Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

February 09, 1955

[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. Good morning. Please be seated.

One announcement of little importance to anyone except myself: I hope to get a few hours away from this city starting tomorrow afternoon. I am going down with the Secretary of the Treasury to his farm in Georgia.

I have two announcements of some import, or comments, let us say, first with respect to the foreign situation; the second announcement respecting the domestic.

In the foreign situation we have seen this change taking place in the rulership in the Soviets. We know, of course, when any major change of that kind takes place, that it does express dissatisfaction with what has been going on internally.

Now, what this means to the world is not yet apparent. It won't be apparent for some time. It does not change our basic policies nor the basic methods we employ in pursuit of those policies: a just and lasting peace, to remain strong ourselves while we are doing it, and to help our friends grow strong and confident so that this burden of fear and eventually other and more material-type burdens will be lifted from the backs of men.

We are going steadily ahead, and while we watch every change in the situation, there is no reason for changing our basic attitude.

I want to talk now about something for a moment that affects everybody in America. That is education. Yesterday morning I sent to the Congress a plan which I think is necessary in order that the youth of our Nation will not be robbed of their chance to get the kind of education to which they are entitled; indeed; the kind of education that they need if they are properly to discharge their duties as citizens of the United States.

Education is really bread-and-butter citizenship. It is just necessary to the developing of citizens that can perform their duties properly.

Education very properly in our country has been the duty and responsibility of the locality and the State. That is a very wise provision of our Constitution, reserving as it did all the powers not specifically given to the Federal Government, reserving them to the States. They exercise authority in this field, and they should. However, there are a number of reasons why we are so short of classrooms today. We had a war mobilization that, in more or less degree, affected our country for a long time. We have outmoded laws in many States affecting districts or debts or tax limits, and so on. There have been many obstructions to going ahead in this work.

Now, in spite of that, last year was a banner year in the building of schools. There was more than $2 billion spent. We have to add 50,000 [schoolrooms] a year to keep up with the population. Last year we constructed 60,000, and at that rate we are never going to reach the objective of getting rid of the shortage of 340,000 as of today.

The shortage has not just sprung up overnight. You find a steady growth in it reaching clear back to 1940. It was already, in 1940, something over 160,000, and the estimates show a gradual increase until today, 340,000.

Now, in order to observe the right and responsibility of States and communities in this field and yet for the Federal Government to apply leadership and to give the kind of help it should, compels us to follow a path that is sometimes not as readily discernible as we should like.

The system we have followed is to use the Federal Government to purchase bonds of districts where they are not readily marketable at a reasonable price; to assist the States in forming agencies outside of the State government itself, so that the difficulty of debt and other types of laws can be overcome; and finally in those districts where a clear case of need can be shown, where there is no other way of doing it, a certain amount of grant-in-aid matching with the States.

You will recall that a long time ago--18 months ago, I think, or at least a year--there was appointed with the authority of Congress this White House Conference on Education, which would follow upon the conferences in several States. The idea was that they would meet in the effort to solve this problem, devise a long-range plan. For this reason and in order not to get in the way of the recommendations that will be filed by those conferences, this is an emergency plan so far as construction is concerned, although it does point out certain ways that could be permanently applied to this problem.

The objective is, though, as far as the Federal Government is concerned, to keep the responsibility where it belongs, to apply leadership on a strong basis, to get an emergency program of construction started instantly, and to bring, with Federal help, this problem under control just as rapidly as possible.

Those were the two things I wanted to talk about. We will go to questions.

Q. Marvin Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, in the light of Foreign Minister Molotov's tough-talk speech against the United States yesterday, do you think this shakeup in the Soviet Government means a calculated tougher policy towards the United States?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think I would not at the moment, Mr. Arrowsmith, speculate on exactly what it is going to mean. It doesn't necessarily mean that, because they would say anything that would suit their purposes at the moment of a great significant change of this kind in their government.

I would say that we must be watchful and alert and pursue our policies as we have been pursuing them.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, I don't know whether you are aware of it, because it was announced in Moscow just before the conference started, but one of your old friends and associates was just made Defense Minister by the Russians, General Zhukov. Would you think that, following up Mr. Arrowsmith's question, that General Zhukov's appointment as Minister of Defense would indicate a stronger defense policy on their part, possibly toward this country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, again, Mr. Smith, I can scarcely interpret that act of theirs in terms of a specific intent on their part. Now, when I knew Marshal Zhukov, I will say this:

He was a competent soldier. A man could not have conducted the campaigns he did, could not have explained them so lucidly and in terms of his own strength and his own weaknesses and so on, except that he was a well-trained, splendid military leader.

