Harry S. Truman photo

The President's News Conference

May 17, 1951

THE PRESIDENT. I have no announcements to make. I will try to answer questions, however.

[1.] Q. Mr. President, what do you think of the House action in overriding your veto of the real estate bill?1

THE PRESIDENT. Didn't know about it. Hasn't got to me yet.

1 The veto was later sustained by the Senate. See Item 105.

Q. The vote was 312 to 68.

THE PRESIDENT. I will have to investigate it, and see on what basis they did it, before I can comment on it.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, there has been a persistent story among Democratic Senators up on the Hill, that far from having thought up the idea of dismissing General MacArthur, as some Republicans charge, Secretary Acheson actually at first opposed it when it was mentioned. Would you comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Secretary Acheson, at the conference which I called on the subject, the first time, advised caution. After the whole thing was thoroughly discussed between the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Acheson, General Bradley, and Mr. Harriman, they all came to the conclusion that the action had to be taken. I had made up my mind before I had consulted them, but I wanted to hear what they had to say.

Q. Mr. President, you had your mind made up at the time of the Martin letter? 2

THE PRESIDENT. My mind was made up at the time of the ultimatum to the Chinese Communist commander.

2The letter, dated March 20, 1951, was sent by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to Representative Joseph W. Martin, Jr., of Massachusetts. It stated, in part, that "if we lose the war to communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable, win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom. As you point out, we must win. There is no substitute for victory." The full text of the letter is printed in the Congressional Record (vol. 97, p. 3380).

Q. Even before the Martin letter?


Q. I am sorry, sir, did you say that--

THE PRESIDENT. I said my mind was made up when the ultimatum was sent by General MacArthur to the Chinese commander.

Q. Mr. President, that meeting you speak of, was that April, I think--

THE PRESIDENT. Yes--April 6th.

Q. That meeting was where--

THE PRESIDENT. On Friday--Friday morning.

Q.--where Secretary Acheson first advised caution ?


Q. Mr. President, your mind was made up as to what, sir, to--

THE PRESIDENT. That I needed a new general in the Far East.

Q. Mr. President, could you say why that ultimatum brought you to that decision?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that was pretty thoroughly explained by General Marshall in his testimony. He stated the facts.

Q. Mr. President, just--do you recall that date?


Q. I mean of the ultimatum?

Q. March 24th.

THE PRESIDENT. March 24th, yes. It was March 20. March do, wasn't it?

Q. It was March 24th.

THE PRESIDENT. It was before the Martin letter.

Mr. Short: We will look it up, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Joe says he will look it up, the exact date. 3

3 General MacArthur's statement on Korea, dated March 24, 1951, said in part, "The enemy therefore must by now be painfully aware that a decision of the United Nations to depart from its tolerant effort to contain the war to the area of Korea through expansion of our military operations to his coastal areas and interior bases would doom Red China to the risk of imminent military collapse.

"These basic facts being established, there should be no insuperable difficulty arriving at decisions on the Korean problem if the issues are resolved on their own merits without being burdened by extraneous matters not directly related to Korea, such as Formosa and China's seat in the United Nations."

The text of the statement was released by the White House on April 11, 1951, at the same time that General MacArthur was relieved of his Far East command. See also Item 77.

With respect to the use of the word "ultimatum" in connection with the March 24 statement, see Memoirs by Harry S. Truman, volume 2, page 442.

Q. Mr. President, just to get that straight, do you mean, sir, that even if General MacArthur had not written the letter to Mr. Martin, that you would have placed a new general in command in the Far East?

THE PRESIDENT. That is just what I mean. That Martin letter just added fuel to the fire, which had been going on for about a year. I made a 14,400 mile trip on my own steam, in order to talk to him and try to get an understanding. And I thought I had it; as I told you gentlemen when I came back here.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, this is rather a local question. What are the prospects for funds for channelization of the Rio Grande? I think you discussed this with the New Mexico and Texas Senators'--

THE PRESIDENT. They are not very good right at this minute.

