Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

December 02, 1954

THE PRESIDENT. Ladies and gentlemen, two or three points that I should like to mention before we start the question period:

Just a few minutes ago I was informed that the Vatican announced that the Pope is seriously ill. I have met him personally and not only liked him as a person, but have always admired his strong stand for peace, for liberty and freedom in the world, and his stand against communism. So I think that all of us would like to join and really and fervently hope that he will soon recover.

The Rio conference ends today, and while its beginnings were attended by some apparent misunderstandings, the results, in my opinion, will be very much to the good. It will further the good partnership policy which we have maintained with the American nations, and will make it easier for us to cooperate with them to our mutual advantage in the future.

We owe a very great deal to our Secretary of the Treasury, who is head of our delegation, and after he left, the same to the Under Secretary, Herbert Hoover, Jr.

This afternoon, the Secretary of State and Foreign Minister George Yeh will sign the treaty on behalf of America and the Republic of China concerning our mutual defense treaty.

I want to talk for just a moment, with your indulgence, about 13 American prisoners. And you cannot possibly talk about them in any isolated sense.

At the risk of boring you with some repetition, I repeat: the world is in an ideological struggle, and we are on one side and the Iron Curtain countries are on the other.

This struggle we now are in, we call the cold war. The great hope of mankind is that we can find methods and means of progressing a little bit, even if by little steps, toward a true or real peace, and that we do not go progressively toward war.

Now, on our side we must make certain that our efforts to promote peace are not interpreted as appeasement or any purchase of immediate favor at the cost of principle; but we must, on the other hand, be steady and refuse to be goaded into actions that would be unwise.

To fit this incident into the global picture, let me remind you these prisoners have been held by the Chinese for 2 years, so their selection of a time of announcement was, of course, a deliberate act. In fact, we find little evidence in all of the actions of the Communist States that indicates any haphazard actions on their part. Everything they do is deliberate and well thought out. I do not mean to say that everything in Russia is completely coordinated with everything that is happening in China. I do say that when one of these governments permits anything to happen or makes any announcement, it does it deliberately and with a deliberate purpose.

Now, if this is a deliberate attempt out there, as it appears to be, to goad us into some impulsive action in the hope of dividing us from our allies, breaking down and destroying all the work that has been going on over the past years to build up a true coalition of free governments, then it certainly makes a mockery of the softer tone that has been used in Russia towards Western Europe at times lately, even approaching the tone of blandishment.

We must not forget what the aims of communism have always been, announced by themselves: to divide the free world, to divide us among ourselves as the strongest nation of the free world, and by dividing to confuse and eventually to conquer, to attain through those means their announced aim of world domination.

For us there are two courses, and here I should like, in a way, to talk a little bit personally: in many ways the easy course for a President, for the administration, is to adopt a truculent, publicly bold, almost insulting attitude. A President experiences exactly the same resentments, the same anger, the same kind of sense of frustration almost, when things like this occur to other Americans, and his impulse is to lash out.

Now, I want to make quite clear that when one accepts the responsibilities of public office, he can no longer give expression freely to such things; he has got to think of the results.

That would be the easy way for this reason: those actions lead toward war. Now, let us think of war for a second. When this Nation goes to war, there occurs automatically a unification of our people. Traditionally, if we get into trouble that involves war, the Nation closes ranks behind the leader. The job to do becomes simply understood--it is to win the war. There is a real fervor developed throughout the Nation that you can feel everywhere you go. There is practically an exhilaration about the affair.

The great Lee said, "It is well that war is so horrible; if it were not so, we would grow too fond of it," because in the intellectual and spiritual contest of matching wits and getting along to see if you can win, there comes about something, an atmosphere is created, and an attitude is created to which I am not totally unfamiliar.

But, ladies and gentlemen, I have also had the job of writing letters of condolence by the hundreds, by the thousands, to bereaved mothers and to bereaved wives and others who have lost dear ones on the battlefield. That is a very sobering experience. It means that if we are going ever to take such a fateful decision as leads us one step toward war, let us, by no means, do it in response to our human emotions of anger and resentment; but let us do it after we have prayerfully considered it and found, as Wilson expressed it, "no other means of protecting our rights."

Let us recognize that we owe it to ourselves and to the world to explore every possible peaceable means of settling differences before we even think of such a thing as war.

The hard way is to have the courage to be patient, tirelessly to seek out every single avenue open to us in the hope even finally of leading the other side to a little better understanding of the honesty of our intentions. There is no question; they honestly, in certain instances, do question our intentions. They do not believe always, or at least universally, that we are peaceably inclined. We have got a job yet of our own to do--as well as to demand action from others--the courage and the patience to keep after this kind of thing.