He and I developed personally a practice of getting along and seeing eye to eye on a number of our local problems in Berlin. So far as I was concerned--and I believe he was honest about it--we were trying to set up a pattern, if we could, in Berlin, in our little local place there, to show that even two nations could get along if they would both recognize the folly of not getting along.

What this means today, I don't know. The last time I had a direct letter from him was April 1946, and that was a long time ago.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Mr. President, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov claimed yesterday that Russia's atomic strength is now superior to our own. Do we have any cause to believe this might be true?

THE PRESIDENT. Certainly there is no proof to that effect. I should say that would be rather a remarkable feat, but I believe it is not worthwhile speculating on.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, in the Molotov speech yesterday, he said that he did not think in the case of another war that world civilization would be destroyed. This was in some contrast to Malenkov's statement last March in which he said, in a nuclear war both sides would be destroyed.

Could you tell us, aside from the political implications, on a scientific basis, from what you know, something of this as to whether in fact there is a threat in the H-bomb and other nuclear weapons to the whole world?

THE PRESIDENT. Of course, there are, as we know, some threats in the use of nuclear weapons over and beyond the immediately destructive area, where it destroys by shock and the thermal effects, and so on. There are certain radioactive effects that in the immediate vicinity can be very, very bad, indeed, as we well know. There are methods of protection.

Now, when you begin to talk in terms of "Would this destroy civilization or would it not?" I should say we are talking in comparative terms. What is the destruction of civilization, and, in addition, how many of these things do you use? How near do you approach saturation in any place ?

I would say this: the thing is so serious that intelligent people ought to forego a great many lesser ambitions in the effort to achieve an understanding, under a method where the whole world could be assured that that understanding was going to be obeyed by all parties concerned--which means there must be some kind of inspection service where all the world could trust it--that we are not pushing toward that kind of a war. So, whether or not civilization is destroyed, I say it is so serious that we just cannot pretend to be intelligent human beings unless we pursue with all our might, with all our thought, all our soul, you might say, some way of solving this problem. It's that bad at least.

Q. Robert L. Riggs, Louisville Courier-Journal: Returning to your education message, sir, Senator Hill, who is Chairman of the Senate committee on education, and Senator Clements, who is the acting majority leader, criticized your program rather strongly yesterday as being inadequate, and they said it merely loaded more debts on the States and communities which could not afford to pay the debt.

Could you comment on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Did they mention the debt of the United States?

Q. Mr. Riggs: Well, they are--no, sir; they did not.

THE PRESIDENT. There is perhaps some difference in conviction here represented.

I believe that the greatest amount of authority, which means comparable responsibility, must be retained in the localities in our country or we are working steadily away from the system of government that has made this country great. That kind of a system exploits private initiative, local initiative, local care for the expenditures. As quickly as you start spending Federal money in great amounts, it looks like free money. The shibboleth of free money from Washington can certainly damage. So maybe my system is not as extreme as either side would like. I take something that I believe to be effective and good for the United States, and I stand by it.

Q. Garnett D. Horner, Washington Star: Mr. President, to return to the Marshal Zhukov business a moment ago, he was quoted in an interview yesterday as saying that in 1945 you had told him that the United States would never attack the Soviet Union, and he had told you that the Soviet Union would never attack the United States. Also, he said that you had twice invited him to visit here, and he still dreams of doing so.

I wonder if you could tell us your version of that 1945 conversation and your feelings about the prospects of such a visit?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that is remarkably accurate. Now, when I asked him to visit our country, I was acting as the agent of my government, which directed me to do so; and more than that, arrangements had been made once. My plane had been put at his disposal, and my son was detailed as his aide. I remember he made the remark, "Well, I shall certainly be very safe," with my plane and my son. [Laughter]

We were good friends, and we could talk in that fashion.

I explained to him how absolutely impossible it was for a democracy to organize a surprise aggression against anybody. Our processes are open. Every time you get money or you change anything in your military affairs, you go to Congress. It is debated. There is no possibility of a country such as ours producing a completely surprise attack on any other. That is what I was emphasizing to him. Of course, from their standpoint, he felt that Russia was a very peace-loving nation.

Q. Paul Wooton, New Orleans Times Picayune: Mr. President, you have on your desk a report on transportation. Will that be made public soon?

THE PRESIDENT. [Well, it isn't on my desk yet. I don't know whether it is a report; it is a study as I have seen it. It has been going back and forth, and we have been going at it a long time. It isn't ready at this moment, at least, for publication. And its eventual destiny, I have forgotten the details.]

