Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

August 18, 1944

Q. Mr. President, there have been some proposals that Congress might consider a plan for universal military training after the war.

THE PRESIDENT: (interjecting) Yes.

Q. (continuing) Would you care to express your thought on that?

THE PRESIDENT: Not at this time, other than that I have given a great deal of study to that question and I wish people would study it.

You know, we shall have one problem after the war—I have seen a small angle of it on this last trip—we have all over the United States, and outside the United States for that matter, an enormous amount of soldiers' and sailors' housing-these great training camps both on the military and the naval and marine end of it, and the Coast Guard too. And that is how we have been able to effect this very extraordinary and successful training of about ten million men. I suppose in those camps today we have Government housing for five million men. And it's very good housing, even in the distant Aleutian Islands and Alaska, all over this country.

Frankly, it's infinitely better than the housing of the first World War, with which I had something to do. We built housing for troops and for naval trainees during the first World War, and some of it is still in Washington. It's in a pretty decrepit state. Well, it's twenty-five years later, but it's still there because it was in the Capital City, and we kept it painted, and we kept it properly underpinned.

The new housing is very much better. It is rather interesting to compare the construction. The estimate in 1917 and 1918 on that housing was that it would last ten or twelve years. We all thought it would last that long, and most of it at the end of the first World War was scrapped—sold for lumber while we could sell it- turned into kindling wood, if we couldn't sell it. And today, the construction, if you go and look at it all over the country, probably has a life with normal care of perhaps twenty-five years. It sits on concrete pillars, or stone foundations, whatever it is. It won't rot away if it is kept painted, and especially if it is kept lived in. As we all know, a building that isn't lived in is very hard to maintain—a great deal harder than a building that is lived in.

Well, we will have about five million beds. What are we going to do with them? It's an awful problem. That's an awful lot of buildings.

There are two or three different things which obviously it could be put to use on. One is taking care of the large number of veterans. The buildings are not fireproof but they are two stories high, and most certainly we ought not to put veterans on the second floor. They are all fitted out so that you can get out at any one of the four corners of a building and climb down a fire-escape, but non-ambulatory cases, that is, cases that can't walk, should not be put on the second floor of any of those buildings.

Then, there will be a tremendous number of wounded or sick veterans at the end of this war who will have to be taken care of. That is one use that we can put many of these encampments to work on, under the Veterans' Administration.

Another use. We are going to have a great many problems of vocational training of these veterans. I am just taking samples— there are a great many other uses they can be put to. I would rather at the end of the war, if we can help it, not put up any new buildings if we have other buildings that can be used for that purpose.

Then, there is still another use, and that is to use them for people in training, and there is a great deal of talk today about how good it would be for the average boy to get training of some kind. I am not putting the word military on it some of it would be military—but it would be training, somewhere between the ages of 17 to 22-23—one year out of their life to serve their own Government. Well, it's worth studying.

You know, the average one of us who hasn't had military training doesn't know how to get along and keep clean in a camp with a lot of other human beings. It's rather a special art, to live with a large crowd of people. And then there is a curious thing called discipline, which is not to be sneezed at, although it is sneezed at by a very large number of people in this country today. I am not specifying. You can specify if you want to. Discipline is rather a good thing for a Nation to have. It makes for law. We are not a very law-abiding people. It makes for order. We are not so bad on that, but a year of learning how to keep clean, how to live with a group of a hundred, two hundred people is a good thing.

One of the best examples is what happened to the Civilian Conservation Corps. I suppose a much higher percentage of boys in 1933 and 1934 and those following years—a very, very much larger percentage than I had had any idea of were improved physically and mentally by C.C.C. At the same time, they were given certain other things in C.C.C., how to live together in a group, and how to do things that they were told—use their muscles a bit. Well, for instance, this crowd in this room is muscularly in very bad shape. (Laughter)

Well, C.C.C. did them good. And we taught them other things. We gave many of them, without their recognizing it, we gave them vocational training. I see people here that couldn't wield a spade. Perfectly obvious. They would have an awful time if they were told to dig a ditch, even a little shallow ditch. It would be a very good thing for some people that I am looking at. (Laughter)

So there is this problem of a year of Government service —vocational training, and some other kind of training. Even stenography—not a bad idea. Fit them for Government work. If nothing else, they might be able to pass the examination for the Civil Service a little more easily, if they had a year in the Federal Government.

And that is why I am glad you raised the question. It's being studied. It's being thought about. But I think that public opinion ought to be gradually formed in this country. We have one of the practical financial questions that come up. We have the housing for the bulk of the two and a quarter million boys who would come in, somewhere between the ages of 17 and 22, or something like that, and give a year of service to the Government. I wouldn't call it compulsory military training, because in many cases we wouldn't have military training. A year of service to their Government. . . .

Q. Mr. President, Senator Truman today has already endorsed combining the Army and Navy commands. Have you any comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT: No. I thought—

Q. (adding) One service.

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing)—the thing is being studied. It's a thing that everybody is practically agreed on now that we are not going to do anything about it until after we have won the war.

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us any plans you have for Mr. Truman in the campaign? He said he will be guided by your views.

THE PRESIDENT: Not yet, because I haven't seen him yet. He is coming in to lunch today.

Q. Have you any plans to see Mr. Wallace?

THE PRESIDENT: Just as soon as he gets back.

Q. He is out of town now, I believe?

THE PRESIDENT: He is out of town.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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