Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Joint Press Conference with Prime Ministers Churchill and King in Quebec, Canada

August 24, 1943

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. King, you are now the "presiding officer."

PRIME MINISTER MACKENZIE KING: Gentlemen of the press, before the Conference breaks up, the President and Prime Minister hope to have an opportunity, in which I am proud indeed to be able to join them, of interchanging greetings with you, and also of expressing to you all, our thanks for the helpful cooperation which the press has given in the period of the Conference. . . .

(Alter an interval [or the photographers)

Well, Mr. Churchill, would you like to say a few words to the gentlemen of the press? I call on Mr. Churchill to say a few words to the gentlemen assembled.

PRIME MINISTER CHURCHILL: Well, ladies and gentlemen, until I arrived here I thought that the President was going to follow Mr. Mackenzie King in the proceedings. I didn't know what I was going to say, and I thought that I would base my remarks in accordance with what he said. Now he has arrived, he tells me that he wishes me to begin. Now he is going to listen to what I have got to say, and he is reserving himself not to make any errors I may make. (Laughter)

Well, I understand this is a talk which is to enable us, as Mr. Mackenzie King in his very happy phrase said, "to interchange greetings," and rather in the same way as we did at Casablanca.

Now I have quite realized that many of you gentlemen, probably the most distinguished body of great representatives that could be gathered together, have felt impatient at the fact that you were all gathered here, and there was so very little to report and write about.

Well, that was inherent in the nature of the task, because these conferences which attract world-wide attention do not themselves yield a matter which can be continually contributive to the press, or to the world. And one hopes that as a result of the decisions taken here, events will occur weeks and months later which will fully justify all the labor which was expended. And it is by those results, which are not available in any form that can be even foreshadowed today, that those who take part in these conferences must be judged; and I hope, therefore, that you will appreciate and sympathize with our difficulties, in the same way as I have tried to show I understand yours.

As an old reporter, newspaperman, war correspondent, when most of you were still unborn, I know the feelings of irritation which come when the trouble taken by the press does not seem to reap a proportionate reward.

But we are fighting a great life-and-death struggle, and I must ask for the patriotism, tolerance, and indulgence of all those who are here to make allowances for that, criticizing anything they think should be criticized, but altogether to make fair allowances for the conditions under which we are doing our work, which are essentially those of secrecy, which are essentially those the results of which, when they can be spoken of at all, should be the subject of considered statement. Therefore, I hope that you will be to our faults a little mild, and to our virtues very kind.

This is the sixth conference I have had with the President; and I know there are some people who say, "Why is it necessary to have all these conferences?" But I think a much more reasonable way of looking at it would be to say, "How is it they are able to get on with such long intervals between the conferences?"

When you think that our armies are linked together as no two armies have ever been- our fleets, air forces, and armies linked together as never before in history, not only side by side but intermingled very often—and that the operations which they are conducting are being achieved with unexampled rapidity ahead of schedule and ahead of program; and when you think of all the difference it makes to the soldiers who are fighting with all the power at their command—and at which they will have to be kept, at the same time, at the summit and at the center—and that there will have to be a clear marking out of the course ahead, and a detailed study, a deliberate study of all the steps that have to be taken—and what a difference that all makes to the soldier, and how many lives may easily be saved, and what abridgments may be achieved in this long and devastating, desecrating war—then I feel sure that you will agree with me, and with the President, that we are rightly to come together, and to bring our staffs together, to bring not only the head staffs but all the very large staffs together indispensable to the working of modern operations.

A great advantage is achieved by personal contact. I assure you it would not be possible to carry on the complicated warfare we are waging without close, intimate, friendly, personal contacts, and they have been established at every level in the very large organizations which have been brought together here at Quebec.

I certainly must tell you that I have found the work very hard here—very hard. I have hardly had a minute to spare, from the continued flow of telegrams from London to the necessity of dealing with a number of great questions which cannot be hurried in their consideration; and a great many minor decisions, some of which take just as much time and trouble. All this crowding in has certainly not left me any time to go about and see people, and to make all the exterior contacts which I should like to have done, except for an hour yesterday when I saw a few people.

That, I think, has been true also of our staffs. They have worked at tremendous pressure. Not only the combined conferences, which have been daily and twice a day and so forth, but each of the staffs has had to spend long hours in conclave together among themselves; and, of course, the President has had to sit with his officers, and I with those whom I have brought over. We have had to discuss with them all the movements—the thoughts—the decisions which have been taking place.

Well, we have got to the end of the task. We have reached very good—very sound—I hope very good conclusions. They are certainly unanimous and agreed, and most extreme cordiality prevails.

