Address to the White House Correspondents' Association
It is nearly two years since I attended the last dinner of our White House Correspondents' Association. A great deal of water has flowed over the dam since then.
And several people have flown over the water.
Two years ago—many months before Pearl Harbor—I spoke to you of the thought that was then uppermost in our minds— of the determination of America to become the arsenal of democracy. Almost all Americans had by that time determined to play their full part in helping to save civilization from the barbarians. Even then, we were in the midst of the historic job of production- a job which the American people have been performing with zest and skill and, above all, with success.
Tonight, as I speak to you, we are in the war, and another thought is uppermost in our minds. That is our determination to fight this war through to the finish- to the day when United Nations forces march in triumph through the streets of Berlin, and Rome, and Tokyo.
Last September, as some of our publisher friends here tonight knew at the time, I made a tour of inspection through this country. I saw war plants at work. I saw Army and Navy training camps and flying fields. I saw American men and women—management and labor alike—working with the objective of beating production schedules. I saw American soldiers and sailors and fliers doing the job of training for the fighting that lay ahead.
Now I have returned from one of the fronts overseas, where the production from American factories and the training given in American camps are being applied in actual warfare against the enemy. I have seen our troops in the field. I have inspected their superb equipment. I have talked and laughed and eaten with them.
I have seen our men- the Nation's men- in Trinidad, in Belem and Natal in Brazil, in Liberia, in Gambia. We must remember that in these places there is no actual fighting, but there is hard, dangerous, essential work, and there is a tremendous strain on the endurance and the spirit of our troops. They are standing up magnificently under that strain. And I want them to know that we have not forgotten them.
I have seen our men—and some of our American women—in North Africa. Out there it is war. Those men know that before this war is over, many of them will have given their lives to their Nation. But they know also that they are fighting to destroy the power of the enemies of this country, that they are fighting for a peace that will be a real and lasting peace and a far better world for the future.
Our men in the field are worthy of the great faith, the high hopes that we have placed in them. That applies as well to the men of our Navy, without whom no American expeditionary force could land safely on foreign shores. And it applies equally to the men of our merchant marine who carry the essential munitions and supplies, without which neither the United States nor our allies could continue the battle.
No American can look at these men, soldiers or sailors, without a very great emotion and great pride—and a deep sense of our responsibility to them.
Because of the necessary secrecy of my trip, the men of our armed forces in every place I visited were completely surprised. And the expression on their faces certainly proved that.
I wish that I could pay similar surprise visits to our men in the other fields of operations. And don't let anybody assume, because I have said that, that next month I am flying to Guadalcanal. But I wish I could see our men, and our naval bases, and the islands of the Pacific, and Australia, on the mainland and the islands of Alaska, the islands of the Atlantic, the two Guianas, the Canal Zone, Iceland, Britain, Central Africa, the Middle East, India, Burma, and China. I wish I could tell them face to face that their Government and their people are very proud of the great job that they are doing, in helping to strengthen the vise that is slowly but surely squeezing the breath out of our enemies.
In every battalion, and in every ship's crew, you will find every kind of American citizen representing every occupation, every section, every origin, every religion, and every political viewpoint.
Ask them what they are fighting for, and every one of them will say, "I am fighting for my country." Ask them what they really mean by that, and you will get what on the surface may seem to be a wide variety of answers.
One will say that he is fighting for the right to say what he pleases, and to read and listen to what he likes.
Another will say he is fighting because he never wants to see the Nazi swastika flying over the old First Baptist Church on Elm Street.
Another soldier will say that he is fighting for the right to work, and to earn three square meals a day for himself and his folks.
And another one will say that he is fighting in this world war so that his children and his grandchildren will not have to go back to Europe, or Africa, or Asia, or the Solomon Islands, to do this ugly job all over again.
But all these answers really add up to the same thing; every American is fighting for freedom. And today the personal freedom of every American and his family depends, and in the future will increasingly depend, upon the freedom of his neighbors in other lands.
