Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

March 23, 1955

[This is a complete transcript of the news conference of this date. All of the President's replies were released for broadcasting or direct quotation at that time except for the last, which is enclosed in brackets.]

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I have one announcement and one comment to make before we go to questions.

The Secretary of Commerce is going to Europe in mid-April in the interests of promoting freer trade among the free nations, and while there, is going to attend at least five great industrial fairs at which will be exhibited, of course, products of American industry and the like.

His detailed schedule can be obtained from the Secretary of Commerce.

The comment I want to make affects a question asked me last week.

Someone asked me a question--I have forgotten whom"quoting the Chief Justice as having made a statement to the effect that if the Bill of Rights were now put before the American people, would be the judgment of the Chief Justice that that would not be approved. And I asked this individual whether he was sure as to what the Chief Justice said.

I must assure him he is mistaken. This so bothered me that although I stated here that I had the greatest confidence in the Chief Justice's judgment, patriotism, and dedication, that still--if that were an issue--I would go out, at least, and do my part to help get this Bill of Rights adopted.

Actually, when we looked up the speech--and a copy is in Mr. Hagerty's office now where you can see it--he said that his faith in the good sense, the soundness of the American people, was such that if this were now put before the American people, he was sure it would be adopted.

So, whoever the questioner was, I would like to assure him he was mistaken in the premise that he proposed. We will go to questions.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Mr. President, Senator George has proposed that the United States take the initiative in arranging a Big Four conference after the Paris accords are ratified, without waiting for a demonstration of good faith by Russia. Can you bring us up to date on how you feel about a Big Four meeting at the chiefs of state level?

THE PRESIDENT. Of course, you open up a subject that is really involved. However, I have said time and again there is no place on this earth to which I would not travel, there is no chore I would not undertake if I had any faintest hope that, by so doing, I would promote the general cause of world peace.

Now, international meetings have a number of purposes, and one of them, let us not forget, is just sheer propaganda.

Nevertheless, we must never abandon the hope that in some new conference some constructive step will be taken and start this weary world at last on the path that could lead hopefully and definitely toward a better agreement.

I have, I believe, noted--and I think the State Department has--that at this time, while the Paris agreements are still unratified in certain countries, that it is best not to muddy the water, not to introduce any new subject.

However, once that is done--and I am not going to speak about the matter of initiative, I do not believe that that in itself is particularly important--but I do believe there have got to be new exploratory talks.

I think they would be taken up at first on a different level from the chief of state.

You must remember that in this country the chief of state has different constitutional and other types of duties than the chiefs of state in most other countries. The head of a government abroad is spared many of the duties and responsibilities that here fall upon the head of the state.

So this meeting at the summit, which we so often hear about, is not so simple for us as it might be for some other countries.

So I believe that that out of the way, now from a position of strength--that is, moral and spiritual strength very greatly enhanced through this exhibition of unity--it probably would be time to begin the kind of exploratory talks that might lead to something constructive.

Now, I have used as examples in the past the kind of thing I would regard as deeds that would show the good faith of Russia.

I have never meant, and never intimated, that those deeds would be limited to the examples I gave.

In a dozen different ways this might be done. And I repeat that this Government, as long as I am the head of it, is never going to be backward in seizing upon any kind of opportunity that will apparently advance this cause.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: At past conferences, sir, you have indicated that such good deeds, or deeds not words, on the part of Russia might be approving an Austrian peace treaty--

THE PRESIDENT. That is right.

Q. Mr. von Fremd: --or free elections in Germany, and a free and united Korea.

Would you still hold to these deeds before such a Big Four meeting could take place?

THE PRESIDENT. I give them only as examples. There could be a dozen others, as I said just a few minutes ago. It doesn't necessarily have to be those two.

Suppose, well, suppose the proposition that I made on December 9, 1953, 1 before the United Nations, were suddenly accepted, as far as you could see, in complete good faith. Instantly, you would start a conference on a technical and political level between the two countries that would necessarily be directed toward some kind of peaceful pursuits of mankind, and you would--no matter, we don't know how far it would grow. There could be another one.

1The President, on December 8, 1953, delivered to the United Nations an address entitled "Atomic Power for Peace."

There would be a deed, not words.

Q. Paul R. Leach, Knight Newspapers: Mr. President, has any thought been given to this Government to the admission or inclusion of Western Germany in such a conference?

THE PRESIDENT. Let me answer that in this way, which, possibly, is just not quite as direct as you would like it.

