Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

March 17, 1954

THE PRESIDENT. I trust, ladies and gentlemen, everybody is wearing his proper emblem and done up in green this morning.

Someone asked last week about the coffee investigation. We inquired, and the Chairman says that the investigation is coming along in good form, and they should have a report in the near future.

There is one other little item, an Executive order that will be published, I guess this afternoon, having to do with this research and development.

The only reason I mention it is because of the tremendous impression and impact it makes on me when I look at the sums that the Government spent for research and development only a matter of 12, 13 years ago, and what we are spending now. When you have an item of more than $2 billion in your budget, you have something that takes, of course, not only the finest scientific brains you can find in the United States to supervise and coordinate it, but it is really big business of a very large order; I believe in 1940, in all departments, that ran to $100 million. I think that Mr. Hagerty will have a statement to put out somewhere along about 4:00 o'clock.

I think that is all I have, so we will go to questions.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, Representative Sterling Cole, the Chairman of the Joint Congressional Atomic Energy Commission, said last night that we now have a hydrogen bomb and can deliver it anywhere in the world. I wonder if you could discuss that?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I wouldn't want to discuss that. I hadn't seen the statement, and I don't recall what we have released. My embarrassment at this moment is not that I wouldn't be glad to talk over certain of these things if I could recall how far we have gone in releasing information on the point, but when you say "can deliver anywhere in the world," why, of course, I guess that assumes that you have the right places from which to do it, and the machines, and so on.

I would say that was a question not to be discussed until I was more sure where I am standing.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Maine Newspapers: Mr. President, he did put in the reservation if we have bases near enough. He did say we do not have nonstop planes that can take it there now.

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't read what he said; and I am sorry, Mrs. Craig, I don't believe I will discuss that this morning because I just don't think it is wise for me to do so until I check up. It is possible that I have said so much in the past that I would be perfectly justified in discussing it in some detail this morning.

I will tell you what I will do; I will look up and see where we stand, and if it comes up at our next conference, why then, I will discuss it if I should do so. But I just don't want to go off the deep end here when I don't know where I'm standing.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post: Mr. President, I would like to ask you about a reply you made to a question last week. You had been asked about Indochina, about the possibility of a war growing out of an incident in Indochina, and you made this reply:

"I will say this: there is going to be no involvement of America in war unless it is a result of the constitutional process that is placed upon Congress to declare it. Now, let us have that clear; and that is the answer."

What I wanted to ask, Mr. President, is this: does that mean that if an aggression came, one, say, like the aggression in Korea in 1950, that you would hold up action until Congress debated the matter and then declared war?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, you are trying to foresee every possible condition that can arise.

Last week we were talking about Indochina, and I believe the question was concerning the possibility of one of our men, or one or two, getting killed, and what that would mean. I tried to reply very emphatically, and I still don't back away from the generalization I made in this general sense. But let us take an extreme case: suppose, while we are sitting here, right at this minute, there came a message flashed over the United States that coming up from the south somewhere were a great fleet of airplanes, and we had positive evidence that they were intent upon spreading destruction in the United States.

Now, if there is anyone here or any citizen of the United States who would hold me guiltless if I said, "We will sit here and try to get in touch with Congress," well, then, I don't know who they are.

That is an extreme case, and we must be careful not to make generalizations just in terms of taking care of extremes.

You can go right on down the line until you can have something where you say, "Well, the best interests of the United States are involved in this incident taken with someone else, but there is plenty of time to discuss it with Congress."

But when you come down to the matter of self-preservation, quick reaction to a threat against your life, I believe there is a rule that applies to nations exactly as it does to the individuals: you don't call a policeman if your life is actually in danger; if you have nothing else to do but run, you at least try to do your best.

I think that a rule of reason must apply here. But as far as trying to involve in any kind of circumstances the United States in a complete war--after all, war involves many things. There are all sorts of relationships changed in the world. We are talking now about just defense against that sudden attack.

Then, of course, you have the congressional.

Q. Mr. Folliard: Mr. President, the argument was made in 1950 that speed was very urgent, that it was necessary to move very quickly.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't remember exactly about that. I remember I was up in Canada, as a matter of fact, when it happened, and I came out of Canada.

But if I recall, the first order was that there would be air support given to the South Koreans, the Republic of Korea troops; so there was plenty of time then to discuss what further action you would take, plenty of time to discuss it by Congress, I should think.

