Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

December 16, 1953

THE PRESIDENT. The items I have this morning, ladies and gentlemen, are, I think, fairly short, and possibly of not too great importance.

I would like to make mention of the Vice President's return and, particularly, of the very splendid reports that I got, both from the press and official circles in each country that he visited. He and Mrs. Nixon represented our country on such a visit, I think, in an admirable fashion.

I haven't asked him whether he intends--it just occurred to me this second--whether he intends to prepare a report on his trip in the fashion that my brother did after coming back from South America. If he does, I suppose that it will become available to you at an appropriate time.

As you know, starting tomorrow morning, we are having a series of conferences lasting over 3 days, having here the legislative leaders to go over with the executive officials the features of the program that will be submitted to the Congress very early in January.

Now, the purpose of such a program is to have an exchange of views on all important problems; to lay out in front of these people, who have been busy on other affairs, the essential results of the staff work that has been done in gathering information and making analyses, and so on; and to secure a general meeting of the minds with respect to such a program before it is presented to the Congress. In other words, it is merely, as we see it, a pursuance of the procedures that must be observed if our kind of government is to operate successfully.

As most of you know, we will have the traditional Christmas tree lighting on the afternoon of the 24th. I shall make a very short talk, part of it inside, and then go out to light the Christmas tree. The next day, I hope to take off for Georgia, where I hope to combine several things; but unfortunately this time I have to take more than the average amount of work with me because, as you know, January is going to be a very busy month. I have two or three messages to work on, and it will be a pretty tough time.

I am concerned that every time--and this is not off the record, but I would like to make a word of explanation--I am concerned with every time the President moves, a number of people whose jobs require them to go along, including a number of the people here present. I must say that it seems to me unfortunate, the only days I can find to get away, and get away from some of the pressures of the appointment card in order to work, that it discommodes some of you during that period. For that I am sorry, but I don't see any real answer to it.

Apparently it is your job to go along, some of you, and if I discommode you, I apologize in advance. But I do tell you this: I have no idea of conducting any political conferences or meeting anybody or doing anything but go to a quiet place to do some work with my own staff, my own people, to see my grandchildren, and to get a bit of exercise which is now beginning to be 2 or 3 weeks behind me. So that is the story of my going away.

Now, I think that I have consumed enough of the time here, and we will start the questions.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, are you prepared to ask Congress next year for changes in the atomic energy law which would permit sharing of our weapons and atomic materials with the NATO forces?

THE PRESIDENT. There are certain changes in the law that are necessary before America can realize the full value with its allies out of the development that has been going on since the World War in this weapons field.

Now, there are no changes contemplated by me or by the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission that have anything to do with the scientific processes of nuclear fission or building of weapons or anything else. But where we are attempting to assure the integrity of a line, where we feel that our interest requires to hold it, it is simply foolish for us to think that we cannot or must not share some kind of information with our allies who would be dependent upon the same kind of support of this kind as we will.

In other words, it is a very limited field, but certain revisions of the law are necessary before we can do anything. You must remember that the law was passed under conditions that are not even remotely resembling what they are now.

Q. Paul R. Leach, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, as I understand it--and, perhaps, I am wrong on this--but it would seem to me that what you proposed in your speech at the United Nations was not merely to share with our allies but with other friendly or even neutral nations; is that correct ?

THE PRESIDENT. This is what I stated: that the United States would be prepared to donate a decent proportion of its products in this line with others, in which I said the Soviet Union would have to be one under that plan, and that the United Nations would assemble certain scientists--in which, of course, we would have a part--in order to evolve the best ways in which new developments could be made available to humanity.

A little slant on this idea, is this: today, every time you say the word "atomic," we think only in terms of weapons and destructiveness, and we think principally in terms of two nations. I think all countries, all peoples, ought to have their minds drawn to the fact that here in this development may be, and certainly will be, if we study it hard enough and work on it hard enough, a means of improving the lot of all humanity.

Now, frankly, that is what I am trying to get all people to understand.

Q. Alan S. Emory, Watertown (N.Y.) Times: Mr. President, Governor Dewey told us last Friday that he had laid out the facts of the State's case on Niagara power redevelopment in his conference with you. I wonder if you would tell us if he did a good selling job?

THE PRESIDENT. He merely laid out to me what he was-going to go and place before the people that have the responsibility in this regard.

