International: Sir, do you foresee anything on the international scene to cause an increase in your defense budget beyond the present 40.9 billion, or anything that might delay the decrease in the Army and Marine Corps--manpower?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, this is a subject, of course, that is under discussion all the time. What you do and what must be done is a production of a defensive plan, the nearest you can get of a consensus on this vital subject by those people who are best informed and who believe that we must negotiate always in this business of seeking a just peace from a position of strength.

Now, you make out a plan and you follow that plan. You do not want, and, as a matter of fact, it would be ruinous to be pushed off this plan time and again by something suddenly described as a crisis.

I have argued and urged for years that we are living and we are going to live in a tense period because of the actions and the attitude of the Communist imperialism.

Communist imperialism is never going to decrease the pressure of its efforts to promote world revolution, resulting in the communization of the world and with Moscow at the head.

Now, they focus these tensions, or they find some way where they can make it very difficult for the free world to carry on its planned program of strengthening the associations among the several nations that are free and trying to remain free and to keep our defenses strong and adequate, as we seek this just peace.

Now, every time one of these incidents, or one of these, you might say, these foci of tension occur, we have something that's called a crisis, and everybody has a new answer.

Whether it is sputnik or it's Quemoy or it's Korea or whatever it is, what we have to do is to stand steady, as I see it, to be alert, to watch what we are doing, and to make certain that we know how and where we would have to produce action, if action became necessary.

What I am trying to point out is this: that adequacy of our defenses is not going to be especially increased or strengthened by any particular sudden action in response to one of these moments of increased tension.

We are certainly not going to fight a ground war in Europe. What good would it do to send a few more thousands or indeed even a few divisions of troops to Europe?

I do not see why we would think that we--with something of a half a million troops, Soviet and some German in East Germany, with 175 Soviet divisions in that neighborhood--why in the world would we dream of fighting a ground war? When our allied forces were capable of winning wars in that region, it was in World War II. No matter who they had been fighting, they could have done so. But after all, our divisions which were from two to three times the strength of the average of that time against us, totaling, I suppose, 120 divisions in the West, were supported by the most powerful air forces and navies of that time that could be put together.

Now, we don't want to get into that kind of a miscalculation, and certainly that kind of an error. We want to keep adequate forces and we want to keep as strong in our hearts and our heads as we do in our military, and then carry forward our policies, our firmness in supporting our rights, carrying out our responsibilities in the world, keeping our friends together, and remembering that we just simply cannot be always following someone else's lead. We have to take our own positive plan and follow it.

Q. Garnett D. Horner, Washington Star: Mr. President, what you have just said implies a part of the answer to this question, but the news reports today from Berlin say that some top allied officials there are convinced in the light of Mr. Khrushchev's visits that only the clearest warning of nuclear war would deter the Soviets from trying to carry out its plan for Berlin.

So, the question is: is the United States prepared to use nuclear war if necessary to defend free Berlin?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know how you could free anything with nuclear weapons.

I can say this: the United States and its allies have announced their firm intention of preserving their rights and responsibilities with respect to Berlin. If any threat, or any push in the direction of real hostilities is going to occur, it's going to occur from the side of the Soviets.

Now, if that would become reality, and I don't believe that anyone would be senseless enough to push that to the point of reality, then there will be the time to decide exactly what the allies would, in turn, expect to do.

Q. William McGaffin, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, some economists contend that the auto and steal industries have helped bring on inflation by raising prices despite drops in demand. Do you agree, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't seen that particular point discussed. I suppose you are talking about some recent report, and I have not seen it discussed.

Q. Mr. McGaffin: Well, Mr. President, the argument is that instead of a classical type of inflation, this is one brought on by administered prices, that certain industries are so powerful that they can control prices, and during the recent recession, for instance, it was remarked that prices kept on going up although we were in a recession, and this was said to be because of these industries who were able to administer prices.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you raised a particular facet of this argument which has been going on a long time but I don't think I am particularly qualified to discuss it this morning. I would want to talk to Dr. Saulnier and some of my other associates on that subject, so I could find the statistics on the thing to see whether the premises from which we start such a discussion are correct.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Can you give the administration's position on extending the unemployment pay benefits?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The administration's position is that this was undertaken as an emergency program of last year, and particularly, one compelling reason being because it was the year in which State legislatures were not in session.

