Harry S. Truman photo

The President's Special Conference With Editors of Business and Trade Papers.

April 23, 1948

THE PRESIDENT [replying to a request that he repeat certain remarks spoken off the record to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 17]. I made a bad reputation over there.

Mr. Wooton:1 You added to your reputation there.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Paul said there was some doubt as to the necessity for a military preparedness program. Maybe there is some doubt in the minds of some people that it is necessary for us to be able to back up our agreements.

1 Paul Wooton, President of the National Conference of Business Paper Editors.

I know what Charlie is edging up here for. He is--wants me to announce that this is off the record. [Laughter]

Mr. Ross: Correct!

Mr. Wooton: I promised them that I would do that, that they may use the thoughts in their editorials but they are not to be attributed.

Mr. Ross: For background purposes. Mr. Wooton: For background.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I forgot to mention it to begin with. Charlie, thank you.

The situation in the world today is a rather precarious one. Things are coming up all the time that are liable to create very strong discord, between ourselves and the other great power in the world. The World Wars, when they ended, left a vacuum in the power setup of the Eastern Hemisphere, and also of the Western Hemisphere. And it is necessary to try and fill that vacuum, which we thought would be filled by the United Nations and which we are trying to implement and keep in operation.

Our effort has been, beginning with the windup of the two wars, to get an agreement between the great powers. That is what they called the Big Five powers for, to implement the United Nations program under the charter and make it work.

As I told the meeting the other night, I went to Potsdam with the friendliest feelings in the world towards the Russians, because they had lost 5 million people killed in the war in the fighting itself, and there have been over 15 million people on the land in Russia who have been slaughtered by the Germans as they went to Stalingrad and made their attempts to go to Leningrad. And I wanted to show our appreciation for those dead Russians, because that meant that fewer of our own had been killed in the war, due to the fact that the Germans had been busy killing them. And I went to Potsdam with a program, with that idea in view, of helping the Russians recuperate and recover.

We made certain agreements there, and implemented certain others--attempted to implement certain others that had been made at Yalta. And much to my surprise, less than 3 months after these conversations, the Russians began to fail to keep their agreements; in other words, consciously broke a great many agreements which they had made with me--with both President Roosevelt and myself.

And so we had to then decide our program.

The only program we have in view is to obtain peace in the world, if we could get it. We didn't ask for any reparations, or any territory, or any other special privileges, except that all the people in the world should be able to live peaceably together, and prosperously, we hoped.

That is still the program which we are trying to pursue.

The Russians have a peculiar psychological approach. It is oriental, so I am told. Their idea is that force counts for everything. And as you go east in the Eastern Hemisphere, from the west coast of Europe, for every thousand miles the value of the human as an individual and the value of human life descends in the scale. They have no idea of individual rights such as we understand them, nor do they have any respect for the life of an individual if it stands in the way of some state project which they think should be for the good of the country.

I am told that Tito murdered more than four hundred thousand of the opposition in Yugoslavia before he got himself firmly established there as a dictator.

You know what they did in Bulgaria? They immediately murdered the opposition, from the leaders on down.

In Rumania they have not murdered quite so many of them, but they have sent them to labor camps, which amounts to almost exactly the same thing. They have been doing the same thing in eastern Germany. When they took over the eastern end of Poland, they simply cleaned out the Poles and pushed them on west; and when the Poles marched on eastern Germany, they did the same thing to the Germans.

That is a program which we as a country and as a people do not understand at all.

So it became perfectly evident that if we expected to make agreements with that eastern-minded people known as the Russians, we must have the ability to implement those agreements on our side, if we expected them to be kept.

In November 1945 I suggested to the Congress that we implement a training program, a universal training program for our young people, on the theory that if we continued the training of these young men, as they get up to a certain age, we would then have a reserve on which we could call for immediate use, and it would not be necessary to maintain a military establishment that perhaps the country can't keep up, under ordinary circumstances. This country can't afford to pay $12 or $20 billion a year for a defense establishment. No country in the world can afford to do that. Our rates of pay, our food, our housing, and everything which goes to make up the training program, under the war conditions which we had just been through, were so great that no country in the world can keep it up.

