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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.
  92. Address on Foreign Policy at a Luncheon of the American Society of Newspaper Editors  
April 20, 1950

Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors:

I am happy to be here today with this group of editors. You and I have a great many important problems in common, and one of the most important of these is the responsibility we share in helping to make the foreign policy of the United States of America. That is why I am going to take this opportunity to discuss with you some of the aspects of that policy.

No group of men in this country is of greater importance to our foreign policy than the group your society represents.

In a democracy foreign policy is based on the decisions of the people.

One vital function of a free press is to present the facts on which the citizens of a democracy can base their decisions. You are a link between the American people and world affairs. If you inform the people well and completely, their decisions will be good. If you misinform them, their decisions will be bad; our country will suffer and the world will suffer.

You cannot make up people's minds for them. What you can do is to give them the facts they need to make up their own minds. Now that is a tremendous responsibility.

Most of you are meeting that responsibility well--but I am sorry to say a few are meeting it very badly. Foreign policy is not a matter for partisan presentation. The facts about Europe or Asia should not be twisted to conform to one side or the other of a political dispute. Twisting the facts might change the course of an election here at home, but it would certainly damage our country's program abroad.

In many other countries today, the papers print about foreign affairs only what their governments tell them to print. They can't add anything, or cut anything. In the democracies, the papers have a free hand. Only in a democracy is there such mutual trust and confidence among citizens that a private group is given such an all-important role in determining what the Nation as a whole shall do. There is too much nonsense about striped trousers in foreign affairs. Far more influence is exerted at home by the baggy pants of the managing editor than ever is exerted by the striped pants in the State Department.

There never has been a time in our history when there was so great a need for our citizens to be informed and to understand what is happening in the world.

The cause of freedom is being challenged throughout the world today by the forces of imperialistic communism. This is a struggle, above all else, for the minds of men. Propaganda is one of the most powerful weapons the Communists have in this struggle. Deceit, distortion, and lies are systematically used by them as a matter of deliberate policy.

This propaganda can be overcome by the truth--plain, simple, unvarnished truth-presented by the newspapers, radio, newsreels, and other sources that the people trust. If the people are not told the truth, or if they do not have confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the press, they have no defense against falsehoods. But if they are given the true facts, these falsehoods become laughable instead of dangerous.

We can have confidence that the free press of the United States and most of the other free nations will keep us from being deceived by Communist propaganda. But in other parts of the world the struggle between falsehood and truth is far more intense and far more dangerous.

Communist propaganda is so false, so crude, so blatant, that we wonder how men can be swayed by it. We forget that most of the people to whom it is directed do not have free access to accurate information. We forget that they do not hear our broadcasts or read impartial newspapers. We forget that they do not have a chance to learn the truth by traveling abroad or by talking freely to travelers in their own countries.

All too often the people who are subject to Communist propaganda do not know Americans, or citizens of other free nations, as we really are. They do not know us as farmers and as workers. They do not know us as people having hopes and problems like their own. Our way of life is something strange to them. They do not even know what we mean when we say "democracy."

This presents one of the greatest tasks facing the free nations today. That task is nothing less than to meet false propaganda with truth all around the globe. Everywhere that the propaganda of the Communist totalitarianism is spread, we must meet it and overcome it with honest information about freedom and democracy.

In recent years there has been tremendous progress all over the world in education and the exchange of ideas. This progress has .stirred men everywhere to new desires and new ambitions. They want greater knowledge, they want better lives, they want to be masters of their own affairs. We have helped and encouraged these people, but the Communists have seized upon their desires and ambitions and are seeking to exploit them for their own selfish purposes.

In the Far East, for example, millions are restlessly seeking to break away from the conditions of poverty and misery that have surrounded them in the past. The Communists understand this situation very well. They are trying to move in and take advantage of these aspirations. They are making glittering promises about the benefits of communism. They reach directly to the peasant or the villager in these vast areas, and talk to him directly in his own tongue about the things he has learned to desire. They say that they can get these things for him. And too often he hears no voice from our side to that dispute.

We know how false these Communist promises are. But it is not enough for us to know this. Unless we get the real story across to the people in other countries, we will lose the battle for men's minds by pure default.

The Communist propaganda portrays the Soviet Union as the world's foremost advocate of peace and the protector of defenseless peoples. The contradiction between what the Communist leaders have promised and what they have actually done is so startling that we are amazed that anyone can be deceived. In Berlin, in Czechoslovakia, in the Balkans, in the Far East, they have proved, time after time, that their talk about peace is only a cloak for imperialism. But their intended victims will not learn these facts from Soviet propaganda. We are the ones who must make sure that the truth about communism is known everywhere.

At the same time, we must overcome the constant stream of slander and vilification that the Communists pour out in an effort to discredit the United States and other free nations.

Soviet propaganda constantly reviles the United States as a nation of "warmongers" and "imperialists." You and I know how absurd this is. We know that the United States is wholly dedicated to the cause of peace. We have no purpose of going to war except in the defense of freedom. Our actions demonstrate that we mean exactly what we say. But when men throughout the world are making their choice between communism and democracy, the important thing is not what we know about our purposes and our actions--the important thing is what they know.

Communist propaganda also seeks to destroy our influence in the world by saying the American economy is weak and about to collapse. We know this is preposterous. The industrial production of the United States is equal to that of all the rest of the world combined. Our agricultural production is more than adequate for our needs. Our people enjoy the highest standard of living in the history of the world. Our economic strength is the bulwark of the free world.

