The President's News Conference
[This is a complete transcript of the news conference of this date. Those portions of the President's replies which were not released for broadcasting or direct quotation at that time are enclosed in brackets.]
THE PRESIDENT. My first announcement this morning is to express--and, I think, on behalf of all of you--a deep regret at the death of Harold Beckley, Superintendent of the Senate Press Gallery, who has been on this door ever since I have been holding press conferences in this room. I think all of us would like to join in expressing our regret to those that were close to him.
I want to mention briefly these bipartisan lunches I am having today and tomorrow, merely to assure you that there is no specific or special purpose behind them.
We started talking about them two or three weeks ago. It was some little trouble to find two days in succession that were blank on my luncheon calendar and convenient to the people on the Hill.
We have at least arranged it, and we expect to talk over the world situation in general. There is no agenda, no specific subject to be discussed.
As you know, the French and Italian Parliaments have both ratified the Paris agreements, and I couldn't possibly exaggerate in expressing my satisfaction.
I speak as one who was sent over there some years ago to work on this proposition. I was very strong for EDC. When EDC was rejected, I though this was the next best we could do.
I am delighted that the Parliaments have gone this far with the unification of our security arrangements in that area. Now, that's all the announcements I have. We will go to questions.
Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, within the past week Admiral Carney has been quoted as saying that there might be a Red Chinese attack on Matsu, followed in a month or about a month, by an attack on Quemoy.
We understand that you feel otherwise and, furthermore, don't like the expression of this sort of estimate on Admiral Carney's part.
I wonder if you could discuss that situation for us.
THE PRESIDENT. Ladies and gentlemen, I have tried to say it many times: none of us possesses a crystal ball. We cannot pretend to the accuracy of the ancient prophets when we talk about the future.
I have heard the possibility of war discussed many times during my governmental career, and I have seen it occur on two or three occasions.
But to prophesy when a war is going to break out is to assume that we have an accuracy of information that, I think, has never yet been attained by a country that was to be attacked.
What I have tried to say is this: in this poor and distressed world, the danger, the risk of war is always with us, and we have got to be vigilant. We have got to be careful. And while we are doing it we have got to be as fair and as large-minded as we know how, to accommodate and to understand the fears and the ambitions of others that might lead them into a risky venture and such a tragic thing as this; at the same time so conducting ourselves that the world knows we are strong, strong in our principles, in our faith, also strong militarily and economically. I don't believe there is any possible way as of this time of describing the situation any better.
If I can make a comment, it is this: I do not believe that the peace of the world, the tranquillity of the world, is being served at this moment by talking too much in terms of speculation about such things. I think that is all I have to say about it.
Q. Joseph C. Harsch, Christian Science Monitor: Mr. President, a military question: would you tell us whether, in your opinion, the United States can successfully defend Formosa, even if we should give up or refrain from doing anything about the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu?
THE PRESIDENT. I think that the attitude and the calculations of this Government were pretty well laid out before the Senate and the House at the time of the passage of the recent resolution asking for authority to act under given situations.
However, I would say this: a terrific burden would depend upon the forces and the people occupying Formosa as to the possibility of its defense.
You have to have forces there who are of high morale, who have something in which to believe if they are going to fight well, as that is the only way men fight. They don't fight just to get out and shoot at each other, so they must believe in something. And we must be careful not to destroy their morale. That is a factor that you must always calculate when you talk about surrendering this place or that place or doing anything else.
Now, as I say again, even for me, I don't think there is much to be gained by speculation in this field. But I do want you to see this one factor that is terrifically important if you are going to make a successful military defense of any area.
Q. Ray Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, could you assess the present possibility for a cease-fire in the Formosa Straits?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I can't. And if you will pardon me, I think we have talked enough about Formosa. I don't believe I have anything more to say about it.
Q. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Des Moines Register: Mr. President, Representative Price of Illinois has said that Allen Whitfield, who you nominated for the Atomic Energy Commission, is a professional politician, and he criticized the administration for what he said "making the Atomic Energy Commission the dumping ground for job-hungry Republicans."
I wonder if you could tell us if you intend to withdraw the nomination, as he demanded; how you happened to select Whitfield, and what particular qualifications you thought he brought to the job.
THE PRESIDENT. [That is like defending yourself against "beating your wife." [Laughter]
[I have tried to tell you people, and I assure you I have tried to follow this theory in the appointment of people: I have appointed those people that are close to me and on whom I must depend for advice and counsel in many things, including the selection of subordinates. I have depended on their advice and counsel in the selection of the people they need. These people close to me I trust.
[Then, once they are selected, they have to pass certain tests. There are certain field tests, and all kinds of things that they go through. If they are found to measure up they are appointed.
