Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

May 09, 1956

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning. Please sit down.

I suppose that all the representatives of the radio industry here know this is Radio Week, and I want to pay my little tribute to radio, not only as a medium for bringing education, information, entertainment into the home, but for its very wide value in the international world.

Particularly I want to refer just for a moment to its very great value in the war. At no time, I think, did it mean more to me than on the morning of June the sixth. Something along the order, I think, of about 2:30--the air troopers had taken in radios with them--some tiny little transmitter said, "We are okay, and the situation around Ste. Mere Eglise is in fine shape." Since I had been told by experts that we would lose 90 percent of that command before it went, and I had to take it all on my own shoulders, it was a very great thing.

Incidentally, I hope that you have all noted that today is the 11th anniversary--the first time in 4 years that there wasn't shooting in Europe--midnight last night--the end of hostilities in Europe in the Second World War.

Now I think we will go right to questions.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, as a member of the Subversive Activities Control Board, former Senator Harry Cain said in a speech a few days ago that your subordinates are keeping you in ignorance of what goes on in the Government employees security program.

In criticism of that program, Cain cited the case of an Air Force economist suspended 14 months ago as a possible security risk, and still awaiting a ruling. He called that an example of bureaucratic heartlessness and said he now has sent you a copy of his speech calling all this to your attention. Do you care to comment on his remarks?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I won't comment on the remarks of another individual. I will tell you a few facts here: I haven't seen the Senator's speech, and if he thinks that is important, why, I suppose I could even arrange that.

Second, I do know about the Hatkin case in the Air Forces. It is now in the hands of Secretary Quarles, and certainly I have the utmost faith in his sense of justice and fairness and decency. The case has gone along a long time, it has been through, I think, three boards, is before the Secretary now, and I do know that they did suspend the man because of what they believed to be the seriousness of the charge while the whole case was examined.

No one would be bold enough to say that any security program can always work perfectly. Human judgment has to be involved, as to when the security and the secrets of the United States are in danger. Some of those, as you know, are terrifically important, and people must make these decisions in accordance with law, regulations, and then proceed to try to get at the bottom of the affair.

I believe that over the past 3 years, a vast and great progress has been made in assuring that these investigations are not only in the best interests and protection of the Government, but do take into account the justice and the rights of individuals.

Q. Ray L. Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, in Indiana yesterday you got something like 60 percent of the vote, which is interpreted to mean that the farmers are not defecting to the Democrats.

Now, on previous occasions when we have asked you to comment on elections, you have generally said that you find yourself amazed that people would take the trouble to vote for you. I wonder if I could presume to ask why you find that such a phenomenon.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, suppose they voted for you. Would you be astonished? [Laughter]

Q. Mr. Scherer: I certainly would. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. You are another American. I think that we are raised in the tradition of no supermen and no indispensable men, and therefore if you do retain some of the humility and modesty with which you hope you were born, why, I believe that when another one comes along and says this, "I believe that you are doing a pretty fair job as President of the United States," you would be rather astonished.

Q. William McGaffin, Chicago Daily News: A House subcommittee has been trying for months to obtain a file of confidential material relating to the Government nickel plant expansion in Cuba. The allegation has been made that the Department of Justice, which has the file, is simply sitting on it because it would embarrass your administration if it were made public. Is there any prospect that this matter will be cleared up any time soon, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. You had better go and ask first the Attorney General as to why he is sitting on this particular thing that you say he is sitting on, and then after you have gotten all you can out of him, why, probably I will be able to add some light to it.

Q. Mr. McGaffin: Sir, I already have asked the Attorney General.

THE PRESIDENT. You go and tell him that I asked you.

Q. Garnett D. Horner, Washington Star: In connection with Mr. Arrowsmith's question, sir, Senator Cain also said that in the interests of justice that you should intervene personally to straighten out what he thought was wrong with the security program. Do you plan any form of action in that regard, and if so, could you tell us what form it might take?

THE PRESIDENT. Only this, that periodically they bring before me what has been going on, usually not in terms of names but in terms of numbers, what has been happening, how it has been happening, where it has been happening; and the Attorney General is the one that has the responsibility in the Cabinet of keeping track of all these things to see that justice is done and the interests of the Government protected. My door is open to him to come in, all the time, to supplement reports from the normal channels.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: Mr. President, on the basis of any report you may now have, sir, can you give us your evaluation of the U. N. Secretary General Hammarskjold's peace mission to the Middle East?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, he succeeded in getting an agreement on a cease-fire. Unfortunately there have been some incidents since then. They appear to be very minor, and we are still hopeful that that cease-fire will hold.

