Men, Missiles and Misunderstandings
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Feb 1960, p. 217-230
Gruenther, General Alfred M., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Origins of the Red Cross. The uninvolvement of the United States until 1881. History of the Red Cross. The burden of the United States in its assumed role in connection with the future of the free world. The North American Treaty Organization and its progress. Exercising good partnership. Various factors involved: military, economic, psychological. Advantages, disadvantages, and comparisons between the free world and a totalitarian regime. The dangers of successes in a totalitarian regime, with examples from the Soviet Union. The need to be dedicated to service, such as in the Red Cross. The Canadian Red Cross. Leadership provided from Canada. Some personal anecdotes. Changes in the balance of power, with examples. The tremendous disadvantage faced by Khrushchev's Communism. Taking advantage of Communism's weakness. Increasing our knowledge and developing an understanding of other peoples to aid in preventing war. Holding our own in the current struggle.
Date of Original
25 Feb 1960
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Thursday, February 25th, 1960
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Harold R. Lawson.

MR. LAWSON: Every once in a long while we have as our guest at the Empire Club a man whose career is legendary and whose honours and appointments are so numerous as to defy enumeration. Such a man literally needs no introduction. But does this mean he doesn't get one? As you are sadly aware, the answer is "No". In fact, the choicer the steak that the chef has provided, the more important it is that it be preceded by a cup of consomme or, perchance, a small bowl of onion soup. The wise chef, however, recognizes that the function of the preliminaries is to contribute to the anticipation of the steak, and must never be allowed to dull the appetite.

Today we have such a guest. Even to read the list of decorations which General Gruenther has received from the United States and twelve allied governments, and the honorary degrees that have been conferred on him by twenty-one colleges and universities, and the awards he has received from many societies and other organizations, would take more time than I am allowed. Suffice it to say that General Gruenther is a career soldier, a graduate of West Point, and that he reached the pinnacle of his military career in 1953 when he became supreme allied commander in Europe and commander-in-chief of the U.S. European Command. On several occasions during the war and subsequently General Gruenther was next in line to General Eisenhower. Obviously, but for a slight difference in the ages and seniority of these two great men, American political history might possibly have been written differently. Be that as it may, General Gruenther retired from service on December 31, 1956, and immediately assumed the presidency of The American National Red Cross, a position which he still holds with distinction, in addition to many other governmental and private responsibilities which have been heaped upon him.

General Gruenther will speak to us now on "Men, Missiles and Misunderstandings". It is my privilege to present to you General Alfred M. Gruenther.

GENERAL GRUENTHER: A friend of mine is a Personnel Manager of a big concern and he had an applicant who came trying to get a job some months ago, and they found that he had filled all the technical requirements very well, so a personnel man said to him, "Now, I would like to go into some of your personal habits. Do you drink?"

He said, "No, I don't." "Do you gamble?"

"No, I don't do that either."

"Well, do you chase around with women?" "Oh, no, absolutely not."

"Great heavens, man, don't you have any vices at all?" the personnel man asked.

He said, "Yes, I have got one ... I tell lies."

The reason I bring that up has no bearing on the previous speaker although I must say he stretched the truth in a very flattering way. I could have listened to him all afternoon. I am sorry that Club rules prevented his continuing.

However, my purpose today is to go into some of the problems which we are facing in this uneasy era and how you and we and all of us may make a contribution in connection with them. And to set the stage for it I would like to refer to an anniversary which was celebrated last June and has had all too little attention, and to tell you what happened on the original date I go back to the 24th of June, 1850. On that day a young Swiss businessman had come to Italy on a combination business and pleasure trip.

He put up at an Inn and early the next morning heard loud cannonading. He asked what the trouble was and the Innkeeper said, "I think a war is going on or something." He hired a carriage and went out and from the shelter of a hill he watched, a war that day. He didn't know what it was. It turned out some 350,000 troops were involved. What he did know was that he saw a tremendous number of men dropping and saw very little being done in the way of care for them. He also knew that late that evening a storm broke up and suddenly the troops disappeared and nobody seemed to be doing anything about the wounded. He started moving about the battlefield and saw that actually this was the case, and he dashed back to the Italian village and brought up carts and wagons and returned these wounded men and administered to them. Many of them survived but most of them died.