Now, you must not suppose that is a small thing, because with the best will in the world differences of view must arise, when two great Nations with their immense military forces, with problems in every quarter of the globe, are working together. They must. And it is astonishing what happens, even if you are separated for as much as three months. The differences arise not on principle but on emphasis and priority which, if they are allowed to consider, do not hamper operations therefore.

I never felt more sure about anything than I do about the fact that these conferences are an indispensable part of the successful conduct of the war, and of a shortening of the struggle, and of the saving of bloodshed to the troops. The least we can do for them is to make sure that they go into action under the best conditions and the best planning, that our foresight and deliberations have played their part in all those plans.

Well, on the whole, things are very much better than they were when we met at Casablanca.

They are even better than when we met in Washington last.

Now, great operations have been successfully accomplished. All Sicily is prostrate under our authority, and apparently taking to it in a very kindly manner.

Of course, needless to say, the moment one achievement has been made, everyone rightly expects something else to come forward onto the scene; and I have no doubt something else will come, but I am sure you would be the first to silence my lips if you thought I was going in any way to give any indication other than one that would be misleading to the enemy, as you may always hear something that is coming about future operations. Still, I do look forward to great steps being taken to beating down our antagonists one after another.

And I should like to point out that the relations between the British and American armies are different from those between any other large forces in the ages, in that they are working together in the same set of operations.

Now, another reason why we are here only two, instead of three or more, is that of course a very large part of our discussions has naturally and necessarily been concerned with the war against Japan; and those are subjects of special interest to the powers who are belligerent against Japan. That you can see for yourselves.

We have had Mr. T. V. Soong here, and we have made plans for pressing forward with the study not only of short-term action but, of course, long-term; and as we hope, final and decisive actions will have to be taken against that greedy and ambitious Government and people.

Generally speaking, I have every right to give you the groundwork on which you can feel strong and healthy confidence. We are well armed. We are better armed than before-better equipped. We, who began so weak and so in many ways ill equipped, are now enjoying that superiority in weapons and in material of all kinds.

The U-boat warfare has rolled over from the debit to the credit side. The great outflow of shipping so magnificently and prodigiously produced by the United States and by Canada, together with the heavy sinkings of U-boats and the safe conduct of convoys, has undoubtedly placed us in a position where we can say without any doubt that Britain and the United States will be able to bring the whole of their weight to bear.

And that, combined with the superb exertions of our Russian ally, far away locked in the great land battles in the heart of Europe, those two combined together should give us the very best means of helping all the toiling millions- the anxious, suffering millions of the world, thrown out of their houses, taken from their fields- who through no fault or device of their own have been condemned to toil all these four years.

Thank you very much for listening to what I have had to say. But Mr. Mackenzie King reminds me, quite properly, that four years is from the British point of view, but the Chinese were in for seven years.

Well, let's do our utmost to bring these periods of tribulations to an end; and believe me, the work which we have done here will, I am sure, play a contributory part. It is a satisfactory milestone on the road, and I have no doubt there will be other milestones in the future.

But this, I am certain, has been a most successful Conference; and if you, while not hesitating to mingle corrections with approval, will at the same time give us the best aid you can in making a success of this, and in spreading wide that feeling of confidence which I feel, and which I am sure you are justified in feeling, then I think you might have found this Conference has yielded all that you would have liked from a press point of view, and certainly feel that you have played your part with others in the great groundwork which has ended and is steadily progressing.

PRIME MINISTER MACKENZIE KING: Thank you very much. I invite you, Mr. President, to speak to the ladies and gentlemen of the press.

THE PRESIDENT: I think perhaps that I can give away a secret, by explaining that all during the early hours of this morning—I was going to say last night—the three of us were in an apologetic frame of mind to the press. We were honestly trying to give you all some spot news. And we talked for some two hours, trying to devise something along the line of a slogan—a phrase—by which this Conference might be known in the future, but we failed utterly. And that is why we come here in a spirit of apology.

The Prime Minister has well explained why there are certain things that cannot be talked about or printed, and yet I think there is one thing in which the press can help, as the press well knows, to a very great degree. This war is not being run by conferences, it goes far deeper than that. We live in democracies. The war effort in the field has gone extremely well. That is in part due to the conferences of our staffs. And yet, what the men carry, what the men eat, the ships they sail in, that all comes from the unanimity of our war effort, down to the average citizen. And I believe that it is due to the magnificent effort in all our countries, but one which must be kept up very clearly and definitely to the high pitch that it has now arrived at. We cannot afford in any way to assume that military and naval or air men can win the war alone. They need the backing of the people back home. And that is why this Conference, while of very great value, must be implemented by the people in the factories, and the shipyards, and in the fields.

We have had a series of successes. When I think back a little over a year ago—back of Casablanca—June, 1942, when we were meeting in Washington, things looked pretty dark-to the days of Tobruk, to the days of a lack of an offensive on our part. We were still on the defensive, clearly, in almost every part of the world.

