PPS Files, Lot 64 D 563

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

top secret

A member of my staff has prepared this memorandum on American public opinion, which I think will be of interest to you.

This memorandum will particularly concern those who will be the members of the “staff group” mentioned in recommendation “c” of Mr. Lay’s Memorandum to the NSC of June 1.1

Edward W. Barrett
[Page 90]

Memorandum by Mr. Walter P. Schwinn, Public Liaison Officer

top secret

Subject: Domestic Public Opinon and the Achievement of National Objectives

The state of public opinion in the United States with regard to broad measures necessary to the achievement of the national objectives set forth in NSC 68 and the national programs outlined in NSC 68/3 appears by all reliable objective criteria to be favorably disposed.

The people of the United States have for a long time been and continue to be cognizant of the threats to the national security posed by the aggressive intentions and the military capabilities of the USSR. In January 1951, 73% of a representative sample of public opinion saw no chance that the USSR would change its policy and thereby make possible a peaceful adjustment of its relations with the free world during the next few years.

At the same time, awareness of the menace posed by Soviet Communism has not resulted in a demand for such drastic action as preventive war. Although in April 1951, the majority of a representative sample of public opinion favored bombing Manchuria and assisting Chiang Kai-shek to attack the mainland of China, only about a third favored a general war with China, while ⅔ specifically opposed it. Moreover, in October nearly 80% opposed a declaration of war on USSR.

The conclusion can not be surely drawn from the popular attitude with regard to a preventive war that the people in the US are in a mood indefinitely to endure the tensions and the difficulties imposed by the cold war. At the same time, the inference is permissible that existing public opinion provides a base on which can be built a program to deter but not to wage war.

This is borne out by the support given to measures calculated to enable the US and its allies to build the strength necessary to deter the Soviet Union from war but not to wage aggressive war against it. At the end of April 1951, 83% of a representative sample of public opinion favored spending by the United States of as much money for rearmament as is being spent during the current fiscal year or more. Continuing or increasing the amount of military assistance given to the allies of the US was favored by 67%. As much economic assistance to the allies of the US as was given in the current fiscal year, or more, is favored by 52%. 57% favor sending US troops to build up the defense of Western Europe. 65% favor increased expenditure for the foreign information program.

Moreover, similar majorities favor action to the domestic field to build up effective strength of the center. 85% favor an immediate civil [Page 91] defense program. 57% favor price and wage controls. The presumption exists that similar majorities would favor other similar domestic measures necessary to maintain strength of the center.

The attitudes described above indicate simply a public willingness in support of particular courses of action. It does not signify public insistence that such courses be carried out. However, the degree of willingness is of such a nature that vigorous public support could be taken for granted if strong leadership were to be exerted and effective organization to be called into being. The transforming of public willingness into active support of a given course of action is a problem not only of information but of organization and leadership. Information can contribute to both. It can not substitute for them.

  1. Ante, p. 88.