Q. Mr. President, has the Bureau of the Budget given you a recommendation on that project?

THE PRESIDENT. The Bureau of the Budget has the thing under advisement, as has the Secretary of the Interior; and they are going to discuss the matter further with me.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, I would like to get one more piece on this--in the case of the MacArthur letter to Martin, is that what determined the timing of your action?


Q. Could you tell us, sir, whether you had taken any action between the ultimatum statement and the Martin letter ?

THE PRESIDENT. I had been carefully studying the situation over, and reviewing the facts for the past year. I hadn't discussed it with anybody.

Q. Mr. President, if I may pursue that just once more--

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, go ahead.

Q.--in your statement explaining why General MacArthur was relieved,4 you said that General MacArthur did not--was unable to give wholehearted support to the--let's see--Government's policy?

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct.

4 See Item 77.

Q. Then, I take it that this ultimatum indicated to you that he was unable to give wholehearted support ?

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct--that is absolutely correct.

Q. Mr. President, I understood you to say that you had been studying this for a year. Had you been considering relieving him about 12 months ago ?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. On several occasions, particularly one in that--the incident of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in August. 5

5 See 1950 volume, this series, Item 226.

I didn't want to relieve him. I sent a message to Congress as soon as World War II ceased, and asked the Congress to make all five-star generals and five-star admirals, admirals of the fleet and generals of the army for life, on full pay and emoluments with a secretary and an orderly, for the rest of their lives. And naturally, I didn't want to do anything that would in any way injure the standing of those admirals and generals, for I think the country is exceedingly grateful, and still is grateful, for the war effort which those generals put forth in World War II; and that includes General MacArthur. My ideas on that haven't changed a bit. This is a different situation and a different program. What is it ?

Q. Mr. President, General MacArthur indicated in his testimony that at your private conference at Wake Island you agreed to drop the subject of Formosa. Would you give us a little more light on that?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I can't. No further comment on that.

Q. Mr. President, the Senate Committee today sustained the right of General Bradley to treat as confidential his conversations with you in the April 6th meeting, a position which you had taken.

THE PRESIDENT. They did exactly right, and I am happy that they did.

Q. Now, of course, there are certain charges and assertions being made that this adds a lot of mystery to what happened on April 6th.

THE PRESIDENT. Who is making those charges? The Republicans that are trying to overthrow the foreign policy of the United States? I don't think anybody who understands the Government of the United States is making any such charges.

Q. Quite apart, sir, from any right to demand from you information on what happened on April 6th, would you care to say anything voluntarily about what happened on April 6th?

THE PRESIDENT. All the information in connection with the thing is taken by the actions and the decisions which I make. The conversations with my advisers and my private staff before decisions are made is my business and mine alone.

Q. Mr. President, could you dear up the point of whether Acheson changed his mind or withdrew his cautionary note after this April 6th meeting, or was that later?

THE PRESIDENT. He made the cautionary suggestion at the April the 6th meeting. When all the facts were on the table, there was no objection on Acheson's part at all.

Q. At the same meeting? He didn't change his mind then ?

THE PRESIDENT. No, because there were three or four meetings.

Q. That was the point I wanted to clear up, that he didn't change his mind at that meeting?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't ask anybody to declare himself at that meeting. I stated the case and advised them to have a meeting on Saturday afternoon; and they had one Saturday afternoon, and one on Sunday. And I had another meeting with them on Monday. It was not hurriedly done. It was very carefully considered.

Q. Mr. President, General Marshall--


Q.--that could be--you did hurry it up because there was a leak. Would you explain that?

THE PRESIDENT. The thing that was hurried up was the message, not the act.

Q. No. I understand that.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't want you to get it mixed up. It was reported that there had been a leak. Therefore, the message was sent directly to the General.