I think for some 20 years this has been completely a State program, and the Federal participation has been a very, very slight charge for overhead, so as to help the administrative expenses of the States; otherwise, it is not Federal, it is State.

Now, we are waiting for the legislatures to come into session, which they are this year. The problem is to see exactly what they will do.

With respect to this plan that we produced last year, there were only 17 States that took full advantage of it; 19 others continued payments or made the payments to veterans and, I believe, Federal workers who were out of work, but those were the only ones. So the position of the administration is now that this becomes a State responsibility.

Q. Mr. Brandt: Would you agree to let it go until the end of this fiscal year? I understand it expires on March 31, or something like that.

THE PRESIDENT. One of the things at this moment, Mr. Brandt, is this: the principle is that I believe the Federal Government should not be in the State business here, but I haven't got such a rigid position about this that I wouldn't listen to something that might be considered an adjustment at this moment.

Q. Spencer Davis, Associated Press: Last November, sir, you created a commission headed by Mr. William Draper to look into the relative emphasis of economic and military aid in the mutual security program.

Could you give us a report, or a preliminary report, on their findings to date?

THE PRESIDENT. They are going to give me an interim report, interim recommendations, very soon, I understand. I have not seen them all but I do know from correspondence that they are very, very concerned about the whole program.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, to some people in recent years it has seemed that the office of Secretary of Defense has lessened somewhat in prestige and planning for the military.

I wonder if you would tell us if you see the Secretary of Defense as a man who sort of takes orders from the White House and State Department, or as an adviser to you on modern strategy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it would be difficult for me right now to review all of my relationships with all of the several subordinates I have in this Government, and they are many.

But I will say this: Mr. McElroy is where he is because I respect him. I believe in his powers of judgment, and I believe that he is just as splendid a man as could be found in this country for the job. If I thought for one moment that he was just a "yes man" taking my suggestions and carrying them out, he wouldn't be there.

I have never had that kind of a subordinate and I never expect to have one. His own judgment and his own dedication to his job is what I depend on, his own brain and intellectual capacity.

Q. John Scali, Associated Press: Mr. President, Premier Khrushchev has added a new wrinkle to his Berlin proposal, namely, he would now allow minimum numbers of American, British, and French troops, as well as Russian troops, to remain in the western sectors if we accepted his proposal to make West Berlin a free city. What do you think of this suggestion?

THE PRESIDENT. I'd say first of all that I would not expect ever to be in the business of reacting instantly to one of Mr. Khrushchev's wisecracks or whatever he calls it, that we take as a serious suggestion. We have allies. We try to apply in the free world the same kind of procedure in the reaching of decisions that you do in a democracy. We have discussion and lively debate, and then we try to figure out what is best for all America.

Well now, this is our system when dealing with our allies. You don't expect to have a doctor hit you on the knee with a rubber hammer and your foot jump quickly up and have that kind of a system in responding to suggestions of Mr. Khrushchev's about anything.

And I say right now, we have four nations conferring among themselves as to an answer on the latest Russian note; that having been concerted, NATO will be consulted and we go ahead on that basis. And that is exactly what we will do to reply to anything else.

Now, violating everything I have said, I'd say I don't think much of it. [Laughter]

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Mr. President, how serious do you consider the Berlin situation, and do you consider that the American public is sufficiently aware of the possibility of war in this situation?

THE PRESIDENT. I personally think that the American public is more soberly aware of the true situation than a lot of people around this town. We are so dose to ourselves around here that we have a great possibility of stirring ourselves up. It's like one staff officer making work for another, so you get still another one to do it.

Now, this country knows it's a serious situation. They wouldn't be voting this kind of money for defense forces and for mutual security-which, to my mind, is the most vital part of our whole defense forces-they wouldn't be voting this kind of money unless they knew it was serious. And certainly I think there has been enough in the papers, enough in public statements for the whole free world, to say nothing just of the American population, to know that it is serious.

