Harry S. Truman photo

The President's Special Conference With the American Society of Newspaper Editors

April 18, 1946

THE PRESIDENT. It's a pleasure to have you here, and I will be glad to answer questions if I do know the answers. If I don't know the answers, I will just tell you I don't know. [Laughter]

This meeting, as I understand it, is for the purpose of finding out whether the President has good sense or not, and whether he knows how to use what little he has got. [More laughter] And I am perfectly willing to go through that sort of grilling. In fact, I take pleasure in it. And it is a pleasure to have you here, really.

So you can start in whenever you get ready. I am going to sit down! [Laughter]

[1.] John S. Knight [President of the Society]: Mr. President, we have just had a very interesting session with Mr. Benton, and at that session the members of the Society were not at all backward in the questions they directed to him. I hope they will be equally responsive now. So if any of you have any burning thoughts, I suggest that you present them immediately.

THE PRESIDENT. I have never seen a bunch of newspapermen who were backward. So proceed.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, I would like to ask how long you think it will be before the Army and Navy and Marine Corps are under one organization?

THE PRESIDENT. That's a humdinger, Daniels. Your experience as Secretary of the Navy ought to contribute to any answer to that question.

They are on the road to, I think, an agreement. We can't say much about it. But I had a very satisfactory session with the heads of the Navy yesterday, and I expect to call in my five-star advisory board, and before we get through with it, I think we will have an organization that will work satisfactorily for the national defense of the country.

You know, what we are trying to do-what I am trying to do is set up an organization on the experience that we have had in the greatest war in history, so that that organization will be ready to operate in case of an emergency--which we hope will never come--and so that we will not have to feel around and organize a dozen different production programs, and a dozen different ideas before we actually are ready to operate.

God blessed us with the greatest set of military leaders that any country in the world ever had, in this instance; and also, gave us a years in which to get ready. That will not happen again.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, in view of what you just said, I wonder about the--what you think of the Central Intelligence Group, which does not seem to include the FBI?

THE PRESIDENT. But it does.

Q. It does?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it does. And the FBI is furnishing a great deal of the intelligence to the present Central Intelligence Group.

Q. To some of us it seemed that that was a natural nucleus for it.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you want to be very careful in any of these things. What we have to guard against is a Gestapo, in this instance, and a military dictatorship, in the setting up of a national defense program. You must always be careful to keep that under civilian control, and under the control of officers who are elected by the people. Then you won't have any trouble in the future.

I have got no business giving you a lecture on free government, however. [Laughter] [Pause ]

Are you out of questions this early in the game? [Laughter]

[4.] Q. Mr. President, is the need for food throughout the world, to avoid starvation, as great as it has been pictured?

THE PRESIDENT. It's greater. You can't imagine how acute that situation is. Mr. Hoover will report to me and the country tomorrow over the radio at 7 o'clock--tomorrow evening. And he has made a complete survey of Europe, and he is on his way to Asia now, to see what the situation is over there.

It hasn't been painted nearly as bad as it is. I wish I could send each one of you to Greece and to Poland, and to--to Norway and to India, and to China and to the Philippines. I wish you could see just exactly what the situation is, and just talk with the commanders of the occupied zones which are our responsibility. It hasn't been painted any darker than it really is.

Q. Mr. President, aren't we falling down on getting supplies and shipping them?

THE PRESIDENT. To some extent, yes we are. And that is due to the situation that has developed as a result of anticipated higher prices by people who hold the materials in first hand.

Q. Mr. President, are we going to be able to organize and function fast enough to really save millions of lives as we should?

THE PRESIDENT. I hope we are. We are doing everything that is humanly possible to accomplish the purpose.

Q. It looks bad, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. It does look bad. No question about it.

Q. Mr. President, I have never seen any adequate account of what opportunity for self-help there may be in these countries. Some southern countries already should have some kind of crops coming in, unless they are completely lacking in feed and machinery, and that sort of thing.

THE PRESIDENT. There isn't any country now that has a crop coming in this early, which is affected by starvation. You see, the crops--the grain crop in the southern hemisphere--in South Africa, for instance-was a total failure for 2 successive years. We didn't know about this last failure until it was too late to do anything about it. And the wheat crop in Australia was almost a total failure. In India, the rice crop has been a failure. In Malaya and Indochina-French Indochina, and in the Philippines, which usually had a surplus of rice for distribution, on account of war and devastation, didn't have any crops for the last 2 years. That is really what caused the difficulty. South Africa has been asking for 400,000 tons of corn, and they are usually an exporting country.

