Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

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Harry S. Truman
1945-1953


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Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.
  279. Address in the Oakland Auditorium  
October 4, 1952

I APPRECIATE most highly this wonderful welcome, and I am more than happy to be here with you tonight.

I am enjoying my visit to your great State, and I wish I had time to go all over it, but I can't do that this trip, it's too big. I have to make two trips.

I was welcomed into this great State of California yesterday by your great Governor, Earl Warren. I have genuine respect for your Governor, and also a great deal of sympathy. He has been under attack by some of the same special interest lobbies that are always after me. And so I know just what he is up against.

You know what I was afraid of--I was afraid that the Republican convention was going to nominate your Governor to be their candidate for President. That would have given the Democrats something to worry about, sure enough. But the Republicans didn't do it. Earl Warren is much too liberal for them. He really ought to be a Democrat.

As you may have heard, at least it's a rumor around here that I am out here on a political trip--campaigning for the Democratic ticket. Well, I am!

A campaign is not just a matter of entertainment. It is the way we discuss and settle the great issues of the day. And in this fateful year of 1952, the greatest issue is undoubtedly the foreign policy of the United States. For that may determine whether we have war or peace. The Democrats did not place foreign policy in the campaign. The top snollygoster of the Republican Party did it, and I want to explain that I am not referring to the General.

I was never in my life more serious about what foreign policy means to war or peace than I am now. I believe this country is facing a great danger--and that the best hope of meeting it is to have a Democratic victory this fall.
Now I shall explain to you why that is true.

In recent years this country has been deluged with the greatest outpouring of falsehoods about our foreign policy that was ever cooked up by a group of irresponsible politicians.

They have been trying to get the American people to believe that our whole history since World War II is the exact opposite of what really happened. They have been trying to convince us that white is black; that our policy of resistance to communism has been one of betrayal; that our great success in uniting the free nations to defend freedom has been a failure; that our strength is weakness; that one of the most courageous and decisive actions ever taken by this country in the cause of freedom--the defense of Korea--is a "useless war."

This wave of filth has but one purpose-and one only. That is to win the election for the Republicans.

So long as this propaganda was being carried on by a minority of reckless and irresponsible Republican extremists, it represented no great threat to us. But within the last few weeks, it has been joined in by the Republican presidential candidate himself.

The Republican candidate, until very recently, has not been an irresponsible outsider in foreign policy. He has had the trust and the confidence of the people in foreign policy matters. He has had my complete confidence and trust, also. But now he is abusing that trust, and I am very sad and sorry about that.

He is spreading the false version of history that has been copyrighted by the extremists in the Republican Party. These are the people who have been trying to upset our whole foreign policy. The course they advocate would lose us our allies, weaken our defenses, and bring us closer to a world war.

One of the things the Republican candidate is talking about lately is the conflict in Korea. All Americans are deeply involved in this matter. The Republican candidate is saying that the Korean conflict is a blunder and a bungle, and implies that it is something that he could fix up overnight. These statements are simply not true. The best explanation I know as to why we are in Korea was given by Capt. James Jabara of Wichita, Kansas, who had been fighting there in our Air force. He put it very, very simply. "We are fighting in Korea," he said, "so we won't have to fight in Wichita."

He is right. We are fighting in Korea so we won't have to fight in Wichita, or in Chicago, or in New Orleans, or on San Francisco Bay.
Now I want to explain to you why this is so.

In the period right after the end of World War II, there were different opinions about what the Russians would do. Some men, like Adlai Stevenson and Averell Harriman, warned us to be on our guard. Others, like General Eisenhower, said we had nothing to fear from the Russians. But we all worked together for a policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union, hoping that they would become peaceful partners.

I think we gained far more than we lost by trying to cooperate with the Russians. We showed that we really wanted peace, and, as a result, we gained the respect and trust of the free peoples everywhere around the world. Without that, we could never have gotten other free nations to join with us in our great effort to check Communist aggression.

But it became increasingly clear that men like Stevenson and Harriman were the ones who were right about the Soviet intentions. The Russians did not want peaceful cooperation. They wanted to extend their power throughout the world by whatever means they could.
When the Russian intentions became clear, we moved on a worldwide scale to meet them.

Never in history has a nation recognized its responsibilities more promptly, or used its resources more vigorously to defend the peace. We established a comprehensive plan for resistance to aggression throughout the world.

In all that we did we were guided by the principles of the United Nations--the principles of peace and justice. We did not undertake to coerce our allies; we did not initiate counter aggression. We remained true to the ideals of our civilization.

We undertook to restore the political and economic strength of the free nations--that they might defend themselves better against the attacks of communism from within and without. We have given military aid to countries that could use it in the cause of freedom. We have built a great alliance under which most of the free nations of the world are firmly banded together for our mutual defense. This is, I believe, the most magnificent diplomatic achievement in history. For making this possible we shall be forever indebted to two of the greatest Secretaries of State this Nation ever had--Gen. George C. Marshall and Dean Acheson.