From every standpoint, our free way of life is vastly superior to the system of oppression which the Communists seek to impose upon mankind. In many parts of the world, however, where men must choose between freedom and communism, the story is going untold.
We cannot run the risk that nations may be lost to the cause of freedom, because their people do not know the facts.

I am convinced that we should greatly extend and strengthen our efforts to make the truth known to people in all the world.

Most of us have recognized for years, of course, how important it is to spread the truth about freedom and democracy. We are already doing some very good work-through the "Voice of America" and the United States information offices and libraries in many parts of the world, through the exchange of students, through the United Nations and its affiliated organizations, and in many other ways. But events have shown, I believe, that we need to do much more, both ourselves and in cooperation with the other free nations. We must use every means at our command, private as well as governmental, to get the truth to other peoples.

Private groups and organizations have an important part to play. Our labor unions have already done fine work in communicating with labor in Europe, in Latin America, and elsewhere. The story of free American labor, told by American trade unionists, is a better weapon against Communist propaganda among workers in other countries than any number of speeches by Government officials.

The same principle applies to other groups. The best way for farmers in other countries to find out about us is to talk directly with our own farmers. Our businessmen can speak directly to businessmen abroad. We need to promote much more direct contact between our people and those of other countries.

We should encourage many more people from other countries to visit us here, to see for themselves what is true and what is not true about this great country of ours. We should find more opportunities for foreign students to study in our schools and universities. They will learn here the skills and techniques needed in their own countries. They will also see at first hand the rights and duties of citizens in our land of democratic institutions.

Our colleges should train more Americans to go abroad as teachers, especially to teach modern methods of farming, industry, and public health--and, by example, to teach our concepts of democracy. The notable record of our many charitable and religious organizations who send teachers abroad is a proof of what can be done.

Another major part of our effort must be carried out through our great public information channels--newspapers and magazines, radio, and motion pictures. We must strive constantly to break down or leap over barriers to free communication wherever they exist. We must make full use of every effective means of communicating information, in simple, understandable form, to people whose backgrounds and cultures are different from our own.

This poses an enormous challenge to groups such as yours, a challenge which can be met only by extraordinary inventiveness and enterprise. I am confident that the American press can and will make a tremendously useful contribution toward finding new solutions.

The Government's programs for telling the truth about the United States to the peoples of the world also need constant improvement. Our present overseas information and educational exchange program is getting results. For example, the "Voice of America" has been carrying to people behind the Iron Curtain the true story of world events. It has been so successful that the Soviet government is using a vast amount of costly equipment in an attempt to drown out our broadcasts by jamming. We must devise ways to break through that jamming and get our message across. And we must improve and strengthen our whole range of information and educational services.

This is not a conclusion reached by Government officials alone. We have had the valuable aid of the United States Advisory Commission on Information created by the Congress. Your own society is ably represented on that commission by Mr. Mark Ethridge and Mr. Erwin D. Canham. The members of the Commission have given intensive study to the overseas information program and have made repeated recommendations that it be substantially expanded. Similar recommendations for the exchange program have been made by the Advisory Commission on Education, headed by Dr. Harvie Branscomb. I have been glad to see that many members of the Congress have urged an improved and expanded program in these fields--as shown, for example, by the resolution introduced recently by Senator Benton for himself and a number of his colleagues.

Because of the pressing need to increase our efforts along this line, I have directed the Secretary of State to plan a strengthened and more effective national effort to use the great power of truth in working for peace. This effort will require the imagination and energies of private individuals and groups throughout the country. We shall need to use fully all the private and governmental means that have proved successful so far-and to discover and employ a great many new ones.

Our task is to present the truth to millions of people who are uninformed or misinformed or unconvinced. Our task is to reach them in their daily lives, as they work and learn. We must be alert, ingenious, and diligent in reaching peoples of other countries, whatever their educational and cultural backgrounds may be. Our task is to show them that freedom is the way to economic and social advancement, the way to political independence, the way to strength, happiness, and peace.

This task is not separate and distinct from other elements of our foreign policy. It is a necessary part of all we are doing to build a peaceful world. It is as important as armed strength or economic aid. The Marshall plan, military aid, point 4--these and other programs depend for their success on the understanding and support of our own citizens and those of other countries.

We must make ourselves known as we really are--not as Communist propaganda pictures us. We must pool our efforts with those of other free peoples in a sustained, intensified program to promote the cause of freedom against the propaganda of slavery. We must make ourselves heard round the world in a great campaign of truth.

We have tremendous advantages in the struggle for men's minds and loyalties. We have truth and freedom on our side. The appeal of free institutions and self-government springs from the deepest and noblest aspirations of mankind. It is based on every man's desire for liberty and opportunity. It is based on every man's wish to be self-reliant and to shape his own destiny.

As we go forward with our campaign of truth, we will make lasting progress toward the kind of world we seek--a world in which men and nations live not as enemies but as friends and brothers.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2 p.m. at the Hotel Statler in Washington. His opening words "Mr. Chairman" referred to B. M. McKelway of the Washington Star, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In the course of his remarks he referred to Mark Ethridge, publisher of the Louisville Times and the Louisville Courier-Journal, Erwin D. Canham, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, and Dr. Harvie Branscomb, chancellor of Vanderbilt University.

The annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors was held in Washington April 20-27, 1950.
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.