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.
  9. Statement by the President on Civil Defense  
January 12, 1952

OUR NATION'S top strategists have long since recognized that total defense plans are necessary for our survival. No longer can we rely on the strength-of-arms alone if a global war is thrust upon us.

America's strength rests on the will of our people to resist aggression and in our power and ability to out-produce and out-fight a potential enemy.

For that reason, an enemy must strike first at the home front which is the source of our strength-in-arms. If an enemy is unable to crush our will to fight and cripple our production lines, then he cannot win a war against America.

For that reason we have pushed forward as rapidly as possible to develop a national system of protection for our people and our production.

That system we know as civil defense. It is rated by our top military leaders as a coequal partner with the military in our security program.

One year ago the Congress passed, and I signed, Public Law 920 creating the Federal Civil Defense Administration under the leadership of the former Governor of Florida, Millard Caldwell.

The prime task of that agency has been to provide the leadership and the planning and the impetus for a national system of civil defense which will be manned by our States and our cities.

I can report to you that in this short year there has been substantial progress in civil defense throughout the Nation. This progress, although far from enough, has added to our total strength as a nation.

Because of what civil defense has been able to accomplish against considerable odds, I am convinced that this country is today more alert and better prepared against enemy attack than it has ever been in our peacetime history but we are far from being fully ready.

Our people, particularly in the cities, have learned some of the basic lessons of survival in case of enemy attack. That knowledge would save many thousands of lives if an attack came.

The public generally has come to recognize that this new dimension of modern war, civil defense, is now a regular part of our daily lives for many years to come.

I can report that our States and our cities are moving forward on all fronts in civil defense but, unfortunately, with varying degrees of effectiveness. I think it is safe to say that practically all of our cities, both large and small, have civil defense organizations in being.
But we must do more.

While nearly 2,000,000 patriotic citizens have volunteered, during the past year, to serve actively in their local civil defense organizations, approximately 17,500,000 trained and organized defense workers are needed if we are to do the job properly.

In addition we must have in reserve for civil defense far greater quantities of medical supplies, fire trucks, equipment to combat biological and chemical warfare, and shelters than we have at present. Until civil defense is manned by many more millions of trained volunteers and until the desperately needed supplies and equipment for civil defense are in place and ready to use, America will not be prepared to resist aggression.

When our people and our cities are trained and organized to cope with sudden atomic attacks the enemy may well conclude that such attacks are not worth making. For that reason, we must look upon a strong civil defense program as a positive force in helping keep the peace of the world.

Those responsible for civil defense preparedness throughout the Nation have worked hard against considerable odds. They have sometimes fought apathy in their own official circles, particularly in our own Congress. They have worked diligently to interest the public in self-protection and the necessity for volunteering for service in civil defense. But as effective as their efforts have been, they must be redoubled in the coming months.

Regardless of the wishful talk you may hear to the contrary, you and I are now in a national emergency as grave as any we have ever faced.

We have not won the war against time. We have no right to feel safe militarily or on the home front. You may be sure that I will be the first to tell you when urgency is no longer a grave problem in our security program. That is not now the case.

Let me warn you again that there is no such thing as bargain basement preparedness or escape from the hard realities of the time. There are no short cuts to civil defense preparedness. It is a tough, unpleasant but grimly necessary job.

Fortunately, civil defense is in the American tradition, dating back to the frontier days when all members of every family had a task to do in defending their homes and their stockades from marauding savages.

We can do this job of protecting our homes and our cities just as our forefathers did. But we must do it before it is too late. If war comes to America, we may well win or lose as the result of how ready we are when the first attack comes.

I cannot tell you when or where the attack will come or that it will come at all. I can only remind you that we must be ready if it does come.

I have every faith that the people of this country will recognize the dangers that face us and that they are willing to share the responsibility and dangers of defending this country with the man in uniform.

But civil defense readiness throughout the Nation is not something that can be done tomorrow. It must be done today--or it may be too late. To lose the sense of urgency and the need for individual action in civil defense now would be to let down our guard at a most dangerous time. You may be sure that the enemy is always waiting for just such an opening.

NOTE: On January 12, 1951, the President signed the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 (64 Stat. 1245). For the President's statement upon signing the act, see 1951 volume, this series, Item 10.
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.