Q. Mr. President, could you tell us the reasons that Secretary Acheson advanced for advising caution ?

THE PRESIDENT. Political. Purely. Said it would stir up the fuss that it did. And he was right. [Laughter]

[5.] Q. Sir, may I ask you a question not on MacArthur? Are you going to continue letting the head of the National Petroleum Council be an industry man, or are you going to require that he be a governmental employee?

THE PRESIDENT. My theory is that the Council ought to remain just as it has.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us anything about the Nimitz commission? As I understand it, you refused to accept the resignations of the members of that commission, pending some word from Capitol Hill, or some--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the letter that I sent to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee with the supporting documents covers the whole thing.6 I haven't anything further to say on it.

6 See Item 104

Q. No word from down there ?

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't heard from them yet.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, if I can ask you a little matter about the 35th Division--


Q. --reunion in Topeka. Are you going this year ?

THE PRESIDENT. I hope to be able to go, but I won't know how conditions here will be; and I won't know until just shortly before the meeting takes place, which is on June the 9th, I think.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to say in your own words, sir, what this ultimatum issued by General MacArthur to the Chinese general did to the plan of the 14 nations involved to seek a peace?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't comment on that now.

[9.] Q. The other question is, have you got a successor in mind for Senator Pope, whose retirement you announced?7

THE PRESIDENT. I am trying to find one. I haven't one in mind right now. As soon as I find him, I will tell you who he is.

7James P. Pope, member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, Mon Wallgren 8 said this week that he is getting quite anxious to get home. I wonder if you have any place in mind for him?

THE PRESIDENT. I have that under consideration. He has not resigned as yet, but he has told me that he thinks he will probably want to enter politics in the great State of Washington next year, and he wants to come home and get himself ready.

8Mon C. Wallgren, Chairman, Federal Power Commission, and former Governor of the State of Washington.

[11.] Q. Sir, you are a careful student of American history, would you care to comment on some historical precedents for this keeping of Presidential conversations confidential?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, nearly every President has had the same experience. You can just pick up the life of any President you choose, and you will find experiences just like this in the lives of nearly every one of them.

Q. Could you name any ?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't recall any specific instances. Grover Cleveland had the same trouble, so did Abraham Lincoln. And Andrew Jackson was quite active in that line. Andrew Johnson, I think, had the worst experience of any of them, but if you go on down the line you will find that nearly every President has had the same experience. It is nothing new.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Maybank said yesterday he doubted whether they can renew the price control law by June 30th. Do you think Congress should go home without doing that?

THE PRESIDENT. Read the speech I made this morning at the Statler Hotel.9 That will answer your question.

9 See Item 107.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, could I put my question another way ?


Q. Maybe it won't be so involved. I meant that you regarded that this action of General MacArthur was one that exceeded his authority ?

THE PRESIDENT. I certainly do, because a thing of that kind should have been submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff before it was done.

Q. Well, Mr. President, it has been said that it was a little more than that, that there was bad faith on the part of General MacArthur and snatched your ideas, if I may put it that way?

THE PRESIDENT. My suggestion to you is to read General Marshall's testimony10--

10 See Item 101 [3].

Q. Yes, I did.

THE PRESIDENT.--on the subject.

Q. I did.

THE PRESIDENT. That covers it thoroughly.

Q. That is your view, too?

THE PRESIDENT. That covers it thoroughly.

Q. That is your view, too?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't say that. I didn't say that. I said it covers it thoroughly.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, one thing I want to clear up. If Mon Wallgren goes into politics in the great State of Washington, would he run for Governor or Senator ?

THE PRESIDENT. Well now, you will have to ask Mon. They are both open. He can run for either one.

Q. I know, and he has done both.

THE PRESIDENT. He has done both, that's right.

Merriman Smith (United Press Associations): Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. It's all right, Smitty.

Note: President Truman's two hundred and sixty-fourth news conference was held in the Indian Treaty Room (Room 474) in the Executive Office Building at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 17, 1951.

Harry S Truman, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231076

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