Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

May 23, 1956

THE PRESIDENT. Please be seated. This morning we will go right to questions.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Your Defense Secretary describes you as a bit unhappy because of the differences between the armed services. Could you elaborate on this for us, sir? Do you yourself see anything in the situation that would require your direct intervention?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, let's take that last point first.

I am Commander in Chief of the armed services, as well as President; and there is no important question involving the military policy in which I am not involved or, you might say, in which I intervene; of course, I must.

I think we should get this thing among the services in proper perspective.

We are going through a period which any sensible man can see is one of change, fluidity, where we are deserting doctrines that have long been held sacrosanct in the services, and we are going into another kind of a world with respect to all military formation, policy and organization and equipment.

Now, if there weren't in this time a good strong argument among the services I would be frightened indeed. The only thing in which you might hear me say that I was unhappy is sometimes the way in which these arguments are conducted. It has been a tradition with military services that every single person and anybody on the staff or a subordinate commander is free to fight for his point of view to the ultimate of his strength, which he should do; he is not doing his duty unless he does.

Finally, there reaches a place in the military command where, depending upon the nature of the question, a decision is made. Then all loyally support that decision.

So as far as the argument itself is concerned, I believe it should go ahead and be carried out just as far as it possibly can be to exhaust every atom of logic and of fact, even of decent deduction that we can bring on everything that affects the problem. But I do say that we can still do it in such a way that we don't alarm everybody else.

Q. Rowland Evans, Jr., New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, do you think, sir, that revolutionary advances in weapons and techniques of war, perhaps, suggest a broad new look at our basic military structure? And could you tell us, sir, whether you have ever given any thought to the practicality of, perhaps, a more unified military structure, perhaps a single Chief of Staff or even a single service military organization?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there are such things as academic study, pondering, contemplation of the things, and then any move to translate those into the field of practical operations.

Everything that you suggest I have talked over with many people for the past 15 years: whether it would be practical to have one service; how far can you centralize authority and responsibility in a field that is so vast that the operational force even in time of peace is three million men and you have everything from, say, a pistol to a hydrogen bomb.

This is a very, very intricate problem.

Now, the changing of these weapons every day brings new problems to the military. You don't have the comfortable period when the greatest change between, lets say, Crecy, when they first used gunpowder, and our Civil War was that you just in the Civil War introduced a breech-loading cannon instead of a muzzle-loading, and a breech-loading rifle instead of a muzzle-loading rifle.

This is a very comprehensive, all-important subject in the United States, and all of us should study it, but in a spirit of investigation and honest searching for the truth and not just to see whether we can promote a fight between Admiral X and General Y; I think that is foolish.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mr. President, Senator Chavez and Senator Symington have announced they will call some of the military "Brass." Will those officers be permitted to tell of their differences with their superiors?

THE PRESIDENT. Differences with their superiors?

Q. Mr. Brandt: Yes; I mean the Joint Chiefs have a uniform--

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know what you are getting at, but I will tell you this: the day that discipline disappears from our forces, we will have no forces, and we would be foolish to put a nickel into them.

Now, there comes a place in the military hierarchy where someone must make a decision, and that decision must stick. The President, constitutionally, is the Commander in Chief, and what he decides to do in these things, in the form and the way that you arm and organize and command your forces, must be carried out.

I have no objection whatsoever to a man giving his personal opinion, if he is asked for it, if he does it in the sense that "I am loyally carrying out what I am supposed to do"; and if he doesn't, if he isn't capable of doing that, then I would say a man isn't capable of carrying on the job that he has.

Q. Mr. Brandt: Mr. President, the Senators say that they have the constitutional right to raise the money and to support the armed services, therefore they have a duty to find out how the money is spent; and in the case of one Senator, he says that he thinks he will make, his subcommittee will make, recommendations on roles and missions.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if he carries out his duty, I am sure I will try to carry out mine.

Q. William McGaffin, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, I got a statement from the Attorney General, at your suggestion, but I don't feel that it has cleared up a question I put to you two weeks ago about certain documents which the Justice Department is refusing to turn over to an investigating subcommittee of Congress.

