Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

December 10, 1958

THE PRESIDENT. Please sit down. Good morning, everybody.

It has been some time since we have had a press conference. I thought that for a minute or two I would make sort of a summary of the circumstances and events that have brought about a division of Berlin, and some of the events that have given us and, in our opinion, given the West not only the right but the duty of preserving the peaceful and free existence of that part of Berlin for which we were first made responsible.

These agreements go clear back to the European Advisory Commission's work in 1944, which met in London; and their work was finally approved at Yalta by the political leaders of Germany [Russia], Britain, and America.

That agreement made not only certain dispositions, although somewhat vague, about Berlin, but the division of Germany into geographical areas that each would control.

Later, in July and August I think it was, in Potsdam, there was again the Russians, the--I believe I said Germans before, I meant Russians, sorry--the Russians, the British, and the Americans meeting, and there was more specific detail agreed upon as to how Berlin should be divided and governed.

As you know, as the years went on, we finally have recognized West Germany as a nation in itself, but we have always stood for the principle of the peaceful reuniting of this people of 70,000,000, whose division we think is detrimental to the peace of the world.

At Geneva, in 1955, all of us agreed that we would follow the program of reuniting Germany by free elections. Now, that agreement on the part of the Russians was quickly repudiated. But nevertheless we have stood always for that basis.

We have refused to take any part or even talk about a program that did not contemplate peaceful methods for the reuniting of Germany, and we have always insisted, and so have West Germany, Britain, and France, that this must be by means of free elections.

But, in the meantime, and until that situation is finally composed by some agreement of all the powers, including, of course, Germany, we feel we have responsibility and the duty that is even more than our rights in maintaining the freedom of the western part of Berlin. I say "we"-we now have four countries agreed on it. At that time there were three-France, Britain, and the United States.

So, what I should like to make clear, there is no attempt on the part of the United States in this position to be arbitrary in the sense of trying to irritate or anger anybody else.

We do say that we stand firm on the rights and the responsibilities that we have undertaken, and that we cannot possibly fail to carry out those responsibilities, because if we did, we' would be retreating and abandoning people that have a right to expect the kind of cooperation that we have promised them.

So I want to make clear that we are not doing anything for ourselves. We are doing it for a free people that have a right to this kind of cooperation, promised them in the pledged word of a number of governments. That was the case I wanted to bring up to date.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, since you met yesterday with Senator Humphrey, there have been some reports that Khrushchev told the Senator that the Russians have an 8700-mile ballistic missile. Can you say whether the Senator gave you such a report and, if so, how do you evaluate it in relation to the firing of our own Atlas more than 6300 miles a few days ago?

THE PRESIDENT. Wall, first of all, following my usual practice, I would not repeat the details of any conversation with anyone who had come to my office for a personal or confidential mission.

Now, I do know, and have seen these reports; as a matter of fact, I saw it in a headline this morning--an 8500-mile missile. I would know no reason whatsoever why this could not be done. .We know that they have a very fine technique, and we know also they have exploded bombs of over a megaton in size.

We have done the same. We have also successfully tested an ICBM of sufficient range; and, therefore, I would know no reason to attempt to refute any statement that you have seen in the paper of this kind.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press International: Mr. President, somewhat in connection with that report, we hear from time to time of rather startling advances that have been made by the Russians, sometimes not officially. A recent report had to do with the Russians test-flying a nuclear-powered plane.

First, I would like to ask you, do we have any reason to believe such a report and, second, how you feel generally about these unofficial reports of rather extensive Russian accomplishments?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there is absolutely no intelligence, no reliable evidence of any kind that indicates that the Soviets have flown a nuclearpowered airplane. I think--to show why I discount it--even if there were some piece of evidence somewhere along the line, there has been the experience of our own technicians. I think our own scientists believe that if you merely wanted to get an airframe off the ground with a unit of nuclear power, you could possibly do it. But in the present state of the art and of science, there is no usefulness that anyone could possibly see for such a plane. Therefore, our own research efforts have been developed toward the production of a model or an airplane that will have satisfactory performance characteristics either for some peaceful or a military purpose; but we do not abandon the basic research on the power plant and its, you might say, transmission, which is the basis of the whole thing. We just merely say that there is no use of going into a field where the whole purpose would be to get a plane a few hundred feet off the ground.