Now, I just want to say one word about the idea of blockade. It is possible that a blockade is conceivable without war; I have never read of it historically.

A blockade is an act in war intended to bring your adversary to your way of thinking or to his knees. In fact, in the rules of war that were studied in my former life, were clearly established the conditions that must prevail before you could legally proclaim a blockade. You couldn't, even if you were a belligerent, merely say, "We blockade Antarctica," or any other country. You had to make the blockade effective, and you were not justified in stopping anyone's ship unless you had the means present at the spot to make that blockade effective, indicating that the word "blockade," is, so far as I know, an act of war, a part of war. I have not checked this idea with the constitutional lawyers, but I believe it to be true.

So far as I am concerned, if ever we come to a place that I feel that a step of war is necessary, it is going to be brought about not by any impulsive individualistic act of my own, but I am going before the Congress in the constitutional method set up in this country, and lay the problem before them with my recommendation as to whatever it may be.

In the meantime, I have got one thought that I must express: at least 11 of these soldiers, by the Communists own propaganda and testimony made public, were in uniform. They were soldiers captured in the Korean war. Consequently, they were to be treated as prisoners of war under the terms of the armistice.

Moreover, those men were there in conformity with obligations incurred under the United Nations, and were there, in fact, in accordance with the specific request and resolution of the United Nations.

How the United Nations can possibly disabuse itself of a feeling of responsibility in this matter and retain its self-respect, I wouldn't know; and so, I think that the United States does not stand alone. Merely indicating that we are yet far from exhausting all of our resources, I mention only one of those that is available to us.

So far as the honor of the United States is concerned, I merely hope that I shall not live long enough to find myself accused of being insensible to the honor of the United States and the safety of her men and soldiers, no matter where we send them.

Now, I am sorry I have taken up so much of your time with my talk. We will go to questions.

Q. Marvin Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, do you care to comment on the way the Senate vote is going thus far on the censure of Senator McCarthy issue?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no comment on that. This is a matter of the Senate, as I understand it, determining what is required in the preservation of the dignity of the Senate; and no one else is in it.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: There has been some speculation, sir, recently because of some of the actions on Capitol Hill that, before the Republican Convention in 1956, there might be a split within the Republican Party, with the so-called conservative members being unhappy about being hard on Communist infiltration, and the carrying out of the foreign policy. If such reports ever were given to you, sir, by people that you listen to, would it affect in any way your own strong drive towards a sound middle-of-the-road policy?

THE PRESIDENT. I see no connection between trying to be tough on communism and still being progressive.

Now, if anyone thinks I have got any love in my heart for the concept of communism--normally, I have been accused here of being too tough in my search and efforts to get out anybody that might be guilty of subversion or otherwise in our Government--I must say that on that point I hope again I don't have to defend myself.

I believe that a political party, to be a useful agency in this country for the promotion of the happiness of our people, must be a progressive, dynamic force; it must have a doctrine, a program, legislative and otherwise, that is moderate in its approach, avoiding extremes of right and left.

As I have told you before, I think it must be liberal when it is talking about the relationship between the Government and the individual; conservative when talking about the national economy and the individual's pocketbook.

That is my rough conception of progressivism, and I believe the Republican Party must be that or it won't be any force long in American life. I just don't believe that Americans, 163 [million] intelligent Americans, are going to be satisfied either with the action or with such a distinct trend toward centralization and paternalism in our Government that it becomes difficult to detect it from a socialistic form. So I don't care when this occurs; I am not talking about conventions, I am not thinking of such things. I am thinking merely of where does a great party like the Republican Party, what direction does it have to take, if it is going to be a useful agency for America.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Mr. President, Senator Knowland's opposition to the administration on several recent issues has been viewed in some quarters as a threat to Republican harmony in the new Congress, particularly in the Senate. Do you see any peril in the fact that the man chiefly charged with guiding the administration's program through the Senate is often in opposition to your own view?

THE PRESIDENT. I noticed that he said the other day, after reading Secretary Dulles' speech, that he thought the difference had been exaggerated.

I, as you know, have always acknowledged the right of any individual to differ from me, violently and persistently; but I would hope that the men with whom I have to work would not be differing greatly from me in the main issues in which we have to work, or it would be extremely difficult.

But, again, in the times that Senator Knowland and I have frequently discussed these matters, at that moment I have found little between us in the way of differences in philosophy in foreign policy, in domestic policy.

I note that he makes statements at times that do not conform to my approach, but they do normally affect method rather than principle.