It has been charged that the Justice Department has no right to withhold these documents, and that this is another example of an executive branch of the Government blocking the right of Congress and the people to know.

In this particular case, the original documents are missing mysteriously, so Congress cannot subpoena them. But the Justice Department has a photographic copy of these documents, rather than Congress which ordered the investigation, because Edmund Mansure, who has since resigned as GSA head, intervened in the case.

THE PRESIDENT. It seems to me you conducted an investigation on your own. [Laughter]

I got in touch with the Department of Justice on the point. They said this: that an investigation is going ahead. To this moment they have found nothing that justifies any action further than continued investigation. Until that investigation is complete, they follow their policy of revealing no information.

Q. Pat Munroe, Salt Lake City Deseret News: Mr. President, do you take the results of the efforts of Secretary McKay to win the senatorial nomination in Oregon as a repudiation of your policies on natural resources or are you cheered by the results?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. As far as I know, there was a contest carried out between two good Republicans. It was cleanly fought; they didn't call each other names, they went ahead, and I think it was a very good healthy thing. I haven't any further opinion on it.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, I believe that civilian heads of the services have the right to come directly to you with their opinions. Have you talked directly on their points of view or have you received it from Mr. Wilson and Admiral Radford and the Joint Chiefs?

THE PRESIDENT. Every Chief of Staff and every Secretary has been invited to come to my office any time he feels there is anything on his heart or mind that he ought to tell me. I have stated this thing to them collectively and, as far as I can remember, even individually. There is no one that is barred from coming to see me.

Q. Mrs. Craig: But on this particular controversy, have you had--

THE PRESIDENT. What particular controversy?

Q. Mrs. Craig: I mean the controversy over roles and missions, the thing we have been talking about this morning.

THE PRESIDENT. Mrs. Craig, that controversy has been going on since I joined the Army in 1911; and it is going to continue.

Of course, every one of them thinks--after all, you want him to believe that in his particular mission is the safety of his nation. But, we have just had recently an announcement that there is a reduction in the overall Russian strength.

In 1953, when we got all the scientists, all of the military people we could to get into this business, there was a name coined around here, "The New Look." I think it had some relationship to some new dresses that ladies were wearing at that time called "The New Look." But in any event, that is what it came to be known as, "The New Look."

That New Look, so far as I can see, is largely what the Russian is doing today. He is streamlining his organization. He is getting rid of people where they are not needed, concentrating his forces where they are needed, and getting more people back into industry. He is recognizing that both internationally and, above all, nationally, military strength, military security, is not alone in planes and ships and guns and bombs; it is in a strong economy, in a strong spirit in your people, and in the necessary amounts of these armaments.

But don't think for a minute that there are enough armaments in the world to make the United States safe just with armaments alone.

Now, each one of them, though, the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, each one thinks he has got the task to do, and he puts in a bill of goods that if you just took it and added them up and put them on top of each other, they would reach the top of the Washington Monument, and that is right. But then someone who has a higher decision to make has to get this thing leveled out. Now we're having a New Look every day.

Q. Mrs. Craig: Yes, sir. But have they laid their views before you directly?

THE PRESIDENT. As far as I know, every time they come there is no one in my office has ever been told that he was estopped from speaking. So far as I know, if any one of them has failed to tell me his views, it's certainly his fault.

Q. Joseph R. Slevin, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, in light of last week's administration announcement of a $1.8 billion budget surplus for fiscal 1956 and in view of information you have about prospects for the year beginning July do you believe that Congress should or should not cut taxes before it adjourns, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, by no means do I believe they should cut taxes until we have made some little start on reducing this enormous national debt.

There is such a thing as fiscal integrity; I don't care whether it is an individual or a nation.