Most of the free nations have used the help we gave them and repelled the onslaught of communism. The one tragic exception was the Republic of China. We sent over $2 billion worth of economic and military aid to China, but in spite of this, the Chinese Government was unable to marshal its resources or lead its people successfully. We helped China, but China proved unable to help herself.

Except for China, the free nations, with our aid, have held the line throughout the rest of the world.

Then came the great and crucial test, the invasion of South Korea by the Communist armies in June 1950.

This was the great challenge. If the Communists could get away with this, no other international boundary would be safe. This was the kind of challenge that Hitler had given to the rest of the world when he crossed the borders of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Failure to answer that challenge in the thirties had led us into World War II.

When the Communist challenge came in Korea, we answered it. We did not answer it alone--but with the support and backing of the United Nations. We have beaten and battered the enemy in Korea. The Communists have failed to take South Korea, and they are losing the industrial plant of North Korea under the blows of our air power.

By meeting aggression in Korea, we have saved the free nations of Asia from catastrophe. We have protected Japan and formosa, relieved the pressure on Indochina, and diminished the threat to India and the Middle East.

By standing firm in Korea, we have helped to protect Europe.

By our action in Korea, we have saved the United Nations.

By holding the line in Korea, we have proved that communism is not invincible-that free men can stand up against it and win.

By standing firm in Korea, we have gained enough time to build up the defenses of the free world, and the security of our own country.

These are the things which we have accomplished by our action in Korea. We have held the dike of international order at the point where the flood of aggression threatened to burst through. This has cost us much. It has cost us in human life, it has cost us in wounds and human suffering. There are many families in this land who have sacrificed a member in this struggle to hold the line against aggression.

To those families I would like to say one thing. Never believe that your loss has been in vain. Some will try to tell you that these brave lives were lost in a useless war, but that is not true. The cause for which these men died is just. It was the cause of our country, but more than that, it was the cause of all mankind, throughout the world, longing and striving for peace and justice. Though we cannot foretell the future, we should be firm in our faith that such sacrifices in the cause of right and justice will bring about the end we seek--the goal of permanent peace for all men.

I would like to be able to assure you tonight that the fighting in Korea will soon be at an end, and that we will soon have the peace we are striving for. But I cannot speak for the enemy. Beaten and battered though he is, we are dealing with a fanatical adversary; and we cannot be sure that he has yet learned his lesson.

But we can take comfort in the fact that with every month our defenses are growing, and the combined strength of the free nations is increasing. We are working toward the day when our strength will be so compelling that the Soviet leaders will give up the dangerous game of aggression-the day will come when they will agree to enforceable compacts for disarmament and for keeping the peace. Now that is what we are working for.

Now, my friends, these are the hard facts of our present situation. There is no gimmick or gadget that will change these hard facts. There is no shortcut to peace. There is no superman who can solve our difficulties for us.

It is very dangerous to lead people to think that there is some magical way out of the present struggle. It is an injury to our national security to tear down the confidence of the people in those policies of defense which we have all worked so long, and so successfully, to put into effect.

But that is what the Republican candidate is doing.

Now, I am not going to let him get away with it. He played a great part in our foreign policy. As a general, during and after the war, he was involved in a great many of the decisions that have gone into our present program for peace. He owes his popularity to the high positions he has held, and the good work he has done in them. I do not wish to detract from his achievements. But when he turns around and slanders our national effort as a procession of blunders and failures, then I am going to call him on it.
Just let me give you an example.

A few days ago he made a speech in which he attacked our policies in Berlin and Korea. In these two cases, he applauded the work of the Armed forces, but he added, and I quote: "I deplore the incompetence of the political leaders . . . which made the military action necessary. Our servicemen were summoned to snatch military victory from political defeat."

This is part of the usual Republican line, exalting the military, and blaming everything on the State Department and on our other civilian agencies. But I am surprised that the Republican candidate should stoop to it in the cases of Berlin and Korea. He was personally involved in our decisions about Berlin and Korea. He knows what happened in those cases. And so do I.

My friends, this puts me in a very difficult position. As the Commander in Chief I do not want to engage in a public discussion about the merits or the performance of any of our officers. I have always believed in backing my subordinates to the hilt, and not complaining when they make mistakes--as all of us do, sometimes. But when one of them brings past performance into politics, and tries to stir up the people against the civilian side of our Government--then I feel I ought to say something about past performance, too, and set the record straight-which I am going to do.

In the case of Korea, the decision that is most often attacked as "political incompetence" is the withdrawal of our troops.