As you will recall, in the case of the Niagara River, Congress reserved to itself at that time the power to make the decision as to the method by which that power would be developed.

He merely described to me what New York's position was in the thing and what he was going to do.

He didn't apparently attempt to sell me anything; he just told me some facts he was going to tell someone else.

Q. Marietta Dake, Niagara Falls Gazette: Mr. President, if it were up to you, do you favor the development of the Niagara River by the Federal authority, the State authority, or private enterprise?

THE PRESIDENT. I just remarked that Congress reserved this to itself. I don't believe I will comment on it in detail except to say this: I have always believed that States have a very great power of decision in these cases as to what they want to do.

Now, in rivers and water lines and other things that involve all the United States, the Federal Government cannot dodge, and should not try to dodge, its share of the responsibility, its partnership in the case.

Here, where you have a river that I believe is wholly within New York State, I should say that New York State ought to have a very great influential part to say; but I am not going to be here and say Congress hasn't a right to do it exactly as it said it was going to do it.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Mr. President, in answering Mr. Smith's question about sharing atomic matters with the NATO allies, I think you referred to the possibility of sharing information. However, some of the stories from Paris on Secretary Wilson's speech imply an actual sharing of weapons or our putting atomic weapons in the hands of our NATO allies. Is that a correct interpretation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I wouldn't stand here and just, with an offhand decision, tell you exactly what we would have to do in the long run.

I think it would depend entirely upon circumstances.

After war started, if you ever had that tragic eventuality, you would use atomic weapons through whatever means that would best advance the interests of the United States. Just like any other weapon, then, I should think that if someone else could in a particular place use it better, more advantageously, well, probably you would make it

Q. Mr. Roberts: Is it correct, then, sir, to infer that there has been no decision by the administration as of today to have any such sharing plan?

THE PRESIDENT. There is going to be no decision until Congress passes on this. Every move that we make in talking and studying this, we take this up with the proper--you know, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in the Congress; and until Congress passes the law, I will assure you we are not going to violate the law.

Now, I will just tell you, there are many, many ways in which this can be done; but the principle for the United States is, what best advances the enlightened self-interest of the United States? That is what will be the principle that will guide me in any decision I have to make.

Q. Mr. Roberts: Sir, it is perhaps not clear. I meant to say decision by the executive branch to ask the Congress for a change which would allow a sharing of the actual weapons with the allies.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't believe that you could answer any question in that sweeping way. I would say it depends upon the circumstances and what will best meet the needs of the military situation at the moment and at the time.

Now, if that becomes necessary, why, I would see no reason why you shouldn't do it in whatever way would best advance the interests of the United States.

Q. Nat S. Finney, Buffalo Evening News: You will forgive a somewhat elaborate question. You said in your speech that atomic power is here now today?

THE PRESIDENT. That is right.

Q. Mr. Finney: I believe the Atomic Energy Act contains a section which requires in the event of such a development that a special report be made to you, and I think by you to the Congress on the political, social, economic, and international implications of this development. Do you plan to have such a report made?

THE PRESIDENT. Of course, such a report would be made first by the Atomic Energy Commission, who would certainly give it to me.

When I said here now today, as you know, we have produced an engine that is run by atomic power; I pointed out that is a capability and not yet a useful thing for all the world because it is too expensive to run it, just in terms of money.

If you want to get electric power from this kind of a thing, you have to get it within the range that it is an economic practicability.

Now, all of those things you talk about, I suppose, will come about. Frankly, you bring up a detail of responsibility on me I didn't know about; I will have to look them up.

Q. Frederick Kuh, Chicago Sun-Times: On the same subject, Mr. President, is it your intention or hope that whatever happens the proposals for a pool of fissionable materials should be worked out among the non-Communist countries?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I made a proposal in good faith; I was very serious about it. It had been talked over really for many weeks with all of my chief advisers and with legislative people that have responsibility in this field.

Until we see where that proposal is leading, I don't believe I will speculate on what would be the next step.

As you know, or I hope you know, I never believed in admitting defeat, and even a rejection of this offer would not stop me from seeking every possible way we can to make the best possible use out of this scientific development.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, aside from the point you raised in the U.N. speech, would you review for us what you think were the principal accomplishments at Bermuda?

THE PRESIDENT. That is an odd thing. I twice before this body said we were going to have a friendly talk. There was no agenda. Frankly, I didn't see any need for a--what do you call them?--final communique, because we met to have a friendly talk. But apparently there was some belief among--maybe among some of you people--that there was going to be something happening and, therefore, you wanted to know about it.