He returned to Switzerland, thoroughly disillusioned over this evidence of man's inhumanity to man, and he determined to do something about it. His name was Henri Dunant, and he organized a group of Swiss, a committee, and in August of 1863, some four years later, there assembled in Geneva some sixteen nations to try to tackle this problem.

By that time they had analyzed just what had really happened and they had come to the conclusion that where the big trouble was that the people taking care of the wounded had no status of neutrality. As a result, the military commanders did not want to endanger losing them. So they addressed themselves to the first problem--how to give some kind of symbol which would be recognized. Since the flag of Switzerland is a red flag with a white cross, they inverted that flag and that became our Red Cross symbol of today.

My purpose in telling this is not so much to give the background on how the Red Cross came into existence, but to remind you of something you may not know, and that is of the sixteen nations that appeared in Geneva in August of 1863 to discuss that subject, there was one nation that did not appear, that declined the invitation. That was the United States.

If you had been in Washington on Monday, sitting in the House of Representatives, you would have heard a message read and it is customary to read it each year on Washington's birthday. It was Washington's farewell address, and in the farewell address he advises the United States very strongly to avoid all entanglements with European nations, and pursuant to that policy the United States had declined to attend this Red Cross meeting. They didn't know it was going to be a Red Cross, but to attend a meeting for this purpose. The war ended in 1865, the Civil War, and they were invited again, and again they said "No". Year after year they continued to decline until 1881. Then the United States came into the Red Cross family.

Now, a great deal of water has gone over the dam since then. And now there are eighty-four Red Cross Societies in the world and the American Red Cross plays an important part as a partner. The Canadian Red Cross makes a significant contribution.

But the change I want to refer to is the change which has taken place in United States policy in those years because now, whether we in the United States like it or not, we have had to assume a tremendous burden in connection with the future of the free world. My purpose in talking here today is to outline some of those aspects and I will be using the term "we" occasionally. I will be insulting people occasionally, and when the insults are heard, please be sure they don't refer to the Canadians. I am not trying to inweave you into being the fifty-first State. I know there are certain sensitivities in that field, so this is no subtle propaganda, but I do refer to "we" because we now have this problem, that from a security standpoint our planners at the end of World War II in analyzing the impact of new weapons became convinced that no longer could we defend the North American Continent from these shores. Our ramparts would have to be a considerable distance, and in accordance with that concept, the North American Treaty Organization came into being in April of 1949 and in January of 1951 General Eisenhower went to Europe to plan for the defence of Europe as a vital part of the defence of North America.

Now, this was nine years ago. The Alliance has prospered since then. In recent months there have been some clouds here and there, but on balance I think we must very definitely admit that the progress has been very solid and having been one who was in from the first day that concept was conceived, in March of 1948 until the end of 1956, I can assure you that those of us who were with General Eisenhower when he arrived in Europe in January 1951, can say that the progress that NATO has made since then has been much greater than any of us ever thought possible, and essentially this is one of the benefits from it, that the idea of collective security has definitely been accepted. In fact, it has spread and the United States alone now has collective security pacts with a total of forty-two nations throughout the world.

Now, the problem in exercising this good partnership is a problem which both of our countries share, and this is a problem of being able to project a correct image. We are having a good deal of discussion these days about security. I spent thirty-eight years in the military service, grew up, of course, thinking of security in terms of its military aspect, but it is much broader than that because it has in addition to a military factor an economic and a psychological factor, and the general tendency now is to talk about security in terms of the military factor. There is a good deal of discussion going on in the country to your south as to whether or not the security is adequate, and in that they are talking about whether or not the military aspect is adequate. I don't think we can be complacent about it. I think it is adequate for the purpose of preventing war. How long it will remain that way is something that we are going to have to keep alert to.