I am not trying to judge or to pass judgment on what happened. am merely saying that there arise occasions in the handling of anything that is as complicated as a great country such as ours in its relationships with other countries, that you can't always predict exactly how you will handle a thing.

We must, once in a while, trust to the judgment of humans and of people; that is why Government is so much dependent upon the people holding it.

I am merely trying to say in my statements, I am against violating the Constitution. Actually, this thing was so well debated, you know, when the Constitution was passed, that it is implicit, I think, in our whole document that the President must act against sudden unexpected aggression. They debated just exactly that point when they passed that provision that the Congress would declare war.

Q. William P. Flythe, Hearst Newspapers: Mr. President, could you say anything about the status of the negotiations with Russia on the joint development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I can't say anything about it because the conversations that are going on are still on very much of a private basis. I can't say anything.

Q. Ethel Payne, Defender Publications: Mr. President, Vice President Nixon said on his return from Asia that every act of racial discrimination or prejudice in the United States hurts America as much as an espionage agent who turns over a weapon to a foreign enemy. He added that every American citizen can contribute towards creating a better understanding of American ideas abroad by practicing and thinking tolerance and respect for human rights every day of the year. We know also that you have taken the firm stand along these same lines.

Do you not feel then, that the continuance on our statute books of the McCarran-Walter Act containing the national origins quota system, which discriminates against Asiatic people from southeastern Europe and from the West Indies, is harming our foreign policy, and will there be any proposal made to Congress on immigration which might alleviate these conditions?

THE PRESIDENT. As you know, you are bringing up a very broad, but it is a very vital question to us.

Now, there has not been brought to me from the State Department this act and its immediate and direct effect upon our relationships with other countries, so there have been no discussions between me and the State Department officials on the point.

I do say that I believe as we come closer and closer to living by the principles enunciated in our founding documents, our own situation abroad is going to be better, and that is the kind of thing for which I strive. I am not going to be a bull in a china shop and destroy things. I am working for things; that is what I am trying to say.

Q. Richard Harkness, National Broadcasting Company: If I may go back, sir, to the question raised by Mr. Folliard. Yesterday, Secretary of State Dulles said that he interpreted our NATO obligations and our obligations under our Latin-American pacts to retaliate in the event of an attack on one of our allies, and that there was no need for you to go to Congress for a declaration of war in such an event. On the other hand, thinking back, I discovered that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in approving the NATO pact in June 1949, this committee said that the treaty gave no authority to the Chief Executive that was not there in the absence of a treaty. Would you comment on Mr. Dulles' speech?

THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, I don't think, by any manner of means, Mr. Dulles meant his remarks to say that I would have the authority to declare war. But there is a difference between an act of war and declaring war--I mean an act of violence.

I come back again to the obvious right of self-protection, self-preservation, if you are attacked and you have notice. What would you do if you suddenly were facing a gigantic Pearl Harbor? This thing isn't academic. When you get into that extreme, you. are going to act, do whatever you think will save best the people of the United States, and would most quickly diminish the power of the other fellow to repeat it.

Now, this whole thing within hours has to be before the Congress. They have to act on this. After all, you can't carry on a war without Congress. They have to appropriate the money, provide the means, the laws, and everything else. So Congress would have to come in on an emergency basis, if they were absent; or if they were here they would start meeting at night quickly. Things would have to move at the most tremendous speed. But I believe there is a great gulf between what the President would do to protect the United States and an actual declaration of war.

Now, I could be mistaken, and I would not argue it. I would like to discuss it with Foster Dulles but, having talked to him, I am sure that we are absolutely in agreement as to what we mean about it.

Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: Mr. President, on this general subject there is another point involved. Mr. Dulles has outlined the policy of retaliation, and in some quarters that has been interpreted as meaning that if you have a local war or a local situation that the retaliation might be against Moscow or Peiping or some major point. Could you discuss that question of the local warlike situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Wilson, there is one thing I can tell you about war, and almost one only, and it is this: no war ever shows the characteristics that were expected; it is always different. What we are trying to say now is to express a generalization that would apply in an infinite variety of cases, under an infinite variety of provocations, and I just don't believe it is possible.

I think that what has got to be decided is how deeply is the safety and security of America involved.