There were friendly talks took place to try to clarify our several positions on a number of problems. That was the accomplishment. From my viewpoint, it was worth while; although I must say I doubt that it was newsworthy.

Q. John C. O'Brien, Philadelphia Inquirer: Mr. President, I hesitate to interrupt this discussion of atomic energy, but I have been asked to ask you a question involving the mechanics of newspaper production. For the guidance of our headline writers, do you object to the use of your nickname in headlines? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, no, of course I don't. All my life I have answered to that nickname, and I realize that individuals have their own ideas of the customs that should be applied to an office such as that one I now hold. I would say that everybody's sense of the fitness of things and of good taste is the deciding factor.

So far as I am concerned, it makes not the slightest difference, not the slightest difference.

Q. G. Gould Lincoln, Washington Evening Star: Mr. President, has any part of the program that you are to discuss been written--I mean, with the legislators--and if not, will any part of the program be written at these conferences that you are to have at the White House?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not so certain that I understand your question, but here is the point: we have been working for quite a while on the State of the Union speech, which I am going to work harder on probably next week. That, in its broad outlines, will contain the objectives and the means of the program.

Now, at the same time in each department there has been going forward the most intensive study: in Treasury, on taxes; in Mrs. Hobby's department, on every kind of thing from old-age insurance; and in the Department of Labor, on unemployment insurance; in Cole's agency, on housing. So the thing has been going on; because this program can't be all in one short, nice, handy document of one page that I like.

It will be, first, a message; and then there will be supporting documents like the budget itself, and you know how thick that is. That will be a tremendous supporting document in this program.

So it is perfectly correct to say that much has been written, but nothing except in principle has been completely finalized; the principles by which we are going to act, you will find largely in the Republican platform.

This administration is one that believes in keeping its promises, and we are going to try to do it in every way we can.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Sir, could you tell us anything about your instructions to Mr. Bohlen upon your atomic energy idea, and say anything about the reaction of Mr. Molotov to his visit?

THE PRESIDENT. The instructions to Mr. Bohlen went through the Secretary of State. I do not know whether the Secretary of State has talked about this or not--it never occurred to me--and I don't know this minute whether this would be sort of a privileged communication. But he was told to notify the Soviet Foreign Office in advance that such a talk was to be made, and to be made with the most serious purpose in the world.

Now, reactions, as you know, are slow, and they are coming along. We haven't had a final reaction, as far as I know.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Mr. President, the El Paso Valley Cotton Association says that tomorrow, when you meet with Republican leaders, you will take up the question of increasing the minimum wage. Will you tell us if they have the correct information or if you plan to propose that?

THE PRESIDENT. I am going to talk about no details of the program that is coming up.

Q. Pat Munroe, Albuquerque Journal: Mr. President, my question concerns the embattled War Claims Commission. I noticed with interest that one of the two members that was ousted says that she regrets that the Commission is now falling into political hands. But I wondered if you had any specific changes in mind there other than the removal of the top personnel, any specific changes in mind with, for example, the paying of Korean POW's or whether you would extend the life of the Commission?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have nothing to say on the thing at the moment. Actually, it is something that has been discussed over a period of months, and it was presented to me that certain changes were necessary. Finally, they came up with the recommendations for those changes, and they were made.

Now, I have no detailed study before me that I know of--or haven't had; I may be mistaken, and I don't want to be, because over the past many months things have happened I wouldn't recall on the spur of the moment. But so far as I can recall, there has been no specific recommendation for a complete change of direction or for termination of this Commission.

Q. Frederic W. Collins, Providence Journal: Mr. President, I wonder whether you would fill us in on the origin and development of the central ideas you did propose at the U.N., and how far back they go, where they started, and so forth.

THE PRESIDENT. You know, I would if I could. I have been interested ever since the war in reading many documents about the developments of that war, as to who first thought of such and such an attack or who first thought of this or that or the other.

So far as I know and as I can recall--and I am certainly not going to swear as to the truth of this--I think that I originated the idea of a joint contribution to a central bank in an effort to get all people started on thinking in different terms about this whole business of atomic energy, and under such a way that inspection was not automatically required and, therefore, gave the other side an automatic reason for rejecting it before you got started.

I hoped it would open up many lines of study, and I still hope so.

