72. Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, April 5, 1956, 10:30 a.m.1

The meeting began with the following present: Secretary Wilson, Secretary Humphrey, Director Brundage, Secretary Robertson, Colonel Goodpaster.

The President said that it had been reported to him that Air Force testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee left the distinct impression that the Navy does not contribute on strategic bombing. Also, in making strength comparisons, ours had been reported as a second-best Air Force because it is smaller than total Soviet air strength. He asked Admiral Radford for a comment. Admiral Radford said that there are well coordinated plans which incorporate Navy striking power in the total strategic bombing effort. Because of the way questions are asked, the impression has on occasion been left that the air picture is dark, by relating solely our own Air Force strength to Soviet total strength—including their naval air.

The President referred to the need to assure that Congressional inquiries heard an over-all presentation by Defense in initiating their work. Then they could bring in critics of the program, but they should wind up with Defense comment again at the end. There was further discussion on the tendency of questioners to engage in the “numbers racket,” creating false impressions of relative military position.2

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At this point the following joined the conference: Secretary Quarles, Secretary Thomas, Under Secretary Finucane,3General Twining, Admiral Burke, General Pate. (General Persons had previously joined at the President’s request.)

The President opened this phase of the meeting with a full statement on the military budget situation. He said he had taken action on the final paper for FY–57. Mr. Brundage would consult with Secretary Robertson on one or two items but in general the Defense proposal will be approved. He said his great concern with this proposal had been that it would simply lay the groundwork for a permanently higher program in future years. From Congress he is being informed that inter-service tensions and rivalries are growing—even that they are worse than any time since unification. He doubts this. He thinks he has the best group heading the establishment that there has been at any time since World War II. This being the case, he sees no reason for any such report of tensions. What he wants is corporate opinion. Single service opinions and points of view are not of value to him.

Several specific things were mentioned affecting the Navy and Air Force. He was told that in the Air Force presentation, the Navy was assigned a zero rating in terms of its effect in strategic bombing. If this is the case, he wonders what in the world we are building Forrestal-type carriers for. He realizes that once the “Key West” agreements assigned strategic bombing to SAC. But times have changed and the Navy has units of great striking power. Admiral Radford has told him that targets have been assigned to each major force; he supposes the Navy concentrates on ports and coastal areas. If this is the case, their contribution cannot be ignored. He challenges any notion that ours is a second-class Air Force as some reports have apparently indicated. This type of comparison gives a wholly false picture. He said that he has discounted these reports of in-fighting and contention among the services. He thinks that unification has made great gains; which should not be ignored.

What this means in his mind is that a Chief of Staff of one service should not present just the picture of his own service alone. Each service supplements the other in over-all military strength. Those testifying should not make it look as though each does the job alone. He recognizes that in the early stages of a blitz the Army and Marine [Page 287]involvement in the atomic exchange may be less than the other services. If the war goes on, however, their contribution will tend to enlarge.

The President stated he was certain in his mind that we can stand on our whole program. If we talk in a unified sense, there will be no basis for people getting alarmed. We must, however, talk about the whole thing. He referred to a recent statement by General Spaatz4 to the effect that the side which has the 5000-mile missile first can win the world [war?]; he thinks someone should talk to General Spaatz and give him a well-rounded and comprehensive picture of just what our strength is. He said Mr. Baruch had been in, very much concerned about the whole missile situation, and that he had left saying that he was satisfied and the whole matter was cleared up in his mind.

The President said his approach is to support the Defense establishment as a whole, not the particular services. This present inquiry seems to be concentrating on the services to get each to say they need a little more.

The President then went on to comment on the request from Congress to the Air Force as to what they would do with an additional $1.5 billion. He said a full answer to this would have to be that of course an additional sum like this could be used, but one must think of what its provision would do to the country as a whole. He commented that those present should realize that the Secretary of the Treasury is the one who finally persuaded him to approve this proposed supplemental. He was certain that everybody in this Administration is for a strong Defense establishment but it must be for the Defense establishment as a whole. Everyone should watch his tongue very closely to make sure he is not led into statements regarding his own service which have the effect of giving an impression that would not be borne out with regard to the Defense establishment as a whole. He said that it is not a question of looking for votes. So far as he is concerned, if he were not elected this fall it would simply mean that people should feel sorry for somebody else. What he is committed to is a sound program. He wants to keep a sound approach and a sound Administration. Everyone in the Defense establishment should nail his flag to the staff of the United States of America, and think in terms of the whole. He was convinced if people did that the problems would be avoided. He pointed out that he is not saying that anyone has done anything deliberate in weakening the Administration program. He just thinks that we are being used, by people who draw attention away from the whole and concentrate on the dissatisfactions that individual services may have. The President referred to an inquiry which is about to start, and said he felt the Committee should hear the responsible Defense [Page 288]officials first, then critics, then wind up with Defense again. He repeated that each man testifying must think of what the other services contribute. If he can’t bring himself to do this, he doesn’t belong in the position he holds. He must not allow himself to be led, through techniques playing on inter-service rivalry, to ask for additions for his own service above what is provided for in a combined Defense program which he considers to be adequate. At this point, Secretary Wilson told the President he had had a meeting of the Armed Forces Policy Council two weeks or so ago in which he had pointed out the efforts that would be made to split the group and play off one against another.