Q. Frank van der Linden, Richmond Times: Sir, the Democratic Advisory Council met here last weekend, and presented a program of a blueprint for a good deal of spending legislation which you have opposed, and also asked for new legislation from Congress to reopen the schools that are closed in Virginia and Arkansas. Do you favor new legislation to bring about the enforcement of integration or any of these other proposals?

THE PRESIDENT. Well now, in the first part of your question I do note this: I have seen a lot of recommendations, I would like to see all of the programs for new taxes that are going to get the money to do it. I think that a lot of us would be startled, to say nothing about stronger sentiments, when we really had to think of digging up that kind of taxes.

Now, with respect to any new laws which you are talking about in the whole field of civil rights, I simply will say this: this is something that is studied all the time. Just exactly what will come about of these things, I don't know, but there is one thing that I believe should be done, and that is continuing the Civil Rights Commission which, because of a slow start, has not had the two years that Congress intended it to have. I should like to have it continued because its work, I think, is becoming now more factual and real than was possible before.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, can you tell us how it happened that Berlin was put 110 miles inside of the Russian zone instead of at the focus of the four zones?

THE PRESIDENT. Madam, I can tell you every single detail of it. And I will tell you, frankly, I have told this story so often that I feel I must be just repeating it, for a long time. But this is the story.

I mentioned the Advisory Committee. They set up in their great wisdom a division of Germany among three powers. France was not then mentioned because the Soviets didn't think they should be.

Now, that division was made by political decision and, frankly, I-because Berlin had been so destroyed--when I saw what the politicians decided to do--and I don't mind saying that I urged a line that was further east; specifically I wanted to include Thuringia because I said we would get that far before the other fellow did, and I thought we should have it.

Now, when we got into this decision though--it was made by Mr. Churchill, Mr. Roosevelt and the Generalissimo [Stalin] themselves-that was confirmed at Yalta, from that moment onward the problem became how would you control it.

My own solution was one that probably was a little bit naive, and it was certainly rejected in a hurry, which was to build a cantonment type of capital at the juncture of the British, American, and Russian sectors. Then we would have no problem. But Berlin meant to all the political figures, and I think probably they were a little smarter than I was in this case, Berlin has meant the capital of the German Empire and, later, Germany, so long that it probably would have been an impossible solution.

What I am getting at is that then, at Potsdam, they did consider all of the means of ingress, so far as I know. I never read all of the Potsdam papers, but I assume it was done there.

Now this means, I might remark this to you, that shortly after hostilities ceased, and in view of this prior political decision which was made in January or maybe the first of February, I had to retreat with the American forces in the center something over 125 miles. So it was just simply a political decision, that's all there was to it.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post: Mr. President, former President Truman made a talk down at the Press Club the other day, and he said something like this: that there was nothing personal between you and him, but then he added [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I was laughing only about your words "but he added."

Q. Mr. Folliard: "I gave him hell when he didn't knock Jenner off the platform for calling General Marshall a traitor. He's been mad at me ever since. I don't give a damn."

Mr. President, is that good history? Have you been mad at Mr. Truman, as he put it, and was the Jennet business the

THE PRESIDENT. You people have had a pretty good chance to cross-examine me for the last 6 years, and I think that most of you have found that I have had a little bit too much sense to waste my time getting mad at anybody.

Secondly, I have, ever since I have known him--in the war, after the war, and throughout the political campaign of '52--made known publicly my admiration and my respect for General Marshall. In fact, he is one of the men I have met that I put in the class I call great.

Immediately after my inauguration, and as soon as the Inauguration [Coronation] of the Queen was to take place, I asked him to head the delegation that was going as personal representative of the President to that Inauguration [Coronation]. And I am quite sure of this: I know that I felt, and I am quite sure he felt, that that was as great a personal honor as I could offer an individual in this country.

So, to say that I have ever stood still while any man, in my presence, was reviling General Marshall is not true.