This subject of what we may do is discussed at least twice a week between the Secretary of State and myself.

Manifestly, we have talked time and again as to the possibility soon of including Western Germany in the conference that might take place.

But, of course, I would assume that the very first ones would possibly be limited to the four, because, as quick as you add one, where is the limit to what you must add. And you don't want to kill the possibility of a constructive conference by putting down details or conditions in advance that, when you add on to them from the other side, would just make it an impossible situation. You see the logic of that move?

Q. Mr. Leach: Yes.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, do you have under consideration an actual conference on, say, the Foreign Minister or Secretary of State level?

THE PRESIDENT. No, no; not exactly--that would be untrue to say that.

We do take this up, constantly discussing it among ourselves, frequently with one of our allies, just to keep the thinking on the same level so that if particular conditions, favorable conditions, arise, we can move ahead.

Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: Mr. President, I wonder if you would clarify one point in this respect: would the initial conference, if successful, be followed by a meeting of the heads of state, or should it be followed by the--

THE PRESIDENT. That depends, I would think, Mr. Wilson, on what was accomplished.

If any significant thing were brought forward where the presence of the heads of state could give it a solemnity, possibly a promise of success not otherwise obtainable, as I say, I would go anywhere.

And let me make one gratuitous remark here: I sincerely hope that this group, at least, will not try to put me, on this subject, in any partisan attitude.

In this subject, I am as sincerely bipartisan and nonpartisan as I know how to be.

I respect the opinions of everybody that comes in honesty to me on it, and I have no thought of building any kind of special viewpoint in this country in support of somebody else's viewpoint.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Sir, in that regard, would you welcome, would you favor, taking Senator George and other representatives of the Congress to such a conference, if it were held?

THE PRESIDENT. Indeed, yes, if they should find it convenient and want to go.

Some of these trips, you must understand, are anything but comfortable and convenient experiences, and it is entirely possible that they would prefer to be present only for some very significant thing.

But I would tell you this: there would be no disposition to keep the thing secret from them. They would be invited.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post and Times Herald: Is it correct to infer from what you said, sir, that your thinking is that when you mention starting with a Big Four meeting, that you are thinking essentially of a further meeting regardless of the level only on the German unification and the Austrian treaty question, or is it possible that a general East-West meeting might be on a larger pattern than that?

THE PRESIDENT. I have never inferred in any way that it would be limited to those two things.

Those were simply quoted as evidences of Soviet good will and good faith that would open up the whole subject of all of our differences. Everything could come before such a conference.

Now, I must tell you this: you will recall in about the summer of 1951, representatives of these four powers met in the Rose Palace in Paris, I think, for 4 months merely trying to agree on an agenda, which they never did; and the conference could not be held.

Maybe you could go to a nonagenda conference; I would have no objection.

What I am saying is, the things you are talking about are merely instances, already agreed upon in large part. And the Western powers made great concessions in Austria, completely accepted the Soviet viewpoint, but nothing was done on it.

Q. Mr. Roberts: May I ask a second point: Senator George, in his remarks on this matter, raised the possibility or suggested the possibility of meeting with the Chinese Communists as well as with the Soviet Union.

Would you consider any meeting of that type either separately on Asian matters or together on world problems?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think at the present moment it is completely academic, because every suggestion that has been made of peace in the Far East to the Red Communists has been accepted only, from their viewpoint, as insults to them.

I think it is completely academic; there is no use speculating on it.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: Sir, last week, Representative Walter of Pennsylvania severely criticized the Post Office Department for seizing copies of Izvestia and Pravda in the United States mail.

Mr. Walter said that if he had his way about it, he would, on the contrary, have these papers translated into English and distributed to everybody so, as he put it, they could see how nauseating communism could be.

Colleges, too, have protested that this ban has complicated their research.


Q. Mr. Morgan: And it is reported that the CIA has had some difficulty in its own research thereby.

Does this restriction have your approval, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, let's make clear this: I am not going to disapprove it with no more than I know about it in detail at this moment. But I will say this: ever since I found that war records-that is, military records--were hidden away and, apparently, we were going to keep them from the American people forever, I have been against censorship.

I don't like censorship, and I don't know the reason for this one. It hasn't been brought yet to my attention except through the newspapers. And, unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to look into it. I don't know what it is about, really.

Q. Daniel Schorr, CBS News: Mr. President, in view of all you have said this morning about the possibility of a Big Power meeting, I am somewhat confused about the remark of Senator Knowland yesterday, after his visit to you, that Senator George's view was not your view.