In the meantime, I think the entire Western World is exerting its efforts to find ways and means of alleviating the tensions that underlie all this trouble, rather than merely to try to deal with the symptoms.

Q. Harry W. Frantz, United Press Latin American Service: Mr. President, are you able to tell us if you have yet arrived at a firm decision as to whether you will be able to go to Panama City in connection with the commemoration of the Congress of Panama?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can only say this: I have put it on my calendar. I firmly intend to go.

Now, whether or not at the last minute that is possible--there are always circumstances that can intervene to determine something else--it is my firm intention at present to go.

Q. Mr. Frantz: What is your thought of that Congress and its significance? Why would you regard it worthy of attendance?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that if a great majority of the heads of state of all the American states can meet together, that it will be a notice to all our peoples from the North right on straight down to Cape Horn that that organization is of tremendous importance in the international affairs and the thinking of all the governments.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Mr. President, Governor Shivers was overwhelmingly defeated in a race in Texas recently to select delegates for the State convention. I wonder if you see in this a repudiation of you and your administration in Texas.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that seems to me to be stretching a point. Here is an internal conflict in the Democratic Party in Texas, and I would have a hard time interpreting that one when I don't even know sometimes, as I have told you, what more open and obvious primaries seem to mean. I don't know.

Q. Carleton Kent, Chicago Sun-Times: Mr. President, it has been nearly a month since Douglas McKay left your Cabinet. Do you plan to name his successor as Interior Secretary soon?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I have had the thing under advisement ever since he left. There are difficulties that come in getting exactly the right man for such a post, and I hope to send down the name within a matter of days.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Mr. President, where do we stand now on that review of your exchange-of-persons policy with the Soviet Union?

THE PRESIDENT. You mean, opening up the contacts?

Q. Mr. Reston: Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. You say, "Where do we stand now?" I can only tell you where we stood somewhere along the first of the year. You know where that was, because it was the efforts made by Mr. Jackson under the foreign ministers, in connection with the Geneva Conference in late October. Since then I haven't made a detailed study of that thing, and so I know of no definite progress.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, there seems to be a pretty well-rounded report this morning that Senator Walter George will shortly announce that he is not going to stand for re-election. You have been quite friendly to Senator George. How would you regard his departure from the Senate?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would regard his departure from the Senate as removing from that hall one of the men who have been, in my opinion, wisest and most disinterested in his efforts to promote peace and bipartisanship in international affairs.

Actually, I have told him more than once, not only in general terms but specifically, that if ever he chooses to leave the Senate, I hope that as long as I am here, if I am here after that, that he would consent to accept some post where his very great experience and his very splendid approach to foreign affairs could be useful to this Government, because I think we need him.

Q. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, when Messrs. Khrushchev and Bulganin were in England, Britishers asked them to help obtain the release of political prisoners. Can you tell us the situation in regard to Red China and our war prisoners they are holding?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I remember, they have released the flyers. Now, they had a number of civilian prisoners left of whom they have released only a few; and a great deal of the talk that has been going on at Geneva, I don't know for how long, between our ambassador and theirs, has centered around that question. But we have not been wholly satisfied--I mean, our requirements have not been wholly met in the thing. There are still some there.

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, do you plan to have a major medical checkup before the Republican Convention?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am going out for a major medical checkup, I think it is the day after tomorrow. This is from head to toe. I mean, this hasn't got any significance with respect to my late difficulty--this is a whole, complete checkup, including, of course, cardiac difficulties.

Q. Mr. Burd: Has Dr. White been dismissed from this case?

THE PRESIDENT. No. As a matter of fact I think he is in town today.

Q. Mr. Burd: Will he examine you before the Republican Convention?

THE PRESIDENT. Ask the doctor. I don't know. He hasn't told his plans yet.

Q. John L. Steele, Time Magazine: Mr. President, have your discussions with Senator George reached the point where you have suggested a specific position for him, and have you received any indication of his sentiment toward accepting a position in the administration?

THE PRESIDENT. Senator George told me that never would he refuse to serve in any post in which we thought he might be useful if it was possible for him to accept. I have had in mind and have discussed a number of things he might do. One specifically I don't care to mention at this moment, because I don't know whether that is the one that would meet his ideas the best.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Mr. President, I would like to refer back to what you said last week on the air power question in this respect. You spoke of your policy of keeping a supremacy of American air power, taking the Navy and Air Force together. Some of us, I believe, and perhaps the country, had been under the impression that among your policies was one that as to long-range bombers, the intercontinental bomber, the United States should always remain ahead.

Now, could you tell us, sir, was that in fact the policy of this administration at any time, and if so, when was it changed, as we gather from what you said last week?

