Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address on the Signing of the Agreement Establishing the U.N.R.R.A.

November 09, 1943

Gentlemen, on behalf of the host Nations, I welcome you to this historic conference.

Here in the White House seated about a table in the historic East Room are representatives of 44 Nations—United Nations and those associated with them.

The people of these 44 Nations include approximately 80 percent of the human race, now united by a common devotion to the cause of civilization and by a common determination to build for the future a world of decency and security, and above all peace.

Representatives of these 44 Nations—you gentlemen who represent them-have just signed an agreement creating the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration commonly known as U.N.R.R.A.

This agency will help to put into practical effect some of the high purposes that were set forth in the declaration of the United Nations on January 1, 1942.

Coming after the Declarations of Moscow recently, this agreement shows that we mean business in this war in a political and humanitarian sense, just as surely as we mean business in a military sense. It is one more strong link joining the United Nations and their associates in facing problems of mutual need and mutual interest.

The agreement which we have all just signed is based on a preamble in which the United Nations declare that they are ". . . determined that immediately upon the liberation of any area. . . the population thereof shall receive aid and relief from their sufferings, food, clothing and shelter, aid in the prevention of pestilence and in the recovery of the health of the people, and that preparation and arrangements shall be made for the return of prisoners and exiles to their homes and for assistance in the resumption of urgently needed agricultural and industrial production and the restoration of essential services." That is the preamble of the agreement which has just been signed here today.

All of the United Nations agree to cooperate and share in the work of U.N.R.R.A.—each Nation according to its own individual resources—and to provide relief and help in rehabilitation for the victims of German and Japanese barbarism.

It is hard for us to grasp the magnitude of the needs in occupied countries.

The Germans and the Japanese have carried on their campaigns of plunder and destruction with one purpose in mind: that in the lands they occupy there shall be left only a generation of half-men—undernourished, crushed in body and spirit, without strength or incentive to hope—ready, in fact, to be enslaved and used as beasts of burden by the self-styled master races.

The occupied countries have been robbed of their foodstuffs and raw materials, and even of the agricultural and industrial machinery upon which their workers must depend for employment. The Germans have been planning systematically to make the other countries economic vassals, utterly dependent upon, and completely subservient to the Nazi tyrants.

Responsibility for alleviating the suffering and misery occasioned by this so-called New Order must be assumed not by any individual Nation but by all of the united and associated Nations acting together. No one country could—or should, for that matter—attempt to bear the burden of meeting the vast relief needs—either in money or in supplies.

The work confronting U.N.R.R.A. is immediate and urgent. As it now begins its operations, many of the most fertile food regions of the world are either under Axis domination, or have been stripped by the practice of the dictatorships to make themselves self-sustaining on other peoples' lands. Additional regions will almost inevitably be blackened as the German and Japanese forces in their retreat scorch the earth behind them.

So, it will be the task of U.N.R.R.A. to operate in these areas of food shortages until the resumption of peaceful occupations enables the liberated peoples once more to assume the full burden of their own support. It will be for U.N.R.R.A., first to assure a fair distribution of available supplies among all of the liberated peoples, and second, to ward off death by starvation or exposure among these peoples.

It would be supreme irony for us to win a victory, and then to inherit world chaos simply because we were unprepared to meet what we know we shall have to meet. We know the human wants that will follow liberation. Many ruthlessly shattered cities and villages in Russia, China, and Italy provide horrible evidence of what the defeated retreating Germans and Japanese will leave behind.

It is not only humane and charitable for the United Nations to supply medicine and food and other necessities to the peoples freed from Axis control; it is a clear matter of enlightened self-interest- and of military strategic necessity. This was apparent to us even before the Germans were ousted from any of the territories under their control.

But we need not any longer speculate. We have had nearly a year of experience in French Africa- and later experience in Sicily and in Italy.

In French North Africa, the United Nations have given assistance in the form of seeds, agricultural supplies, and agricultural equipment, and have made it possible for the people there to increase their harvest.

After years of looting by the Germans, the people of French Africa are now able to supply virtually all of their own food needs. And that in just one year. Besides, they are meeting important needs of the Allied armed forces in French Africa, in Sicily, and Italy, and giving much of the civilian labor which assists our armed forces there in loading and unloading ships.

The assistance rendered to the liberated peoples of French Africa was a joint venture of Great Britain and the United States.

The next step, as in the case of other joint operations of the United Nations, is to handle the problems of supply for the liberated areas on a United Nations basis- rather than on the cooperation of only two Nations.

We have shown that while the war lasts, whenever we help the liberated peoples with essential supplies and services, we hasten the day of the defeat of the Axis powers.

When victory comes there can certainly be no secure peace until there is a return of law and order in the oppressed countries, until the peoples of these countries have been restored to a normal, healthy, and self-sustaining existence. This means that the more quickly and effectually we apply measures of relief and rehabilitation, the more quickly will our own boys overseas be able to come home.

We have acted together with the other United Nations in harnessing our raw materials, our production, and our other resources to defeat the common enemy. We have worked together with the United Nations in full agreement and action in the fighting on land, and on the sea and in the air. We are now about to take an additional step in the combined actions that are necessary to win the war and to build the foundation for a secure peace.

The sufferings of the little men and women who have been ground under the Axis heel can be relieved only if we utilize the production of all the world to balance the want of all the world. In U.N.R.R.A. we have devised a mechanism, based on the processes of true democracy, a mechanism that can go far toward accomplishment of such an objective in the days and months of desperate emergency that will follow the overthrow of the Axis.

As in most of the difficult and complex things in life, Nations will learn to work together only by actually working together. Why not? We Nations have common objectives. It is, therefore, with a lift of hope, that we look on the signing of this agreement by all of the United Nations as a means of joining them together still more firmly.

Such is the spirit and such is the positive action of the United Nations and their associates at the time when our military power is becoming predominant, when our enemies are being pushed back- all over the world.

In defeat or in victory, the United Nations have never deviated from adherence to the basic principles of freedom, tolerance, independence, and security.

Tomorrow at Atlantic City, the U.N.R.R.A. begins its first formal conference—and makes the first bold steps toward the practicable, workable realization of a thing called freedom from want. The forces of the United Nations are marching forward, and the peoples of the United Nations march with them.

So, my friends, on this historic occasion, I wish you all the success in the world.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address on the Signing of the Agreement Establishing the U.N.R.R.A. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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