We were spending in 1945--the 1945 budget, that is; the budget from July 1st, 1945, to June 30th, 1946--called for $103 billion. Well, a rescission was made of about 60--67 billions of that, but the demobilization which we carried through at that time was too fast. I tried my best to stem it, but every momma and poppa in the country had to have her boy home right immediately, and every Congressman, of course, wanted to be reelected in 1946 and used everything he could to break up the defense program. And when we finally wound up, we had just a skeleton force in Germany, we had just a skeleton force in Japan, we had just a skeleton force in Korea.

The Russians still had 4 million men mobilized and under arms!

And they figure that that is the difference between the carrying out of an agreement and not carrying it out.

So I continued to ask the Congress for a program. In January 1946, along in the middle of 1946, and in January 1947, and as late as March 17, 1948, I have continued to ask for a program.

And when I found out that there was some opposition to universal training--although I think the majority of people are in favor of a training program--I appointed a commission to look into the situation. And that commission was made up of college presidents--a class that is supposed to be absolutely opposed to training; and it was made up of preachers, who are supposed to be fundamentally against a training program-businessmen, lawyers, doctors--on that setup. And after they had been at work, going into the facts--with exactly what the situation in the world was at that time in 1947--I remember seeing one of the preachers who was on that commission, and he was walking and shaking his head--between the House and hero-and I said to him, "What's the matter?" And he said, "I have got to do a little praying. I've had a long travail on this and I've got to change my mind." [Laughter] They came in with the most satisfactory and sane report that has ever been made public. It is available for anybody that wants to read it. And when you read that report, you can understand perfectly why a training program is necessary, if we expect to keep the peace in the world, and to maintain our own viewpoint and implement it.

On that conversation which you have been hearing all over the country about my talking to Stalin, I invited Stalin to come to Washington, and he said "God willing, I will come." Well, I haven't met anybody yet who believes me, but that is what he said to me. [Laughter]

Well, if Stalin were to come--and I have not understood why he doesn't--it could be made the greatest propaganda sounding beard in the world, for him to cross over and to say that "I believe in peace" and that he wants peace, all the time he is cutting my throat on the agreements created. The crackpots on this side of the water would eat it up. And the first thing you know that would happen, the Congress would adjourn without doing a damn thing! [Laughter] That's the actual facts in the case. I am telling you that for what it is worth that is exactly what would happen.

I know that we can get peace in the world if we are in a position to enforce that peace. We wouldn't have peace here in Washington if you didn't have the police around here on the corner. How long do you suppose traffic would stay in line if you didn't have the police lights and the enforcement behind it to make it work? And just how long do you suppose you would have money on your person, if some of our midtown people here found out that there was nobody to keep them from taking it away from you? How far could you walk some night, without having a police force to enforce the law? How far would a court decision go if you didn't have a United States marshall to enforce the court's decision? Do you think John L. Lewis would have paid his fine the other day if he thought there was no enforcement machinery to make him do it? [Laughter]

So I am asking for what amounts fundamentally to a police force--in the situation of this country--which will keep peace in the world.

Nobody wants peace any worse than I do--ever since the two World Wars, one from the front line and one from the mobilization that was necessary behind the line to make the front line work.

And I want to tell you this: that the front line in the next world war will be the safest place in the world. It won't be at home. We won't be safe at home. If you could look at Berlin right now, or Frankfurt, or Dresden, or London, you will find out what happens to the people who stayed at home. There were a darn sight more people killed behind the lines than were killed in the front lines in the war, except Russia. The Germans caught them as they went along, that is the reason there were so many killed there.

So I am hoping that you will take this thing into consideration and study it from the standpoint of the world setup. I want to make the United Nations work. I want the United Nations to be a going concern, the concern it was set up to be; that is, a place where the troubles of the world can be argued and settled in a court, just as we argued the differences between Kansas and Missouri when they were fighting over the Arkansas River. They don't go out and shoot each other; they go into court, and the thing is finally settled by the Supreme Court, and those two States abide by it. That same thing is true of all the controversies that take place in this country. We don't, when we have a political campaign in this country, and we get licked by about two or three thousand votes, we don't go arm ourselves and push the other fellow out and take possession. That is what we are trying to get the world to do, but it takes time. I think we can do it. That is the only way in the world we can have peace.

ERP is the greatest step we have taken lately in the interests of peace. If that European recovery program works, we will raise the Iron Curtain by peaceable means. It will automatically go up, because each of us can't live without economic connection with the Western part of the world and us.