However, my purpose today is not so much to discuss the military side because that has been pretty well covered. The economic side you know, because you are the people that helped to make it an economy of the free world, but the psychological field is where I would like to dwell, because it is in this arena, this political arena, where we are by tradition and by education ... and certainly this applies to the United States . . . ill equipped to conduct the kind of a struggle which is necessary.

To start out with we have the job of creating the impression among the free world that we have the qualities to give the kind of leadership and partnership which the free world needs, and we start out with certain disadvantages.

We start out with the disadvantage in the standard of living. Let us take the case where I was a little over two years ago--India--a country with a population of over four hundred and ten million, a life expectancy of thirty-two years, as against ours in both of our countries of between sixty-eight and seventy. In India they have an average annual income of about $58.00, and in our two countries it is between $2,000 and $2,200 a year. This tremendous gap between the haves and the have-nots tends to focus a great deal of envy and jealousy in our direction and unless we are able to change that we can be in real trouble.

Now, your first thought is I have used India and there is a great deal more to the world than India. That certainly is true. The population of the world now is about two billion eight hundred millions, but of that two billion eight hundred million there is a segment of about a billion four to a billion five that have roughly the same economic status as India little bit more, a little bit less--and if we should lose a significant number of that billion four, we've had it, regardless of all the guided missiles and atomic weapons that we may be able to amass.

I am not trying to downgrade the importance of the military. In order to have an adequate security we must have a good firm military posture, but that alone is not sufficient. Then the question is, what do we do about it? How do we become equipped to be able to discharge the responsibility which we have in the so-called political or ideological struggle?

I think first of all it requires a great knowledge of other cultures and civilizations and the United States, by tradition, really has not concentrated on that. As for Canadians, you will know whether or not they have. I make no comment on that. As a part of it, in addition to learning more about them, so we can convince them our concept of liberty is the same as theirs, we have the job of communicating with them and as an element of communication comes on one side, merely as a factor, the question of foreign languages. As one of my extra-curricular duties in Washington, I am on the Advisory group of the Foreign Service Institute. So you know what that means. When a young man or a young woman in the United States decides to go in the diplomatic service he takes an examination. If he passes that examination and there is a vacancy, he is then brought into the Foreign Service Institute which is run by the Department of State, and he takes a four months course. At the end of four months these people are sent to the twenty-eight corners of the world. Obviously, anybody with that kind of motivation surely must have a knowledge of foreign languages. The facts are within the last four years, of the people who qualified in every respect, fewer than thirty per cent of them had any foreign language facility. As a result, the State Department has been obliged, it has felt obliged at any rate, to eliminate the foreign language requirement and now the people come in with or without it, depending on the luck of the draw, and are required to learn the foreign language after they are in the foreign service. This may work. It hasn't been tried long enough but it is a very, very difficult way to run a railroad.

As you look at the other side of the hill, and move in the Soviet field you find there are ten million people that are now studying English. There is not a country within a thousand miles of any of the boundaries of the Soviet Union that speak English. Why do they do it? They have to do it, basically, because of the system that they have. You can't become a filling station owner in the Soviet Union, you cannot become the owner of a haberdashery, a store or a theatre ... all of these are handled by the State. So your chance for advancement is to excel in certain skills--engineering, science, languages and other skills.

We who come from what we call a free enterprise system, we are inclined to believe that we give the incentives, and that in a totalitarian dictatorship those incentives do not exist. But they do exist and these young people are urged, because that is the only field in which they can excel, and this starts with a tremendous orientation background, beginning at the age of six. They have various youth organizations. Starting at the age of six, they have a youth organization called the "Young Oktobrus". At the age of nine, the "Young Pioneers". And at the age of fourteen they go into a very sophisticated group, the "Comsomal", and from this group the members of the Communist Party are elected.