Q. During the summer, won't there be a leaf crop--vegetable crop--

THE PRESIDENT. The first crop they anticipate is the crop in North Africa, which is said to be very good. That will help, but our--the thing we are looking forward to is our own and the Canadian wheat crop, which will begin to be harvested in June-in Texas in June, and then go all the way north for the next 3 months. If that crop is as we anticipate it, it will help, but the emergency is the next 75 days.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, do you see any prospect for early steps toward international control of armaments?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think we are approaching that, slowly and gradually. International control of armaments will depend on the success of the United Nations as the peace-making organization for the world. If the United Nations becomes a success--that is the thing I am working for with everything I have--the armaments will take care of themselves. If it doesn't become a success, then we'll have to take care of the armaments.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, how long will it be before the Philippines gets its independence?

THE PRESIDENT. The 4th of July, nineteen hundred and forty-six! That's the date set by law, and I hope I will be able to go there and help put them to work.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, do you believe that the amendments adopted by the in regard to OPA will wreck the OPA, as Mr. Porter indicated this morning it would?

THE PRESIDENT. If that bill should become law, it would wreck OPA; but just because it has passed the House doesn't necessarily mean that it will become law. [Laughter] Let's wait and see what's said about it.' [More laughter]

[8.] Q. The nomination, Mr. President, of an Ambassador to Argentina, is that to be interpreted as meaning that this Government no longer regards the government of President-elect Peron, now that he has an election mandate, as a potential menace to world security?

THE PRESIDENT. That depends on the actions of Mr. Peron himself. Let's wait and see what he does, before we come to a conclusion on that.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you care to comment on the argument that if Franco is overthrown in Spain it will be under Communist domination in Spain?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know enough about that situation to give you an gent answer. I am sorry that the developed in Spain as it did when the publicans were in control of that. It is too bad they couldn't have stayed control. We wouldn't have all this now.

Q. Is there any difference between Republicans in Spain and Republicans in America, Mr. President? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I think it has--I think those two words have an entirely different meaning. When we speak of--when we speak of Republicans in Spain, we speak of people who believe in a Republic. When we speak of Republicans in the United States, we speak of conservatives, who are not so strongly--[lost in the laughter].

[10.] Q. Mr. President, do you care to comment on selective service?

THE PRESIDENT. I beg your pardon?

Q. Do you care to comment on selective service?

THE PRESIDENT. It is absolutely essential that selective service be extended for another year, if we are to carry out our commitments in the occupied countries. Unless we want to turn our backs on our responsibilities, it is necessary to continue selective service, until we have established a military policy in this country which will carry on without it.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to comment on the amendments to the extension of the draft, as passed by the House, exempting teenagers and delaying induction?

THE PRESIDENT. I will make the same comment I did on OPA. I hope we will get a bill out of the Senate that we can use. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, changing it from 18 to 20, of course, ends the draft for 2 years, because the 20's are already in--

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q. What would you think, Mr. President, of the--raising the age from 26 to 28 ? Many church groups have opposed 19 and--18 and 19-year-old boys, because they are at an impressionable age. Would you care to comment on that--those staying at home, but taking the 27 and 28--26 and 27--

THE PRESIDENT. That might be helpful. The Draft Act of 1917 and 1918, if I remember correctly, was 21 to 31 It worked very satisfactorily, but we have started in on the 18-age program, and to change it now, as you say, would just leave us out of the draft for 2 years. It would be no use having it, because the next 12 months is when we need it.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to comment on the possibility of our getting some coal to keep our industries going in the next few months? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Lewis would like to have me comment on that. There is no comment. [More laughter]

[13.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to comment on the Bulwinkle bill?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I will comment on the Bulwinkle bill when it comes before me. It hasn't yet passed the Senate. Let's see what the Senate does to it.

[14.] Q. Do you care to comment, sir, on the prospect for an amicable settlement of the Iranian question?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I don't care to comment on that. I think that will take care of itself. The United Nations is handling it. The Government of the United States is well-represented there.