Q. Carroll H. Kenworthy, United Press: Will you give us your views, sir, on Prime Minister Churchill's disclosure that as long ago as in 1945 he favored saving German arms to use them against Russia if it undertook to spread further across Europe?

THE PRESIDENT. I understand he explained the thing himself, and I guess I had better let that stand.

He made a statement, and then he got up and made another statement including, as I understand it, something of an apology for misinforming the House of Commons; so I think that answers the question itself.

Q. Frederick Kuh, Chicago Sun-Times: Mr. President, would you care to say what character, what type, of action you think the U.N. should take on behalf of the 13 prisoners?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I can't say because just as in a court or anything else, I don't prejudge the action; I don't know anything about it.

I just feel that the United Nations, as a body, to retain its self-respect, indeed in the future to handle a similar case as that which arose in the Korean war, that they now have a certain sense of responsibility they cannot escape.

Q. Joseph A. Loftus, New York Times: Mr. President, can you tell us the purpose of the meeting this morning of the Defense Mobilization Board?

THE PRESIDENT. It was a regular meeting in which I wanted to participate. I participated only in a few of them, and lately there have been questions that I had, and it was just easier to meet with the Board and discuss these questions directly than it was to have a report on them. There were a number of questions brought up, but all of a general nature.

Q. Ruth S. Montgomery, New York Daily News: Mr. President, can you tell us whether Chip Bohlen brought you any ray of hope from Russia concerning world peace?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Chip Bohlen is a very realistic person, and I don't think he would be one to go around spreading, let's say, false hopes. I will tell you what I will do: I just came from this conversation a little while ago, and I will check up with my people to see whether they consider this a confidential report or not. There wasn't anything of profound importance, but it might be that I was violating a confidence. If not, I will tell you next week about it.

Q. Joseph C. Harsch, Christian Science Monitor: Sir, is there anything in this case of the prisoners which is at all comparable to the case of the plane shot down over the Habomai Islands, where you said it was cloudy and there might have been a different feeling on their part about the merits than on ours? Or is this totally different?

THE PRESIDENT. Might be different--

Q. Mr. Harsch: In regard to the Habomai Island incident of the plane, you said the merits of the thing were clouded and that the opponent probably, perhaps, thought he had a right to do what he was doing; is this at all comparable or is it different?

THE PRESIDENT. No, not in my opinion, Mr. Harsch. In the Habomai Islands, you remember that the Supreme Commander out there established a dividing line for occupation, which allowed the Russians to come into those islands for occupational purposes.

Now, we have never recognized those islands as belonging to the Kuriles, and it was the Kuriles that the conference at Yalta yielded to Russia, not these Habomais which are just off the coast of Hokkaido. But nevertheless they moved in.

You will remember there have been numerous instances all around this great periphery; whenever any plane approaches within a certain distance, there is trouble. You remember last year, or maybe it was 2 years ago, two Swedish planes were shot down; we had a Navy plane once in the Baltic Sea; and we had that trouble with the British ship that would seem to be a perfectly flagrant case--you know, the British fleet that was flying up from Hanoy, or somewhere down there, into Hong Kong. So they are very sensitive, and respond to any such thing very quickly, particularly in areas that they claim; and they do claim those islands, although we don't admit it.

But this last case to my mind, with respect to the 11 uniformed soldiers, was completely indefensible, and they should be home right now.

Q. Frank van der Linden, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer: Mr. President, I have a request from Charlotte to ask you if this bill you signed yesterday regarding the reduction in the number of Government vehicles is based on the measure which was sponsored by your friend, Congressman Charles Jonas? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I forget the exact language of his bill, but you do remember the old saw, "He is a great man, he thinks like I do." [Laughter] So if he was for it, why then I, of course, must consider him a very great man and give him full credit for his idea. [Laughter] [Confers with Mr. Hagerty]

Mr. Hagerty tells me something I didn't know, that the legislation actually asked the Executive to take action; so, in that sense, it is the inspiration for the order of yesterday.

Q. Harry Flannery, Mutual Broadcasting System: Mr. President, do we intend to take up the matter of the 13 prisoners in the United Nations or is it our position that some other nation would preferably bring that up?

THE PRESIDENT. That will be up to the State Department entirely, how they do it; the actual manner of doing that, you would have to ask the Secretary of State.

Q. Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, some have recently advocated that the United States should break diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. I would like to ask if you think such an action would be useful at this time?

THE PRESIDENT. Well I will tell you, frankly, no, I don't. To. give you the full reasons again would be a bit of repetition of the story I have given you before. And I say, taking any specific action, I don't believe it can be considered alone; it can't be considered only in its effect in one area, but its effect throughout the world.