We do know that there are weapons now in being that give more than ever to the attacker a tremendous advantage, the man who attacks by surprise. The element of surprise, always important in war, has been multiplied by the possibility of creating such widespread destruction quickly. Therefore, any President should be worse than impeached, he should be hanged, I should say, if he didn't do what all America would demand that he do to protect them in an emergency.

But when it comes to saying that where on the fringe or the periphery of our interests and of wherever we may be, that any kind of an act on the part of the enemy would justify that kind of thing, that I wouldn't hold with for a moment; I don't think anybody else would.

Q. Mr. Wilson: Well, the point has been made, sir, that the policy which Mr. Dulles outlined on January 12th would mean that we wouldn't take part in wars like the Korean War or the Indochinese War, but that if we did do anything to meet the threat of those local wars, it would be a direct attack upon the major aggressor at some point most desirable for us.

THE PRESIDENT. Well now, I will tell you: Foster Dulles, by no stretch of the imagination, ever meant to be so specific and exact in stating what we would do under different circumstances. He was showing the value to America to have a capability of doing certain things, what he believed that would be in the way of deterring an aggressor and preventing this dread possibility of war occurring.

So no man, I don't care how brilliant he is, would undertake to say exactly what we would do under all that variety of circumstances. That is just nonsense.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, I would like to get clear on one point. You are talking throughout here about the possibility of Presidential action in the case of an attack without going to Congress first?

THE PRESIDENT. I am talking about things you would have to do in 2 minutes, that is all.

Q. Martin S. Hayden, Detroit News: Mr. President, since our last press conference, a Senate committee has released certain documents in which they allege that your Secretary of the Army made threats against the Senate committee, and offered to turn in the Navy and the Air Force if he could get a favor from the committee. I wanted to ask you just this, sir: as the man responsible for the Executive, are you at all disturbed about these reports and these allegations against this man in your administration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, to say that a thing like that causes no concern to a Chief Executive would, of course, be ridiculous. After all, I have plead and plead for positive action to try to get our minds off these petty quarrels, negative results of calling each other names, and getting ahead with something that is good for the United States. I believe that with all my being, so every time that these things occur and upset people on the Hill and get them separated from the Executive, why, of course, it is serious.

Now, when you ask me whether I believe Secretary Stevens, of course I do. If I didn't believe him, if I didn't have faith and confidence in him, he wouldn't be where he is; of course I believe in him. I don't say he can't be mistaken, I should make that clear. I don't know, there may be something that he has been misinformed on; but so far as his integrity and honesty are concerned I stand by him.

Q. Kenneth M. Scheibel, Gannett News Service: Mr. President, a bill has been introduced in the House to change the St. Lawrence Seaway legislation which has been approved by the committee, substituting Federal funds and putting in private capital to finance that project. Could you give us the administration viewpoint on the use of private capital rather than Federal?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't quite--you say substituting Federal funds?

Q. Mr. Scheibel: Substituting private capital for Federal money.

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't seen the exact language of any amendment proposed, but I would say this: I stand behind the bill as it came out of committee; that is what I should like to see .enacted.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, there has been considerable speculation as to what the renewed fighting in Indochina means, and I wondered if, on the basis of any reports you have--well, some of the speculation goes along the lines that it is for the psychological effect on the Geneva conference; and others is that it means a renewal of Russian belligerency; and then there are some others. I wondered how you interpreted it.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no exact interpretation of those things, as none of us has. Strange and weird things are happening in this war.

There was a movement, a very strong movement, you know, to the south and southwestward. Now, the spearheads of that force moved back to around this town, whose name I can never pronounce, but it is probably at the tip of your tongue, all of you. I assume that this force, having made all of this move down there, has now decided to see if they can accomplish something that they would consider a very great victory, if they could really defeat this French force that is holding this citadel and town.

It wouldn't look like it was planned originally for that, because otherwise why waste all the time going on south. But they have come back. The fighting season, I believe, there will soon be drawing to a close because of the rains; so it looks to me like a battle just to try to overpower the French in that region.

It may be something else; I haven't asked really my G-2 boys to give me their interpretation of the movement.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, Congressman Rayburn and Congressman Cooper and Senator George undertook to answer you on taxes last night. I wonder if you would like to answer them on this point: they say the dividend features of this tax bill would give only 6 families out of every 1,000 great benefits, and 80 percent of the people would not be benefited by the bill, and that those with incomes less than $5,000 would really suffer.

THE PRESIDENT. U.S. Steel is probably taken as the example of big .business, owned by rich families.