[In the case of Mr. Whitfield, I think that there is probably no worse being said against him than being said against lots of people. But I know of no one that we have appointed whose standing in his community, whose reputation, whose readiness to serve his government, are not of a very high order.]
Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mr. President, Secretary Dulles has said that it will take months to prepare for a Big Four conference. We have had the conditions laid down for the Russians coming in. Could you tell us some of the subjects that could be discussed at a Big Four conference?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Brandt, it is not an easy question, because there are so many different kinds of meetings that have been proposed by different people.
One proposal, coming from a very eminent source, has been that we merely meet without an agenda, and we have a broad talk. Well, now, there are many dangers in such a meeting because it could be considered, let us say, social. If it is a social sort of get-together, trying to be friendly, there are many people in the world that are interpreting actions as well as words, and they are interpreting them in terms of what has happened to them and what does this meeting mean to them? That is one kind of a meeting that you have to watch.
Moreover, if you would have a meeting, certain questions would almost have to be examined; for example, let us say, the unification of Germany or some question affecting Germany. The wheels are now moving to make Germany, West Germany, a completely independent country. How can you talk about Germany unless Germany is present? But if you ask Germany, where do you stop?
There are all sorts of things to be decided in these preparations before you can just meet and have something that is promising for the peace of the world. I would certainly hesitate to be a party to a meeting where people would have a right, merely because you meet, to expect more than you really believe you can deliver.
Now I reiterate, the United States Government is ready to do anything. We will meet on any basis as long as we are not, in so doing, creating an impression we think is damaging.
Q. Mr. Brandt: Isn't it true, sir, that the lower level conference would work out an agenda?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know whether they would even have to work out an entire agenda, Mr. Brandt.
I quoted to you the other day the example in the Rose Palace in Paris in 1952 when, after meeting for 3 months to decide upon an agenda for another meeting, they abandoned the effort; they could not do it.
But they would have to make a sufficient preparation for this thing so we could try to determine, at least, or we could have some confidence of what we are getting into. It is a very serious question.
Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: Mr. President--
THE PRESIDENT. Could I interrupt just a minute?
Q. Mr. Wilson: Yes, certainly.
THE PRESIDENT. I was asked by a listener whether each person--no, stand up--whether each person asking a question would speak loudly and get as close to a microphone as he could. I forgot it this morning. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. Wilson: They will have to raise this for me, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, they always do that on the stage, you know. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. Wilson: Perhaps that will put you in a good humor for this question. [Laughter] It may fall within your earlier remark that you did not want to discuss Formosa.
However, it has been stated in the newspapers and on the radio that your position is one thing or another with respect to Quemoy and Matsu; but I have not heard, sir, you express your opinion as to these recent discussions or whether or not the recent accounts in the press are true. So I would ask you--
THE PRESIDENT. The recent accounts are true?
Q. Mr. Wilson: Yes, sir. Do you disagree with the proposition that there may be an attack on Matsu from April 15th onward?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, certainly, I will go back to that subject long enough to say this: I cannot say that there will not, because I don't know. But I do say that if anyone is predicting it will be that soon, and can give me logical reasons for believing it will be that soon, they have information that I do not have.
Q. Charles E. Shutt, Telenews: There has been a great deal of talk lately, alleged in many quarters to be very partisan; and yesterday on Capitol Hill, Senator Smathers and Senator Carlson said perhaps we were getting into an election year a year earlier and, perhaps, a moratorium should be declared on mudslinging.
Would you comment on that, sir, the partisan talk that has been going on recently?
THE PRESIDENT. In some things I think a man's conscience has got to determine his own actions, but it has apparently very little to do with the actions of others.
If I have been guilty of mudslinging anywhere, I would be glad to account for it and to apologize to my unintended victim.
I don't believe in mudslinging. I don't believe it does any good. As a matter of fact, I think it would be a good moment to just say how much I have respected and admired the attitude that Senator George has taken, for example, in trying to preserve a true bipartisan, unpartisan approach to all our foreign problems.
[I wouldn't even talk, therefore, about a party that contained such a man who is working as hard as he is to make the foreign affairs of the United States go forward successfully.]
Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, I seem to recall in World War II that military personnel were warned not to talk. And isn't it very poor military strategy, to say the least, for us to go out here talking about our enemies' war plans?
THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, you have something there. I meant to express something of that kind when I said I didn't believe that we were doing the United States much good by speculating too much into the future on this thing.
There are just certain things in the world--if you are going to live in the confidence that you are right, ready to protect your rights, but you are not going to resort to aggressive force yourself, then you have got to be patient and strong in your patience, not to let anybody run over you, but not to try to say, "They are going to attack me today; therefore, I attacked them yesterday so that I don't get in bad trouble."
Q. Marvin Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, not meaning to transgress on your enough-about-Formosa remark, but will Admiral Carney be reprimanded for his remarks of last week?
