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Address at a Dinner of the Civil Defense Conference

May 7, 1951

Governor Caldwell, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

This conference is being held to consider one of the most important tasks facing our country.

The lives of many millions of our fellow citizens may depend on the development of a strong civil defense.

The threat of atomic warfare is one which we must face, no matter how much we dislike it. We can never afford to forget that the terrible destruction of cities, and of civilization as we know it, is a real possibility.

There are two things our country must do to face this awesome and terrible possibility.

One of them is to look to our civil defense. So long as there is any chance at all that the atomic bombs may fall on our cities, we cannot gamble on being caught unprepared. Let's not fool ourselves--there is such a chance. We must prepare for it.

The other thing we must do is to try to prevent atomic war from coming. That is what I have been working for ever since I became President. That is what our foreign policy is all about.

The foreign policy of the United States is based on an effort to attain world peace. Every action we have taken has had this aim in view.

We are right in the midst of a big debate on foreign policy. A lot of people are looking at this debate as if it were just a political fight. But the stakes are a lot more important than the outcome of an election. The thing that is at stake in this debate may be atomic war.

Our foreign policy is not a political issue. It is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of the future of mankind.

These two things--civil defense and foreign policy--are what I will talk to you about tonight. As you see, they are closely tied together. And they are both concerned with a form of warfare which is more destructive than anything the world has ever known before in its history.

Our civil defense problem starts with a few basic facts.

Because there was an atomic explosion in the Soviet Union in 1949, we must act on the assumption that they do have atomic bombs.

They have planes that could drop atomic bombs upon our cities.

No matter how good our air defense may be, or how big an air force we build, a determined air attack by the Soviet Union could drop bombs upon this country. Our air force experts say planes would get through, however good our defenses may be.

The purpose of atomic attacks would be to strike a death blow at our cities, to burn out our centers of production, and to create panic among our people.

There is no complete protection against an atomic bomb attack. But there is a lot we can do to reduce the number of deaths and injuries and to check panic.

We must organize ourselves in every city, factory, office, and home. Civil defense is a responsibility which begins with the individual. It begins with you--it begins with you. It is shared with the city, the State, and the Nation.

We have two immediate jobs. One is to teach all our people how to protect themselves in the event of an enemy attack. The other is to organize and train millions of volunteers as active members of the United States Civil Defense Corps. That is what you are here for.

The question we are putting up to you men and women at this conference is: How can we do these jobs as quickly and as efficiently as it is possible? We need your help in getting our fellow citizens to realize that this is a very serious business. So long as we face the threat of an atomic attack on the United States, we have got to build a strong civil defense organization.

But even with such an organization, our losses in an atomic war, if we should have one--and God forbid--those losses would be terrible. Whole cities would be casualties. Cleveland or Chicago, Seattle or New York, Los Angeles or Washington, or any of our other great cities might be destroyed. And they could be destroyed.

Even with such losses, frightful as they would be, I think this country would survive and would win an atomic war. But even if we win, an atomic war would be a disaster.

The best defense against the atomic bomb is to prevent the outbreak of another world war and to achieve a real peace. We must bend all our energy to the job of keeping our free way of life, and to keep it without another war.

We can have peace only if we have justice and fair dealing among nations. The United Nations is the best means we have for deciding what is right and what is wrong between nations. It is a great attempt to make the moral judgment of mankind effective in international affairs. Nothing is more important if mankind is to overcome the barbaric doctrine that might makes right.

Our best chance to keep the peace and to stay free is for nations that believe in freedom to stick together and to build their strength together. That is what we call collective security.

We have been trying since the last war was over and even before it was over to build a system of collective security among those countries who really believe in the principle of the United Nations.

I think we have made a lot of progress. I know that some people have become impatient with our efforts to establish collective security, because we have not yet succeeded in attaining world peace. But we are on the right road.

There are cynics who scorn the United Nations, who are indifferent to the need for cooperation among the free peoples. They do not understand that our best hope for peace is to bind together the nations that are striving for peace and to increase their strength to stop aggression.

The United Nations is being severely tested today because of the Korean conflict. The fighting there is requiring great sacrifices. In a time of crisis there is a tendency to look for some easy way out regardless of the consequences. But we must not be misled. We must not lose sight of the world picture and the critical importance of the United Nations if we are to reach a permanent solution.

Communist aggression in Korea is a part of the worldwide strategy of the Kremlin to destroy freedom. It has shown men all over the world that Communist imperialism may strike anywhere, anytime.

The defense of Korea is part of the worldwide effort of all the free nations to maintain freedom. It has shown free men that if they stand together, and pool their strength, Communist aggression cannot succeed.

The firm stand of the United Nations in Korea has checked the advance of the Communist imperialism throughout Asia. It is using up the military resources of the Chinese Communists to such an extent that they are not able to carry out the designs of Communist imperialism against the independence of other Asian countries. And the people of those countries who have been resisting Communist aggression have now been given new hope and new courage.

The Communist assault in Indochina has been checked by the free people of Indochina with the help of the French. In Malaya the British are holding firm against Communist guerrilla attacks. In the Philippines, in Burma, and in other places in Asia, Communist-led guerrillas are being blocked.

The fight against aggression in Korea has also dealt a heavy blow to the Kremlin conspiracy outside of Asia. It has brought new hope and courage to free men in Europe, and in the Middle East, who face the Soviet menace across their frontiers. The fight against Communist aggression in the Far East is the fight against Communist aggression in the West and in the whole world as well.

The struggle in Korea is a long and a hard one. But it can be won--and our policy is designed to win it.