Q. Peter Lisagor, Chicago Daily News: Could you tell us something about Secretary Dulles' condition and whether, in the event he is unable to go to Paris for next week's NATO meeting, you plan to send someone else from here?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I went down to see the doctors and the Secretary, I think it was yesterday afternoon. We had a talk, and then I had further reports this morning that they expect him to be able to go.

He has had this temporary condition where both his symptoms and the clinical records seem to show steady improvement. Certainly on Monday he was quite sure he was going. So I haven't gone beyond that point.

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, do you expect that current studies being made on foreign or mutual aid are likely to lead to increase in purely economic aid to needy areas? And, secondly, do you foresee any time when large-scale aid by this Government might be ended abroad?

THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn't attempt to guess what this committee will find.

So far as it was humanly possible, I tried to make it one that I thought would cover the spectrum of thinking about this matter; also, I certainly tried to make it bipartisan so that there would be no charge of any, let's say, personal bias or party bias in the thing.

Now, just exactly what their decisions will be, I can't say. But I do say this: if we are going to get that unity among the nations of the free world that really should give us confidence and strength, we cannot abandon or ignore their legitimate aspirations for a better life than they have been experiencing, in many cases, for hundreds of years.

The only point I want to make, Mr. Burd, is this: this is not just Christian charity or Red Cross help. This is, so far as I can see--and I know there are millions who agree with me--this is also in the best interests of the United States of America.

If we cannot help to produce a peaceful and stronger union among ourselves, then I say our situation in the world gets more serious rather than better, and this in spite of the fact that I know just as well as anybody else that, first of all, it is politically disagreeable and unpopular to ask for this mutual security money.

But I also am quite certain that thoughtful people who will study it will find out it is a better way to spend our money than to be spending too much on sterile mechanisms that we sometimes just call defense things.

Q. Robert J. Donovan, New York Herald Tribune: Sir, you have read in the press comments since election day, particularly, that you have taken a rather sudden turn in a more conservative direction than from your earlier years. Would you care to comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know how to comment on this because I am not aware of any change whatsoever.

Not long ago, someone brought a speech to me that I made on September 3, 1949, just a year or so after I had written a letter that I thought would keep me out of politics forever--showing you how fallible I am. [Laughter]

In that speech I outlined as seriously as I could, and I believe as intelligently as I could today, my basic philosophy about the function of Government with respect to the individual, to the locality and the State. I believe that that kind of philosophy has always guided me.

Now, I must say that in the buffeting of politics, you might say in the events of political life in this city where you have to get a piece of what you want, where compromise is the order of the day because that is what legislation is, I have had to accept a number of things that I would never have ordered had I been free myself to follow my own beliefs and convictions. But, so far as the philosophy is concerned, I think I have never had one single change.

Q. Mary Philomene Von Herberg, Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News: I wondered again if you and Mrs. Eisenhower wouldn't like to go up to Alaska? [Laughter] I mean, after all, you are responsible for making them a State, and you are the first President in 46 years to do such a thing.

THE PRESIDENT. When is it going to be there? [Laughter] Don't tell me it's going to be the winter time when they go--

Q. Miss Von Herberg: I think that is really up to you.

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't know. I thought--you are talking about a possibility of going to their inauguration or something of that kind, I mean.

Q. Miss Von Herberg: Well, they certify, as I understand it--


Q. Miss Von Herberg: Now, they are going to certify the election results about December

THE PRESIDENT. frankly, I would like to think about it, but I don't think I would like it in the winter time.

Q. John Scali, Associated Press: Senator Humphrey also reported that he had what he called some suggestions from Premier Khrushchev on the Berlin situation which he was going to pass on to you. Without going into details on what they were, could you tell us whether you found them promising or new in any way in helping to ease the tensions over Berlin?

THE PRESIDENT. You, of course, are getting very close to the limit I put upon myself in the kind of conversations I report or the things that I would comment about in a confidential conversation.

But I would say this: I didn't see anything particularly new that way. I am not certain what the Senator has put in the public realm and, therefore, I don't want to say any more than that.

