Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Employees at the Digital Equipment Corporation in Roxbury, Massachusetts

January 26, 1983

The President. Thank you all very much, and I understand that you even have time in here to do a little art work that -- up there. Well, I'm very proud and pleased to be here.

And when you said -- about the most powerful nation on Earth, I think we're standing in the midst of part of the reason why it is, what a typically American story this is. Mr. Olsen and two associates 25 years ago started with an idea that now is this company. I can't remember, it was only a few employees that you started with, and it's now 65,000 in all, in all of the various plants of this company.

I know that today -- and you probably were too busy last night to look at television, but I was talking a little bit on it -- [laughter] -- and I was talking about the unemployed that besets our country. But this, this is the future, and you're part of it. This is where we're going.

But now they've told me and they've warned me in advance that I only have a couple of minutes, and then I have to move on to some other things that I'm doing while I'm here. But I just thought -- and I probably can't take more than one or two -- that there must have been times when you've said, ``If I had a chance, I'd like to ask that guy,'' meaning me -- [laughter]. Well, if you did think about it and you've got one, fire away, and I'll try to answer it.

Yes.

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. I wish you'd asked an easier question. [Laughter] What is the possibility of making Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday.

I believe that it is a day that should be nationally recognized. But technically, when you say ``national holiday,'' you are then speaking of a day that closes down industry, and the Government closes down and so forth. And the only one we've really ever done that for nationally of our own country was George Washington. Even Lincoln's birthday -- some States recognize it more specially than others, but it is not that other.

And I know what has caused the problems in the Congress and in legislation with regard to that is, what could be done that would not, at the same time, necessitate that being the kind of holiday where, as I say, that has only recognized one other man, George Washington. And then you would have to ask, ``Well, now, wait a minute, great as the service he performed, have we opened the door to many other people?'' A Thomas Jefferson, for example, or George Washington Carver and the great contribution he made.

But I'd like to sit down with people that are trying and are doing this drive to find if we can't have a kind of national recognition day that will be an annual observance of the birthday of this man. Because just a few days ago on his birthday, I was talking about him, and I made the statement then that Lincoln freed the black man; Martin Luther King freed the white man. And we didn't know until he did that how heavy the burden of racism was that we had been bearing for all those years. And thank God for what he has done, and he should be remembered.

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Gillespie. Can't hear you -- --

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. We're all having trouble -- --

Mr. Gillespie. Can't hear you -- --

The President. I've got the mike, and you haven't got a mike.

Q. She wants applause for America.

Mr. Gillespie. She wants applause for all people working together -- [inaudible].

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. Oh.

Q. [Inaudible] -- applause.

Q. [Inaudible] [Applause]

The President. When I said earlier that we were standing in the middle of what has made America great, that's part of it. We came from every corner of the world, came here because our ancestors -- some of us came directly, and then some of us by way of our ancestors -- but the one common characteristic we have and we've proven to all the world with all their prejudices and their jealousies and their bickerings that go on between ethnic groups and between racial and religious groups -- here in this country, yes, we've got our faults and our problems, but we've made it work better than it has ever worked any place in the world. And I think the common heritage of all of us is that somebody in our family -- or ourselves, if we're the first to come here -- had a little ounce of courage and a love of freedom that made us tear up the roots in the homeland and come here to this place where we could truly be free.

Mr. Gillespie. One more question.

The President. He says I can only take one more question. And I don't know whether I am going to be able to hear that far back.

Q. [Inaudible] Mr. President, what are you going to do about the arms race?

The President. What am I going to do about the arms race? Well, we're going to keep on trying to talk the Russians into meeting us on that. I proposed, last November -- or a year ago November -- I proposed -- to begin with, the Soviet Union has more than -- well, about 340 intermediate range nuclear missiles aimed -- in Europe. That's why they're called intermediate-range. And they're targeted on all of Europe. And there is nothing there as a deterrent that could fire back, in other words, to keep them from firing in the first place.

And the NATO countries asked us some time ago if we would provide Pershing and cruise missiles in enough number to be based in Western Europe as a deterrent to those weapons. And I proposed, a year ago last November, that we sit down with the Russians and see if we couldn't negotiate a zero option -- that they give up all of theirs, and we won't put any in Western Europe -- and free that whole area of the world from that threat that is hanging over them.

Now, so far, they've only met us halfway. They're willing for us to have zero. They want to keep on having missiles. We're going to keep on negotiating.

But in addition to that, we have a team in Geneva now that is negotiating, also, a reduction of the great intercontinental ballistic missiles that the Soviets have aimed at us and that we have aimed at them. And we've asked them to join us in cutting way back to below the level we now have -- which is much less than they have -- and have an equal number, and have it be verifiable, so that we'll know whether each other is cheating or not. And we're continuing with that. But at the same time, we have a third team that is negotiating with them to see if they won't join us in reducing what are called ``conventional arms'' -- just artillery, tanks, things of that kind.

Now, we're going to keep on doing that for just as long as we can keep them at a table, because the goal has to be peace. And yet, the only answer to the threat they pose is a deterrent that, in other words, we have to be strong enough that, until they will join us in disarming, they've got to know that, if they decided to loose those weapons on us, they'd suffer enough damage themselves that it wouldn't be worthwhile. That's the only protection we have against that kind of weapon. And, as I say, we are the ones who've made those proposals.

I think they came to the negotiating table because of our present military buildup -- the fact that we showed them -- or told them, unless they did join us in disarming, then they were going to have to face the fact that we were going to build our armaments up to the point that we could protect the freedom of the people of this country and of the free world. And once we made that plain, they were willing to come and sit down at the negotiating table.

And I hope they'll meet us in good faith and join us, because this'd be the contribution that this generation of Americans could make to the world that would be remembered for all time to come -- if the great nations would begin turning their swords into plowshares.

So, just keep a prayer in your heart for us. We're going to try to do it.

They tell me I've got to quit.

Note: The President spoke at 2:30 p.m. in the assembly line area of the plant following a tour of the facilities. He was accompanied on the tour by Kenneth Olsen, president of the corporation, and Ralph Gillespie, manager of the Roxbury plant.