And we know that it takes time. We can't order things done and have them happen overnight, or over the week end. And so, what was planned in June of 1942 didn't go into effect until November, 1942. And the things that were planned at Casablanca have only just gone into effect, as we realize through the capture of Tunis first, and then Sicily.

I think you can assume that other plans are about to be developed. But that point about the Conference being a detail, if you like, an essential part of winning the war in the shortest possible time ought to be linked with the part that the people of the United Nations must contribute—

PRIME MINISTER CHURCHILL: (interjecting) Hear—hear.

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing)—to the earliest and most satisfactory victory.

I think also that there are one or two things that might be assumed. I know the value of controversy making the front page—(laughter) and I think it's an actual fact that we have gone through this series of conferences without controversy. We have a meeting of the minds, and I believe that that is going to last, not only through the war but for many, many long years after the war is over and peace comes.

In the same way, I think we ought to realize that this is a war throughout the world, that we are looking at it as a world war. Yes, we discussed the Atlantic situation, and the operations in the Mediterranean; but we have discussed equally the operations and the problems in the Southwest Pacific, of China, and even of that very important fact that happened during this Conference, the throwing out, or shall I say the self-removal of the Japs from the only part of this hemisphere that they had a foot in. Therefore, there is no difference, East and West, and below the equator or above the equator. It's all one broad and general operation. That was one of our problems last night and into the early hours of this morning. We couldn't say anything that would create a controversy, because there was none.

I can tell you also that not once but a dozen times, Mr. Churchill and I have said this spot is the best yet.


THE PRESIDENT: (continuing) We have come here to Quebec, and we have appreciated the wonderful hospitality of Mr. King—

PRIME MINISTER CHURCHILL: (interjecting) Hear—hear.

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing)—and of the Canadian people, because he speaks for them.

I don't think we could find a more delightful spot than here, with its great historic background. I, like Mr. Churchill, wish we had had more time to get about and see things, and do things. I will say that I shall never forget the very excellent eating qualities of Quebec trout. That is something that I shall long remember. All in all, it has been a tremendous success.

We wanted last night to give out some kind of statement that would be—what shall I call it?— a bit exciting. Well, a statement has been prepared. I don't believe there's a "cough in a carload" in it. (Laughter). . .

In the statement we were compelled, Mr. Churchill and I, to speak of the "fleets, armies, and air forces of the two Nations." The reason for that is that this is a staff conference between the British and American staffs; but I want to point out that it is only because of that restriction that we did not speak of the splendid forces of the Dominion of Canada. They are at the front, as we all know, working with the British and the Americans; and I don't want anybody to think, anywhere in the world, that we have forgotten them—what the Canadians have been doing in this war.

Well, I think that's about all that I can say.

And I merely want once more to thank Mr. King and the people of the Dominion for all that they have done to make this a very busy, but a very happy ten days since we came here.

THE PRESS: Thank you, sir.

PRIME MINISTER MACKENZIE KING: Gentlemen, just one word before you part.

I would like to say in your presence to the President and to the Prime Minister of Great Britain, how greatly honored the people of Canada have felt that they should have agreed to hold the meeting which they have just been holding in Canada, and particularly in this historic old city of Quebec.

My colleagues and I were very proud indeed when we received word from Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill that they were agreed upon meeting in this city, in our country. I wish to thank them most warmly for having come here and spent the time that they have spent with us. We all wish that it might be longer. We all wish that there might have been a greater opportunity for our people to have the privilege of seeing them more, as they did yesterday in the city for the Prime Minister, and also for the President. But we have realized that this is a very serious Conference, and that the matters being discussed here are the most important of any that can be discussed in the world at this time, that every moment and hour has been precious.

It has been my privilege to know something of what has been done behind the scenes, and I would just like to assure all of you ladies and gentlemen of the press that there hasn't been a moment in which the thoughts and the minds of these gentlemen and their military advisers have not been directed to the supreme purpose for which they have met and gathered together here.

I am delighted, Mr. President and Mr. Churchill, that you have both found it possible not only to see each other but to see just a bit of the immediate environs of the city, and to carry away many happy memories of the few days that we have had the privilege of having you in our midst.

May I say to you ladies and gentlemen of the press, on behalf of the Government, how deeply we appreciate-the Government of Canada—how deeply we appreciate the very helpful cooperation that you have given to all of us during the period of the Conference. And I want to thank you on behalf of what you have sent out to the world as the picture and background in which the Conference is being held, in which you have given the atmosphere in which these deliberations have taken place, and for what you have been able to give of all the proceedings.

You have helped to put our country onto the map of the world, at this time of greatest importance in the history of the world. I thank you for having done it, and for the manner in which you have done it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Joint Press Conference with Prime Ministers Churchill and King in Quebec, Canada Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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