Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

April 04, 1956

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning. Please be seated.

Well, I am going to make a little talk this morning, but I don't think it will take more than a minute or two.

This is the seventh anniversary of NATO, and as we stand today looking at Western Europe and the great changes that have come about in that time, and for much of which NATO has been responsible, I think it is one of those things that was conceived among free nations, implemented, and has really proved its worth.

It was organized for security, for defensive reasons. It has no offensive capabilities and is not intended for any such purposes, and it would be wrong to limit our thinking about it in terms of the military.

It has proved itself a fine agency for bringing the greater unity of thought among the people of the Western world. I think that today we are in better position because of its existence.

You will recall that I was identified with this first military organism, going to Europe in January of 1951, remaining there till June of '52, and the distance that it has come in its defensive capabilities since that time is probably more apparent to me than it is to most, because in the single important item of morale-morale has gone up. The armaments have been accumulated and integrated into forces. We have expanded in terms of nations. When I first went there, of course, Greece and Turkey were not members. They now are. In every way I think it is one of those organizations brought into being under the authority of the United Nations, in complete consonance with the purposes of the United Nations, and has done a splendid job for all of us.

I think that is my speech.

Q. Marvin Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, apparently on the basis of a somewhat heavier Democratic vote than in 1952, Senator Kefauver is contending that the outcome in the Wisconsin primary reflects great unrest among the farmers so far as administration policy is concerned. Do you believe that the Republicans have cause for worry on the farm issue in the November election?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, first of all I am not going to try to interpret the Wisconsin primaries. Actually, I haven't seen the final figures, but I am told that a very heavy turnout was realized in view of the very bad weather conditions that existed during a great part of the day over a great part of the State.

So I think that is a matter for gratification to all of us.

Now, the farm program: it would be, of course, idle to say or to intimate that the farmers have no problem. They have many, many problems. They have had them for a long time, ever since rigid price supports, too long continued, began to build up surpluses and make it almost impossible to work our way out of the problem without seemingly getting in deeper.

Because of the seriousness of the problem, with the Secretary of Agriculture I worked out a very comprehensive program and put it in as quickly after this session began as I possibly could, calling attention to the fact that farm income having dropped off steadily, I think, for the past 7 years had gotten to a position we must do something about it, and asked for immediate action on that bill.

Well, it's not yet been brought up, and as we know from the history of the legislation, there have been so many amendments-some of them clumsy, others even worse--attached, that whether or not it would help farmers would be problematical.

We are looking for a bill that will help them over the long term and which would help them now.

Now, the soil bank portion of the program which we originally thought would help a great deal this year probably can't, because it is getting too late. The planting season is right upon us, and you can't take the land out once it has been planted to the spring crops. But we certainly can get a good one so that before the next wheat planting season this fall starts, we will have it.

Now we come down there to the specific question. Of course, farmers have a right to be somewhat bewildered. I think the most of them, though, are very sensible men and know that this administration is trying to do something that is for the good of them, doing it through the medium of being good for the United States of America. If it isn't good for the whole United States, the farmers won't have it long, so we've got to do it on that basis.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: Secretary of State Dulles said yesterday that the repudiation of Stalin might be the first step in the reformation of Russia. Do you believe that there is a possibility that the Soviet leaders, like the party boss, Khrushchev, might be undergoing a basic change of heart?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know exactly what the Secretary of State said, so let's not attempt to have me commenting on what he said.

I know that he and I are in agreement that there is no discernible basic change in the fundamental purposes of communism, world revolution and the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat through the Cominform.

Now, the repudiation of Stalin: if it were only in recognition of dissatisfaction among the great masses living behind the Iron Curtain, it might be, you might say, the beginning of a forced reformation of some kind. Actually, I believe as of today the leaders of communism still believe the same things they have believed since the days of Lenin.

Q. Kenneth M. Scheibel, Gannett Newspapers: Mr. President, getting back to the farm bill a minute, are you willing to compromise on the price support issue to get the soil bank through Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can't comment specifically on that. The whole bill has to be in front of me before I can say a word.

Now, I have never been one to believe that you must hold up good things in order to attain perfection. You will recall the old German saying, "The best is always the enemy of the good."

We have got to get something good, and in its overall effect it must not be bad. That's all I have to say about it.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, have you had any correspondence which has not been made public with either Premier Bulganin or Marshal Zhukov?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I haven't had any recent communications from either, but I think there were some of the letters that were never actually published. I think that I always told that I had a communication and I had answered it, but I think there were communications where the texts were not actually made public. But that's been some time back, and as far as I know they would never be made public, they are purely personal.

