Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Excerpts from the Joint Press Conference with Mme. Chiang Kai-shek

February 19, 1943

(Three chairs were placed in front of the center window, away from the President's desk. Madame Chiang occupied the chair in the center, Mrs. Roosevelt was at her right, and the President at her left.)

THE PRESIDENT: May I take this opportunity, not to introduce Madame Chiang to you, but introduce all of you to her.

Madame Chiang, this is nearly our one thousandth press conference in ten years, and the fact that the press and I are on speaking terms after all those years is perhaps a good sign. We still talk to each other. I think we rather like each other. (Laughter)

You have got a very representative group here. There is no country in the world, I think, that has more newspapers on a population basis- and magazines- than we have. They are very live wires. But I can tell the press something besides that, and that is that I wish that we—the press and myself—knew half as much about China as Madame Chiang knows about us, as a special envoy. That is very different from most special envoys who come to this country. And her visit to us is going to be of real help in the days to come, because the people of China well over a century have been, in thought and in objective, closer to us Americans than almost any other peoples in the world—the same great ideals.

China, in the last—less than half a century has become one of the great democracies of the world, remembering always that their civilization is thousands of years older than ours. And that is why I feel that we in this country have a great deal more to learn about China than China has to learn about us.

Madame Chiang knows this country, and I am going to ask her, therefore—as an old friend—just to say a few words ....

(Then to Madame Chiang) And so I present to you the American press.

MADAME CHIANG KAI-SHEK: Mr. President, Mrs. Roosevelt, ladies and gentlemen of the press: I haven't made any preparations for a speech. I don't know what I am supposed to say to you today, but I confess that I have often heard that the pen is mightier than the sword. And when I saw all those pencils flashing across the pages as the President spoke, I must confess that whereas I had been to all the fronts in China, and have never felt any fear so far as Japanese swords are concerned, I do not know whether I felt fear or not when I saw all your pencils flashing across the pages. (Laughter)

However, I don't think I do, because I see flashes of smiles coming from your faces, so I feel that I am amongst friends, and that I have nothing to fear from the press, although I understand that there are such questions as "catch" questions. (Laughter) I don't think you are going to heckle me with them. I am sure you won't.

I want to say one thing to you, and that is that we in China have always had social democracy throughout these thousands of years, and that we are now depending on our press, now and in the future, so that in time we shall really realize not only social democracy but political democracy as well; because, as I said, the pen is mightier than the sword, and from what I have seen of your American press, I am sure that our hopes of the Chinese press will also be realized.

I am particularly referring to the President's trip to Casabianca. I am sure that all of you knew about it, and yet there was not a single word in the press about it. And I think that shows beautiful cooperation between the Administration and the press. And is particularly necessary, during these war days, that there should be such cooperation. And I want to congratulate you on your tact, and on your integrity.

Thank you. (Applause). . .

Q. Madame Chiang, has the President asked you to remain here to act as "liaison Officer" between him and Congress?

MADAME CHIANG: I don't think the President needs me, or anybody else, for that purpose. (Laughter)

Q. Madame Chiang, this is a big question, I know; what is the first thing that you think we can do to help China?

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) I can answer that: with more munitions. We are all for it. That is unanimous.

MADAME CHIANG: The President is right.

Q. Madame Chiang, I am going to ask this question, and if it is an improper one I know the President will correct me(laughter) but my impression is that there is more unanimity of opinion in support of the Chinese than of almost any other people, and the one question that I have heard was that the Chinese people are not supporting their own war with manpower as well as they might. Now if that is a question that the President would like to—me to ask, and you can discuss that—throw a light on something—

MADAME CHIANG: (interposing) I cannot quite understand it. That the Chinese Government.

Q. (interposing) Perhaps I can put it this way. The one tenor of question that I heard around the Capitol yesterday, after your two magnificent speeches, was that the Chinese are not utilizing their manpower to the full extent. And that question might well be publicly answered and if you care to discuss it now, this is a good time.

MADAME CHIANG; We are using as much manpower as there are munitions to be used. We can't fight with bare hands. We have fought with no overhead protection throughout five and a half years. But we can't go there and fight with our bare hands, although we have fought with nothing but swords in hand-to-hand combat. But it is not true when it is said that China is not supporting the front with her manpower, because we are.

Q. Thank you. . . .

Q. Madame Chiang, would you care to speak about the American Air Force in China, what it means both in morale and in active support?

MADAME CHIANG: Yes. I can't pay sufficiently high tribute to the American Volunteer Group—when they first came out to us.

We were being terrifically bombed in Chungking, because our Chinese Air Force had only a few hundred planes in the beginning of the war; and as time went on those planes dwindled. Russia at first sent us planes. Later, they themselves became hard pressed, and less and less planes came. And as you know, planes like everything else wear out, only they wear out quicker; and we could get no reinforcements.

Then the American Volunteer Group came, and they not only helped us materially, because they made it possible for our people to feel that America is really heart and soul with us in our common cause to fight against aggression, but the planes actually kept the enemy planes from bombing indiscriminately certain civilian centers, such as Chungking. Not all China, because the Air Force was not large enough.

But I think the greatest help was the feeling on the part of our Chinese people that we have not fought and bled alone, and that America was helping us, and that America is really our ally.

Now as the President has just said, we need munitions. We have got manpower. We have even got trained pilots, but we haven't got the planes, nor have we the gasoline. And the point is, how are we going to get them? But the President has solved so many difficult questions, he has come through so many great crises with flying colors, that I feel that I can safely leave that answer to him. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Madame Chiang, you are absolutely 100 percent right on what we want to do, and what we are trying to do; and I might even say what we are beginning to do, in addition to the present very small number of planes that are operating in China.