Q. Robert C. Pierpoint, CBS News: Mr. President, how do you feel about the refusal of public officials in Alabama to cooperate with the investigation of the Civil Rights Commission?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't feel very well about it.

This is what I feel: this Commission in its formulation was supported by people from different sections. Certainly I took every possible pains I could to get one that would represent every shade of opinion in this field, and even to give it a geographical base that I thought would appeal to the commonsense and the general opinion of the country.

For example, Governor Battle, and Mr. Storey (who was President of the American Bar Association), and Mr. Carlton were all from the South, and so we had that kind of a commission. One reason for their slowness in getting started was the difficulty I had in getting exactly the kind of people that I wanted within the time it took.

Now, that kind of a commission goes down and, under the authority of the Congress which has given them the power of subpoena, is defied; and they have had to ask the Justice Department to come in, to place this case before a federal court.

I think this is a rather sad sort of thing, because all the way around we are running into this refusal of complying with the basic laws of the land, laws that have been upheld by our courts as legal and proper.

I am not trying to get into the basic question. I am talking about the procedures, and the habits that make this kind of thing so reprehensible, because it means, as I see it, showing the American public, and any member of it, at his or their pleasure they can defy the laws of the land when popular opinion in the particular section or locality may support these people.

Now, I am talking about unquestionably some of my good friends. Most of you people know I lived a great bit of my time in the South; and, of course, this applies, and I have no doubt it would apply, in certain sections Of the North. But the fact is, what I am pleading for and what I would like to get help in pleading for throughout the country is respect for law.

And I would say one other thing about this Commission: this is to look into the facts, to find the facts, about interference with the rights of free men to vote.

This, you remember, was part of the so-called Civil Rights Bill of 1956 was it, 1956--and during the course of that time I had a number of my respected Southern friends talk the matter over with me. None of them, of course, was particularly happy to see a civil rights bill projected, but every single one of them that I can recall said: "The right to vote does belong to any citizen that can qualify for the voting privilege, and all of us should stand for that."

Now, I think they would rather have seen this--not had a law, apparently; but they said just exactly that. And I believe that responsible people in every section, if they will look at this, will see the need for complying with the law if we are not going to have a deterioration in the quality of governmental activity and, indeed, possibly the quality of our own thinking with respect to our Government. That is what we need.

Q. Charles W. Roberts, Newsweek: Sir, how do you feel about visits to Khrushchev by Senator Humphrey, Governor Stevenson, Mrs. Roosevelt, and people in public life visiting the head of another state? Do you think there is danger of embarrassing our Government in those visits?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, not in the slightest, because I have many people come to see me. for example, a number of Indians have come to see me, and with every one of them I have had a pleasant conversation.

We normally talk about problems that are involved in their countries or relations with our two.

There is one thing about it: I do make a practice of keeping this kind of thing confidential. But I do this with numbers of countries regularly, often off the record or on the record, and I find it very profitable.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Mr. President, you referred to your 1955 agreement at Geneva with the Russians on German reunification on the basis of free elections. As I recall, that agreement was tied in with European security, and the subsequent negotiations failed on both issues. Is it, in view of this current situation, the coming NATO meeting--do you have any new prospects of getting at this dual problem, or are we essentially standing on our present position?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Roberts, I have forgotten whether we tied that particular statement of purpose with any other in the same statement, I mean in the same sentence or in the same paragraph. As I recall, that was a specific thing of its own. Another one was, you will recall, increasing the scope of our contacts, and their number.

I think it was four major points, but I think that the matter of reunification by peaceful and nationwide elections stood by itself. If it didn't, I am slightly mistaken; but in any event, I don't know of any change of policy that we would certainly be now ready to propose to the NATO nations.

What I do think is, here is something that has to be constantly studied, explored, to keep up with the changing proposals, free cities, and that sort of thing--I mean free city in an international sense, not the way we are talking about it--that kind of thing.

So we have to keep up, abreast of the situation, but I have no new policy to maintain

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

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and forty-fifth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:31 to 11:01 o'clock on Wednesday morning, December 10, 1958. In attendance: 242.

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/234370

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