Although the Soviet Union has a population of two hundred and ten million, Mr. Khrushchev here a few months ago in one of his talks made a reference that runs something like this. He said, "Comrades, we have in the Soviet Union eight million people who are dedicated to the sacred ideology of Communism." He was talking about the eight million members of the Communist Party. They could have eighty million members if they wanted it. They have limited to eight million because that is the final notch on the ladder after a struggle, a contest beginning at the age of six. This creates a tremendously dedicated and fanatical group and a very formidable one from the standpoint of the free world, whether we think in terms of a hot war which I think we are going to be able to avoid, or think in terms of a continual ideological struggle, which I do not think we are going to be able to avoid.

To give just one aspect of this. One of my last interviews before I left SHAPE, and this took place in November 1956, was with a young German--not young, about 36 or 37--who had been a Lieutenant-Colonel during the war and who is now a newspaper reporter. In questioning me I found he was extremely pessimistic, and in questioning him I found out that he had fought with the German Army against the Soviet throughout most of the war. The Germans were, by and large, better equipped, better trained and generally all round better troops. Time after time he saw the German troops being forced back because the Soviets were willing to take casualties. They were forced back because of an iron discipline, and here was this man in November of 1956, saying, "I just don't think that we can compete successfully with this kind of a group." He said, "We in Western Germany are softer and you in the United States are probably softer still."

I don't agree with him on his conclusion, but I do agree with him that the question of discipline and developing individual responsibility is an extremely important part of our heritage and of our strength and another element is this question of dedication to service. Whether we like it or not the Soviets--many of them are doing it in the tongue-in-cheek method, no doubt about that--enough of them believe in it with fanatical zeal that it gives them a very tremendous element of strength. I think that we . . . and I refer to both of our countries in this ... have got to be more dedicated to service than ever before.

It was for this reason I was delighted to become associated with the American Red Cross, because it is, as the Canadian Red Cross is, an organization devoted to service and primarily voluntary service. I think the development of this voluntary spirit, whether the Red Cross or any other organization, is of tremendous importance if we are going to move ahead. Incidentally, on the Red Cross, I have seen the Red Cross in action a great deal in war and in peace--the American Red Cross, particularly--and in our own family we have had a personal incident that has made us more dedicated than ever to it. In June of 1950, our younger son married a Red Cross girl in Japan, and six days later the Korean War broke out and she didn't see him again until he was brought into a Tokio hospital on a stretcher with a bullet wound through his lung and his liver. We didn't know, but his life hung precariously in the balance for four days, and two years later the Doctor who attended him told me that four Red Cross blood transfusions made the difference between life and death.

I should give the end of the story. There are now six little Red Crossers, and as for Dick himself, he was a paratrooper when he was hit. He is still a paratrooper and so tough now that he frequently forgets to put the parachute on and it seems to make no difference at all.

I was distressed when I read when I came in yesterday afternoon in the local press that the Canadian Red Cross is in trouble financially. I am not here to pass the hat, nor have I had any suggestion from the Canadian Red Cross that I mention this, but I do want to tell you that we feel that the contribution made by the Canadian Red Cross, and especially in the international field, is tremendous.

We may not all know it, but these eighty-four Societies belong to what is called the League of Red Cross Societies, and the man who is elected as President of the League of Red Cross Societies last October in Geneva is Mr. John MacAulay of Winnipeg, a man who is going to give very great leadership.

We follow with a certain amount of envy the Canadian Red Cross, because the American Red Cross spends a great deal of its time even in peace in serving military people, and military people have a way of sometimes griping. During the last war there were ,many, many gripes, and when I came in I hadn't realized this, so I spent a good deal of time tracing down these gripes. Ninety-five per cent of them were inaccurate, although one of them in particular that a veteran made was that the officers stole all the girls during the war. The more I researched that the more convinced I am it was true, it is still true, and continued to be true, and I don't know how to handle it.