THE PRESIDENT. I think from the beginning I said the most dangerous thing you can do in trying to evaluate military strength is to get into what I call the numbers racket, just taking one particular item or kind of weapon and putting them on an arithmetical equation and saying, "We can whip that fellow because we have more."

There comes a time, particularly in these latter days, when the destructiveness of weapons is so great as to be beyond human imagination, when enough is certainly a plenty, and you do no good, as I see it, by increasing those numbers except to get, say, an added factor of safety. If you think you are going to lose a dozen, why then you want a factor of safety until you can push home the attacks you think are necessary.

What I did say was this: it is absolutely essential that the United States take its own particular position in the world, sitting here between two great oceans, with its interests in the Far East and its interests in Europe, and working out an offensive and defensive military establishment--that is, in its capabilities-that is suited to its own requirements. It is maintained merely for defense, not to go out and attack somebody else, but when you are attacked, you have to be able to attack yourselves, which is what we call retaliatory power.

So I have never said to my knowledge that we have to stay ahead of anybody in the exact numbers of any particular weapon or any particular type of unit. If I did so, I would certainly be frightened of their numbers of divisions as compared to ours. do say in quality and in its adaptation to our own situation, we have got to have adequate--that is what I say. [Confers with Mr. Hagerty]

Oh, yes, let me go back to a question from just a moment ago. This will only take a second.

In response to that question about Senator George, upon learning that Senator George was contemplating this move, I wrote him a letter in which I specifically asked that he not terminate his service with the Government even if he left the Senate; to stay as long as I was here. I believe we have his permission to make the letter public, and you can get it from Mr. Hagerty after a while.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, two related points on the ILO, the International Labor Organization: first, do you care to comment in any way on the reported change yesterday in the administration's position which now supports an ILO convention condemning slave labor; and second, how do you feel about Senator Bricker's rider which would restrict American appropriations in support of the ILO?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the first one is not a real change to which you refer. What has happened is this: there is in the treaty-making power of the Government an implicit limitation that it deals with foreign affairs--not used as a subterfuge to make domestic law.

We were very cautious in supporting any amendment that purported to give someone else the right to step over into our country and say anything about any kind of labor that we might have.

Now, what we are carefully saying is that we condemn forced labor. Of course, that is abolished already by our Constitution. There is no constitutional reason in this particular case why you shouldn't say it. But it now says it by the constitutional means. And also, we say we are against trading in goods, I believe we said, in international affairs that have been made by slave labor. That being an international problem is a fitting thing for a treaty.

Now, with respect to the rider on the--you said it is Senator Bricker--that is something that hasn't been called to my attention. But I do believe, I do believe we should be bona fide members of the ILO.

Q. Alan S. Emory, Watertown Times: Mr. President, the Niagara Power issue is coming up in the Senate again pretty soon. In the past, sir, you have said that this is an issue for Congress, and you personally have expressed no preference between construction of the project by either New York State or by private companies. I would like to ask, first, do you see any urgency for Congress to complete action on this project this year, and, second, have you a personal preference as between State and private company construction?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think I can answer either of them yes or no. We talked about this once before at length here a couple of years ago, I think. In this particular case, Congress reserved to itself the right to say exactly who and what should develop this power. Exactly why they did that, I don't know. I wasn't here. They did do it, and they have reserved for themselves, instead of giving to the CAB [FPC] as is customary, the power of saying who will develop and how.

So it is a Congressional authority and responsibility. As for this urgency, I would say this: if they need the power, they need it. So why fool around? Why not get to work and go do it?

But finally, as to my preference, always I have said we ought to consult, as far as possible, the State, the locality. In this case, there is no other State directly involved, although there are other States interested, and to my mind, I would always allow the State, where it was an applicable case, to determine the kind of development they want. [Confers with Mr. Hagerty]

Excuse me. I said, "CAB." Federal Power Commission. I always forget these initials.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, this is related to Mr. Roberts' question about long-range bombers.


Q. Mr. Folliard: After you made your statement last week, Senator George said that he agreed with much of what you said. Then it went on to make this statement:

"The country has been taught that the long-range bomber is the core of our striking force. It will remain disturbing to the country to be constantly reminded that the Russians are building up an enormous air force, but that we are not keeping pace."

Do you think, Mr. President, that a campaign of education is needed to put over your thesis--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think in all these complicated questions there should be more constant laying out of the problem as it exists.

Now, if we are going to depend entirely on long-range strategic intercontinental bombers, why do we have all these forward bases that are costing us so many billions to build and to sustain?