Is there, in fact, any great difference?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as a matter of fact, I don't think there is any great difference between anybody's view here.

This is what I really believe: everybody, in talking about an item such as this, gets a particular detail which he emphasizes in his own mind to a very great degree, and suddenly a quarrel springs out of it.

I think all of the gentlemen to whom you refer are sincerely seeking peace; some believe one thing, some another.

Now, the Secretary of State, under my direction, is responsible for carrying these things forward. I think that his attitude toward it is eminently correct and proper and conciliatory.

We are trying to seek a peace with honor, and we are simply trying to avoid that kind of useless bickering and the using of international conferences merely for propaganda purposes, disappointing people. That is the futile kind of thing we are trying to avoid, and that is all. Otherwise we are all for seeing, can we advance the cause of peace?

Q. Joseph C. Harsch, Christian Science Monitor: Sir, I wonder if you can clarify something I am not quite clear on.

In your last press conference, referring to the use of atomic weapons, you said that when it was a question of strictly military targets for strictly military purposes, you saw no reason why they shouldn't be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else.

On January 12, we were talking about atomic weapons in connection with police action as distinct from a major war, and within that context you said you did not think that normally we would use the atomic weapons, because, you thought, you could not conceive of atomic weapons as a police weapon, and there was some further remark there that it was so destructive.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Harsch, the difference here, I think, is perfectly simple. A police action is not war; a police action is restoring order.

Now, you don't send in bombs to restore order when a riot occurs. You get police people to restore order. Occasionally there may be a life lost if someone is too tough about it.

But when you get into actual war, you have resorted to force for reaching a decision in a particular area; that is what I call War.

And whether the war is big or not, if you have the kind of a weapon that can be limited to military use, then I know of no reason why a large explosion shouldn't be used as freely as a small explosion. That is all I was saying last week.

But that is different from trying to restore order. Incidentally, if you want to follow some of these things off into the realm of great philosophical conjecture, suppose you won a war by the indiscriminate use of atomic weapons; what would you have left? Now, what would you do for your police action, for your occupation and restoration of order, and all of the things needed to be done in a great area of the earth?

I repeat, the concept of atomic war is too horrible for man to endure and to practice, and he must find some way out of it. That is all I think about this thing.

Q. Mr. Harsch: Sir, I am a little stupid about this thing.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am glad you didn't say I was! [Laughter]

Q. Mr. Harsch: It would seem to me there is big war at one end, just a local police action in which one person might be killed at the other; and, in between, what the military people would say was limited war. The Korean War, in a sense, was a limited


THE PRESIDENT. It became one, anyway. Q. Mr. Harsch: It became one.

If we got into an issue with the Chinese, say, over Matsu and Quemoy, that we wanted to keep limited, do you conceive of using this specific kind of atomic weapon in that situation or not?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Harsch, I must confess I cannot answer that question in advance.

The only thing I know about war are two things: the most changeable factor in war is human nature in its day-by-day manifestation; but the only unchanging factor in war is human nature.

And the next thing is that every war is going to astonish you in the way it occurred, and in the way it is carried out.

So that for a man to predict, particularly if he has the responsibility for making the decision, to predict what he is going to use, how he is going to do it, would I think exhibit his ignorance of war; that is what I believe.

So I think you just have to wait, and that is the kind of prayerful decision that may some day face a President.

We are trying to establish conditions where he doesn't.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mr. President, have you any plan to take an active part in saving your foreign trade program in Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can't go to the floor and debate, Mr. Brandt.

After all, we all know that, but this is what I think: the foreign trade program, as a notice to all peoples that we recognize their problems, that we are earnestly trying to establish the kind of economic base on which cultural values and spiritual values can be properly developed and bring about a greater union among us, that kind of a program is so essential to the United States today that I would use every bit of influence that I can properly and appropriately bring to bear to have it passed.

I think this is a very critical item now before the United States of America, not merely before Government, but before the whole country.

Q. Walter T. Ridder, Ridder Papers: Mr. President, do you believe that the release of the Yalta documents might cramp styles in future conferences?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would hope not.

Among allies, gentlemen, I want to call your attention to this one fact: you make treaties, and good faith is involved.

Now, the one place, if you will read history, is that treaties have always fallen down when it came to actual war, if any one country felt that its vital considerations were going to be damaged through the purposes of its allies.

You can go back through the history of coalitions, and you will find great evidence of this.