I went to Potsdam with an agenda, which called for free waterways in the valley of the Rhine, and free waterways in the Black Sea Straits for merchant ships of every country, and the barges of every country, and an economic union--customs union for that whole central European valley. That is what the ERP is going to be, before we get through, and when that is done there will be nothing for the Iron Curtain to do but go up, because the vast majority of the people behind that Iron Curtain are just as interested in their personal welfare as we are right here.

We ought to do everything we possibly can in order to help this country do what is necessary for peace, and to get peace we must have the wherewith to back it up-back up what we think is right. We don't ask for anything-only what is right. At least, that is our opinion. We are not anxious to get any Russian territory. We are not annexing any country. The people in Mexico and Canada are not shaking in their boots because they think we are going to come and take them over, economically or otherwise. I would like to point out a neighbor of Russia today that isn't shaking in its boots. As an example of countries that I just named, there is Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. They are now under the iron heel of a police state. And there has never been an election held in any of those countries that has been carried out by the totalitarians in which there were not Russian troops present to count the vote!

Now, whenever we get to the state where we have to have the army to count the vote, we are going to be in a hell of a fix. And that is what I am trying to avoid.

Mr. Wooton: Thank you, Mr. President.

Q. The best speech you ever made, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it isn't a speech, that's just a statement of the facts. I want you to listen to them because you don't know what we are faced with. We are faced with total destruction, if we can't get this thing done, and done right as it ought to be done. I could tell you some things that are developing in other places that would almost make your hair stand on end. I think those developments can be used for the purposes of peace just as well as they can be used for destruction, if we can get this situation so that we can use it.

Mr. Wooton: Mr. President, we have learned from our contacts with other officials that they are having great difficulty in finding the proper personnel--to draw personnel into public service with adequate public experience, and to help abroad with the Ambassador at Large.

THE PRESIDENT. You know the reason for that, don't you?

Mr. Wooton: We would like to hear it, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. The Thomas committee.1 The thinnest-skinned person on earth is the so-called businessman that tries to go into politics and do a political job. I had the greatest experience in my lifetime when I was chairman of the subcommittee in the Senate when the national defense program went into operation, and we had the place full of businessmen, the most honest businessmen in the country. But I have never in my life seen people that were so thin-skinned. If anybody heaved a political brick in his direction, he was gone!

1 Representative J. Parnell Thomas, Chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

When you are in a political situation, where you have to be a public relations man--that's all politics is--that is government under our program--it doesn't make any difference what these birds say about you, if you can't prove it you're dead! [Laughter]

The only difficulty when they come down here and work is that they can't take what I have to take every day--what every other politician has to take--if he is going to do a job for you. That is a part of our system.

I have just been reading a book by a fellow named Pollard, "Presidents and the Press."2 When you read what the press had to say about Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, and the other Presidents, you would think that we never had a decent man in the office since the country began. [Laughter] The businessman hasn't been schooled in that sort of thing, but we are going to get the ones that are necessary to do the job.

2 James E. Pollard, "The Presidents and the Press," New York: The Macmillan Co., 1947.

We have got to do it, and patriotically. Mr. Wooton: I know they can help.

THE PRESIDENT. I know they can. And I appreciate your coming in. I hope I haven't bored you too much.

Mr. Wooton: It has been so fine of you to do it. I am sure we appreciate every word you said, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. You have got to be careful that I don't get away on another tangent, or you will never get away. [Laughter]

Mr. Wooton: We'll stay here all afternoon to hear this sort of thing discussed.

THE PRESIDENT. Its nice to talk to you. All I am interested in is making our country prosperous and keeping peace in the world. That's all the conditions I have. That's the only reason I am making the political fight, because nobody with any good sense wants to sit here at this desk. But I have got a job to do, and I am going to do it.

Mr. Wooton: There seems to be no absence of volunteers, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Those volunteers are all on one side, though. [Laughter]

Mr. Wooton: That's right.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, thank you.

Mr. Wooton: Thank you so much, Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke in his office at the White House at 12:40 p.m. The conference is carried in the White House Official Reporter's records as the President's one hundred and forty-fourth news conference.

Harry S. Truman, The President's Special Conference With Editors of Business and Trade Papers. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/229326

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