Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs ( Barrett ) to the Under Secretary of State ( Webb )1


Subject: Public Reaction toward Possible Adoption of Stronger Foreign Policy

Here is the report from the Division of Public Studies on current public attitudes.

May I say that talks with a number of Congressmen in the last few days, who have told me about their mail, underscores my belief that there is increasing public pressure, which could become dangerous, for some sort of bold action.

E[dward] W. B[arrett]

Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Public Affairs ( Russell ) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs ( Barrett )


Subject: American Public Attitudes toward Possible Adoption of Stronger U.S. Foreign Policy Measures

Extensive study of public comment in press and radio, of the positions taken by major national organizations, and of the findings of public opinion surveys indicates the following cardinal features of American opinion on the possible adoption of stronger U.S. measures.

A. Broad Aspects of Opinion on Stronger Measures

The great majority of Americans are convinced that the United States must pursue an active policy in world affairs. There is no evidence [Page 186] of any significant reversion to the pre-war belief that America could escape a leading role in international affairs.
The American people are prepared for a period of protracted tension in East-West relations; yet they desire their government to take every initiative which offers a possibility of relieving the mounting tension.
Reaction to recent statements by the President and Secretary of State shows that there is a powerful segment of American opinion which feels it is futile to expect dependable agreements with Russia at this time. Nevertheless, the proposals of Senator McMahon and other public figures have given strong impetus to a widespread desire for the U.S. to try “new approaches” and to express more vigorously America’s objectives for peace—at least “for the sake of the record”.
The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the United States must continue its efforts to stop Communist expansion, since such expansion tends to make war more likely and effective defense more difficult.
Most Americans are willing to consider a wide range of possible measures to halt Communist expansion; but few would go so far as to support a “preventive” war.
However, a notable segment of American leaders would be concerned lest stronger measures against Communist expansion should over-extend our resources or should be unduly provocative to Russia.

B. Factors in Acceptance

Public acceptance of any given proposal depends upon the degree to which the public is convinced that the situation actually requires U.S. action.
Public acceptance will largely depend upon two further factors in public opinion: a) the amount of personal sacrifice entailed; and b) the extent to which U.S. security is thought to be involved—often measured in terms of geographical propinquity or of historical association.
Public acceptance, in addition, depends on the evidence the public sees that the measures will be reasonably effective in accomplishing their purpose. For example, the Marshall Plan has been strongly supported since 1947 because the preponderance of the evidence indicated that the Plan would work and was working. On the other hand, the military assistance program has to date been accepted less widely and less enthusiastically—partly because the public has not been convinced that the program offers an effective solution to the North Atlantic security problem.
Some public resistance to the idea that new burdens are required may result from: a) the cumulative effect of earlier sacrifices; b) the [Page 187] feeling that the Government has not sufficiently considered alternative solutions, has not sufficiently consulted with leaders of Congress and the public, and has not published adequate information for independent judgment.

C. Current Support for Past Measures

Some indication of the probable public reaction to stronger measures for preventing Communist expansion can be gained from analysis of the relative support accorded past measures:

More approval is given to diplomatic moves and declarations against Communist expansion than to economic and military programs.
There is a current demand for a positive U.S. policy to stop Communist expansion in Asia; but large-scale economic and military programs for Europe are receiving much greater support than comparable measures for Asia. Relatively little discussion has been given to the disposition of the $75,000,000 for military aid in the China area.
Economic aid has greater approval than arms aid—both in the case of Europe and in that of Asia.
The North Atlantic Pact enjoys overwhelming public support. But at the present time actual federation of the U.S. and Western Europe is positively favored by only a few editors and 1 out of 5 Americans.

D. If new proposals to combat Communist expansion involve higher taxes and a more unbalanced budget, Americans may be expected to give special scrutiny to the reasons setting forth the need for them. But there is support for next year’s ERP budget and any sums regarded by the public as needed for the defense of the United States.

F[rancis] H. R[ussell]
  1. A handwritten notation on the source text indicates that this document was read to the Secretary of State.