There are 300,000 men working for U.S. Steel; there are 300,000 stockholders in U.S. Steel. Fifty-six percent of those stockholders are men who draw less than $5,000 a year in their total incomes. Of that number, I think there is a total of 46 percent below the $4,500 mark, which is the average wage of the steel earners.

There are more stockholders in U.S. Steel that are in the bracket $2,000 to $3,000 income than there are in any other thousand-dollar bracket in the whole list of stockholders.

Now, to say that the bill that we have designed and worked on all these months is designed to help rich people, is an error.

Q. Gould Lincoln, Washington Evening Star: Your speech on taxes has been interpreted in some quarters as meaning that you would veto the tax bill if it should contain the large exemptions proposed by some Congressmen. Would you tell us something about that?

THE PRESIDENT. As I have explained here before, it would be dangerous to say in advance what bills a President should veto and should not. As you know, the President does not have the power of the item veto; and he has to take the bill or reject it. I explained before, sometimes you have to take very unpleasant features along with an otherwise good bill. However, any bill that in my opinion is going to wreck us or put us in an impossible situation, then I have got to sit down with it and decide whether the bad features are more important than the good. That is about all I can say.

But I do say this: I notice some of the people that suddenly want to cut our income way down are the very people who just a very few months ago were saying "We will not increase the debt limit." Now, they must have some answer to that one.

Q. Milton B. Freudenheim, Akron Beacon Journal: Mr. President, yesterday you were visited by your Commission to sell the Government's synthetic rubber plants. I wondered if you have any comment on the progress of that effort?

THE PRESIDENT. Only that they think they are making real progress. I believe there is a date set, before long, when this particular phase of expiration and all that comes to an end, and then start long negotiations. I know they believe that they are making real progress.

Q. Robert J. Donovan, New York Herald Tribune: Sir, I had a question collateral to Mr. Hayden's on these investigations. There have been reports that all these embroilments have impaired morale in the Army and, particularly among officers. Have you had any reports, sir, on that; or, in your judgment, is that likely?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't had any specific reports on it, but I will tell you: I would suspect that inside their hearts a lot of people hurt. The Army, and all the rest of the services, are rightfully very proud of the kind of service they have rendered to the United States.

Now, when they find, sometimes rightly--well, as a matter of fact, it hurts more when it is rightly. When they are rightly criticized for the mistakes or errors or blunders of someone at the top of the services, they feel pretty low. When they are accused unjustly there is, I suppose you would say, a mixture of anger, resentment, and rather a great deal of sadness.

They are people who are not articulate; they are not around making speeches in commercial clubs and all that sort of thing. They are people to whom I think we all owe a lot, and we ought to stand up and very carefully differentiate against anyone we think may have made a mistake and may have made a blunder, and these great armed services.

There is a man for example, I see in the paper, who built a dog house. Well, he ought to live in it. I mean, he did it with Federal funds. [Laughter]

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post: Mr. President, I would like to go back to the matter of Secretary Dulles and the doctrine of "massive retaliation." As you told Mr. Wilson, you can't foresee the things you might do under varying circumstances. Perhaps we are confused, because we have been led to believe that Secretary Dulles had enunciated some new doctrine. Is it a new doctrine, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, no, not at all.

Q. Mr. Folliard: Then there is nothing new about that?

THE PRESIDENT. After all, let's remember this: the American sailors tried to fight back at Pearl Harbor, didn't they?

Q. Mr. Folliard: Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that was an act of war; it was an act of violence, at least. We would have been amazed had they not done it.

If you can imagine such things happening on a larger scale, who is the man who has to act quickly? The President of the United States, as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces; he has got to do something. But when it comes down to saying that merely because in some corner of the world our vital interests are hurt, we are going to decide in advance such great and extraordinary action that the Congress really has no way of backing up, that wouldn't be right.

Q. Mr. Folliard: Last week, Mr. President, you said you didn't particularly care for slogans, but we have had this, we have been heating now about the "new look," the "new look" in defense, "new look" in foreign policy; is it true, sir, would we be wise to assume that nothing new has happened in the matter of military--

THE PRESIDENT. Have you got 3 minutes to listen to a lecture?

Q. Mr. Folliard: Yes, sir. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. All right. "New look": now, what do we mean? We mean this: we are not fighting with muzzle-loaders in any of the services. Every single day things change in this world, and any staff or any group of leaders .doing his job is re-examining the world situation, the advances of science, the whole situation, geographic and otherwise, of our country and of others, to see what is it that we now need most to insure our security and our peaceful existence.

