78. Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, May 18, 1956, 9 a.m.1


  • Secretary Wilson
  • Colonel Randall2
  • Colonel Goodpaster

The President referred to his recent meeting with Drs. Killian and Fisk, in which they referred to the need for accelerating the developing of high altitude radar, SAC dispersal, and quicker reaction time for SAC in case of attack. He said there was a general recommendation for [Page 304]greater authority at the Defense level and less at the service level. Secretary Wilson said that the 1947 Unification Act3 in effect gave the individual Chiefs and the Secretaries authority to go to the Congress simply by notifying the Secretary of Defense. The President said that Admiral Radford feels the need now for additional staff authority. He thought that the only way open now is to call in individuals before they are appointed and ask for their oath to accept decisions once made. The Secretary said that Secretary Quarles had indicated that 60,000 foot radar is technically “still not quite completely ready”. Production cannot be started earlier than planned but the completion of the program could be accelerated. Mr. Wilson said the indication is that the initial service budget estimates for 1958 will aggregate $50 billion (later he said this included atomic energy and foreign aid). He thought that consideration should be given as to how much should go into forces-in-being and how much into weapons, both new weapons and replacement and maintenance of what we have. He cited new projects such as the nuclear-powered airplane and the nuclear-powered ballistic missile which will absorb tremendous amounts of money.

The President said we must distinguish between a respectable posture of defense, and an all-out military build-up. In the present situation, an attempt to be completely secure could lead only to a garrison state, and even then could not succeed. He thought that in addition to the present major development programs, a few selected projects should be going forward, but these should not be service projects but rather defense projects.

Mr. Wilson thought that our intelligence is now over-estimating Soviet capabilities. The President said that he saw a need on Mr. Wilson’s part to have a Defense staff (“General Staff” is the term he used) to help him. Mr. Wilson said that a lot of the difficulty arises because the services base their requests on commitments, NSC papers, force levels, etc., which they say they can’t change. The President said that many of these are outdated—for example, the D-Day NATO commitments—but they can’t be changed because a public outcry would develop, which would harm our position with our allies as regards collective defense.

Mr. Wilson said that we as a nation have not yet recognized the fact that the Russians are coming to the point where they will have the capabilities to destroy us just as we will have the capability to destroy them. He felt that the recent Russian announcement of a 1.2 million man reduction means that they realize that there is no great ground threat to them, that there is little need to maintain large ground armies, and they are cutting theirs as a result.

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The President said he is inclined to think that the Chiefs of Staff system we now have has failed. He had hoped the new Chiefs would do better, because he knew they were fine men. Apparently the system is wrong. He said he is astonished at what “one or two I have known all my life” have done. He said he has found General Pate (and General Shepherd before him) and Admiral Burke very sensible in everything he has seen of them. He said the great need is for Secretary Wilson to find a way of getting disinterested, competent advice, then deciding on a program, and then “setting his teeth” and holding to it.

There was discussion regarding the correlation of scientific groups such as Killian’s with Defense, and the President indicated he was ready for recommendations from Secretary Wilson on this at any time. Secretary Wilson said he planned to work up a list of a dozen or so things to be done bearing on the Killian recommendations, and see how many of them the President wanted. The President said he wanted Mr. Wilson to reach his judgment as to what needs to be done and then report to him.

The President asked as to Mr. Wilson’s thoughts regarding the organizational points made by Drs. Killian and Fisk. Colonel Randall said they had related in part to the Continental Defense Command where certain problems are under study now. I brought out that they related to a “systems” approach at the Secretary of Defense level.


Colonel, CE, US Army
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DDE Diaries. Top Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster on May 18.
  2. Colonel Carey A. Randall, USMC, Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.
  3. National Security Act of 1947 (Public Law 253); 61 Stat. 495.