THE PRESIDENT. Not by me.
Q. Alan S. Emory, Watertown Times: Mr. President, Congressman Walter of Pennsylvania has attacked Mr. Edward Corsi, the new Special Assistant to the Secretary of State on Refugee and Migration Problems, as allegedly having been a member of several Communist-front organizations.
I wondered if you would comment, sir, on your personal acquaintance with Mr. Corsi and whether you think any individual who had been active in a Communist-front organization would have a chance of getting that high a job in the State Department?
THE PRESIDENT. [Well, you have got a lot of "ifs" in there in that question.
[Now, actually, I have met Mr. Corsi. I have talked to him. My appointment of him again was on the recommendations of people I trust. He was put in that position actually, of course, by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has reported to me that he has been very valuable in the position.
[I know nothing about these accusations against him, but I am sure that it could be looked up if you go to the Secretary of State.]
Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post and Times Herald: A couple of weeks ago you appointed Harold Stassen as a Special Assistant for Disarmament. I wonder if you could give us a little of your thinking behind the creation of that job, and just what the scope of it is.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the concept is very simple.
Here is something that is a terrific problem in the world. We all know what burdens are created by the maintenance of these sterile, unproductive agencies we call defense units and organizations. We are putting billions and billions into them. We would like to reduce them.
Now, each department of Government, as far as I can see, almost each individual in such a country as ours, has some particular idea of what he thinks might work. On some sides they want purely, let's say, a theoretical approach. On other sides they will go to the extremes of quid pro quo: "Don't do a thing, just build more bombs."
What is our thinking? There was nobody in the Government, up until I appointed Governor Stassen to this post, that was responsible for getting together all of the different ideas affecting disarmament and putting them together so the administration can say, "This is our program, and this is what we are trying to do in this field."
State approaches this from one way, Defense approaches it from another, your economic people approach it from still another. You have all sorts of viewpoints; and some think this will work, that will work.
Let us have somebody with a small staff who cannot only do something to bring together, draw together, these views, but to devise a short, easily expressed program, maybe that all of us here could adopt and say, "Yes, that is good." Now, that is what he is for.
Q. Mr. Roberts: Could I ask, sir, is it your thinking that disarmament is an instrument on the way to what you have called the modus vivendi or that you get disarmament agreement after you have created an atmosphere in which--
THE PRESIDENT. Personally, I believe these things have got to go hand in hand. Fear begets fear.
Now, you have armaments. If you are going to say, "Let us be more peaceful, let's make a more peaceful arrangement somewhere, and then we can reduce armaments," they will say, "Well don't you think we had better do this at the same time?"
Then as we make this nice arrangement, there won't be quite so much capacity for one nation to attack another.
I think you have now given a perfect example of the kind of thing that we should like to have some brains giving exclusive attention to: what is a good explanation of the sequential steps that must take place if this is going to have any chance of success?
Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, has this Government received any recent report from the United Nations on its effort to release the flyers held by Red China, and if not, are we going to ask for one, or take any other steps?
THE PRESIDENT. Only the report, Mr. Burd, that they are still working actively in this field. That is the report.
Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, before, you mentioned some of the obstacles that are in the way, or the difficulties that are in the way of a Big Four conference; I wonder about one that you didn't mention.
Do we know yet whether things have shaken down in Russia and who the top man in the Russian Government is now?
THE PRESIDENT. NO, I think we know nothing more than what is apparent on the face of things. That is, if you take the organization at face value, why then, you would say Marshal Bulganin is the head. But I think it would be a bold man to say that they knew he was the true principal influence in the government today.
Q. Francis M. Stephenson, New York Daily News: With all respect, Mr. President, I would like to ask you by whose authority your aides are giving out such information as whether or not we are going to war to ten or twenty men who invite them out to dinner? Don't you think the New York Daily News is entitled to that news?
THE PRESIDENT. [Well, I am not, of course, responsible for the friends that my subordinates have, nor can I be responsible for exactly what they say.
[Now, I am sure someone expressed a personal opinion. Whether or not they have a right to do so, possibly you can say they have to talk to everybody if they talk to one. But, so far as I know, the individual concerned had no idea of the questions that were going to be asked him.
[I want to make clear he does have a right to his personal convictions. But he cannot utter them properly, in my opinion, if he is going to create difficulty for his administration, for his commander in chief, or in violation of any announced policy of an administration, because then he doesn't belong as a member of the team.]
Q. Mr. Stephenson: Well, it has reached a point, Mr. President, where we have to invite your aides to dinner before we can get such very important information, whether we are going to war.
THE PRESIDENT. [My dear sir, why do you suppose I come over here every week? I am not asking you to see anybody else. I come over here every week to subject myself to your questions for a half hour. Now you can ask any question of substance, but don't ask me to criticize somebody else when I don't even know the circumstances of the meeting.]