Q. Kenneth M. Scheibel, Gannett News Service: Sir, part of the trouble we are told from Russia is that they are having difficulties with their agriculture and their food supplies. Do you see in that situation any chance for us to do any trading with them, or is that a business of building up our enemy?

THE PRESIDENT. [I think that a question like that comes within the context of so many intertwined questions that you would have to get a whole program laid out in front of you. Now, what does this mean? Everything comes back here, when you really get down to the bottom of things and study them--everything comes back to how much confidence can we develop in the words of people who have not hesitated to break their word in the past? Where do we have deeds and actions to prove what they are trying to do? And I think that every single agreement, engagement, commitment of any kind has always got to have that as its background; because otherwise you are very likely to weaken your position, either psychologically, politically, materially, economically, in some form. So I wouldn't want to comment just on this one facet of such a possibility.].

Q. Joseph C. Harsch, Christian Science Monitor: Mr. President, to refer back to Mr. Horner's question, is that invitation to General Zhukov still open?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as a matter of fact, this is the first time it has been mentioned to me since I have been in my present responsible post. You can well imagine that I wouldn't stand here and suddenly issue an invitation without consultation with my advisers. So I would say this would be a remarkable thing at the present state of affairs, but I certainly wouldn't hesitate to talk it over with my people if we found it desirable.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: There have been growing reports and speculation, sir, that possibly the Soviet Union does not now hold the political strength that it once did control over Red China. If this is true, it would certainly endanger the present situation in the Formosa Straits. But I wonder, sir, if in telling us whether or not, if you can, you have received such word from your advisers, if you could also let us know whether or not you feel there is a possibility of other satellites breaking away from the Kremlin.

THE PRESIDENT. [I should say this: there is no direct evidence that there has been any weakening of relationships between Moscow and the capitals with which it has been dealing. There is, of course, always hopeful speculation in this line, but no evidence.]

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, the Federal Power Commission and the natural gas industry seem to be waiting to hear this Cabinet committee study on energy supplies and fuel resources. That has been held up for some time. Can you say when that will be ready?

THE PRESIDENT. [Not held up; it is just not ready. I don't know of anything quite so complicated as a study on the energy supplies of the United States in all of its components, because you have imports, you have competition among the various types of energy within our own country, you've got everything from hydroelectric power to power produced by residual oil imported into this country. It is a complicated study that is being worked on all the time.1 That is all I can say about it at the moment.]

1On February 26 "The White House Report on Energy Supplies and Resources Policy," prepared by the Advisory Committee on Energy Supplies and Resources Policy, was released by the White House in mimeograph form. The recommendations of the Committee related to (1) natural gas regulation; (2) sales below cost by interstate pipeline companies; (3) eminent domain for natural gas storage; (4) crude oil imports and residual fuel oil imports; (5) petroleum refining capacity; (6) tax incentives; (7) research and development program for coal; (8) unemployment and business distress in the coal industry; (9) coal freight rates; (10) coal exports; (11) mobilization requirements for coke; (12) Government fuel purchasing policy.

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, you mentioned hearing from Marshal Zhukov last in April 1946.

THE PRESIDENT. Directly, I said.

Q. Mr. Burd: Could you say what that involved?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it was--I think I can recall it--it was a letter. You see, I left Berlin in November 45, and he corresponded and he sent me a present. I think it was an enormous bear rug. I still have it, and something else of that kind. That was all.

Q. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Des Moines Register and Tribune: Mr. President, on February 1st the White House overruled the CAB on a decision involving a certificate of Northwest Airlines and Pan American Airlines on flights to Hawaii. That White House action overruled a 5-to-0 decision in the CAB, and last Monday you revised that order after Senator Thye and Representative Judd called on you. I wonder if you could tell us why you revised your decision, and also if you could discuss the general procedure when these independent agency cases, in the CAB, are called to the attention of the White House.

THE PRESIDENT. It is very simple in this case. Information came to my attention that convinced me I had made an error. And so I tried to correct it. The actual facts were these:

I am directed by the Congress to cut down subsidies in this air business, which means that when you have unprofitable competition on lines, you had better look at it very, very closely, because this occasions a greater deficit.

I am also directed to preserve competition so far as this can be done, but always with this other conflicting consideration of cutting down the subsidies.

In this case, it looked like we should get rid of one line on the Hawaiian run; and the line that had the most of the traffic and which had the smallest subsidy last year on that line, at least as far as figures showed, that was the one I was going to go with. I made that decision.

What happened then was that the Chairman of the Board came over to see me and pointed out that all of their calculations showed that within 2 years, they believed, the entire subsidy would be eliminated from the Pacific runs. He showed, therefore, that even if you did happen to have a subsidy, since now you have your computations for subsidies made on the operations of the full line, that here we had a case where we could well afford to go ahead with the competitive system for a while and still believe that we would come out of the subsidy area.