For today the more you travel, the more you realize that the whole world is one neighborhood. That is why this war that had its beginnings in seemingly remote areas—China—Poland—has spread to every continent, and most of the islands of the sea, involving the lives and the liberties of the entire human race. And unless the peace that follows recognizes that the whole world is one neighborhood and does justice to the whole human race, the germs of another world war will remain as a constant threat to mankind.
Yes, I talked with many people in our armed forces, along the coast and through the islands of the Western Hemisphere, and up the coast of West Africa. Many of our soldiers and sailors were concerned about the state of the home front. They receive all kinds of exaggerated reports and rumors that there is too much complaining back here at home, and too little recognition of the realities of war; that selfish labor leaders are threatening to call strikes that would greatly curtail the output of our war industries; that some farm groups are trying to profiteer on prices, and are letting us down on food production; that many people are bitter over the hardships of rationing and priorities; and especially that there is serious partisan quarrel over the petty things of life here in our Capital City of Washington, D.C.
I told them that most of these reports are just gross exaggerations; that the people as a whole in the United States are in this war to see it through with heart and body and soul; and that our population is willing and glad to give up some of their shoes, and their sugar, and coffee, and automobile riding—and privileges and profits—for the sake of the common cause.
I could not truthfully deny to our troops that a few chiselers, a few politicians, and a few—to use a polite term—publicists -fortunately a very few- have placed their personal ambition or greed above the Nation's interests.
Our troops know that the Nazis and the Fascists and the Japanese are trying hard to sell the untruths of propaganda to certain types of Americans. But our troops also know that even if you pile up a lot of molehills of deception one on top of the other, you still cannot make a mountain big enough, or high enough, or solid enough to fool many people, or to block the road to victory and to an effective peace.
I think a fundamental of an effective peace is the assurance to those men who are fighting our battles, that when they come home they will find a country with an economy firm enough and fair enough to provide jobs for all those who are willing to work.
I am certain that private enterprise will be able to provide the vast majority of those jobs, and in those cases where this cannot be accomplished that the Congress of the United States will pass the legislation that will make good the assurance of earning a living.
There are still a few men who say we cannot achieve this and other honorable, reasonable aims for the postwar period. And in speaking of those professional skeptics—those men of little faith -there comes to my mind an old word in our language- the word "petriloggers."
The formal dictionary definition and derivation of the word are neither here nor there. To most of us "pettifogger" brings to mind a man who is small, mean and tricky, and picayune. In a word—petty. It is the type of man who is always seeking to create a smoke screen and fog, for the purpose of obscuring the plain truth. And you and I know some pettifoggers.
Today, those pettifoggers are attempting to obscure the essential truths of this war. They are seeking to befog the present and the future, and the clear purposes and the high principles for which the free world now maintains the promise of undimmed victory.
To use one example, in a small sector of the world's surface in North Africa—we are now massing armies—British, French, and American- for one of the major battles of this war.
The enemy's purpose in the battle of Tunisia is to hold at all costs their last bridgehead in Africa, to prevent us from gaining access to the Straits that lead to Nazi-dominated Europe.
Our prime purpose in this battle of Tunisia is to drive our enemies into the sea.
The British First Army in this battle, commanded by General Anderson, contains many veterans of Flanders and Dunkirk. Those men have a score to settle with the Nazis, and they are going to even that score.
The British Eighth Army, commanded by General Montgomery, has to its eternal credit the smashing defeat of Marshal Rommel's Army, and the now historic fifteen-hundred-mile pursuit of those once triumphant Nazi-Fascist forces.
The enemy in Tunisia will be attacked from the south by this great Eighth Army, and by the French forces who have made a remarkable march all the way across the Sahara Desert under General Le Clerc, one of General de Gaulle's officers. From the west the enemy will be attacked by the combined forces of British and Americans, together with French troops under the command of General Giraud.