[15.] Q. A moment ago you made a statement about the next war, if it came, and we wouldn't have time to prepare--which would leave us at a disadvantage. Could you tell us something as to your opinion of the atomic bomb--would you care in advance of those experiments to enlarge upon that any further?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if--what I am driving at is this. If the United Nations is a successful organization for the maintenance of peace, there will be no more reason for anticipating a war between the members of the United Nations than there would be for anticipating a war between Missouri and Illinois. But, if it is not a success, if it doesn't work, and then you simply drop back to the old power politics and spheres of influence, you will have exactly the same trouble that we have had all the time.

So far as atomic energy is concerned, I think if we put that atomic energy release to its proper use, we are facing the greatest age in history. If we don't put it to proper use, we will just simply destroy ourselves.

You can put it to two uses: one is to put it to the use of welfare and security, and the other is to destroy yourself; and I don't think we are going to destroy ourselves. I think we are going to make proper use of it.

I am not a pessimist on that subject at all. I think we have got too much sense for that.

Q. Mr. President, are experiments particularly on the way to put atomic energy to its fullest peacetime use?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't understand the question?

Q. Are we working on the--the project of utilizing atomic energy for industrial use?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we are. Yes, we are. We are trying to get a program implemented with the United Nations, so that the whole world can share in it. But that is a difficult proposition. It takes a lot of work, and it can't be done in 2 days. If we will do it in 3 or 4 years, we will be doing very well. Somebody over here?

Q. Is it all right to rise twice?


Q. I apologize--my only excuse is that I am from Missouri--[laughter]--

THE PRESIDENT. You have to be shown, then. Go ahead.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, knowing that the Missouri Valley Authority plan has been started, would it be proper to ask if you hope eventually to see the MVA inaugurated in your first term of office?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I sincerely hope that we will manage to get control of the Missouri River. You see, the Missouri River is a peculiar river. It's sort of like a Missourian--it has to be shown. And it's in a different class from the Tennessee River, or the Columbia River, or nearly any other river in the country. It has everything that every other single river has, in the combination of all of them.

I am working on a program which I hope will give us authority to control that river for reclamation, and for power, and for flood control. It has--and for navigation. It has four different uses to which it can be economically well put. If we could save the flooded lands from being flooded, it would mean the saving of from 140 to 147 million dollars nearly every year--the crops alone-much more than the organization itself would cost.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, is there any possibility of this atomic bomb experiment being indefinitely postponed ?

THE PRESIDENT. No, there isn't. The atomic bomb experiment will take place July 1st, if I remain President until that day. [Applause]

[18.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to tell us how much real progress Mr. Wyatt has made in breaking through the bottlenecks on housing?

THE PRESIDENT. I think he has made remarkable progress, and I think he is going to be successful in his undertaking. It depends altogether on cooperation in peacetime, which is a hard thing to get. There is no incentive to cooperate like there is in war. Bring anybody here during wartime and you get results from him--he was glad to help the Government. Now they are all trying to help themselves, and it's just as hard as hell for the President to get any help. [Laughter]

[19.] Q. Mr. President, would you say something on how far in your viewpoint the--we would go, and how long we would go, in the Government subsidies?

THE PRESIDENT. I would like to continue-discontinue Government subsidies tomorrow. And if you will give me a magic way in which to get the production machine rolling, so that we can put the merchandise on the shelves full, I will take them off tomorrow. We can quit them just as quickly as we can get the shelves full.

Q. Agricultural too?

THE PRESIDENT. Agricultural, too. I am not for subsidies, but it is necessary now, owing to conditions over which I have no control, brought about by the war.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to say how soon there will be an official declaration ending World War II?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't answer that question. That depends on the production program, also. I would like to end it tomorrow, if I could. I am in just as big a hurry to end it as you are to end it, but I am afraid--I took off some controls a little too quickly as it was, and had to put some of them back. I don't enjoy the controls any more than you do. It's a headache every day in the week. On Sundays, too! [Laughter]

[21.] Q. Mr. President, has the difficulty of the United Nations in finding a location been embarrassing to this Government in any way?

THE PRESIDENT. It has been embarrassing to any hospitable--it would be embarrassing to any hospitable host, to have one of the greatest organizations in the history of the world kicked around as the United Nations Organization has been kicked around in finding a site.