So I said, in that case we will renew this for a short period, which I did for 3 years.

Q. Gould Lincoln, Washington Star: Mr. President, there have been in the newspapers many reports that the Secretary of the Army, Mr. Stevens, is to be replaced. Could you tell us if there is any truth in that?

THE PRESIDENT. There is not a word of it that has come to my ears, Mr. Lincoln, not a word.

Q. Alan S. Emory, Watertown Times: Mr. President, in view of the fact that the education aid message went to the Hill before the highway message, and in view of the substance of your education message, do you think those two factors will silence the critics who have been saying the administration is paying more attention to highways than to schools?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is not going to silence critics; of that I am sure. [Laughter]

Q. George H. Hall, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Can you tell us whether the Malenkov resignation was a surprise to this Government or whether we had diplomatic or intelligence reports indicating that it was coming up?

THE PRESIDENT. [Well, I think that our observers and people in Moscow for a long time reported that things weren't exactly as they appeared on the surface, but I never had seen any kind of prediction as to the exact things that happened yesterday, no.]

Q. Lloyd M. Schwartz, Fairchild Publications: Mr. President, the Labor and Commerce Departments reported yesterday that unemployment rose 500,000 in the month to mid-January to a total of 3.3 million, and the factory work force in January was 500,000 lower than a year earlier. Do you find this any cause for concern?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, here is a type of statistic that is examined every week or practically every day by the economic advisers of the Labor and Commerce Departments, in consultation, of course, with myself. Now, there is always a seasonal drop in employment right after Christmas; this year, looking at the comparable curves, it seems that this drop was not as acute as it has been in the recent past.

I don't mean to say that you can be complacent about such things. On the contrary, you watch them with the closest possible concern. However, it is within the bounds, you might say, of historical precedent.

Q. Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, how do you appraise the state of affairs in the Formosa Straits with reference to the evacuation of the Tachens and the possibility of a cease-fire?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it would be idle to speculate, Mr. Drummond, on the possibility of a cease-fire. We asked Red China, or the United Nations did, to come in and talk it over. They declined and issued a very bellicose statement. Therefore, on that I couldn't say what may happen.

Now, with regard to the evacuation, it is proceeding exactly according to plan. If nothing happens, it should be completed very soon. There has been no untoward incident. In one case I believe one of our planes got a little lost, wandered in a bad area and got hit, but the crew was saved. There has been no real interference. It looks like it would go ahead for the moment.

Q. Nat S. Finney, Buffalo Evening News: Mr. President, can you tell us whether your freedom of action to order the use of nuclear weapons in connection with the defense of Formosa and the Pescadores is in any way limited by understandings with our allies?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if the United States, of course, got into trouble alone and were attacked, I don't know of any understanding with any allies that applies. I think understandings with allies applies when you are in any kind of an action in concert with them. I have not thought of that point in exactly the way you have stated, but I think it would be a United States decision.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, a bill has been introduced which would make former Presidents of the United States members of the Senate. They would receive pay and quarters, but wouldn't be permitted to vote. They would be Senators at Large. It would now affect Mr. Hoover and Mr. Truman, and perhaps ultimately yourself. Do you think the bill has merit?

THE PRESIDENT. [Frankly, I say this, Mr. Folliard: I am not too sure. Any man who has served in high posts in his government--and this doesn't mean merely the Presidency--has acquired a certain amount of experience where, if his faculties have held together reasonably well, he should be of some value to his country.

[In my own case, I thought I had left the service of my country forever in 1948, I believe in February. I soon found I was back in, in one form or another.

[I believe those people are always available. I believe each one of them is proud and feels a sense of satisfaction when his experience and wisdom are called upon. And if it could be better utilized by giving this rather formal post, I certainly would have no objection. I would never argue against such a thing. I am not sure that it would be an exact answer, but it would be all right.]

Q. Robert J. Donovan, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, in consideration of the trade program in the House, there has been a move to add import quotas for oil to protect the coal industry. If this has come to your attention, have you any comment on it?

THE PRESIDENT. [It hasn't come to my attention that specific way. But we are trying to liberalize trade on a reciprocal basis, particularly in selected commodities. There has been great progress made in the last 2 years in eliminating quotas from the normal practices of governments with respect to this trade business. I would very much deplore seeing us going backward and establishing quotas that were at least fixed by law.]

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

Note: President Eisenhower's sixtieth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:31 to 11:01 o'clock on Wednesday morning, February 9, 1955. In attendance: 230.

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/233904

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