But what I decry is: let's not make everything such an hysterical sort of a proposition that we go a little bit off half-cocked. We ought to keep our steadiness, is what I plead for, steadiness in meeting this whole business, whether it be in Quemoy or Berlin or anywhere else.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: I wonder if part of your answer to Mr. Smith's question implied a sharp reduction in the importance of the ground forces?

And I wondered if you would answer that question against this background, sir: some of your critics in defense policy are attempting to challenge your military judgment by pointing out, for example, that you are willing to spend several millions, I think the number they mentioned was 90 millions, for jet transport planes for the administrative use of the White House and the Pentagon, whereas the expenditure of some 60 million more would bring an additional 55,000 men to the Army and the Marine Corps.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think your arithmetic and some of your premises that you quote are wrong.

First of all, I believe 55,000 men would be somewhere in the rate of 250 million for a year.

Secondly, I have never asked for a jet plane and I'm not sure that I'll ever be riding in one. One reason I haven't asked for a jet plane is because of the paucity of fields in the United States. When I ride in a plane, I want to be able to go into any State that occurs to me to go, whereas you have to pick and choose when you are going into these places with these big jet planes.

So, I have authorized, I forget whether it is either two or three, jet planes for the military, and I know of no other way they can decide-of transport types--whether or not they are efficient and effective means for supporting the logistics of the forces.

Now, when you come down to, you say, "marked decrease," I don't think that an army of 870,000 is a small army. And I don't see why we should get so hysterical or so excited about it. Actually there has been an effort, apparently, to relate the Berlin situation to the fact that we should have a lot more ground forces.

What would you do with more ground forces in Europe? Does anyone here have an idea?

Would you start a ground war? You wouldn't start the kind of ground war that would win in that region if that were going to make the way you had to enforce your will. You have got to go. to other means. You couldn't possibly, between now and summer, any time, put the kind of divisions from all the countries in the world that could meet that kind of a threat. Did you ever stop to think the number of American divisions that were ready for action in the first 2 years of war, World War II?

These things aren't done in a minute. So, I say to you, we just don't want to be fighting battles where we are always at a disadvantage, and I mean battles, whether they are political, economic, or military. I don't want to be at a disadvantage. That's all.

Q. Mr. Morgan: May I just clarify one point, sir?


Q. Mr. Morgan: Does this mean that you are confident that the ground forces as they now exist are capable of handling our side of any so-called brush fire situation that might break out?

THE PRESIDENT. I'd say this: if we can't, then the war's gotten beyond a brush war, and you have got to think in much, much bigger terms.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Sir, the Constitution gives to Congress the power to provide for the common defense and raise and support armies, maintain and provide a navy.

Now, aside from the wisdom of what Congress says, where technically do you get the right to thwart the will of Congress, for instance in cutting the Army and the Marine Corps, quite aside from Berlin, or for not spending the money which they give you for missiles, submarine missiles or whatever they be?

Where do you get the right not to do what Congress says in providing for the common defense?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll say this: first of all, I am Commander in Chief, and I use the forces that are given me.

Now, I have pointed out a number of times that I am not going to try deliberately and continuously to, as you say, thwart the will of Congress. I think Congress is sometimes mistaken, and I think in the past they have made some very bad mistakes in dealing with defense.

All right; I try to get them to correct. If they persist in such a thing as this, I'll have to put these people, I suppose, in the forces. Where will I put them? Well, just some place where it's nice to keep them out of the way, because I don't know what else to do with them.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post: Mr. President, as you know, it has been said that the administration puts a balanced budget ahead of national security.

Suppose that our Federal Treasury were in better shape; suppose you could look forward to a surplus? Would you then be willing to spend more money on the armed forces, or would you still say that they are adequate?

THE PRESIDENT. I would say that I would not spend money on the armed forces of the United States as such.