As far as I can recall now, from that first germ there have been many, many people contributing to this thing; we have had many serious discussions about it.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post: Mr. President, you have told us that 1,456 persons have been separated from the Government service under the security program. I wonder if it would be possible, at least in the near future, to give us a breakdown on this figure; that is, tell us how many of these people were separated for heavy drinking, how many for morals, how many, if any, for outright spying, how many for Communist association or affiliation? Naturally, I wouldn't expect the names, only figures or percentages.

THE PRESIDENT. I would very much doubt it. While I have not talked in detail about this thing--and I don't mean to say that I am incapable of changing my mind; I, of course, could-but you see, numbers of these people that come up, they are not charged with just one idea.

We are talking about security risks: if a man has done certain things that you know make him, well, a security risk in delicate positions--and I don't care what they are--where he is subject to a bit of blackmail or weakness of, let's say, being non compos mentis for a little while, anything of that kind can enter into it; although you may be looking toward the fact that he possibly could become a subversive under those reasons.

I think it would be very difficult and, therefore, I would say my answer would be, generally speaking, no, I could not give a breakdown. But I would not, by any manner of means, hesitate to talk about it with my own people.

Q. Mr. Folliard: The reason I ask, Mr. President, is that there is a widespread opinion, I am told, that all 1,456 are spies or suspected spies. Now, I am sure you never meant to give that impression.

THE PRESIDENT. No. We made it very clear, if they will go back and look at the original directive, we said the word "loyalty" didn't really describe what you were trying to do.

In the Federal Government you are trying to get the finest people you can, and if they become security risks, you have to discharge them because they are not good security risks; but that doesn't always impugn their loyalty, not by any manner of means.

Q. Mr. Folliard: Without going into any figures, Mr. President, are you in a position to say that these people are not all suspected spies or potential spies or--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the word "potential" covers so many things, Mr. Folliard, that I wouldn't--I would say this: they are discharged for a number of reasons, and not all of them had the word "subversion" or "disloyal." They were poor security risks, and I think there is a very clear distinction.

Q. Alice A. Dunnigan, Associated Negro Press: Mr. President, I was wondering whether you could tell us whether the legislative conference will this week discuss any civil fights legislation?

THE PRESIDENT. Civil rights legislation?

Q. Miss Dunnigan: In the legislative conferences.

THE PRESIDENT. As I remarked, I am not going to talk about the details of this program. But civil rights legislation, identified as such, I doubt will come up.

There will be many things, I hope, will be affecting the people of the United States as a whole, but I am sure that there is nothing that could be identified just as civil rights legislation.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Mr. President, the Secretary of State startled some of our NATO allies by his blunt warning that we may be forced to reappraise our troop commitments in Europe unless the European army comes into being. Do you fully support his statements in that regard?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, I didn't read his statement; but, ladies and gentlemen, the law of our land--read the Richards amendment--what can the Secretary of State say? The law of our land says that 50 percent of this year's appropriation--I believe, starting January 1st, isn't it--50 percent of the appropriation must be given out through EDC. If EDC is not produced, what do we do?

I am a little bit astonished that anyone should take this as something new and, particularly, blunt; but it is just one of the things that the Richards amendment requires of us.

Now, I understand, of course, that he has repeated many things in which most of us believe, that a greater unification of Europe, politically, economically, militarily, will greatly add to the safety of the Western World. We are for it. I don't know exactly what words he used, but I must say that the facts I have just recited are plain for all to see; the facts of the case are there.1

1 On December 23 the White House released the following statement:

At today's meeting of the National Security Council, the President received with satisfaction the report on NATO made by Mr. Dulles, Mr. Humphrey, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Stassen, who attended the Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris. They reported that NATO is functioning efficiently, and is continuing to develop the strength and cohesion needed to provide security on a long-term collective basis.

The President was informed concerning the prospects of bringing into being the European Defense Community, a matter which has long been of deep concern to him. He considers this the only practical proposal for ending permanently the recurrent strife between France and Germany, provoked twice in our own generation by German militarism, and of creating a solid core at the center of the NATO structure. The President shares the view which had been expressed to the Council by Secretary Dulles, that failure soon to consummate the EDC would confront the United States with the necessity of reappraising its basic policies as regards Europe.

