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.
  138. Remarks at the Armed Forces Dinner  
May 19, 1950

THANK YOU very much, Mr. Secretary. It has been a wonderful evening. I want to compliment the Secretary of Defense on that address he has just delivered. It covered the situation very adequately. But really, I wish you could really have some trouble. You know, we have 52 Sundays in a year on the average, and there are 313 other days left. I have applications for those 313 days for special occasions. I wish I had time to give you a list of some of the things I am asked to do during those days. One of the things that is beautiful about this unification thing is the fact that we have eliminated 2 days and now have only one for three.

I was somewhat intrigued tonight because I found that by appointing the Chief of Protocol as Ambassador to Canada, I had gotten myself into trouble tonight. I just sat here and I sat here, and then it was decided that maybe protocol should decide that I ought to sit somewhere else, but protocol wasn't here. And you know how that originated? In the armed services. I thought maybe that I ought to send for Stanley Woodward and see whether he could tell me what the difference is between State Department protocol and protocol in the armed services.

But this has been a grand evening. It is the beginning of an era. You know, in 1789 Mr. Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States, and he had a Secretary of State and a Secretary of War and an Attorney General who were his first three Cabinet officers. And the Secretary of War was the Secretary of National Defense. It has taken us from 1789 until 1947 to decide that George Washington knew what he was doing.

In 1792 General Washington sent a message to the Congress of the United States, in which he stated that every man in a republic owes a duty to that republic, and that man should have a certain amount of training so that he could serve that republic in any capacity as necessity required it.

The Congress at that time decided that General Washington did not know what he was talking about.

In 1945, in October, I sent a message to the Congress of the United States and requested a universal training program for the young men and women of these United States, so that they could furnish the service necessary for the welfare and the defense of the United States of America.

The Congress of the United States decided that the then President of the United States didn't know what he was talking about, they didn't know what he meant.

So, I appointed a commission, made up principally of people who were opposed to a universal training idea. And you notice I emphasize universal training, not universal military training. And that commission began investigating the situation from all angles.

And I had a Baptist preacher on that commission, and I had a Presbyterian preacher on that organization, and I had a Catholic priest on that organization. I had lawyers and doctors--there were a dozen or so of those people.

And they started, as I say, with a majority of the opinion that the Congress was right and the President did not know what he was talking about.

But, after weeks of travail and investigation, I met the Baptist preacher one day, on my way from the office over to the White House--the White House hadn't fallen down then, it was still in use.

And this Baptist preacher, who is one of the great men of this country, stopped and said, "Mr. President, I have to do some praying."

I said, "Well, I hope you will do a lot of it, because this country needs it."

"But," he says, "about a special proposition--I have been wrong all the time."

And that commission came in with one of the most learned reports that has ever been given to a President of the United States. And it was a unanimous report, suggesting that a universal training program would be one of the finest things that this country could have.

I have requested that twice a year, every year, since I have been President of the United States. And nobody seems to think that I know what I am talking about.

I am saying to you that had we implemented that training program in 1945, or early in 1946, there would have been no cold war.

It has taken a long time for the people who are in authority behind the Iron Curtain to find out that this great Republic of ours is rounded on the right foundation, that this Republic of ours is here to stand and exist, because this Republic is rounded for the welfare and benefit of all the not for just two or three.

This Republic is founded on the basis that the Armed Forces are in the control of the people--the civilian population, and that we do not need a Gestapo police to find out whether the country is going on all right or not.

Now, there has been much conversation about weapons and their improvement. Do you know something? That with the improvement of the weapons of destruction, the fatalities in war have decreased in proportion to the number of men engaged.

The greatest slaughter in the history of the world was committed when only the short sword was the main arm of attack. Read the casualties of Alexander's fighters at Arbela. Read the reports of Hannibal's greatest military maneuvers in the history of the world at Cannae. They gathered up enough rings off the fingers of the Romans to fill 2 bushel baskets--the cream of the Roman citizenship.

In the Middle Ages, casualties were terrific for the fighting forces hand to hand.

In the First World War and in the Second World War, the casualties per number of men engaged were way below what they were in those ancient times.

And I say to you, you remember an old man in Norway--I think it was--named Mr. Nobel, who discovered explosives, and he thought he had discovered an explosive that would destroy the world. And in order to put himself right with God and get an entrance into Heaven, he set up certain programs and medals which were to be given to people in the future who did the most for peace.

I am for it. I think he did a great thing. But his discovery was much more useful to peace than it was to destruction.

Now in this last age, in the Second World War, the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, was willing to gamble that the atom could be used for an explosive. We spent an immense amount of money on that program. And it was discovered that fission of the atom was possible. It was used for destruction to end a war, and to save maybe a half million lives of young men on both sides of the contest. And it accomplished its purpose.

But I am here to tell you that that discovery in the long run is going to be more important for the peace of the world than for its destruction.

All of us here are working for peace. Armed Services Day and unification of the Armed Forces are our bid to stand at the head of the peace-loving nations to maintain the peace.

Well, you couldn't maintain the peace in Washington 15 minutes if you fired all the policemen. And you couldn't do it in any other city or country in the world, unless you have the necessary forces in the hands of honest civilians to enforce the peace. That is all we want. We are developing this Armed Forces service of ours for the purpose of maintaining peace.

And there are certain people in the world who only understand the fist. And when they understand that that fist is no good against a republic who believes in the welfare of the people, and who believes in the civil rights of the individual, then and then only will they have peace.

I hope--I sincerely hope--that from this time forward we will be approaching a better settlement of the misunderstandings in the world, and that when we finally wind up-and I hope it won't be too long in the future--we will have peace in the world, and all the individuals in the world can live under a bill of rights which was adopted by the United Nations here not long ago, on the model of the first 10 amendments of the Constitution of the United States.
Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:15 p.m. at the Statler Hotel in Washington. In his opening remarks he referred to the Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson.

The dinner was sponsored by the Navy League of the United States, the Military Order of the World Wars, and the Air Force Association.

For the President's address before a joint session of the Congress on universal military training on October 23, 1945, see the 1945 volume, this series, Item 174. The report of the Advisory Commission on Universal Training, entitled "A Program for National Security," is dated May 29, 1947 (Government Printing Office: 1947, 453 pp.). For the President's letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House transmitting the report on June 4, 1947, see the 1947 volume, this series, Item 106. A list of the members of the Commission is appended to the President's remarks at a meeting with them on December 20, 1946 (see 1946 volume, this series, Item 268).

On June 19, 1951, Congress made extensive changes in the Selective Service Act of 1948 and redesignated that act as the Universal Military Training and Service Act (65 Stat. 75).
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.