Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State1

Participants: The Secretary
Rep. Christian A. Herter (R. Mass.)
H—Ben H. Brown, Jr.

Representative Herter called on me on March 21, 1950. He stated that he wished to discuss several matters about which he was gravely concerned. For some time, he disclosed, he has realized that the United States is confronted with three major objectives, and that all three cannot possibly be reached. The first is balancing the Budget, the second foreign commitments, and the third domestic commitments. He feels that it is impossible to make and carry out necessary foreign commitments and make the social advances at home which are desirable and at the same time keep our dollar sound by balancing the budget. There must be a de-emphasis of at least one of the three.

He cited as a particular example the National Science Foundation bill which came before the Rules Committee. He said that Representative Wadsworth2 was very much concerned about this bill since, although a very desirable project, it was another new expenditure. The Rules Committee was slow on acting on this measure and the President called Representative Wadsworth in. Representative Wadsworth expressed to the President his concern over the number of measures which had been proposed which would increase the Federal deficit, and said that although the bill was a worthy one, he did not consider it an essential expenditure at the present time. The President in reply stated that he was not worried about the deficit because he had asked the Bureau of the Budget to make a projection of expenditures and revenues over the next several years and this projection, as a result of the anticipated increase in national income and reduction in military budget and foreign spending showed by 1953 a surplus which could be used for debt retirement. The President was thoroughly satisfied with the situation but Representative Wadsworth was [Page 207] rather astonished, particularly since the projection showed a reduction in military expenditures to $9 billion and no foreign expenditures.

Mr. Herter felt that there was also a feeling of security among the American people which is not justified by the world situation as he sees it today. In his opinion the situation vis-à-vis the Soviet Union is deteriorating, and our position in the next five years will, unless the trend is reversed, be most serious.

He said that that was the situation as he saw it and that he had been turning over in his mind possible things that we could do about it. He had two suggestions. First, we should make another effort to reach agreement with the Soviets. The basis of the agreement should be the seven points covered in my Berkeley speech.3 In the event of failure to reach agreement, we should take the offensive on two fronts—one diplomatically and the other in the U.N. If the Soviets refuse to reach agreement with us, we should label them the barbarians that they are and reach the conclusion that we cannot do business with them. We should then proceed to force them out of the U.N. and bring about a severance of diplomatic relations. Both of these efforts would have to be preceded by obtaining the support, first, of all Latin American nations, and, secondhand more difficult, of our Western European friends. We would then “draw down the iron curtain” on our side, not, of course, politically or information-wise but physically by preventing trade and the movement of persons.

I expressed my agreement with him on the dilemma with which we are confronted by the three problems he first mentioned. I also expressed complete agreement with the fact that the American people have a false sense of security and do not realize that the world situation, which is called a cold war, is in fact a real war and that the Soviet Union has one purpose and that is world domination. With respect to the world situation, I said that I did not think our position has deteriorated between 1948 and 1949, except for the loss of China which was expected, but that during the last six to nine months there had been a trend against us which, if allowed to continue, would lead to a considerable deterioration in our position.

I said that I felt the American people must be made to realize the gravity of our situation and must become reconciled to the fact that we must make certain sacrifices in order to meet the problem of Soviet aggression; that we can only meet it with the full support of the American people which cannot be marshalled without a thorough understanding on their part. The Soviets are intent on world domination and have extended their sphere of influence materially in the [Page 208] past several years. They have no intention of stopping and are determined to bring about a situation where we will be confronted by having the rest of the world under their domination. Their method is to wipe out centers of resistance wherever they exist by political and economic undermining. We are the only real force in opposition to their movement, the only nation which has the ability and the resources to help other nations fight world communism. We are, therefore, their primary target. They would like nothing better than to see us standing alone, suddenly confronted with the realization that we had no friends outside of the hemisphere, thoroughly confused politically and economically.

I explained that as I see it we must do two things. First, we must continue to keep the door open to discussion with the Russians. Second, we must build ourselves and our friends politically, economically and militarily to a point where we have a united force with which to confront the Soviets. When we have accomplished this, we may then be successful in reaching agreement with them. They may then be willing to recede. However, even at that point we must not depend on their good will. Even if agreement is reached we must not relax the strength we have built up. To do so would merely invite them to back down on their agreements at any point where they think they might get away with it. In other words, we must create a situation of strength in opposition to Soviet intentions of world domination, and maintain that strength even after we may have reached agreement on the seven points covered in my Berkeley speech. I assured him that I realized the many steps we must take to achieve this strength. We will have to make sacrifices. We must operate within the North Atlantic Pact and other arrangements. We must strengthen the organization under the North Atlantic Pact. We must have a political body of the North Atlantic Pact countries capable of making top-level decisions expeditiously on military plans.

With specific reference to his two proposals, I said that I do not think we should try to expel the iron curtain countries from the United Nations but rather that we should constantly press to achieve a working arrangement within the United Nations which would allow it to function, that we should keep pressing proposals for working arrangements such as a voluntary agreement not to use the veto. I said that I fear the breaking of diplomatic relations might have very bad repercussions. If you sever ties completely, you have no basis for dealing with those countries. Such a proposal might lead to war.

At this point Mr. Herter said that he wondered whether it would be possible to bring about among the American people a realization of the seriousness of the situation without some domestic crisis, something [Page 209] concrete to which your appeal could be tied, such as a break in diplomatic relations. I replied that I do not believe it will be necessary to create such a situation, the chances are too good that the Russians will do so themselves. I referred to the proposed demonstration in Berlin on the 28th of May, which might result in 300 odd thousand German youths attacking the populace of Western Berlin.4 That would certainly be a messy situation and a crisis. I referred to the next scheduled meeting of the Deputies on the Austrian Peace Treaty when the Soviets may indicate conclusively that there will be no treaty and that they want us to get out of Eastern [Western?] Austria thus ringing down the iron curtain in that area. Finally, I referred to the possibility of an overall attack on Formosa from the mainland of China where we understand air strips are being built, Soviet planes rare being furnished, and Soviet crews are training Chinese crews.

I further pointed out to Mr. Herter that one of the reasons the Russians are considered more dangerous today than in 1936, at which time they had the same superiority in military power, was that in 1936 they were in Russia. Today they have extended themselves considerably. I said that if we could get them back into Russia by agreement on peace treaties for Austria and Germany, we would be in a far superior position militarily, that even if they did not withdraw all the way into Russia but remained in Poland, we would be much better off than with them now near the borders of the Rhine.

Mr. Herter asked how I proposed to go about bringing to the American people a realization of the seriousness of the situation. I replied that I intended to continue making speeches on the subject, driving home each time the same basic points, and adding little by little to the proposals for meeting these problems. I said that I realized that speeches alone would not do it, that people read and heard what was said and then turned their attention to other matters but that each speech would evoke a certain amount of press comment, a certain amount of discussion and that I felt the influence would spread.

I told Mr. Herter that if at any time he felt like giving vent to his feelings in a speech, I would be delighted if he would do so, that it would help me materially for there are a great many people he can reach.

Mr. Herter said that he hoped we would be able to work things out, that he wanted to be helpful, that he was sorry I had had so much trouble on the Hill recently and that he realized that made my problems more difficult.

  1. Drafted by Ben H. Brown, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations.
  2. James W. Wadsworth of New York, Member of the House Rules Committee.
  3. For the text of Acheson’s address at the University of California at Berkeley, March 16, see the Department of State Bulletin, March 27, 1950, pp. 473–478.
  4. Documentation on the Whitsuntide Rally in Berlin, May 28–30, is scheduled for publication in volume iv.