Now, I would very much like to get some of our allies in better position to do their part in this job, and there are a number of other things that you might call ancillary or strengthening the United States in other ways--from its educational system to some other place where I would probably spend some more money.

I'm just tired even of talking about the idea of a balanced budget against national security; I don't see where this thing ever comes into it.

I say that a balanced budget in the long run is a vital part of national security.

Let us just assume this: we know that every time you get new formations in the defense forces, that increases expenses, and they keep growing with their maintenance, and you get into mass procurement and maintenance should go up. So let's go up 5 billion this year and then 10 billion more and then 7 and 8 and 9--where is our economy going? Everybody with any sense knows that we are finally going to a garrison state. If we want to do this, let's meet this problem, or if we say we want to avoid that, let's say for every increase that people believe ought to be in these formations, let's ask for the taxes.

Why doesn't anyone have the courage to get right up and say "I want 55,000 men"--maybe they want them sometimes because they'll be stationed at nice convenient places--why don't they say "But we want the taxes for it"?

I think that this problem is a little bit more comprehensive than just getting hold of another 10,000 or 15,000 young men, take them out of civil life and put them in uniform.

We have got the job of keeping the United States just as strong at home in everything we are trying to do as we have abroad. And the way we are going to keep it abroad is to keep the United States a big partner in a whole bevy of free nations that are activated by the same kind of things we want to do, which is to preserve the dignity of man and his opportunities to fulfill himself in this world.

Q. Felix Belair, New York Times: Under the heading of preparedness, sir, would you address yourself to alleged inequities arising from the draft, namely that as we are calling on fewer numbers now, I think 7,000 this summer as compared with 11 last year, these inequities increase, particularly in the more populous areas; some were called but many more were not called. I was wondering if you had any general ideas about it.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think I could contribute anything at this moment.

It's been a problem that has always been with the United States from the moment that we started the draft in the First World War.

I have, as a young officer, made studies on these and analyses and reports and everything else, and I would say this: today more than ever, you need good men in the services. You cannot just take a man who can just be a hewer of wood and a carrier of water. He has got to be a fallow that can do more than that and capable of absorbing more instruction.

Now, there is one other thing that deals with this whole problem we are talking about, men. Two years ago I think it started, three years, there was a hue and cry to increase the salaries for all of the military services, salaries and pay, and one of the big reasons was to get good men and keep good men in the services so that a big percentage of them would make careers. The argument was presented to me time and time again that if we would only do this, we could soon get away from a draft; people would stay in, our armies would be so efficient that we would actually save money and cut down costs by the reduction in the numbers of people we had to have in. That was the argument at that time.

Now, we want to get all these good men but we still shout for numbers. Although the Chiefs of Staff, as a corporate body, said the budget is adequate, each one of them has got his own reservations when he wants what he wants.

Q. Peter Lisagor, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, in answer to earlier questions, you seemed to have ruled out the possibility of a ground war in central Europe.

You also said, I believe, that nuclear war doesn't free anyone.

Is there, therefore, an in-between response that we could make in the event that the Russians really started trouble over Berlin?

THE PRESIDENT. I think we might as well understand this--might as well all of us understand this: I didn't say that nuclear war is a complete impossibility. I said it couldn't as I see it free anything. Destruction is not a good police force. You don't throw hand grenades around streets to police the streets so that people won't be molested by thugs.

This is exactly the way that you have to look at nuclear war, or any other. Indeed, even in the bombing of the, you might say, relatively moderate type that we had in World War II, we destroyed cities, but not to compel anything except the enemy to allow our ground forces to move forward.

And, I must say, to use that kind of a nuclear war as a general thing looks to me a self-defeating thing for all of us. After all, with that kind of release of nuclear explosions around this world, of the numbers of hundreds, I don't know what it would do to the world and particularly the Northern Hemisphere; and I don't think anybody else does.

But I know it would be quite serious.

Therefore, we have got to stand right ready and say, "We will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, but we are never going to back up on our rights and our responsibilities."

Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and fifty-fourth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:29 to 11:00 o'clock on Wednesday morning, March 11, 1959. In attendance: 255.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/235321

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