Now here, let's say we miscalculated from last January possibly 1.5 on the amount of the surplus. In a budget or in income of 67 or 68 billion, that is a very small percentage. And when you realize that in the days when income is coming in you can get in as much as $2 billion in a matter of 2 days, and if the mail is, by some misfortune, a week late, you have that much of a leeway in all this income business, you can see that to begin to cut taxes on the prospect of being able to reduce a debt by one fraction of 1 percent, it is a very poor time to use that as an excuse to cut taxes.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, several times in recent months there have been reports of shipments of, or new shipments of, military equipment to Saudi Arabia, and every time we ask at the State Department or the Pentagon for an explanation of these shipments, we are told that they are part of an earlier commitment. But we are finding it a little difficult to find out just what the nature of this commitment was, and for how much we are committed. Could you tell us?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have to call on my memory, and I want to point out it is not infallible. As I remember, it was finally approved last August. It was a very modest amount--it dealt only with internal security, as I remember it; $16 million-that is the figure that sticks in my mind--is that correct? [Confers with Mr. Snyder]

THE PRESIDENT. Sixteen million dollars. This, let us remember, is a very vast country. You know how eagerly we have tried to prevent an arms race between Israel and the surrounding countries. This country has no common border with Israel, and we thought their argument was justified. And we have cooperated with them, particularly in the establishment of our big base, you know, over near the Red Sea.

Q. Garnett D. Horner, Washington Star: Mr. President, former Senator Cain said recently that he had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get directly to you his views about the Government employees security program. And I have been instructed to ask you if Senator Cain can see you if he wants an appointment?


Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, both Mr. Dulles and Mr. Stassen have said that we have had enough advance warning of the Soviet troop cut to deduce that it was coming; indeed, a committee was appointed to determine what would be the best way to react. Can you tell us, under those circumstances, why there seemed to be so much difference in the various official reactions of our Government, and can you also tell us what you think the best reaction should be?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know--the reactions to which you refer except, of course, I have talked both with Mr. Dulles and to Mr. Stassen on this matter; and in my office the views expressed by both were those that seemed to me to be logical.

If it is in truth what the other people say, that it is a step in the reduction of armaments and armed might, then not only is it welcomed, but when final proof of such a thing comes about, it would be a very warmly accepted step, and it would be real progress.

But we don't know anything about what the meaning of it is.

The mere fact that you have reduced manpower strength by 1,200,000, when you still have 115 divisions; and when you have taken out, you say you have taken out, three air divisions, which may be in the order of two or three hundred planes, when you have a total of 20,000; when you have taken out a few vessels that we don't even know what they are--if that were in fact the removal of 375 new and modern submarines, why then, I would say now we are getting something. But we don't know what it is.

Now, your guess is as good as anybody else's what the actual intent of the Russian is.

That is the reason I say that we have no recourse today except to take a policy of our own that is calculated to meet our own needs with our allies, both in the minimum amount of arms, in the maximum of mutual help, in cooperating effort in this regard, and then watch hopefully, but still carefully, whatever the Russian does. That is all.

Q. J. Anthony Lewis, New York Times: Mr. President, your nomination of Solicitor General Simon Sobeloff to the Court of Appeals has been before the Senate for more than 10 months now without action. I wondered if you intended to continue supporting the nomination, and if you had any specific plans for encouraging early action?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know what I can do, of course, about moving anything like that through a Senate committee.

I nominated Mr. Sobeloff on the same basis that I nominate every other individual to the Federal courts. His records are brought to me, I go through them from stem to stern. To my mind, he was a fine appointment to the Appellate Court. I would hope that he would be confirmed as rapidly as possible.

Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: I would like to ask a question that goes back a little bit in history, but has a present application. Do you recall who planned the action which resulted in the Anzio beachhead?

THE PRESIDENT. Anzio beachhead?

Q. Mr. Wilson: Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Wilson, it is quite a long story.

But there is this about it: it came about at about the time I was to leave the Mediterranean. As a matter of fact, it was thought of after I had been ordered out of the Mediterranean, and I was told about that when Mr. Roosevelt came back from Teheran. You would have to look up that date. It may be late November or something of that kind, or early December.

Then, before I left the theater though, which was along about the first of January, this thing had been thought of, but it was going to be executed after I left. So I examined it, my staff examined it, we had certain points to bring out--they were technical. I don't say we were correct. We did not at that moment, my own staff and I, favor the operation carried out in that particular way.

