3. Letter From the President to the Secretary of State1
Dear Foster: Nothing has so engaged my attention for the past few weeks as the change in the international situation. I am referring especially to the continuing struggle between the Communistic and the free worlds.[Page 11]
I know that you have thought over these things as long and earnestly as I have, and I am merely trying in this letter to put down a few obvious truths that might serve as a basis for beginning our conversation the next time we meet.
During the Stalin regime, the Soviets seemed to prefer the use of force—or the threat of force—to gain their ends. They augmented this with a never ending stream of propaganda.
So long as they used force and the threat of force, we had the world’s natural reaction of fear to aid us in building consolidations of power and strength in order to resist Soviet advances. In this way, we were able—at the least—to convince the Soviets that there was for them little to gain unless they were ready to resort to a major war. I believe they want none of this.
More recently, they have seemed to have determined to challenge with economic weapons. Now we have always boasted that the productivity of free men in a free society would overwhelmingly excel the productivity of regimented labor. So at first glance, it would appear that we are being challenged in the area of our greatest strength.
However, there is one factor, always important in a military struggle, that applies also, if with somewhat less force, to economic warfare. This is the selectivity and flexibility that always belong to the offensive. The defensive must normally try to secure an entire area, the offensive can concentrate on any point of its own selection.
In a certain sense, democracy must always be on the defensive in anticipation of any struggle, whether it be military or economic. This is because of the necessity for debating every issue before our law-making bodies and thus publishing to the world, in advance of any action, exactly what we intend to do. Dictatorships can move secretly and selectively.
One of the problems we have is how to determine the relative value of this advantage to the Soviets. I think that the promotion of economic associations, somewhat as we have done in the military area, would be helpful. What would be even more effective, however, would be the opportunity to plan together over the long term.
Long term planning would give every individual nation a stake in cooperation with the United States. The power of the Soviets to move in with a startling type of inducement would be far less effective.
In the absence of such long planned cooperation between the United States and other countries (or associations of countries), the Soviets can move in with a very tempting offer and on a basis that makes it exceedingly difficult for us to counter the effect they create. In other words, they have the advantage of the initiative. Thus, while we are busy rescuing Guatemala or assisting Korea and [Page 12] Indo-China, they make great inroads in Burma, Afghanistan and Egypt.
To be able to plan on a long term basis, and to do it both economically and on a selective basis, it seems to me that we need some organization with ample legal authorization that does not now exist.
As you know, I am by no means one of those people who believes that the United States can continue to pile up bonded indebtedness and fail to suffer dire consequences both economically and, eventually, in our basic institutions. But we do have the picture today of America, with a constantly expanding economy, with everything moving forward on a higher level of prosperity than ever before, challenged by an economy which in its overall productivity is not more than one-third as effective as ours. If we, at such a time, cannot organize to protect and advance our own interests and those of our friends in the world, then I must say it becomes time to begin thinking of “despairing of the Republic.”
I believe if we plan and organize properly, we can do these things without going broke, and that we can do them effectively and with the kind of selectivity and smoothness that will largely rob the Soviets of the initiative.
I am hoping that you, George Humphrey and I—possibly with the addition of Herbert Hoover, Randy Burgess and Sherman Adams—can soon have a very informal meeting to chat over this whole matter. Later, we will, of course, have to have larger meetings, probably in front of the Security Council, but initially I should like to have a kind of chat that would avoid all agenda, procedural customs, and an audience. Possibly it would be better to have just you, George and I at first.
Don’t bother answering this letter. I shall be seeing you or phoning to you soon.