113. Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, March 29, 1957, 11:15 a.m.1


  • Dr. I.I.Rabi2
  • Dr. Lloyd V. Berkner3
  • Dr. Detlev W. Bronk4
  • Dr. Hugh L. Dryden5
  • Dr. James B. Fisk
  • Dr. Albert G. Hill6
  • Dr. James R. Killian, Jr.
  • Dr. Edwin H. Land
  • Dr. E.R. Piore7
  • Dr. Herbert Scoville, Jr.8
  • Dr. Alan J. Waterman
  • Dr. Jerrold R. Zacharias9
  • Hon. Gordon Gray
  • Mr. David Z. Beckler

Dr. Rabi recalled the last meeting of the group with the President,10 and the inspirations which that meeting gave to their work. He said the group feels that it is reaching another turning point, and asked what the President might have in his mind for them.

The President stressed the valuable contribution they have made, and said he would certainly hope there would be no falling-off in enthusiasm. He hopes that they find their work challenging and interesting. The President mentioned the importance of re-evaluating war as an instrument of policy, and added that he studies and reflects at great length on how to deter war—which has now become so destructive.

Dr. Rabi mentioned a few of the things that concern the group. He felt that the military services may be carrying on functions based on obsolete items, long beyond the point of justification. He said that support by Defense of basic research is declining—there is a constant budget, but costs are rising so that real effort is going down. Defense is not venturing “risk capital” for future innovation. There tends to be a narrow focus on specific weapons systems, as against a search for basic information which might have application all across the board.

The President said he had a question regarding this deduction—it is where, in a society like ours, responsibility should be placed for basic research. Where is the dividing line between the efforts that should fall to government and those that should fall to universities and industry. He said he would be greatly helped by a set of simple yard sticks.

Dr. Rabi agreed with a statement by the President concerning duplication of effort. He said he had the impression that there is much duplication and much irrelevance in the present programs. He thought it was a mistake, however, to take basic research wholly out of the Defense Department. This is a function that cannot be handled just by liaison; people must be engaged and immersed in research themselves. He added that the amount of funds is not large, and went on to say that there was some indication that people are fearful that basic research would open up fruitful new lines for developmental research, [Page 458] thus adding to effort and expense. He said that the Defense Department needs this information if its developmental research is to be well planned. He concluded this statement by saying that this is one of the last places to try to economize, and that we should not try to define the area of investigation too narrowly. He called on Dr. Killian to comment, and Dr. Killian brought out the analogy with great industrial firms, who find that their research money best spent is that which is spent on basic research. The President pointed out that the industrial firms have the measuring factor of profit to work against, and this is lacking in the government. Mr. Berkner said that, in defense research, the rate of effort at $2 billion a year is exhausting the store of basic ideas. The President said he understood that about $5¼ billion was going into research and development when all things were added in. He thought that the group might advise him as to what should be the balance between research and development. Mr. Land said that in industry there is a constant tendency for the operators to take from research and give to development. The President of the company personally must hold out research funds. He said that the competitors one fears in industry are those firms—often small ones—with a big and vigorous research program. Finally, he added that if a company in industry does not have its own research, it becomes “stupid and clumsy” in its development efforts. He asserted that only the President could assure proper emphasis on research.

The President said he does not feel that all of this basic research belongs in the Defense Department—since it has a wider purpose than weapons alone. Dr. Rabi said that what is sought is simply NSC support on the principle of basic research. Then the group can set the proper dimensions for it. The squeeze is coming from a fixed budget in a time of rising costs. The President said he accepts the importance of basic research; but retains the question to what extent does the federal government have responsibility—to what extent is it desirable for the federal government to enter the field. Dr. Rabi commented on a point suggested by the President, and said that governmental support of research has not to date infringed on freedom. He said that we are now using our technological reserves to the full. There is no reserve of new ideas. He felt that unless we use our resources most effectively as between basic and developmental research, we may find our resources fully committed, with inadequate supplies of new ideas being generated.

The President reviewed the policy we have been following for ten years or more. It is to develop within the various areas and regions of the free world indigenous forces for the maintenance of order, the safeguarding of frontiers, and the provision of the bulk of ground capability. The United States develops the technical forces, particularly air and naval forces, to move in in case the need exceeds what the [Page 459] local nation can itself provide. This must be kept highly mobile. He was sure that the United States could not maintain old-fashioned forces all around the world. Dr. Rabi said that one thing the group was concerned about was the supposition that the Soviets might supply advanced weapons to the North Koreans. A great threat would then exist, and we might be obliged to meet it in Korea. We would not want to provoke all-out war by an attack at the centers of power. The President reaffirmed that we must avoid putting sizable forces into the area, with great logistical establishments behind them. We would be tied down and would be unable to meet rising problems in other areas.


Brigadier General, USA
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DDE Diaries. Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster on April 1.
  2. Professor of Physics, Columbia University, and chairman, Science Advisory Committee,ODM.
  3. Research associate, Carnegie Institution, and member, Science Advisory Committee.
  4. President, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research; President, National Academy of Sciences, and member, Science Advisory Committee.
  5. Head physicist, National Bureau of Standards; director, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; consultant to Science Advisory Committee.
  6. Professor of physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; director of research, Weapons Systems Evaluations Group; and consultant to Science Advisory Committee.
  7. Director of research, International Business Machines Co., and consultant to Science Advisory Committee.
  8. Consultant to Science Advisory Committee.
  9. Professor of physics and director, Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and member, Science Advisory Committee.
  10. Reference is to a previous meeting between the Science Advisory Committee and the President. No record of this meeting has been found in the Eisenhower Library or Department of State files.