As a matter of fact, one soldier said that he always considered Napoleon the greatest soldier that ever lived, until he woke up one day and found that he always fought against coalitions. And then he lost some of his respect.

Now, this is one way of defining the difficulties of coalitions. Good faith is involved; so that while I earnestly believe that all documents should be published, not attempting to pin or assess blame for success and failure, I believe when the good faith with an ally is involved we want to be exceedingly careful. Moreover, I think such documents should be confined, in general, to those things that are of political and military significance. Casual conversation, I think, should not be included.

I would hope that our country would never be legitimately charged with bad faith, and in this particular case I think it wasn't. They had been, I believe, in communication with our ally for a long time about it. However, there was some difference of opinion.

Now, in this matter, let me repeat, there is nothing, as I can see, to be gained by going back 10 years and showing that, in the light of afterevents, that someone may have been wrong, or someone may have been right.

People that are so sure that we could do this, forget one thing: you can never recapture the atmosphere of war. You have the great advantage of events.

I think I have often told you that one of the most severe decisions I had to make in the war was to direct the capture of Pantelleria. Yet that was so easy that most of you don't even know where Pantelleria was. And in the afterevent, it made not a ripple in history. Yet the decision was so difficult that had the predictions of the pessimists been realized, I certainly would have been relieved.

So that you can never tell, at the moment, is history going to say this was right or this was wrong.

If we believe these people acted for what they thought was the best good, of the cause for which they were fighting, of their country, well, then, let us take and lay the thing out dispassionately so that we, in our turn, may profit from their mistakes. But don't let's try to just damage reputations by such means.

Q. Ingrid M. Jewell, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Mr. President, Senator Bricker thinks that his proposed amendment.

THE PRESIDENT. I couldn't quite hear you.

Q. Miss Jewell: Senator Bricker believes that his proposed amendment has a good chance of going through this year because he thinks you have changed your mind about it since last year. Have you changed your mind?


Q. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Des Moines Register: You suffered one of your sharpest defeats in the House on this postal pay bill. I wonder if you would give us some of your own personal views as to why you oppose the 10 percent in favor of the 5 percent?

THE PRESIDENT. Since 1945 the postal clerks and carriers have gone from something of an order of a $1700 wage to a $3200, something of a 92-percent raise. The top scales, I think, of those same grades have gone up about 94 percent. I give you that statistic just to show that these people have not been neglected.

Moreover, when you begin to talk about pay scales you have got to take in not merely the percentage that one group now may receive as opposed to another group; you have got to go back into the whole background and history of the thing.

Exactly the same way in the opposite sense with some of the military. Some of the military grades have been neglected, and we need to raise them or we are not going to have proper people there.

I sent to the Congress a plan, for both civil service people and postal people, that had been studied long and earnestly in a great effort to do the right thing by the individuals themselves, to do it sensibly and in accordance with efficient governmental management of the great processes we have to carry out.

Now, I believe still that that is a correct program for the readjustments and revisions of classification and the scale of increase that it proposes; and any great increase over that would cause me, as I said in a letter, the gravest concern.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Mr. President, I believe Vice President Nixon has spoken to you about the merit of completing the Inter-American Highway, and he said at the present rate it won't be completed until 15 or 25 years have passed.

Have you and he--have you agreed on a plan for speeding up the financing of this, so it may be completed?


In his report to the Cabinet he mentioned this, and gave his conclusions as of tremendous importance.

Now, the next thing that will happen will be that State and Commerce will unquestionably make a recommendation to me as to what we should do in the way of getting the necessary appropriations. I believe they are relatively small.

But I will say this: instinctively, I am on his side. I believe that this road should be completed.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, is any effort being made by either this Government directly or through the British to negotiate a cease-fire in the Formosa Strait,

I mean any new efforts as an attempt through the U.N.?

THE PRESIDENT. As of this moment?

Q. Mr. Arrowsmith: Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. No, there is no particular or specific program now in progress, but I should say this: that, of course, the British, with representation in Peking, have always represented our viewpoint, which is that any just, reasonable solution of the difficulty in the Formosa Straits would receive our most earnest and sympathetic attention.

We ourselves supported putting it before the United Nations, but there is no specific plan at the moment.

Q. William H. Lawrence, New York Times: Mr. President, in your concluding remarks about the Yalta papers a moment ago, you said if we believe these people acted for the best good; is it correct to interpret that to say that you believe they acted for the best good as they saw it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I meant my remark, Mr. Lawrence, in this way: so far as I know, I have never in public questioned a man's motives, even if I thought he was mistaken; I have criticized military leaders in staff schools in my time very severely. I certainly would not question his motives.