But there is this about it--later developments showed this: altogether the Germans took down into Italy to meet that operation 28 divisions, which were more than we had there. The whole thing was conceived of as a holding operation, and when you, with fewer forces, make the other man deploy that much, and over the tortuous line of communications he had, coming only through the Brenner Pass, I don't think anyone can call the operation a failure.

Now, the Anzio operation was to increase the danger to the German forces and to compel their falling back to uncover Rome and finally, of course, to bring down more troops.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Mr. President, may I ask you a general question about foreign policy?

So far as we can determine public opinion in this country, there seems to be general satisfaction about the state of our foreign policy, and yet, seldom a week goes by but some person, not of a partisan nature, but some well-informed person, comes along to express real concern about the kind of slippage of our position in the West vis-a-vis the Soviet world. Could you address yourself to that question, and give us your estimate of where we stand?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, ladies and gentlemen, there is no question that in the kind of problem that is facing the free world today there is every possibility, there is daily possibility, for some kind of disappointment, some kind of disapproval of action, to come about.

We are dealing literally with 50 countries. With each of them we have a problem. We try to deal with it on a friendly and sympathetic basis. But let me point out the number of situations in the world where, if you express even friendship for one country, you are automatically saying, "So I dislike the fellows that you hate so." We have desperately tried to keep the United States in the position where its influence could be helpful on both sides. We have tried to avoid participating directly in any quarrel.

Now, this question of slippage of which you speak could occur anywhere, but certainly it is more likely to occur in a whole congeries of equals saying they are trying to proceed toward a particular objective or aim than it is under a totalitarian form of government.

So, all in all, I think you must look over a period of time, and just today to hear yourself criticized very severely in a speech in a foreign parliament, in an Asian parliament, or anywhere else, is not in itself enough. You must look at what is going on in the world, how are we going? I think that there is too much pessimism expressed about the world today.

The entry of the Soviets into the economic field of competition, of course, is a new one. And, again, like the new problems in the military field, until you can get a whole group of conferring minds to agree on what it means, and what we had better do, you are going to have all sorts of criticisms and different kinds of speeches made all over the country.

So I say this: I don't mean to say that everything is going perfectly--far from it. I am too realistic for that. I do believe that the determination of America to remain friends with every free country, to help where help is possible, to try to teach our own people that in helping those people we are helping ourselves, and I think this is far more true in some fields other than military, that we are making some progress, although it is slow and tortuous and, at times, disappointing.

Q. Mr. Reston: Mr. President, may I ask this one other question: Have you considered reviving the institution of the periodic fireside chat in order to make clear these very intricate complexities?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, yes, I have thought often of doing this thing. Actually I do appear almost once a week and I must get right here before this group, and questions are asked which, in general, should represent what is the thinking of America, because that is what you people are concerned in.

So whether or not it would be helpful to go in addition on sort of a periodic basis on fireside chats, I don't know; I just don't know.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, in somewhat that same field, can you tell us what you think about Egypt's recognition of Red China?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, we think that Egypt is mistaken.

Now, again I want to point out that a single act on the part of another nation does not, of itself, destroy friendship for that nation or destroy your efforts to work with it in cooperation toward common goals.

Just like in your family, every difference or spat doesn't result in going to the divorce courts, in the same way here you can't take any one idea or any one act on the part of another government and say, "That's the end; that's that"--anything, I mean, short of something that is absolutely inconsistent with your own safety and security.

Q. John Herling, Editors Syndicate: Mr. President, during the last week three important labor conventions have been held and they have passed very vigorous resolutions attacking the White Citizens Councils and have called upon you for an assemblage of southern governors to discuss ways and means of implementing the Supreme Court decision on desegregation of schools. Do you have any such intention or any plans in that direction?

THE PRESIDENT. I have no plans at this moment. That thought was expressed, oh, I don't know, some 6 or 7 months ago. We explored it thoroughly, and the Attorney General invited each governor and his attorney general in to see him, either individually or if they wanted to, some of them came together.

I am not sure that we want, at any time, a conference that would exacerbate this situation. We want to find something, some way to make progress, and to get the thinking of America centered on one common line, if we possibly can.