I wasn't consulted, and couldn't very well be consulted on the location. I had in my mind one or two propositions to make to them, but when they made up their minds that it had to be north of the Potomac River and east of the Appalachian Mountains, there wasn't very much we could give them in the way of public land. It has been embarrassing, however--bound to be.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, reverting to that food topic, I just returned from Europe with six other editors, and we were--we ran into reports over there, that in the Scandinavian countries they have a big surplus of meat and dairy products; in fact, one of the last stories I read in a London paper was that their warehouses were bulging with meat, but they couldn't get any ships to carry it over to Britain and France. Why can't they get ships? Out in California we have got all kinds--

THE PRESIDENT. They couldn't get ships? If that is true, we will furnish them the ships. We will make ships available to them. I don't know. I haven't heard of it there.

Q. The papers had quite a few stories over there, and I was wondering why they couldn't get ships, what with the surplus of Liberty ships that we built during the war

THE PRESIDENT. You see a lot of things in the papers, sometimes, that you are not right sure about. [Laughter] Well, I hope that's true. If it is true, we will furnish them the ships.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, what, if anything, can you say to us about relations with Russia?

THE PRESIDENT. Our relations with Russia are as cordial as they have always been. When two horse traders get to bargaining, they sometimes get pretty rough with each other, but they hardly ever wind up in a fist fight. They usually make a trade. That is what we propose to do with Russia.

I have no feeling but of the friendliest sort for Russia. I am friendly to Great Britain, also. But the United States is in the position where we have to act as a sort of umpire in this world situation, and we want to be friendly with all of them. But the interests of the United States of America are those first items in which we are interested.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, do you think that the United States people will respond to your plea for voluntary rationing, so that people won't starve in Europe, or do you think a return to rationing will be necessary?

THE PRESIDENT. A return to rationing is impossible at this time. They must respond to the voluntary situation. Rationing could not be reimplemented under 3 months. That is too late. This thing has to be taken care of in the next 75 days. That must be pounded home.

And I think most everybody has got a heart in his body big enough not to want children and people, who are not responsible for this situation, just to starve; because we have got too much. There isn't any reason in the world why we can't do the job. It can't be done any other way, except voluntarily. It will. be too late 3 months from now.

Q. Mr. President, do you contemplate using Mr. Hoover for any other purpose than the present one to which you have already assigned him ?

THE PRESIDENT. No. No. I think he is very well qualified to do this job. I think you will find, when he reports, that he has done a remarkably good job on this situation. He has helped us tremendously. I was very glad to have his help.

Q. Mr. President, in view of the answer you just gave a moment ago, do you think that any useful purpose will be served if what you previously said about the extent of the famine conditions abroad--conditions abroad could be made public?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I think it should be made public. I am trying my best to make it public in every way possible. In fact, I am going to talk about it to the Nation tomorrow night, on the radio at 7 o'clock.

Q. Could that particular remark be taken off the record ?

THE PRESIDENT. I will take it off the record, yes.

Q. Mr. President, on that same subject, may I ask you, according to the reports that are reaching you, to what extent has voluntary saving of food consumption been affected-what has been its impact on the shortage?

THE PRESIDENT. It's too close to the time to give you an intelligent answer. I can't, right this minute. I never saw such a dry--dry newspaper conference in my life! [Laughter]

[25.] Q. Just to get out of the dryness, I will ask you how you came out on that question of the striped tie and dinner jacket? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I was informed by the head of the Merchant Tailors Association that I was absolutely correct on that, and it came from the head of the company, so I guess they know what they are doing. I have been wearing it around a year and a half to two years, and nobody ever noticed that before.

Q. Mr. President, where can I get for Saturday night?

THE PRESIDENT. I will lend you one [Laughter] If you can't get it, I will you one. [More laughter]

[26.] Q. Mr. President, I don't how long you can stay with us, but you save a little time at the end to perhaps, the Missouri Waltz? [Laughter, and great applause]
THE PRESIDENT [laughing]. I fear I got a very bad reputation. They say, "Don't shoot the piano player, give him a chance." [More laughter] Well now, as a young man, I did take some music lessons and learned to play some pieces, but since I was about 16 or 17 1 have had no opportunity to do any finger work, and these old fingers don't work like they used to. I can't play the Missouri Waltz, anyway. I might play you a minuet, or something like that. [More applause]

[27.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to comment on the reason for the suddenness of this food crisis in Europe not breaking until a month or two ago, when we had not heard of it at all?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I can tell you exactly how it happened. I think I can. I know how it came to me.

We did not discover it, of course, until December and January, that the crop failure in the southern hemisphere was as total a failure as it had been, which we had been going on up until August, if you remember. And the crops in all the devastated countries were naturally a failure. We had anticipated a full crop in the southern hemisphere, and we thought we ourselves had more surplus grain than it turned out we did have. We also had hoped to get in wheat from Argentina, which we are now getting.