But, at the bottom, that was a military decision. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were asked, as far back as 1947, whether, from the point of view of our military security, we ought to keep our troops in Korea. They were asked whether we ought to keep our troops in Korea. They advised that we had little strategic interest in maintaining our troops there, and that we could well use those troops elsewhere. The Chief of Staff of the Army, at that time, who joined in the recommendation, was the man who is now the Republican candidate for President.

Now, this decision may have been right, or it may have been wrong. That is not the point. Personally, in view of the conditions that existed then, I think it was right. But it is wrong for the Republican candidate to attack that decision now, without telling the people that he was at least partly responsible for it.

In the case of Berlin, the Republican Candidate was more deeply involved.

He and the other Republican campaigners are now saying that the Berlin blockade of 1948 was the fault of this Government because we did not have a firm arrangement guaranteeing our right of access by land to Berlin.

Now, of course, the real reason for the Berlin blockade was not anything the allies did or did not do. It lay in the desperate Russian desire to retaliate against the growing strength of Western Europe, and shatter our prestige in Germany. The Berlin blockade was due to the bad faith and hostility of the Russians--and, as Americans, we ought always to be proud that we broke that blockade without starting a war.

But the fact remains that if we had obtained guaranteed access to Berlin--back in 1945--it would have been harder for the Russians to start their blockade in 1948. Why did we not have a clear right of way to Berlin that the Russians could not violate? Why? I ask you, why? Well, I am going to tell you why.

We should have had it. In 1945 I proposed to Stalin directly that we obtain free access to Berlin simultaneously with the withdrawal of our troops from the Soviet Zone in Germany. The arrangements were to be worked out by the military leaders in the field.
Our commanding general in Europe, who is now the Republican candidate, was informed of his responsibility to work them out. He had instructions that unrestricted access to Berlin was to be a condition of the withdrawal of our troops. He delegated this job of negotiation to General Clay, and left Europe. General Clay met with the Russian military leaders, and got only an oral assurance from them, instead of a precise agreement in writing. Our troops were withdrawn, our bargaining position was lost and our right of access was never firmly established.

General Clay, in his book, admits that this was a mistake. He is honest about it. He doesn't blame the civilian side of the Government-which had nothing whatever to do with it. He doesn't even blame the commanding officer.

But his commanding officer should, I think, step up and share some of the blame. The responsibility to arrange free access to Berlin lay squarely on that commanding officer, for I put it there.

I want to emphasize, again, that I have not gone into this matter to detract from the great achievements of the Republican candidate in the military field. There are mistakes in every human career. This mistake was a natural one for the Republican candidate to make, feeling, as he did in 1945, that we had nothing to fear from the Russians.

But when he tries to fix the blame on others, and make the whole thing a political issue, then I believe I should give you the facts. These facts come from the records, my friends, and they cannot be controverted.

Now this little story is to me a very revealing thing. It shows how far the Republican candidate is willing to go in his appeal for votes.

This is all of a piece with his whole attack on our foreign policy. His statements about Berlin and Korea are no more reliable than' his statement that our plan of global resistance to communism is "a program of bits and pieces... an endless game of makeshift and make-believe."

I never thought I would hear words like those from the lips of the man who is now the Republican candidate. He is a man who knows the toil and the cost of building defenses, cementing alliances, and inspiring a common purpose in the hearts and minds of free peoples. He is aware of how easy and how dangerous it is to destroy the common faith and purpose on which the whole structure of our security is built. And yet he does not seem to hesitate now to utter the reckless words that can bring that structure down to ruin.

Now, why does he do it? I can think of only one answer.

He got the Republican nomination because he had become a prominent figure in our foreign policy. Then, having achieved the nomination, he fell into the hands of the Republican snollygosters. And they convinced him that he couldn't get elected unless he campaigned on the theory that our foreign policy is a failure.

So now he is going around the country, campaigning against his own record, and his own principles.

My friends, he is a very sad and pathetic spectacle. And I wish for the sake of history, and for the sake of future generations who will read about him in the schoolbooks, that he had not so tarnished his own bright reputation as a commander of men. And I mean that with all my heart.

But this is more than a personal tragedy. It is a danger to our national security.

I am sure that the American people will reject him. I am going to try my best to see that they do. I am sure that they will vote instead for a man who has shown that he will not stoop to falsification of the facts, or easy promises about the future.

I am sure they will vote for a man who has wisdom and experience in foreign affairs, and stoutness of heart. I am sure they will vote for a man who is honest with himself, and honest with the people of this great country. That man is Adlai Stevenson of Illinois.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:30 p.m. in the Auditorium at Oakland, Calif. During his address he referred to Governor Earl Warren of California, who introduced the President at Davis, Calif. (see Item 277 [6]), Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, Democratic candidate for President, and W. Averell Harriman, Director for Mutual Security.
The address was broadcast.
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.