6-076 Speech to Business Organizations, June 4, 1947

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: June 4, 1947

Subject: Postwar

June 4, 1947
Washington, D.C.

In Moscow, just a few months ago, I attempted to interpret for the Council of Foreign Ministers the American concept of democracy. My purpose was to clarify the instructions of the Berlin Conference which called upon the Allied Control Authority to prepare for the reconstruction of German political life “on a democratic basis.” I described for the Council the inalienable rights which, according to our beliefs, cannot be given or taken away.2

Two weeks later, at a meeting of the Council I commented on the weakness of “paper” agreements. We were supposed, I said, to resolve and not to accentuate our differences; we could never reach real agreement on the basis of ultimatums or immovable positions. Unless we could have a real meeting of minds and a real desire to carry out both the spirit and the letter of our agreements, it were better none were reached. We should not seek agreement merely for the sake of agreement.3

In speaking in those terms I was touching upon what I believe is a vital need in the world today–the need to invoke in the discussion of every international issue the spirit of genuine democracy which will work sincerely toward a common solution; the shared responsibility which is characteristic of our way of life; the economy of democratic methods in achieving unity of action among equals.

You will understand, in the light of these views, something of the satisfaction I find in the occasion of these meetings and the sharing of viewpoints which they represent. You will understand, too, how pleasing it is for me to see two hundred or more representative men and women of this country set about the exchange of views on international problems.

That private citizens such as you should meet with officers of the Government for an open discussion of foreign policy is a simple and natural function of American democracy. It is a common or garden variety of miracle which occasions little comment in this country. Yet, for hundreds of millions of people in vast areas of the earth such a straightforward action is either impossible or impracticable. There is no precedent in their social customs and no clearly understood example for them to follow.

The challenge to the United States as the leading democratic power is obvious. The whole range of our democratic procedures must not be lost on the world at large. These are times of great and drastic change and in the long view the gift of our political example may prove to be of more value than all the material aid we can afford to give.

The democratic principles evolved by our predecessors have become so familiar to us, so much a part of our lives that they exist as the unchallenged axioms related to political action. In that familiarity, however, there are two obvious dangers which you as a group of specialized observers well know. The first is that the busy American citizen, absorbed in his trade or profession, will take for granted the automatic operation of democratic methods and fail to understand the adjustments which must be made in a modern, technologically advanced society. The second danger is that he may not realize in time that what he does or does not do has today a world impact which may affect directly the nation’s security. The best protection against both of these dangers is to place in the hands of every responsive citizen all the facts on foreign policy he needs to know and in a form that he will understand.

You will remember the conclusion reached by a recent, privately sponsored study of the American press, that “No longer is it enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.”4 This distinction applies with particular force in matters of foreign policy. Merely to report truthfully the day-to-day fact of our foreign relations is to leave the task of informing the public less than half done–and in a democracy a little knowledge of foreign affairs can be a truly dangerous thing. The balance of an over-all perspective, of “the truth about the fact,” is indispensable to the public understanding.

You men and women can give invaluable aid in providing that necessary balance. You are aware, as those with other interests could not be, of the many complex international problems which are in constant flux, with interrelated negotiations proceeding on various levels, and with simultaneous theaters of interest in the national, regional and United Nations bodies which may be concerned with them.

In the short time I have to speak with you this morning I cannot, of course, deal with any substantive problems. Others, however, will deal with those problems in detail. Especially I congratulate you that you are going to hear Under Secretary Acheson, whose resignation after six years of brilliant service in the Department I have accepted reluctantly and with deep regret.5

GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers (Secretary of State, Speeches)

1. This speech was delivered beginning at 10:10 a.m. in the State Department Auditorium to representatives of 250 business organizations.

2. See Marshall Statement on Reconstruction of Germany on a Democratic Basis, March 14, 1947.

3. See Marshall Statement to the Eighteenth Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, March 31, 1947.

4. Under Chairman Robert M. Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago, the Commission on the Freedom of the Press held seventeen meetings, studied documents, interviewed people connected with the media, and issued A Free and Responsible Press. A General Report on Mass Communication: Newspapers, Radio, Motion Pictures, Magazines, and Books (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947). The effort was funded by grants from Henry R. Luce and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (See R. L. Duffus, “An Analysis of Our Mass Media,” New York Times, March 30, 1947, p. BR1.)

5. When Marshall became secretary of state, he convinced Acheson to stay for an additional six months to be chief of staff, run the department, and be the sole conduit for information and directives to and from the secretary. Acheson’s final day in office was to be June 30, but his successor, Robert A. Lovett, had been confirmed by the Senate on May 28 and was undergoing “on-the-job training.” (Acheson, Creation, pp. 213, 236.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Mark A. Stoler, Sharon Ritenour Stevens and Daniel D. Holt (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 2013- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 6, “The Whole World Hangs in the Balance,” January 8, 1947-September 30, 1949 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), pp. 145-146.