You cannot possibly say that the kind of a unit and organization that I took to war or took over across the Channel in 1944 would have any usefulness today whatsoever. For example, you will recall we landed on June 6; we got out of that narrow little beachhead on about July 25. All right; behind that we built up two artificial harbors and we were landing over the beaches. What would two atomic bombs have done to the whole thing?

So you just simply can't take, in warfare or in any contemplation of war or preparation for war, take old patterns and say that is by which we live.

All that the "new look" is is an attempt by intelligent people to keep abreast of the times; and if you want to call your today's clothes the "new look" as compared to what Lincoln wore, all right, we are in the "new look." But I just don't like this expression because it doesn't mean much to me.

I mean that we are striving our best to meet the grave responsibilities that are placed upon people whose job is to protect this country. Let me point out this: I hear people say "bigger army." Now, our most valued, our most costly asset is our young men. Let's don't use them any more than we have to.

For 40 years I was in that Army, and I did one thing: study how can you get an infantry platoon out of battle. The most terrible job in warfare is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you are on the battlefield.

If we can do anything to lessen that number--remember this: we are planning right now the greatest peacetime army we have ever held, one million men in time of peace.

What are we talking about? It is, I think, there is too much hysteria. You know, the world is suffering from a multiplicity of fears. We fear the men in the Kremlin, we fear what they will do to our friends around them; we are fearing what unwise investigators will do to us here at home as they try to combat subversion or bribery or deceit within. We fear depression, we fear the loss of jobs. All of these, with their impact on the human mind makes us act almost hysterically, and you find hysterical reactions.

We have got to look at each of those in its proper perspective, to understand what the whole sum total means. And remember this: the reason they are feared and bad is because there is a little element of truth in each, a little element of danger in each. That means that finally there is left a little residue that you can meet only by faith, a faith in the destiny of America; and that is what I believe is the answer.

This "new look"--the "new look" is just our effort to solve in one field, that of the direct military attack,_ to produce the best results we can for the protection of America. To call it revolutionary or to act like it is something that just suddenly dropped down on us like a cloud out of the heaven, is just not true, just not true.

Q. Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, may I ask a quick question, and that is, do you think the time will come when we will have a press conference in which events do not require us to ask a question about unwise investigators? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I will tell you, Mr. Drummond, coming over this morning I said to one of my associates, I said, "You know, if one name comes up I am going to ask permission whether we couldn't have one press conference without this particular subject coming up." [Laughter]

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Maine Newspapers: Mr. President, if you are able to talk to us at your next press conference about Mr. Cole and what he said on the hydrogen and atomic bombs, would you consider answering the question as to why we do not have planes which can deliver the hydrogen bomb from continental United States?

THE PRESIDENT. Of course, there are some of these questions that you had maybe get in the best engineers from Lockheed, and Consolidated and Boeing; ask those people, because there are certain limitations on every plane that is flying in the air today.

However, I will look into the thing and see how much has been put in the public domain. I am perfectly ready to try to place in such perspective as I can, out of my experience before this group, such facts as are already in the public domain. But let me make perfectly clear, I am not going to release anything here that hasn't been released before.

Q. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Des Moines Register and Tribune: Mr. President, has the White House given up in its effort to obtain the resignation of Colonel Johnson from the ICC?

THE PRESIDENT. What are you talking about? [Laughter] It is a question I know nothing about; I don't know the name; I don't know what you are talking about.

Q. Mr. Mollenhoff: Is it correct, Mr. President, that you don't know that Mr. Adams has had Mr. Johnson at the White House on a couple of occasions to discuss that?

THE PRESIDENT. I suppose there are 500 people a day going in that office that I know nothing about. I don't know what you are talking about, so I don't have any answer whatsoever.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, on this question of fears, I think I can detect in all the questions that have been asked you here about the war question, there is one fear that seems to be involved, and that is the possibility of our involvement in the Indochina war if our men who are over there are further attacked. I know this came up last week at the press conference.

THE PRESIDENT. And I gave my answer. You read it and you will find it is exact.

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

Note: President Eisenhower's thirty-first news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:31 to 11:02 o'clock on Wednesday morning, March 17, 1954. In attendance: 167.

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/233606

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