And I think that we take a certain satisfaction tonight that all of these forces are commanded by General Eisenhower. I spent many hours in Casablanca with this young general- a descendant of Kansas pioneers. I know what a fine, tough job he has done, and how carefully and skillfully he is directing the soldiers under him. I want to say to you tonight—and to him—that we have every confidence in his leadership. High tribute was paid to his qualities as a man when the British Government, through Mr. Churchill, took the lead at Casablanca in proposing him for the supreme command of all the great Allied operations which are imminent in North Africa.
The deputy to General Eisenhower is General Alexander, one of Britain's greatest fighting men. He commanded all the British forces in the Middle East, including the Eighth Army that won the decisive battle at El Alamein. He and General Montgomery planned that engagement and the stupendous advance that followed. At this moment—as I speak to you tonight—General Alexander is standing at the right hand of General Eisenhower planning new military operations.
These important facts reveal not merely cooperation but active collaboration between the United Nations. Let these facts be duly noted by our enemies.
Our soldiers in Tunisia are well trained and equipped, but they are facing for the first time actual combat with formidable opponents. We can be absolutely certain that they will conduct themselves as bravely and as effectively as did those young Americans under General Pershing who drove Germany's best troops through the Argonne forest and across the River Meuse.
I think we should be prepared for the fact that Tunisia will cost us heavily in casualties. Yes, we must face that fact now, with the same calm courage as our men are facing it on the battlefield itself.
The enemy has strong forces, and strong positions. His supply lines are maintained at great cost, but Hitler has been willing to pay that cost because he knows the consequences of Allied victory in Tunisia.
The consequences are simple. They are the actual invasions of the continent of Europe. And we do not disguise our intention to make these invasions. The pressure on Germany and Italy will be constant and unrelenting. The amazing Russian armies in eastern Europe have been delivering overpowering blows; we must do likewise in the west. The enemy must be hit and hit hard from so many directions that he will never know which is his bow and which is his stern.
And it was made clear also at Casablanca that all Frenchmen outside of France, for we know little of what is happening in France, but all Frenchmen who can, are uniting in one great paramount objective—the complete liberation of France and of the French people who now suffer the torture of the Nazi yoke. As each day passes, a spirit of unselfishness is more greatly uniting all Frenchmen who have the opportunity to strike that blow for liberation.
In the years of the American Revolution, and the French Revolution, the fundamental principle that guided our democracies was established. Indeed the whole cornerstone of our democratic edifice was the principle that from the people and the people alone flows the authority of government.
It is one of our war aims, as expressed in the Atlantic Charter, that the conquered populations of today- shall again become the masters of their destiny. There must be no doubt anywhere that it is the unalterable purpose of the United Nations to restore to conquered peoples their sacred rights.
French sovereignty rests with the people of France. Its expression has been temporarily suspended by German occupation. Once the triumphant armies of the United Nations have expelled the common foe, Frenchmen will be represented by a government of their own popular choice.
And it will be a free choice in every way. No Nation in all the world that is free to make a choice is going to set itself up under a Fascist form of government, or a Nazi form of government, or a Japanese war-lord form of government. For such forms are the offspring of seizure of power followed by the abridgment of freedom. Therefore- and this is plain logic- the United Nations can properly say of these forms of government—Nazism, Fascism, Japanism—if I might coin a new word-the United Nations can properly say to that form of government two simple words, "Never again."
For the right of self-determination included in the Atlantic Charter does not carry with it the right of any Government anywhere in the world to commit wholesale murder, or the right to make slaves of its own people, or of any other peoples in the world.
And the world can rest assured that this total war, this sacrifice of lives all over the globe, is not being carried on for the purpose, or even with the remotest idea of keeping Quislings or Lavals in power anywhere on this earth.
The decisions that were reached, and the actual plans that were made at Casablanca were not confined to any one theater of war, or to any one continent, or ocean, or sea. Before this year is out I think it will be made known to the world, in actions rather than in words, that the Casablanca Conference produced plenty of news; and it will be bad news for the Germans and Italians—and the Japanese.