Actually, you are trying in every way you can to disperse forces that can be attacked by the enemy. One of your ways of dispersing them is putting them on bases. When you put them on forward bases, you obviously don't need planes that can fly from the middle of St. Louis to the middle of the Eurasian Continent. You need shorter-range ones. So the medium bomber acquires a great significance and great strength because of those bases.

Finally, you have the movable base of the Navy. That itself is capable of delivering very devastating attacks. So we, as I said before, do try to look at this thing from the standpoint of our needs and our capabilities, and I do think there should be a little bit more education on it.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Mr. President, it has been suggested that you designate former President Truman as some sort of a good will ambassador for the United States during his trip to Europe. I wonder what you think of this idea.

THE PRESIDENT. This is the first time I have ever heard of it.

Q. Mr. Clark: It is a suggestion made by Senator Kefauver.

THE PRESIDENT. I hadn't heard of it.

Q. Matthew Warren, DuMont Television: Mr. President, across the Nation there seems to be a growing concern over an increase in juvenile delinquency. I should like to get your views on that, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I haven't the latest figures on the juvenile delinquency problem. But just before I was taken ill, you know, I had started in, with the instigation of Mr. Kelly from Philadelphia and a few others who were supporting the proposition, to develop a very great movement of youngsters toward the athletic fields of this country, to get them to take part in athletics, because all sorts of tests and analyses have shown that the youngsters taking part in athletics were far less susceptible to the juvenile temptations than were others.

Moreover, the very strange thing came out that physical fitness was a criterion that you could apply, and with it find a real parallel between physical fitness and, you might say, mental adjustment.

So that project, which was delayed, I am now reviving. Vice president Nixon was the chairman, and we are starting again. I think it is a large committee of--what did we have?--seventy five or one hundred on it.

And I will say this: I am going to do all I can to combat it.

Q. Carroll H. Kenworthy, United Press: Mr. President, as you know, two weeks ago the question came up here of a Columbia University professor who was feared assassinated by foreign agents, and since then the Inter-American Press Association has asked you to look into that matter. Have you any information on it?

THE PRESIDENT. The Attorney General went after the case as quickly as it arose, went into New York City. The FBI is standing by on the first intimation that it has a right to step in. The City Police of New York have it in hand.

As far as the case now stands, it is a pure case of disappearance and not a case where the FBI has any right to step in.

Q. Marguerite Higgins, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, in light of the world situation, can we count, like in North Africa, can we count on forward bases indefinitely?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, some of them, I think it would only be fair to say, would be endangered, and there is constant negotiation for the preservation and protection of them. I don't think you could count on them forever, but at the same time, they won't all go out simultaneously and forever, either.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: In connection with the current negotiations with the Saudi Arabian Government, can you tell us if our Government is making any effort to persuade them to abandon their policy of barring American Jews from the U. S. air base there?

THE PRESIDENT. American Jews?

Q. Mr. Spivack: Yes. As I understand--

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't heard that. I have heard that certain of our agreements accord to a nation where these bases are situated the right to determine if an American is persona non grata and can't enter.

Now, I have never heard this, that American Jews cannot go into our air bases.

Q. Mr. Spivack: The Pentagon told us some weeks ago as a result of being privately advised by the Saudi Arabians, we just never sent any American Jews to that base there.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would say I would talk it over with the State Department. That is where I get my exact information. But I do know that certain of our bases do accord, do give to these people, who are sovereigns in that area--

After all, we don't get that territory on the same basis as you do an embassy. We are not sovereign there. Therefore, they do have some rights that you have got to accord them.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, could we clarify a point on your reference to your physical examination? Did we understand you to say that it was not related to your recent difficulty?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I said it was not specifically for that purpose. But during the course of that physical examination. I said they were going through me from head to toe--of course, I will be examined with all the cardiograms and pictures and things that they usually bring out.

Q. Charles W. Roberts, Newsweek: Mr. President, Governor Stassen told us yesterday that the next move in the disarmament picture may be a reply by Premier Bulganin to your last letter. I wonder if you hold any hope that by correspondence with him you can close the gap that the recent London disarmament talks failed to close.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, just a mere letter is not going to close gaps at once. By keeping in correspondence on a polite basis of diplomatic deportment, you do keep open another door so that there can be an idea communicated, one side to the other.

I don't look upon it as a substitute for any diplomatic work, for any conference or anything else. I look on it only as a faint possibility that something useful can come out to supplement other efforts.

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

Note: President Eisenhower's eighty-seventh news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 11:03 to 11:30 o'clock on Wednesday morning, May 9, 1956. In attendance: 214.

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/233150

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