2. Diary Entry by the President’s Press Secretary (Hagerty)1
[Here follows an account of a discussion with Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson.]
Bobby Cutler came in with Colonel Goodpaster early in the morning to discuss the need in their opinion for the President to make an additional statement on the cutback in the armed forces and the reason why. They are fearful, of course, that the Democrats will try to make this an issue in Congress and that Ridgway and the Army will try to make a case for a larger number of ground forces. We all agreed that the President should make a statement in which he would say that he made this decision as Commander-in-Chief and that he thought it was the best possible defense plan for the United States, rather than to have some people attack it by saying that it was done only to save money and to help balance the budget; in other words, endangering the security of the nation for political considerations.
At noon Cutler, Goodpaster, Persons and myself went in to discuss this with the President, and he agreed to the necessity for making such a statement. I told him there were three or four ways to do it: (1) he could make such a statement at a press conference, but that since we did not plan to hold a press conference this week because of the State of the Union Message,2 it would be delayed until the following Wednesday and that might be too late; (2) We could call the White House correspondents into the President’s office and he could give them a fill-in; (3) We could put out a formal statement; (4) We could release an exchange of letters between the President and Wilson.
The President chose the latter and recommended that Wilson’s letter say that he was asking for permission to put on paper the discussion that the President had with the Defense heads in December when this whole matter was under discussion. Goodpaster was given the job of drafting the letter and calling Wilson to inform him of the decision. Wilson, of course, entirely concurred in this as did Foster Dulles.3
At 2 o’clock the President had a joint meeting of the Cabinet and the Republican leaders—Senators Knowland, Millikin, Saltonstall, Bridges; Congressmen Martin, Halleck, Arends, Allen—to discuss the State of the Union Message. Bryce Harlow gave a summary of each paragraph and a general discussion was held throughout the meeting.[Page 4]
The question of manpower and the armed forces program came up almost immediately when Styles Bridges said he fully expected that this would be the first political attack to be launched by the Democrats. The President said that, as a matter of fact, he had just discussed this with members of his staff and that there was nothing to which he had given so much personal attention since he had been in office as to the defense plans of the nation. He said that our defense plans must keep pace with science and the new developments in warfare; that we must maintain a proper balance with our economic strength.
“It is a question,” the President said, “of blunting the threat of attack by establishing an adequate continental defense and building up our guided missiles here at home, and secondly, to emphasize the retaliatory concept of warfare by putting more money into the air and developing a better early warning system. In the kind of war we are faced with, how long do you think it would take us to ship ten divisions to Europe or six to Japan? Enemy submarines would be swarming the seas, and troops at either the port of embarkation or debarkation would be sitting ducks for atomic aerial attack. What we have got to do in our new thinking is to realize that there will be a period when all we can do is to divert disaster. If we have time to do that job and hit back hard, then we can do the rest in time. But unless we do this, gentlemen, take my word for it we are going to be shot to pieces. As a matter of fact, Al Gruenther is very hopeful that we can set up our Reserve program here in this country in a hurry so that he can then go to the European countries and appeal for them to do the same thing. If we have an atomic attack, we will need those Reserves here at home. Can you imagine what would happen in New York or Detroit, or Washington or Pittsburgh or any one of our big cities, if they got hit by an atomic bomb. The Fire and Police forces of those cities would be inadequate to cope with the panic and disaster that would result. That is why we need a disciplined Reserve which could move in immediately to take over and preserve order. We have got to lay this whole program on the line and get the American people to realize what it is all about. I am going to outline these thoughts in a letter to the Secretary of Defense, and you will see Jim Hagerty making it public within a very short time.”
[Here follows discussion of the President’s State of the Union Message.]