Q. Mr. Roberts: The substance, though, has been made public?

THE PRESIDENT. The substance is well known of any letters that I can recall.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, there has been a persistent report from Great Britain that you have been in communication with Sir Anthony Eden concerning the Middle East. Have you, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, ever since I have been in this office I have been, on a personal basis, in communication with the Prime Minister of Britain, first Mr. Churchill and now Mr. Eden. They are both, as you know, close wartime friends of mine. I can't recall how long it has been since I have had a letter from the Prime Minister. I should think a couple of weeks.

But nearly always our communications have something to say about the Mid-East, because it is a problem that is with us both all the time, and if it would be omitted, it would be almost noticeable.

But those communications do not represent in any way or take the place of normal diplomatic exchanges that bring about a meeting of minds of governments. They are just expressing, between ourselves, personal views.

Q. Rowland Evans, Jr., New York Herald Tribune: Governor Adams says that Democratic leadership in Congress is deliberately frustrating your legislative program because they don't want to see any appreciable accomplishments, as he put it, by your administration in this election year. Do you believe that yourself, sir? If so, could you analyze it just for a second with us?

THE PRESIDENT. As you people know, I never attempt to go into other people's motives. They take certain decisions, they perform certain actions, and the results are there for all to see. So I wouldn't even attempt to interpret the motives of anybody that opposes me in anything that is political at all.

However, I want to add this one statement. I don't know under what circumstances Mr. Adams made such a statement, and you would have to go to him for his reasons.

Q. Mr. Evans: All right, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. For myself, I believe that in general the people in the Congress are trying to do what they believe to be best for the United States; that is not to say that at times, in the heat of partisanship, many people can forget that the good of the United States doesn't demand too much of this partisan quarrel.

Q. Peter Lisagor, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, you said that it would be a mistake to look upon NATO in strictly military terms. Can you tell us what role you have in mind for NATO--in some other relationship?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, there is a NATO Council that meets permanently in Paris, and before it come up numerous types of questions that are not only economic but, indeed, often political and social in their character. Because of their study, looking at these problems without any charter covering them at all--what I was trying to get at is that all of us benefit, and I think that understandings are promoted through the existence of NATO and of that Council.

Q. Charles W. Roberts, Newsweek: Mr. President, some of us have learned, sir, that several Republican Senators, Senator Bricker, Senator Dirksen, Senators Knowland and Bridges, called on you last week to discuss further the revised Bricker amendment. I wonder if you are any closer to an agreement with them on the terms the amendment should take.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know that I could answer it, because I think an agreement is a 2-sided sort of affair. I have said from the beginning that to reassure the American people, I would always be willing to see an amendment which stated that no international agreement or any treaty that was in violation of the Constitution could have any force or effect.

Now, as you know, there have been written into this latest version three words: "any provisions of". Those words are under the most earnest study by lawyer groups everywhere. They are advising me, and apparently they are advising Senator Bricker and the rest. Exactly what they mean, it is difficult to say.

But, some morning, if we want to give the entire period to a discussion of this, we might take a few of the hypothetical cases that can arise and decide among ourselves what we ought to do.

I am, as I say, not a lawyer. My stand has not changed. I am ready to give that assurance to the American people, would be glad to do it, but I am not going to do anything that will militate against the opportunity of the executive department to construct and to get before the Congress the kind of treaties that will serve our country's best interest. I am never going to agree to any diminution of that authority.

Q. Elie Abel, New York Times: As a former NATO commander, sir, and now commander in chief, could you tell us whether you believe that the strategic value of Iceland to the NATO alliance has been decreased in recent months with new developments in the Soviet?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I suppose that with every change in technique and technology the strategic value of any locality changes somewhat. That is almost inescapable.

Now, I have not just given my personal attention to a study of this particular question you ask. I would say this: if it has changed, it ought to be something to be studied by the NATO Council and the NATO ministers when they meet, consider the matter, and come to some conclusion.

We do know this: here is a small country of 160,000 people, or something of that kind, and if you have foreign troops stationed there, it is a far more noticeable, therefore possibly a serious matter, than if 10 times that number are stationed in France or somewhere else.

They are our friends, the Icelanders are, there is no question. I have visited them several times, and I think that their problem probably can be worked out.

Q. William McGaffin, Chicago Daily News: Could you give us the benefit of your thinking this morning on the Middle East situation as it is today?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think we have talked about it often, and there has been no radical change this past week.

Q. Mr. McGaffin: Mr. President, there have been reports that the British are pressing your administration to take a firmer line on the Middle East.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if they have, they haven't pressed me. My views on the Middle East have been very clear, I think. I believe that this is one of the strategically important areas of the world. I believe that its safety, access to it, are both very important, first of all to Western Europe, and because they are to Western Europe, that means to the whole free world.