Q. Mr. Herling: Do you feel, sir, such a conference would exacerbate the situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it would depend entirely on the way it was called, how it was done, I think. You certainly would have to look at the publicity that might come out of it, just like you do an international conference. I am not so certain that is the way to approach it at this time.

Make no mistake, I am ready to confer with anybody on this problem who wants to come in and see me; but to call a formal conference, always there must be a communiqué--you people insist on it. Well, what are they going to say? That could be very significant.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Is there anything you can tell us about the success of the recent H-bomb dropped from a B-52?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, only that, of course, it was a much smaller bomb than some of the maximum ones that have been dropped before; that the purposes for which the AEC dropped it had been achieved, at least largely the investigations they wanted to make; that the cloud from this explosion, from which there was expected a minimum of fallout because of its nature and its height, at least the immediate fallout, the cloud drifted off to the north. That's about all I remember at the moment.

Q. S. Douglass Cater, Jr., The Reporter Magazine: Mr. President, I ask this question in connection with your physical checkup which occurred since your last press conference. I wonder if the doctors have advised you or have you consulted with them on your capacity to withstand prolonged mental or physical fatigue, as such as would occur if there was a crisis comparable to the Korean crisis which occurred late in the evening and required a great deal of burning of midnight oil?

THE PRESIDENT. In the early days when the doctors got to what I thought was a little bit too optimistic a prognosis, I began to argue with them. I gave them many lectures on exactly what the Presidency was, but I didn't succeed in changing the mind of anybody.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, on this question of the service missions and the current arguments over it, is it possible that the problem really arises from a political decision or the lack of a change in our political position? I would like, against that question, to ask you whether, since Secretary Dulles, I think back in '44 [1954], enunciated the "massive retaliation," which later was changed to "selective retaliation," if we have changed our basic, what I would consider the political concept of using our forces, or are we still standing on that '54 decision? '53-54

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not going back now and quote about Secretary Dulles' statement, because I would have to have the whole text in front of me to see exactly what his meaning was.

But the sole use of Armed Forces, so far as war between two great countries possessing atom and hydrogen bombs today is this: their deterrent value.

Now what is deterrent value? It is the certainty on the part of a fellow if he starts something he is going to get some of it in return.

Now, by miscalculation in other spots, wars can start, but I will tell you that if you are going to carry out a global war today between the two great power complexes of the Northern Hemisphere, and carried out to the ultimate, we wouldn't be around here meeting like this, that I assure you; that is the least of the things that could happen.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: Mr. President, on that same subject, do you think it would be possible for any nation in this time, who had a large control of hydrogen bombs, to win a war in a very short time, say, within 24 hours, by knocking out the major cities and farm centers of population of its enemy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you say "win a war." What would the other fellow be doing with his stuff while you were knocking out those cities? You can destroy unquestionably the productive capacity of a nation if it is carried out by surprise on the way you just state the case. But what then do you do to him?

So you have here a real shambles, and that is the thing that we must remember in talking about all these things.

I repeat again and again and again the strength of America is not to be found just in a guided missile or a bomb, no matter how big, or in the airplanes and everything. It is everything; it is an internal program as well as an external program. It is a sound base here, sound in our spirits, in our effort to comprehend the subject, and I don't mean to say that every individual has to be a military expert. As a matter of fact, I doubt if there has ever been any one of those on the earth anyway, because it is too complex.

But we must understand that this is the combined whole strength of America, such things as even school programs and farm programs and everything else that I worked for to balance the budget--they are all, when you come down to it, colored by or even caused by this great international situation--that is what we must do.

We must think of the whole thing and try to solve it as a unit, an integrated problem, not one of just little bits of pieces all over the world.

And I tell you this business of trying to sort out what is best in the military and what is not best is the most complicated that we can run into.

Q. Francis M. Stephenson, New York Daily News: Mr. President, I wondered would you tell us your plans for filling the Office of Interior Secretary?

THE PRESIDENT. I can only say this: I don't know of anything I have thought more about and studied more on lately that that one.

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

Note: President Eisenhower's eighty-eighth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:32 to 11:05 o'clock on Wednesday morning, May 23, 1956. In attendance: 208.

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/232886

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