We have lately concluded a long, hard battle in the Southwest Pacific, and we have made notable gains. That battle started in the Solomons and New Guinea last summer. It has demonstrated without question our superior power in planes, and most importantly in the fighting qualities of our individual soldiers and sailors.
American armed forces in the Southwest Pacific are receiving powerful aid from Australia and New Zealand, and also directly from the British themselves.
We do not expect to spend the time that it would take to bring Japan to final defeat merely by inching our way forward from island to island across the vast expanse of the Pacific. It would take too many years.
Great and decisive actions against the Japanese will be taken to drive the invader from the soil of China. Yes, important actions are going to be taken in the skies over China—and in the skies over Japan itself.
The discussions at Casablanca have been continued in Chungking with the Generalissimo by General Arnold, and have resulted in definite plans for offensive operations.
Remember that there are many roads that lead right to Tokyo. And we are not going to neglect any of them.
In an attempt to ward off the inevitable disaster that lies ahead of them, the Axis propagandists are trying all their old tricks, in order to divide the United Nations. They seek to create the idea that if we win this war, Russia, and England, and China, and the United States are going to get into a cat-and-dog fight.
This is their final effort to turn one Nation against another, in the vain hope that they may settle with one or two at a time- that any of us may be so gullible and so forgetful as to be duped into making "deals" at the expense of our allies.
To these panicky attempts- and that is the best word to use: "panicky"—to escape the consequences of their crimes, we say —all the United Nations say- that the only terms on which we shall deal with any Axis Government, or any Axis factions, are the terms proclaimed at Casablanca: "unconditional surrender." We know, and the plain people of our enemies will eventually know, that in our uncompromising policy we mean no harm to the common people of the Axis Nations. But we do mean to impose punishment and retribution in full upon their guilty, barbaric leaders.
The Nazis must be frantic—not just panicky, but frantic if they believe that they can devise any propaganda that would turn the British and the American and the Chinese Governments and peoples against Russia—or Russia against the rest of us.
The overwhelming courage and endurance of the Russian people in withstanding and hurling back the invaders- the genius with which their great armies have been directed and led by Mr. Stalin and their military commanders—all speak for themselves.
The tragedy of the war has sharpened the vision and leadership of the peoples of all the United Nations, and I can say to you from my own full knowledge that they see the utter necessity of our standing together after the war to secure a peace based on principles of permanence.
You can be quite sure that if Japan should be the first of the Axis partners to fall, the total efforts and resources of all the United Nations would be concentrated on the job of crushing Germany.
And, on the other hand, lest there be any question in Nazi or Japanese minds that we are wholly one in the prosecution of the war to a complete victory over our enemies, the Prime Minister wished, at Casablanca, to make a formal agreement that if Germany should be conquered before Japan, all British Empire resources and manpower would, of course, join with China and us in an out-and-out final attack on Japan. And I told Mr. Churchill that no formal statement of agreement along those lines was in the least bit necessary, that the American people accept the word of a great English gentleman and that it is obvious and clear that all of us are completely in accord in our determination to destroy the forces of barbarism in Asia, as well as in Europe and in Africa. In other words, our policy toward our Japanese enemies is precisely the same as our policy toward our Nazi enemies: it is a policy of fighting hard on all fronts, and ending the war as quickly as we can, on the uncompromising terms of unconditional surrender.
Today is the anniversary of the birth of a great, plain American. The living memory of Abraham Lincoln is now honored and cherished by all of our people, wherever they may be, and by men and women and children throughout the British Commonwealth, and the Soviet Union, and the Republic of China, and all of our sister American Republics, and indeed in every land on earth where people love freedom and will give their lives for freedom.
President Lincoln said in 1862, "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us . . . in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation."
Today, eighty years after Lincoln delivered that message, the fires of war are blazing across the whole horizon of mankind from Kharkov to Kunming—from the Mediterranean to the Coral Sea—from Berlin to Tokyo.
Again—we cannot escape history. We have supreme confidence that, with the help of God, honor will prevail. We have faith that future generations will know that here, in the middle of the twentieth century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to the White House Correspondents' Association Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209772