The Chinese rulers are losing large numbers of their soldiers. As these losses increase, it will become clearer and clearer to them that aggression does not pay. They can have peace when they give up their aggression and stop the fighting.

Meanwhile, the strength of all the free nations is growing. The Soviet plan of world conquest is becoming more and more impossible to achieve. If we stick to our guns, and continue to punish the aggressors, we can end the aggression in Korea and restore peace.

We have been urged to take measures which would spread the fighting in the Far East. We have been told that this would bring the Korean conflict to a speedy conclusion; that it would save the lives of our troops. In my judgment that just isn't true. I believe we have a better chance of stopping aggression in Korea, at a smaller cost in the lives of our troops and those of our allies, by following our present course.

Let me tell you that I have studied this question for a long time. It is not a question that can be decided in the light of Korea alone. It does not affect just the Far East alone. It is not a local question. It affects Korea and Japan, and the security of our troops in those places. But it also reaches Europe, and the future of the North Atlantic Treaty, and the security of free people there and everywhere else in the world. It is a decision that affects the future of the United Nations and the future of the whole world.

I have refused to extend the area of the conflict in the Far East, under the circumstances which now prevail, and I am going to tell you exactly why.

I have refused first on military grounds. The best military advice I have been able to obtain--the best collective military advice in this country--is that this course of action would not lead to a quick and easy solution of the Korean conflict.

On the contrary, it could very well lead to a much bigger and much longer war. Such a war would not reduce our casualties in the Far East. It would increase them enormously.

Such a war would expose our troops to devastating air and submarine attacks. It would seriously endanger Japan and the Philippines. And it would unite the Chinese people behind their Communist rulers.

Furthermore, a deep involvement on our part in a war in China, whatever the outcome there, would have critical military consequences in Europe. There is nothing that would give the Kremlin greater satisfaction than to see our resources committed to an all-out struggle in Asia, leaving Europe exposed to the Soviet armies.

These are the military dangers.

But there are other dangers. The Kremlin is trying, and has been trying for a long time, to drive a wedge between us and the other free nations. It wants to see us isolated. It wants to see us distrusted. It wants to see us feared and hated by our allies.


Our allies agree with us in the course we are following. They do not believe that we should take the initiative to widen the conflict in the Far East. If the United States were to widen the conflict, we might well have to go it alone.

If we go it alone in Asia, we may destroy the unity of the free nations against aggression. Our European allies are nearer to Russia than we are. They are in far greater danger. If we act without regard to the danger that faces them, they may act without regard to the dangers that we face. Going it alone brought the world to the disaster of World War II. We cannot go it alone in Asia and go it in company in Europe. The whole idea of going it alone is the opposite of everything we have stood for since World War II. Going it alone in Asia might wreck the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty, and the whole system of collective security we are helping to set up.

That would be a tremendous victory for the Soviet Union.

We do not intend to fall into that trap. I do not propose to strip this country of its allies in the face of Soviet danger.

The path of collective security is our only sure defense against the dangers that threaten us. It is the path to peace in Korea; it is the path to peace in the world.

We are determined to do our utmost to limit the war in Korea. We will not take any action which might place upon us the responsibility of initiating a general war-a third world war. But if the aggressor takes further action which threatens the security of the United Nations forces in Korea, we will meet and counter that action.

I repeat, I am convinced that the course we are now following in Korea is accomplishing the most for peace--and at the least cost in American lives. All of us wish that no Americans had to fight or die. But by fighting on a limited scale now, we may be able to prevent a third world war later on.

Remember this, if we do have another world war, it will be an atomic war. We could expect many atomic bombs to be dropped on American cities, and a single one of them could cause many more times the casualties than we have suffered in all the fighting in Korea. I do not want to be responsible for bringing that about.

Some people do not understand how the free world can ever win this long struggle without fighting a third world war. These people overlook the inner weaknesses of the Soviet dictatorship. They forget that the free world is stronger--stronger in its determination, stronger in its staying power, stronger in its human resources--than any [p.269] system of slavery under a totalitarian dictatorship.

The Kremlin's system of terror, which appears to be its main strength, is one of its greatest weaknesses. Dictatorships are based on fear. They cannot give their people happiness and peace. They have nothing to offer except aggression and slavery.

As the aggressive tactics of the Kremlin are checked by the collective defenses of a free world, the futility of the whole Communist program is becoming more and more apparent to the people under Soviet control.

We can already see this process at work. In China the failure of the Korean adventure is weakening the hold of the Communist government. Wholesale arrests and executions are taking place. In the same way the pressure of the police state is increasing in the other satellite countries.

Yugoslavia has thrown off the Kremlin yoke. Every day refugees flee across the border from the Iron Curtain countries into the free countries of Europe.

There are growing signs of internal tension and unrest behind the Iron Curtain.

We must remember that the peoples under the Soviet rule of terror are not only our friends but our allies. They are victims of a terrible tyranny. We do not hate them. We have had friendly relations with them in the past, and we can have such friendship again.

As the free nations build their strength and unity, this fact will compel a change in the Soviet drive for power and conquest. The Soviet rulers are faced with the growing strength of the free world, the increasing cost of aggression, and the increasing difficulty of driving their people to greater and greater hardships. They will be forced by these pressures from within and without to give up aggression. It will then be possible to make progress with a program for international control and the reduction of armaments and for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Our programs of economic aid and technical assistance, and our campaign of truth, not only strengthen the free peoples, they weaken the dictatorships. They remind the victims of tyranny that a better world lies outside their prison. They build up the hope of freedom everywhere.