The President said he had information that, on one occasion at least, a questioner had detailed, more exact figures than General Twining had. He said this could only mean that information is being passed by someone not authorized to do so. If any subordinates were doing this, they should be found and severely disciplined. General Twining thought the information may be passed by industry. The President said that all should be put on notice that any such conduct of trying to influence administrative decision to get more orders (as Secretary Wilson suggested) would have just the opposite effect.

Secretary Thomas pointed out that all three of the service Secretaries have served in the Department of Defense. All are “on the team.” He pledged his full loyalty to the President and his program. Secretary Wilson repeated that he is trying to build up a team spirit. The President said the problem is that certain individuals are trying to split the group. He advised, when questions are asked, not simply to answer them in narrow terms and in the specific detail requested, but always to try to see that the perspective is given. We should understand that the questioner oftentimes is trying to create an impression through the incompleteness of the discussion, and therefore an attempt should be made to round it out. The President said that this supplemental will be before the Congress before individuals go down to appear in the new inquiry. Everybody should stand on that. General Persons advised all to be very careful of the “numbers racket”—to round out the explanation, for example to bring out that the problem is one of over-all deterrent power rather than matching item for item. The President said that when we have “enough” as was brought out in the evaluation report, comparisons of item by item are not too meaningful.

Secretary Wilson said that the approval of this supplemental “fills the hand” of Defense. He will be very disappointed if all top people do not battle it out on this basis.

The President said we must put our costs on a basis that we can sustain indefinitely. If they are allowed to run too high, the result would be to ruin the America we know and force us into a garrison [Page 289]state. He said that people should not be misled by enticements for more funds. The same man offering them is saying that he could cut the budget $8 billion.

Mr. Brundage asked for it to be made clear that if this supplemental is given, no more will be put forward. Missile costs will be absorbed. “Vanguard” is the only addition. Mr. Wilson said he did not know just where we will be next January with regard to missiles. The President said that a budget must mean something—it is not a question of simply adding on bits and pieces. It is the responsibility of all to make it be a meaningful management document.

Mr. Wilson said he is starting a long-range study which should come up with a three-year program. He thought it might be a good idea to start out with an allowable figure. The President said he did not think as simple an approach as that is possible. He felt the Chiefs, after thorough study, should indicate the minimum.

Secretary Wilson said the Chiefs do not pass on the question of an additional Forrestal carrier, or how many B–52 wings there should be. The President responded vigorously to this, saying that for example General Twining should take up with Admiral Burke each major element proposed for the Navy, and the outcome should be an agreement that if you (the Air Force) will do thus and such, I will save thus and such out of my (Navy) budget. If the Chiefs are not doing this, they should be doing it. This is a kind of advice which they can give, and they should be required to give. When he was a theater commander he did not allow each service to put in for whatever it wanted; the JCS are in his mind simply a corporate combined commander. They should consider these specific things together, and not waste so much of their time on abstractions like roles and missions. If they are not doing this kind of thing, what in the world are they doing?

Secretary Humphrey said this current action relates to the FY–57 budget. We should not get ahead of ourselves. He will have some very definite ideas regarding FY–58 and later years. Secretary Wilson said if we bring in the guided missiles, we should drop out some manned aircraft wings. Secretary Quarles and General Twining said they planned to do so. The President indicated he would like to have General Twining in some day soon to discuss with him the question of how many aircraft there should be in each wing. He saw savings out of putting 45 in a single wing rather than 30, providing the result is fewer wings.

At an earlier point the President said that we should be very careful in answering questions about individual items and services when the answer really turns on the bulk or totality of our armed strength. He also said that we should not get fixed ideas about new [Page 290]weapons supplanting old—for example, it would never be possible to set up so many Nike batteries that the whole of the United States was covered. Interceptors will continue to be required.


Colonel, CE, US Army
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DDE Diaries. Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster on April 5.
  2. On April 4, the President met with Senators James H Duff (R–Pa.) and Leverett Saltonstall and General Persons. During the meeting Eisenhower spoke on the subject of the relevance of “numbers” to the military position of the United States, as summarized in a memorandum for record by Persons:

    “He pointed out that whether or not we had adequate air power should be based on the adequacy of our deterrent power and not on numbers alone. He made it clear that determination is necessarily a matter of judgment and cannot be worked out on a mathematical exact basis by anyone. He further made clear that if in the judgment of responsible officials the United States had adequate power to deter the Soviet from making an attack, he felt that there was no justification for adding additional aircraft and other weapons just for the purpose of trying to match in numbers those of the Soviets.

    “The President pointed out that in any consideration of the adequacy of our security, we must take into account the striking power of our naval aviation as well as the location of our bases in close range of the Soviets. Furthermore, we have allies and the aviation of these allies must be taken into consideration in looking at the overall picture. He feels that there should be a close correlation between naval air power and the strategic air force and that he will instruct the Defense Department to insure this. He noted that in the public discussions of our air power, there is little or no mention of the tremendous air power which is in the hands of the Navy.”

  3. Charles C. Finucane, Under Secretary of the Army.
  4. General Carl Spaatz, USAF (ret.).