Q. William M. Blair, New York Times: Mr. President, the bipartisan farm bloc in Congress is making an effort to change the administration's farm program and restore high rigid price supports. Their concern is that the farm economy is going down and endangering the rest of the economy.
Do you share this view, sir, and do you intend to back Mr. Benson in his program?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I want to make this remark: every--it is true that farm prices have fallen, and it is a development that has caused the gravest concern over a number of years. I think they fell some 19 points in the 2 years just prior to '53, and some 8 or 9 since then.
But I must point this out: every bit of that drop has been under the 90 percent rigid price supports. The flexible price support program has not yet been effective, and it will not become effective until the '55 crops are ready for marketing. So that to say that the flexible price supports or to hint or to imply that they are responsible for this drop is just, in my opinion, not correct.
Of course we are giving attention to it. We are looking at every possible thing there is to do in this field. But the purpose of flexible price supports is to discourage production in those items in which we are constantly building up surpluses, to transfer our agriculture a bit, so that we can really get supply and demand in better balance.
Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Mr. President, this is a question that applies to the long-range defense of Formosa rather than the current crisis.
Brigadier General Frank Howley recently toured Formosa and the Far East, and has made several proposals for strengthening our position in dealing with the Chinese Communists.
One of these is that we arm the Chinese Nationalist Army with atomic weapons. Another is that we make it clear to Red China that one more aggressive step on their part will mean their complete destruction by our atomic power.
Can you give us your opinion on this?
THE PRESIDENT. You say he recommended that?
Q. Mr. Clark: That is right.
THE PRESIDENT. [I haven't heard it, Mr. Clark, and I have not seen the two points or at least the first point discussed in detail.
[I do not believe that, as I say, the cause of peace is now to be served by making any further commitments about the area at all, I mean commitments in terms of intention.]
Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, what do you think of the position taken by the man you nominated as Comptroller General in opposition to your highway program? He has told Congress that he thinks the financing system is unsound and, possibly, illegal. I refer to Mr. Campbell.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Smith, I nominated to the position of Comptroller General the man I thought was best qualified in the United States. Mr. Campbell was my associate and assistant when I was at Columbia University. He was the treasurer of a very large organization. He is a splendid accountant, and he is certainly an honest gentleman.
Now, the last thing I would ever ask any man that I appoint to high office is what are going to be his decisions in specific cases.
If any man would pledge to me that he was going to make a certain decision because I asked him, he would never be appointed.
So I have to concede to him his right to follow his own judgment and convictions. But I do tell you this, I think he is wrong. [Laughter]
Q. Lawrence Fernsworth, Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor: I don't wish to break the moratorium, Mr. President. I am merely asking for clarification.
There has been some speculation since your statement that a year hence you would answer the question concerning your candidacy; there has been some speculation that you are awaiting the primaries in New Hampshire, in the first week of--the second Tuesday of March.
Would you comment on that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. You know, some of these questions, I am going to refer them to this body and see whether they actually do break the moratorium. [Laughter] I haven't even thought about the primaries in New Hampshire. And you are informing me now of something that I do recall--that they do come in March. [Laughter]
Q. Charles E. Egan, New York Times: Could you tell us when or if that committee you named to study transportation has reported to you yet, the committee headed by Secretary Weeks?
THE PRESIDENT. [I will have to explain my answer to this extent: we have had preliminary discussions on it. Whether the final report came to me I can't say at this moment.] Mr. Hagerty: Not yet.
THE PRESIDENT. [Not yet. We have had preliminary discussions and, therefore, I couldn't be certain.]
Q. Elie Abel, New York Times: Could you give us your thought, sir, on what arrangements you would like to see made for the future of the Foreign Operations Administration which, I believe, expires June 30?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that theoretically we had a good organization. But there are a number of considerations that apply. I believe that in some ways it is best to get the end item defense portions of those expenditures really included in the Defense budget as separate items--I don't mean to say thereby to reduce the necessary expenditures for our own defense--and then to take over in a separate bureau, possibly in the State department, something like the Internal Revenue is organized in the Treasury Department. I would visualize something like that.
I want to make clear, if the answer is something different, don't accuse me of bad faith. I am giving you my personal idea of how it could be done well.
Q. Daniel Schorr, CBS News: I understand, sir, we were remiss in journalistic enterprise last week. Mr. President, how about the squirrels? [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll tell you: I think first you ought to interview the squirrels and find out if anybody is unhappy. [Laughter] I don't see any reason for producing another pressure group until we find out they are really unhappy, with a freedom I would personally dearly love. [Laughter]
Merriman Smith, United Press: Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: President Eisenhower's sixty-fifth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:34 to 11:03 o'clock on Wednesday morning, March 30, 1955. In attendance: 217.
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/234076