But I think that if you will look at the old map again—as I have said so often- you will realize that while we can fly planes to China, we have to fly all the other things that make planes go into China, to keep them running. It's a problem of transportation. We can't fly there directly across the ocean. We can't fly there from Russia. And therefore we have to fly in from the southwest. And it means that a transport plane has to get itself in, and the gasoline to get it in, and enough gasoline to get it back again for another load, and still have something left over to leave in China to keep the fighting planes going.

I don't suppose that there is any one task that is being studied more by transportation people- the military people—than the problem of getting the wherewithal with the plane to go into China.

And all I can say is that we are doing the best we can, and we are definitely going to increase that aid-I hope and I think—reasonably fast. It is not even merely a sentimental question. It's an actual problem of winning the war. And we are just as keen to knock out Japan as China is, and we are going to help in every way, from every possible angle and direction.

I think I suggested it the other day, that the Japanese line at the present time, all the way from Burma to the Dutch Indies, out to the Solomons and the north through the Mandated Islands, is a very long way from Tokyo, besides being a long way from here. And I think I suggested the other day, in what I said at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, that it isn't enough just to move forward inch by inch, island by island. If we took one island, in the advance from the south, once a month—twelve of them a year—I figured out it would take about fifty years before we got to Japan.

And therefore, obviously, just looking at the map—you don't have to be learned in strategy— it's a perfectly obvious thing to a layman that the way to hit Japan is to cut that line. And that is our objective, to cut the Japanese line up near the top of the line. And today that can be done, and we are going to do it more and more by using China as a base of operations; and with that, of course, if the base of operations can be established with sufficient equipment.

And it is not only cutting the line, but it means hitting Japan in the Japanese islands themselves; and that is a perfectly definite policy.

If I were a member of the Chinese Government, I would say, "But when?. . . . How soon?. . . . Why not a little more?"; and I say that as a member of the American Government too. Just as fast as the Lord will let us, with the best brains that we can bring to bear on it.

Now that, I think, is a very simple summary of what we are trying to do, without going into the details of the method and the military operations themselves. Everybody in Washington, I might say, is pledged to hurry it up and increase it, and make China a large and an important base—probably in the long run the most important base of operations against our common enemy.

Q. Mr. President, could you permit direct quotes of the phrase, "Just as fast as the Lord will let us?"

THE PRESIDENT: No, I wouldn't. A lot of people wouldn't like to have the name of the Lord taken in vain. (Laughter) . . .

Q. Madame Chiang, might I ask if you could give us any suggestions as to how that aid might be stepped up? Do you have anything specific you might suggest to us?

MADAME CHIANG: The President just said that "as fast as the Lord will let us." Well, I might add on to that, "The Lord helps those who help themselves." (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Right.

Q. Madame Chiang, do you object to being quoted directly about the Lord?

MADAME CHIANG: I think I shall follow the President exactly. . . .

Q. Mr. President, at the time you first announced this seven and a half million Army substantially, I believe you added the other categories up, and I think that the total figure was 10,800,000. Is there any change in that?

THE PRESIDENT: Did that include officers?

Q. Yes, sir—750,000.

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely right.

Q. Well, sir, the "farm bloc"—if you recognize that term-seems to think that you can't have that Army and do the spring planting—can't have that Army and food this year. I think that is probably a correct statement of their case. Is that worrying you at all?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, of course.

Let me tell you a nice story, and as an illustration. I was talking to one of the newspapermen in North Africa who had come back from Russia:

It was in the spring of 1942, after they had withstood the Germans all through the winter of 1941-42, the Russian line having been pushed back from twenty miles from the city to nearly a hundred miles from the city. Nevertheless, Moscow was in real danger, even in the spring of 1942; and they had gone through a very tough winter. They didn't have enough fuel, and they hadn't laid in enough food.

So the Russian authorities took—I think it was 300,000 school children, between the ages of twelve and eighteen; and they took them out to a radius of perhaps a hundred miles from the city, all the way out. And they planted every acre of fields as soon as the ice was out of the soil. And as soon as they had done that, they put them into the forests. And they took pretty good care of these children—it was war—of course, not as well as they had taken care of them in time of peace. And they cut wood until harvest-time came, and then they put them back in the fields to harvest all the food that they possibly could. Then they put them back in the woods again.

And in that way Moscow was supplied, by autumn, with enough wood to keep people warm. I mean reasonably warm—not the way we heat our homes. And they had enough food to live on- men, women, and children- in this great city with millions of people in it.

They didn't have enough manpower there to put grown-up people, either men or women, into this work. The men were fighting, or running the transportation—and the women were running the transportation, and fighting, and all the utilities, and they were in the munitions factories which still remained in Moscow.

And the result—this fellow said to me that during the winter of 1942-43, this winter, there has been relatively less suffering, and fewer problems of food and heat than the previous winter. I use that as a little illustration.

And I thought I was a little previous about six months ago! I said once that I thought that the younger people in the villages and towns of this country could help the farmers of this country very, very materially. We have sporadic examples, like the case of the town in California, where they had a crop all ripening inside of one week.

And they couldn't get labor.

The whole town turned out—the drugstore fellow, the soda-water fellow, the doctor, the lawyer, the newspapermen—the linotype man and the editor—and the women of the town. Not a large number, I think twelve hundred people in the town. But they all turned out and helped pick the crop. And the result was that at the end of the week the crop was in.

Now we haven't done nearly enough of that. That doesn't mean that that is the solution of it, but at least it will help in the problem of getting in the harvest for our needs, and the needs of our allies—food that we ship abroad.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

Q. Thank you.

Q. (aside) Let's go, boys.

Q. Thank you, Madame Chiang.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Joint Press Conference with Mme. Chiang Kai-shek Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209785

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