Let us remember--you will have to forgive me for adding this one thought--ever since about '46, certainly ever since the beginning of the Marshall Plan, one of the great objectives of Communist propaganda has been to break up, destroy, prevent, any type of growing union and strength in Western Europe.

We know, of course, that Western Europe is a great prize toward which they have turned their eyes a long time. It is a region that has 22 millions of skilled workers; it is a region of great productive capacity, and added to the present Communist capacity would constitute a threat in the world that would be almost insupportable.

Now, what happens? Every time anything happens over there, there's all sorts of trouble created in the world. They try blandishment, mixed with threats on the Western nations. First of all, they offer a conference. Then they have a conference of their own, they organize a general staff and a joint staff, and they say that the most dire consequences will first of all follow along the formation of NATO, then EDC. Unfortunately, we fell down on EDC. The Western nations were expedient enough, resourceful enough, that they came up with a new Solution, and this is all started over again.

Now, all of these things are directed towards this one thing; and I believe that, rather than just breaking off relations and saying, "We are going to ignore that you exist," the thing we must do is to give our attention to the positive business of building up strength among ourselves. Above all, I am one of those that believe that as long as we are strong, as long as we look to our own arms, to our own readiness, to our own mobilization capacity, and build up our nations in that, then we can afford to be more patient than could weaker nations.

I believe that we must constantly increase our strength, to reason and talk to these people from a position of strength, and try to achieve that thing that is so often called modus vivendi; I don't know of any brighter hope that there is on the horizon today. But I don't believe that this is going to be advanced merely by pretending they don't exist.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, I hope we may be authorized to quote that statement you made at the outset, the general philosophy about the world situation.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if you will give me my usual privilege of having Mr. Hagerty look it over and see how many grammatical errors I made in an off-the-cuff talk, if it looks all right to him, why, he could release it.

Q. Mr. Folliard: Now, Mr. President, I would like to ask a purely local question, if you don't mind, that my paper is interested in. William Zeckendorf has said that you are much interested in the plan to redevelop the southwest section of Washington--that is what they call a blighted area. Would you care to comment on the prospect for a face-lifting of that southwest area?

THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, I don't know what the prospects are, Mr. Folliard, right now, but I do know this: Mr. Zeckendorf came in one day, and I listened, I think, for a half hour to his layout with drawings, architect drawings, and plans. It made of that section, which is now called a blighted area, just a perfectly beautiful addition to this city.

No one despises and hates slums more than I do, and believes they should be gotten rid of; and this plan looked to me a good one.

He came to see me because there would be a certain Federal connection; the Federal Government would have to lease buildings that they would build for a certain number of years.

Q. John M. Hightower, Associated Press: Is there anything you can say, sir, about the status of the other 2 men, in addition to the 11 men who were in uniform?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is cloudy, and I couldn't discuss it in detail.

Q. Sarah McClendon, San Antonio Light: Sir, there are so many men leaving the Air Force now, men who are trained in mechanics and radar, going into private industry, and they say we are going to have to spend billions in the next 3 years to retrain new men to take their places. I wonder if you plan any legislation to seek in Congress that would correct these conditions and help the men to stay in the Air Force?

THE PRESIDENT. You are getting to a subject very close to my heart, I will tell you. I have lived with the services and with their esprit, their rights, for a great many years.

I don't believe that soldiers, sailors, or airmen and marines go into the service for a career just for money. Naturally, they like to be respected; but, above all things, they like to know that while they are doing the jobs to which they are ordered, and with no request or any initiative on their own part, that their families are properly taken care of. They like to know that they are living in respectable houses, that they are respected citizens of the community.

I believe that if we provide the proper medical care for the dependents of all these trained career people you are talking about, if we give them decent housing, if we stop moving them every other day so that they never have a chance to establish a home life, if we make some allowances for the leave privileges they should have and which they so often have to use up just in going from station to station, to take their goods with them--if we do a number of things like that, the increase in pay, while I think there should be probably a slight raise, I think that is nominal compared to these other things. Above all, residual rights for their widows and their dependents and their retirement--today I believe this to be a fact: if a captain of the Regulars is killed in action, I think his widow gets, let's say, $30 to $40 a month; is that about right?

Mr. Hagerty: That is right.

THE PRESIDENT. If he is Reserve, she gets $500. Now, I may be wrong; don't quote me exactly. But that is the kind of thing that must be corrected, and you won't have any trouble with the morale and the career people, I am sure of it.

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

Note: President Eisenhower's fifty-fourth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 2:32 to 3:06 o'clock on Thursday afternoon, December 2, 1594. In attendance: 141.

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/233392

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