277. Editorial Note

In late 1965, as White House staff began to review the issue of population, the State Department’s population expert, Robert Barnett, was asked to prepare an overview for White House use. Barnett reported, “Gordon Chase (White House) says it seems to be what was needed for the aid review now afoot over there.” (Memorandum from Barnett to Read, November 22, 1965; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1964–66, SOC 13) After providing a historical overview stretching back to the Eisenhower administration, Barnett set out a series of principles by which U.S. Government policy could be guided. He made two points. First, the United States could “treat the population problem scientifically without anxiety that to do so will provoke obfuscating ideological dispute as to propriety of that activity.” Second, the U.S. Government “should advocate no specific or elaborate national policy with respect to population questions beyond the policy of stating readiness to respond to requests for help originating at home or in foreign countries with needed resources, financial, scientific, technical, and personnel.” (Ibid.)

In a series of major messages in the first 2 months of 1966, President Johnson raised the issue and followed these guidelines on at least six occasions. On January 20, in an address in Independence, Missouri, he said: “The hungry world cannot be fed until and unless the growth in its resources and the growth in its population come into balance. Each man and woman—and each nation—must make decisions of conscience and policy in the face of this great problem. But the position of the United States of America is clear. We will give our help and support to nations which make their own decision to insure an effective balance between the numbers of their people and the food they have to eat.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book I, page 42) He spoke again on February 1: “The United States cannot and should not force any country to adopt any particular approach to this problem. It is first a matter of individual and national conscience, in which we will not interfere.” (Ibid., page 119)

A National Security Action Memorandum, dated November 21, 1966, and annotated “draft not used,” includes a covering memorandum that urged immediate action, but cautioned: “There are admittedly some tough issues to be resolved, both in policy and in tactics. … There’s also the political question—whether pushing hard encourages opponents to fight back when we might get just as far by moving ahead quickly. I gather you’ve decided this is urgent enough to risk a fight. In any case, this in-house shouldn’t cause trouble.” The matter went no further. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Robert W. Komer Files, Population Control 1965–March 1966)