On the question of gripes and their inevitability, I sometimes think of the Murphy family, Pat and Bridget. Pat would get his pay cheque at the plant each Friday and he would stop and have a drink or two with the boys before he would come home. Sometimes when he arrived home Pat was not in too stable a condition, and on one occasion he actually raised his hand against Bridget. At that point Bridget went to see the Catholic priest and told him that she was going to leave Pat. She told him what had happened and the priest counselled her and he said, "Now, Bridget, probably you were not very nice to Pat when he came home." "And why should I be nice to him?" said Bridget. The priest finally calmed her down and he said, "Now, Bridget, when he comes home next week, please be nice to him and you will find it will be considerably different." Pat did come home the next week, still high. Bridget was very patient. She took him in and got his slippers and everything, and then she said, "Now, Pat, will ye be after havin' a drink?" Pat said, "Faith an' indeed I might as well, `cause I'm goin' tae catch the devil when I get home anyhow."

So I suppose that a certain number of gripes are going to be inevitable, but we are doing everything we can to remove them and the closeness with which we work with your Society is always an extremely favourable experience with us. I know that in the general field of Canadian-American relationships there is sensitivity. I know there is a feeling that perhaps the Americans take your for granted.

I would like to tell you of my own experience. I came from a little town in Nebraska where there were 375 people and when I was born it made 376. Twelve miles away from us was a town by the name of Columbus. Columbus at the time I was born had a population of 5,000; it now has 15,000. The little town where I was born still has 390. I grew up in an atmosphere of "Columbus is always taking us for granted". And they were.

I came from Nebraska, the most intelligent State in the Union--the other States are taking us for granted and never paying any attention at all. I quite agree. I think the United States does take you for granted. I think you ought to raise the devil with them and fuss at them every now and then. But at the base of it all, whether they do or do not take you for granted, I am sure I can speak with no question of doubt that they have a very great affection for you. Our relationships in NATO where I had a great deal to do with the Canadian Forces was extremely favourable. I know that in a country where you may consider that you are a small country compared to a country like the United States that there is a tendency to feel that your contribution is not appreciated. That is not correct.

First of all, your material contribution on the military side and on the economic side has been extremely substantial, and from a standpoint of psychological impact it has had a very, very great effect on the NATO alliance, and the help that you have given in other parts of the world and for that I congratulate you, and I am sure with the alliance having made these strides that you will continue that dedication.

I have pointed out certain of our shortcomings. I have pointed out certain strengths on the other side. I do not want to give you the impression that I am pessimistic over this. Before I end those comparisons, though, I would like to give one that relates to the United States.

This is a story that appeared in the New York Times about a month and a half ago. As you know, when our young men come into the service they go to training camps and are referred to as trainees. A New York Times reporter was making a survey of the quality, the determination, the sense of responsibility of young men coming into the military. He got to one camp and the fellow had about five thousand under him. This was his impression. "The legs of the basic trainees we receive here are more accustomed to pushing accelerators than to walking. I have yet to see or hear a single one of them say that every man owes his country a duty. Not once have I seen a drop of patriotism in any of these kids. The rights and privileges they know well, but not their duties and obligations."

Well, I don't buy this completely. This Colonel had a bad cup of coffee that morning and maybe a fight with his wife, too. But there is something to this. Just how much is something for each of us to evaluate.

The thing I am hopeful about is that you as leaders in your community, leaders in a free enterprise system . . . whether you like it or not are capitalists, because that is the way Mr. Khrushchev addresses you, and he is determined that Capitalism must disappear from the earth. He says it is not going to disappear by military means, but it is going to disappear by others, and some of you will be hard pressed finding a job under Mr. Khrushchev. So this is your problem and one that I think you can help, in developing first of all a greater understanding of other people and doing everything possible to develop a sense of responsibility among our people from soldiers down to youngsters, as you see the opportunity.