Consequently, we must do everything, first to preserve the peace; and we are going to preserve peace only as we give all of the people in that area opportunity to achieve their legitimate aspirations, economically, socially, and politically.

This becomes a very easy thing to say, it becomes a very difficult thing to do because of the antagonisms and cross-antagonisms. They are not always running even in one direction. They seem to cross here and there. It is a very difficult thing.

Now, if I were just told to take a firmer line, I would have to say, "Firmer line with respect to what, where, when," all the rest of it.

And then I must point out that it is still not an easy one because it is like a stack of jackstraws, every time you touch one you are very apt to move the whole crowd, and equilibrium is to a certain extent destroyed. That is what we don't want.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Going back to the NATO question, are the assumptions on which you base NATO sound today, location of bases, and so on, in the light of the atomic bomb? And, secondly, do you foresee that the security brought about by NATO depends upon a permanent establishment of a quarter of a million Americans in Europe?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, when the troop contingent was established there, it was intended to be more of an emergency thing as the European forces were able to build up. You know, also, that there have been many delays in those buildups: French troops taken away by different troubles in Indochina and now in northern Africa--and the northern Africa area is important to NATO--delays in the bringing about of the German contingent, which we once hoped would be started in 1951, and we are a long ways behind that. So these troops have stayed there and they have become, let us say, troops of indefinite tenure although never intended to be permanent, so that the assumption as to how soon their mission would be done has not proved out exactly.

Now, the usefulness of NATO in the light of atomic bombs is, it seems to me, just as strong as ever for this reason: one of the great things of NATO is to make us all feel we are part and parcel of the same defensive security problem. Morale! Morale is the most important thing that a human being has, whether he is tackling a job or whether he is going to war or whether he is trying to gain a peace.

It is the belief in the spirit; and when you know someone is with you, if the people sitting alongside you are ready to support what you say, what you do, you believe together, you have got a strength that is very hard to defeat. It is the strength of a democracy at War.

People complain about democracy always being a disadvantage when they go to war, but you have got this one great thing. Democracy goes to war because it decides to do so. So when the going gets tough, they tend to close up and be stronger and better in this great, important feature of morale than does a dictatorship, which has been forced into war and is a very, very fine organism as long as it has got the force behind it to keep it together. But when that force begins to disintegrate, then the thing goes because there is no other reason for being there.

So I would say that NATO has done a very great thing, as much in the political and moral world, you might say, without having that in its charter whatsoever, as it has in the defensive.

Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: Mr. President, this is probably a variation of the earlier question, but I am trying to make it a little more specific. Inasmuch as you think the soil bank cannot work this year, I wondered if you thought if it were possible to continue 90 percent of parity price supports for one more year only, as some people at the Capitol advocate.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you say "continue." They went out of the law for the first time in the wheat crop of last year.

Q. Mr. Wilson: I mean by that to renew.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well, as I say, Mr. Wilson, I would not want to make any statement till I saw the whole bill in front of me.

Now there are certain things you know we have done, gotten done in respect to this farm thing. We have got the taxes for other than road use remitted on gas and oil. We have got that brucellosis bill through, and we have got the increased milk bill, for lunches, you know, and so on, through. So certain things have moved.

There is some help and there will be a little help even this year from the soil bank, if we can get it done soon. But the great advantage of having gotten the soil bank through early would have been that long before the crops were planted, farmers had the opportunity of deciding what they would do this year, and making certain of a given amount of income through the putting of these acres into the soil bank.

Now just exactly what I will do, I can repeat only: I am looking for a good bill for farmers, one that makes sense, one that will make sense 5 years from now as well as now. I just am not demanding my own ideas of perfection be met.

Q. Anthony H. Leviero, New York Times: Mr. President, I would like to ask about the test of a megaton caliber atomic weapon in the Pacific next month. Are you Considering Commissioner Murray's plan to invite representatives of Russia and other countries, and also the Atomic Energy Commission apparently considers it important to have an uncensored report of this explosion, and they have invited 15 newsmen. But a question arises whether that is an adequate number, and I wonder if the White House has considered the problem of coverage.

THE PRESIDENT. I have heard it discussed in front of me, Mr. Leviero, a number of times. But I haven't attempted to make decisions.

You see, there are so many of the scientists from the various sections of the Defense Department and the Science Foundation and the AEC they say have to go in order to be there and do their part in measuring the thing, that you get a very great hotel problem in your ships as you start out. So they told me that any other representation would have to be very limited. But, of course, we know that at times is necessary.