I question the motives of no man when I wasn't there and know nothing about what he was doing.

Q. Mr. Lawrence: May I ask one supplementary question?


Q. Mr. Lawrence: You were a responsible field commander at the time and informed of general strategy. Did you record or do you remember a decision that you reached at that time at your own level as to the rightness or wrongness of Yalta?


The only faint connection I had was this: the British and American contingents met in Malta before going on to Yalta. I didn't have time to go down. I was engaged in a very heavy battle, and I sent my Chief of Staff down to represent what our operational plans for the spring were, and to tell them. They were all approved.

As a matter of fact, it was sent down for information.

But I did tell two or three of the individuals involved that the Western allied forces were going to get at least as far as the Elbe in this operation--our calculations were that we had now used up all the disposable reserves the Germans had to put on the western front, and that we were going to penetrate deep into Germany--and I would hope, therefore, that these people would have that knowledge before they made any agreement.

However, don't forget this: all during that year of 1944 the European Advisory Commission had been meeting in London, and these plans were worked out by the Advisory Commission. As far as I know, Yalta had only the job of approving them, because all these countries had been represented on that Commission. I believe John Winant was our representative.

I merely said that we were going to go further east into Germany than the line they described to me, and that is the only thing I knew about.

I never was at Yalta; I didn't even go to Malta.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, to go back to the high level conference, Senator George's position, as I understand it, is this: that he would not require the Russians to meet any particular conditions; that is, he would not require that they show their earnestness with deeds rather than with words.

Now, I do not understand that to be your position, Mr. President. I am trying to find out whether there is a real difference.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there may be. I don't deny that every individual that approaches these problems has his own detailed solution for them.

I merely want to say that I am seeking an honorable peace and trying to create confidence among the peoples of the free world, not just bouncing around to do nothing.

Now, there is this one thing, the argument on the other side: there have been at least two changes within the last couple of years in the personnel of the ruling group in the Kremlin. Consequently, you have at least the element of, let us say, faint hope that new individuals may be different from the old ones; that may make some exploratory talks very valuable. And as long as we are differentiating between a final big so-called meeting at the summit and exploratory talks--well, exploratory talks, I could make a lot of concessions to have that carried out.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, if we may return to the Far East for a moment: one of the solutions that has been suggested for ending the Far East crisis has been a U.N. trusteeship for Formosa. I wonder if this Government is receptive to that idea?

THE PRESIDENT. I believe I won't talk about that one this morning. I dislike ever saying "No comment" to you people, but that is one that I have not talked in detail because, for my own part, I had not up to this moment taken it as an acceptable solution to people we are trying to keep on our side.

Q. Frederick Kuh, Chicago Sun-Times: Mr. President, in your consideration of a Four Power conference, is it your premise that the Russians will be willing to participate in such a conference within a matter of some months after ratification of the Paris agreements?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. That is one of the subjects we discuss constantly: what would be their attitude toward an invitation? And maybe it would be even worth while finally to find out what that is.

But I don't know, and I don't think anyone else could really make a good guess.

Q. Nat S. Finney, Buffalo News: Mr. President, did you intend to assign a lower order of priority to the deeds of an Austrian treaty and German elections, and North Korea? Does what you said give them a lower order of priority of importance than they have had heretofore?

THE PRESIDENT. I couldn't imagine what would make you ask such a question. Nothing I have ever said would indicate that.

No. I am merely giving these indications of something that would mean to me, "Look, these people are talking business." They have violated their word so often, they have left us hanging on the limb. As a matter of fact, our great interest in all of these past agreements and papers is why did we trust them so much.

All I want to know is what can I depend on to mean to me this: we are approaching this seriously and earnestly; that is all.

Q. John L. Cutter, United Press: Mr. President, a member of your liaison staff has been up to the Congress to see a member of the Michigan delegation regarding the establishment of a jet air base near Cadillac, Michigan. Does that mean that the White House has any particular interest in that one particular place?

THE PRESIDENT. [This is the first time I have heard of it; and if anyone has an interest in it, it certainly must be personal. I know nothing about it.]

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

Note: President Eisenhower's sixty-fourth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:31 to 11:04 o'clock on Wednesday morning, March 23, 1955. In attendance: 211.

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/234064

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