The President also was informed of the operations of the European Coal and Steel Community which has already brought together, in limited unity, the six nations which are prospective members of the European Defense and Political Communities. He was encouraged that the Coal and Steel Community is now in effective operation, and reaffirms his hope that ways might be found to enable the United States to assist, on a loan basis, in modernizing and developing the natural resources within the jurisdiction of this Community, in accordance with his letter of June 15 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Q. Anthony H. Leviero, New York Times: Mr. President, there have been reports recently that executive branch agencies are handing confidential personnel files to congressional committees. Is there any truth to that, do you know?

THE PRESIDENT. You mean FBI confidential files?

Q. Mr. Leviero: No, sir; personnel files having to do with security and loyalty.

THE PRESIDENT. You ask me a question I have never heard of before. If any such thing is being done--I believe it has been the practice for a long time to give certain summaries of information, but as far as I know, no confidential personnel files are going out of the proper repositories. I would have to ask, and you would have to go to the department where you believe it is being done, and just ask the Secretary because I haven't heard of it.

Q. Mr. Leviero: Well, sir, under the practice followed under the order of your predecessor, any department doing that would have to clear with the White House. I wonder if any of that has been done?

THE PRESIDENT. I will say this, nothing has been cleared with me personally that I can recall. Look, ladies and gentlemen, let us have one thing straight. In a job such as this, all of you realize there has got to be a terrific amount of decentralization, and any man worthy to be a chief of a great organizational body must do two or three things: one of them, pick the people he trusts; two, delegate authority and responsibility to them; and three, back them up and, particularly, take responsibility for any failure or any blunder that occurs.

Now, some of these people can be doing things which I know they wouldn't bother me with; so I am not going to say nothing like this has been done. I merely say that something like this I don't know about.

I am perfectly ready to have Mr. Hagerty ask about it, see if he can find out. So far as I know, nothing has happened.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, you said awhile back that reaction to your U.N. speech had been slow in coming. Has there been any official reaction, any Soviet reaction at all, that has come to your attention, beyond what has been in the papers?

THE PRESIDENT. Nothing except what has been reported in the papers.

Now, I should have added, from all other countries that I know of, including from the Ambassadors who have come to dinner lately, reaction has been fervent, and I would say very favorable. I was talking, when I meant a reaction, I thought someone asked a question that implied Soviet reaction. That we are still waiting for.

Q. Charles L. Bartlett, Chattanooga Times: Mr. President, these legislative proposals, will they go to the congressional leaders as more or less firm and final recommendations or will they be subject to modification according to the discussions that follow during the next 3 days?

THE PRESIDENT. They will certainly be subject to modification in detail; that was one reason for having these things.

As far as principle is concerned, the purpose, the plan of carrying out a great program, that has been developed and it is my responsibility to present it to them. I know it, and I suppose everybody knows it in the United States.

But when it comes to details, let's say, of a particular tax or a particular expenditure or a particular operation in any field, why, of course, it is subject to modifications of that character. That is one of the reasons for having such a meeting.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, New England papers: Mr. President, General Dean has said that perhaps our young soldiers would be better able to withstand captivity by the enemy if they had had discipline all their lives early; that he was dismayed by some of the juvenile delinquency in this country. Now, you have been a general, you are a President and a father and a grandfather. Would you say something about this problem of juvenile delinquency?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't like to use the words "juvenile delinquency" because I have a very firm conviction that that term ought to be translated into parental failure; that is what I think.

Now, I think every single man that has had to bear responsibilities in war, responsibilities for employing America's youth to win a victory, has been appalled frequently at the lack of understanding on the part of America's youth as to what America is, what are the conditions that could make her fight, and therefore what are the great underlying reasons that could lead that boy finally to the battlefield to risk his life, not just for property, not just for even what you might call national rights, but for some fundamental values in life. When you are trying to get a division ready for battle, and when a commander finds the need to go out and to try to start from the beginning to give this boy a fundamental reason why he is in uniform, it is pretty discouraging.

I didn't read General Dean's statement, I don't know what he said; but I do say that, after all, the young are America; they are the America of today and, certainly, the America of the future. It is our responsibility to try to see that they are given the understanding we think we inherited from our forefathers, our traditions, given to them in a serious, understanding way that while they are having their fun and enjoyment in life that they should have, they really are getting an understanding of America. That is what I think.

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

Note: President Eisenhower's twenty-third news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:31 to 11:05 o'clock on Wednesday morning, December 16, 1953. In attendance: 161.

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/232571

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