For example, when the armistice was signed in Europe, there were only, I think, 18--I think I had 963 representatives of the press there at that time--only 18 could go up. I remember that day. They themselves solved it. They drew it by lot, and I suppose that would be the way it would be done.

However, I believe that the time has come to it has already been here for a long time--but I think we should do our best to let people of the news media see these things and report according to their own impressions and thinking on the thing, and I believe that is what Admiral Strauss is thinking of. He will do his best; I am sure of that.

Q. Earl Mazo, New York Herald Tribune: Sir, are you satisfied with the vote you got in the Wisconsin primary yesterday, and could you analyze the political implications of that primary as you see them, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. You must have been asleep during the first question. [Laughter]

I said I have no analysis of that thing. As a matter of fact, there is only this: I am always a little bit astonished when any American puts his cross behind my name for anything. Now, for whoever did it, I thank them for their vote of confidence, and the bigger the number, of course, the greater my thanks.

Q. Richard Harkness, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, as a corollary, sir, to your statement on NATO, would you discuss the Russian disarmament plan proposed at London, as compared to our proposal?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is useless to try to get into details of such things. These details are put together, and there are conversations that go on for weeks.

I would merely say this: the Russians apparently continue to put down as the most important thing that there be an agreement of some kind before there is any system of determining whether either of us is living up to the agreement.

We insist that we devise the means for determining the degree in which we are carrying out agreements before the agreements themselves take effect. Now, that, you can take it and put it in all its details, but that is the essential difference between the two sides.

Q. Mr. Harkness: Sir, could you go on and discuss the order of the control, or the partial outlawing of nuclear weapons?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I will say this: time and again we proposed, of course, the so-called open sky plan. They proposed the key posts in particular spots, like ports, centers of communication, and other important spots in America.

So I told them that if they would accept ours, we would accept theirs, we would take them both.

Now, our contention is that until this system is worked out, at least in a trial area as a very minimum, and we can see there whether it works, that you can't go and make agreements, for the simple reason that we are determined there be means for deciding what is going on, rather than just a mere signing of the agreement.

Q. Mr. Harkness: May I have one more question right on that point?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think not.

Q. William M. Blair, New York Times: Mr. President, have you ever seen an atomic bomb or hydrogen bomb go off, and do you have any plans for going to the tests next month?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't mind telling you why I haven't. I would think in my strict capacity as commander in chief, I ought to go and see one of these things, but I am trying to prove to the world that my chief interest in the nuclear science is peace. And so I go to every demonstration that I can find of the peaceful uses of the atomic weapon; and I merely don't use the Presidency to publicize the other, I admit, very necessary parts of it. Having talked it all over with my people, I believe it is not an essential that I go, because the reports are very detailed. You know exactly what is going on.

I believe it is not necessary, and I would rather do my part in publicizing the peaceful uses of the atomic science.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, would you order those Marines that were sent over to the Mediterranean and over in that area, would you order them to war, without asking the Congress first?

THE PRESIDENT. I get discouraged sometimes here.

I have announced time and time and time again I will never be guilty of any kind of action that can be interpreted as war until the Congress, which has the Constitutional authority, says so.

Now, I have said this so often that it seems to me almost ridiculous to ask me the question. Look, how can a war be conducted? You have got to have troops, you have got to have draft laws, you have got to have money. How could you conduct a war without Congress? Their Constitutional power is to declare war, and I am going to observe it.

Now, there are times when troops, to defend themselves, may have to, you might say, undertake local warlike acts, but that is not the declaration of war, and that is not going to war, and I am not going to order any troops into anything that can be interpreted as war, until Congress directs it.

Q. Paul Scott Rankine, Reuters: Mr. President, going back, if I may, to a previous question of your correspondence with Sir Anthony Eden, the British press gives very great prominence this morning to a report that Sir Anthony has sent you a specific, personal message on the Middle East, reporting on the findings of the British Foreign Secretary during his tour there, and also, according to one report, urging stronger United States support for the Baghdad Pact. There are also reports that you have replied to that message. Can you recall whether your

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know the time, because as I said before, these matters always come up, and we have had slightly differing viewpoints about America's proper role with respect to certain areas, including the Baghdad Pact. But I don't know; if they are talking about a recent message, I haven't received it yet.

Now, I am certain--I don't want to be held to this for my life-I am certain I haven't had a message from the Prime Minister since some time before I went down to White Sulphur. So I am sure it is no recent thing that they must be talking about. But we have always mentioned the Mid-East back and forth in all of our conversations and talks.

Merriman Smith, United Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's eighty-fourth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:30 to 11:03 o'clock on Wednesday morning, April 4, 1956. In attendance: 219.

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/233083

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