17. Report of a Conference Between the President and His Special Assistant (Stassen), White House, Washington, March 22, 1955, 12:10–12:25 p.m.1

In this conference Governor Stassen indicated the first steps he has taken toward setting up the disarmament study, the President spoke of objectives and techniques in carrying on the study, and it was agreed that Governor Stassen would make a first report focused on arrangements. Brief reference was also made to some future conference of the major powers.

Governor Stassen indicated that he had talked with Admiral Strauss, Secretary Wilson, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary Dulles, and Nelson Rockefeller. He wishes to have a supporting group of experienced men with brilliant analytical minds and he is asking Admiral Strauss to lend him two for this purpose, the military services one each, and the Department of State another two.2

The President noted that everybody understands that diplomatic negotiations are the function of the State Department, then went on to take note of an editorial today suggesting that Governor Stassen have the title “Secretary of Peace”.3 He said he liked the emphasis on the word “peace” because there can be no disarmament except that which is accomplished by a greater effort for peace. Governor Stassen commented and the President agreed that reference to his study should not be centered on disarmament alone and that he was already referring to his work as “on the question of disarmament”. The President suggested that Governor Stassen ask Secretary Dulles if the latter would feel any embarrassment should the title “Secretary for Peace” be preempted at least for popular use even though not as an official title. He believed it would have great effect.

The President then remarked on the great necessity for educating the Nation on the factors of importance in disarmament—as to what proposals are legitimate and what are spurious.

Governor Stassen referred to tomorrow’s Press Conference when the President will probably be asked about this appointment.4 He believed the President should emphasize his (the President’s) devotion [Page 61] to peace. If asked about the “Secretary for Peace” suggestion, the President might respond, he believed, by saying that “as an informal name that certainly expresses it”.

The President said that this was a field where the efforts of a splendid civilian advisory committee could be very properly enlisted. He referred to the peace plan suggested in 1953 and again recently by CHARLES (Electric) Wilson who might be asked to serve on such a committee. It might also include one or two eminent educators, an outstanding church man like Dr. Poling,5 or perhaps three representatives of the three main religious groups, and perhaps one or two enlightened business men. He believed the committee might have a membership of about twelve. He noted the beneficial effect to be had from the challenge of meeting such a group perhaps every three months and reporting to it the progress made by the staff.

The President then at considerable length emphasized the importance of exploring every possible idea and having the assistance of people with great imagination. He believed everything should be done to get across the idea that the United States’ attention is directed toward not just guns but the spiritual concepts underlying the free world effort. He said that if confidence can be had in the peaceful intentions of others then progress in disarmament can begin.

The President went on to suggest that the American Assembly6 might be helpful.

The President indicated he did not wish to set a time for a first progress report until Governor Stassen had an opportunity to get organized. He believed a first report might be made on how Governor Stassen got set up, how he planned to carry on his work without cutting across the functions of existing departments and agencies, how he would draw on the assistance of Government agencies, the general public, and even the entire world—without getting into the activities of the United Nations. He thought Governor Stassen could profitably have discussions with world leaders like Mr. McMillen (?),7 Prime Minister Nehru, etc.

Governor Stassen reported that Secretary Dulles and he thought the point might be reached where it would be wise to have a probing session with the Russians—not to negotiate agreements but to discover what is on their minds in a way that cannot be done at formal sessions where the Russian delegates are limited by their strict instructions. [Page 62] The President suggested that of course Governor Stassen would want to keep his own counsel on new ideas until he could talk them over with Secretary Dulles and perhaps also himself. The President commented that in many fields the United States Government sometimes appears to be talking in many tongues but that the field of disarmament was the most important of all for avoiding any such appearance.

The President suggested that Governor Adams in the immediate staff would be very helpful, that he (the President) would be always available, and that there was no reason to suspect anything but the utmost cooperation from all concerned. Governor Stassen indicated that he would emphasize his intent of submitting the results of the study to all departments for review and comment.

Pictures were taken of the President and Governor Stassen.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, ACW Diary. Top Secret. Drafted by Minnicn.
  2. During the next month Stassen assembled a Special Staff to study the problem of disarmament. The members were as follows: Robert E. Matteson, Staff Director; Colonel Raymond B. Firehock, Deputy Staff Director; Edmund A. Gullion; Lawrence D. Weiler; Colonel Benjamin G. Willis, USAF; McKay Donkin; Frederick Janney; Captain Donald W. Gladney, USN; and John F. Lippmann.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Stassen’s appointment was not mentioned at the President’s press conference on March 23.
  5. Daniel Alfred Poling, evangelist clergyman, columnist, and novelist.
  6. The American Assembly consisted of about 60 men and women from diverse walks of life who met to study, discuss, and disseminate timely information on contemporary problems facing the United States. Eisenhower founded the American Assembly in 1950 when he was president of Columbia University.
  7. Eisenhower was apparently referring to Harold Macmillan, then Minister of Defence in the United Kingdom.