Having said this, I want to be sure that you do not understand what I have said to indicate that I think the balance of power is changing in either one of the three fields, either the military, the economic or the psychological. To punctuate with an illustration, I would like to tell of an incident that happened in Germany in September of 1958. First of all, you know that between West Germany and East Germany there exists what has been referred to as an Iron Curtain. What it actually consists of is rows of barbed wire, three of them. That boundary with all its zigs and zags runs about eight hundred miles--about twenty-four hundred miles of barbed wire. If you had to buy it it would cost you twenty-four hundred miles of barbed wire. Somebody has put in twenty-four hundred miles.

There is one hole, one they haven't been able to fence over, that is between East Berlin and West Berlin. The reason they cannot fence that over is because about fifty thousand people go back and forth every day.

With that understanding, I come to my incident. This was to be the four-hundredth anniversary of a great university, the University of Jenaer, to take place in the latter part of August of 1958 in the Communist side of Germany. Four days before the anniversary ... remember, this is a tremendous event in the life of a university ... four days before the Rector of the university, a man sixty-seven years old, and his wife, decided to flee to the West because they felt that the celebration was going to be a Communist exploitation.

Here is what they did. They bought two tickets, still in the eastern zone but beyond Berlin. When they arrived in East Berlin, they had this problem: could they leave that train and could they walk about fifty yards? If they could walk fifty yards could they get in the subway that would carry them about two miles? If they could they would then be in West Berlin and in freedom. So very calmly this man and wife with two little bags, representing their whole life holdings, walked with these tiny airplane-sized bags. They did get to the subway, it did move, and they were in freedom. But everything they had in the world was in these two bags. I tried to find them when I was back in Germany last September but I couldn't. I think I didn't have enough time because I think they are findable.

I mention this because Mr. Khrushchev is now, today in Indonesia, but whether he was in Indonesia, or in Burma, or in India, or in Russia or in the United States, he freely predicts that our grandchildren ... and in the Gruenther family we have thirteen so it means something to us ... our grandchildren are going to be living under the Socialist system--of Communism. But he faces a tremendous disadvantage, as he preaches that paradise on this earth is going to be found in that kind of society, in explaining why it is necessary to have three rows of barbed wire to hold these people in, to prevent them escaping. He has difficulty in explaining why in addition to that couple in 1958, two hundred and eight thousand others came through that hole, and of the two hundred and eight thousand, nine hundred were doctors, twenty-two hundred of them were school teachers. None of them came because of economic reasons.

This, as it is an element of weakness for him, is an element of strength for us if we are able to take advantage of it and to cash in and utilize our assets. This I feel we can do if our people understand that the struggle is a broader one than just in the military field.

You may say I am an optimist in predicting that we can handle this. If so, I plead guilty to that charge. But I like to feel that I have more than optimism, that I have faith in our religious civilization and the doctrine of the freedom of the individual which stems from that concept, and if we can continue to make progress in being more dedicated to that, and at the same time increase our knowledge and develop an understanding of other peoples, I am absolutely certain we can prevent a hot war from occurring, and more than hold our own in the current struggle which is in process.

It has been a great pleasure to be with The Empire Club. I wish you all kinds of success in your daily businesses, and I hope that the relations between our two countries will continue to remain very strong. Good Luck to you, and thank you kindly.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. Paul Hellyer, M.P.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Men, Missiles and Misunderstandings

Origins of the Red Cross. The uninvolvement of the United States until 1881. History of the Red Cross. The burden of the United States in its assumed role in connection with the future of the free world. The North American Treaty Organization and its progress. Exercising good partnership. Various factors involved: military, economic, psychological. Advantages, disadvantages, and comparisons between the free world and a totalitarian regime. The dangers of successes in a totalitarian regime, with examples from the Soviet Union. The need to be dedicated to service, such as in the Red Cross. The Canadian Red Cross. Leadership provided from Canada. Some personal anecdotes. Changes in the balance of power, with examples. The tremendous disadvantage faced by Khrushchev's Communism. Taking advantage of Communism's weakness. Increasing our knowledge and developing an understanding of other peoples to aid in preventing war. Holding our own in the current struggle.