And along in the latter part of January, the famine situation began to appear; and immediately, just as quickly as we found out that that was the case, I went to work on it immediately, with everything I could possibly bring to bear on it. We have been working at it ever since, but it was the result of war and famine--drought in the southern hemisphere is really what brought it about. We had been expending all our energies and everything we had for destruction, instead of construction. That had some effect on it.

[28.] Q. Do you think, Mr. President, because you have said this was rather a dry conference, that you can inject a little wetness into it if you will answer this question ? Are you a candidate for re-election in 19487 [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I will answer that straight from the shoulder: no comment! On the record or off! [More laughter]

[29.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to review the issues involved in the British loan?

THE PRESIDENT. No. They have been thoroughly and completely reviewed before the Banking and Currency Committee of the Senate. I will send you a copy of the hearings, if you are interested. [Laughter] The report of that committee is an excellent report, and I would advise you to read it.

[30.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to say anything about China?

THE PRESIDENT. General Marshall is acting for me in China, and I am behind him with all I have; and he is doing a good job.

[31.] Q. Mr. President, pardon me, but you spoke about cooperation a minute ago. Can you say anything about the cooperation that is going on between the Southern Democrats and some of the Republicans?

THE PRESIDENT. I shall let them speak for themselves. You know, I was a Member of the Senate for 10 years, and I found that it didn't pay to fall out with a fellow because he was against you one time. The next time, when you needed him worse, he might be along on your side.

We must also bear in mind that everybody's tired--everybody's tired-everybody wants to quit. As I told you a while ago, it's difficult to find people who want to expend any energy now--they are all war weary.

The Congress hasn't been home since 1939 for any length of time. The last time I was at home was in September 1939--August 39; and then Hitler went into Poland, and Congress has been constantly in session ever since then. Those men are just as tired as the soldiers--WPB--and all the rest of the people who fought the war here in Washington. Sometimes they get a little cranky with the President. But I am looking forward to the time when it will work out all right. I know it will work out all right, after November of this year. [Laughter]

[32.] Q. Mr. President, is not the continuance of subsidies on certain foods inconsistent with the program to save those foods for overseas use, in the sense that it encourages consumption in this country?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think it does. I don't think it does. The subsidy thing is a pain in the neck anywhere you can look at it, but we have it on our hands, and we have to use it to the best advantage that we possibly can.

Q. Mr. President, do you feel that the American people are beginning to respond to your appeal to save food?


Q. You have the feeling?


Q. Mr. President, what is to be done with all the foodstuffs that were piled up by the Army and Navy?

THE PRESIDENT. A great deal of it has been used. You see, the Army and Navy have been feeding the occupied countries with immense amounts of food.

Q. Pretty well used up now?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Pretty well used up. And we have had a pretty big Army and Navy to feed up to now. While we have discharged seven million soldiers about, and about a million and a half sailors, we still have about three and a half million men in the armed services.

Q. Mr. President, I just wanted to ask you whether any of this food that is to be sent abroad will go to Germany or Japan or whether it should or needs to go to Germany or Japan?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Some of it will. Some of it will. Some of the worst starvation areas are in Germany and Japan.

Q. Mr. President, are any plans being made to fly food to Europe?

THE PRESIDENT. No. No. That is not necessary. If we can get the quantities, we can get it there all right.

[33.] Mr. Knight: Mr. President, I think I should say by way of explanation for the fact that this may have been a duller news conference than the ones to which you are accustomed, that in another administration one or two questions were good for an entire evening and your short, direct answers have rather exhausted the well more rapidly.

As a matter of fact, as you and I know, when you were in Chicago recently, the--this is a plug for the Chicago Daily News--[laughter]--the teenage conference composed of high school editors in the Chicago area kept the President busy for quite some time.

THE PRESIDENT. I made a bet with the president of the Gridiron Club, that the teenage conference would be a harder one to make than this one, and I won! [much laughter]

Mr. Knight: Thank you for your great help.

Note: President Truman's special conference with the newspaper editors was held in the East Room at the White House at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, 1946.

Before the President spoke, John S. Knight, president of the Society, made a few informal remarks in presenting the group to the President.

Harry S Truman, The President's Special Conference With the American Society of Newspaper Editors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232797

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