Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

October 19, 1943

THE PRESIDENT: There is one thing—I wish somebody would say something about it- I have been digging up some stuff on it because I have been very much interested in it, and that is what happens to land that is reoccupied.

I thought the best thing to do was to try to find out what has happened in North Africa. It has been under our occupation now for about eleven months, and what has happened there can, I think, be applied to most other lands that are reoccupied by us. The next thing will be the example of Sicily and southern Italy.

What happened in North Africa, as I saw last winter, was that they had been pretty nearly bled white. Nearly all of their wheat and their fruits during 1940, 1941, and 1942 had been seized and taken out of North Africa. There were no replacements of other materials from other sources. And the result was that it was a pretty sad North Africa that I saw when I got there. There wasn't enough to eat, and the production was increasingly going downhill.

Well, as a result of everybody's working together, we have had really remarkable success. Number one, with certain very minor exceptions such as peppermint tea, which they can't grow and which is the favorite drink of the Moors—off the record, I don't advise you to try it—(laughter) North Africa is taking care of practically all of her own food needs.

And in addition to that, they are growing enough to make a very substantial contribution to the food of all of our troops there, and a large number of British troops, which is another case of lend-lease in reverse. . . .

We had to send them 8,000 tons of flour, 6,500 tons of wheat, 2,800 tons of potatoes, 1,800 tons of dried beans and peas, 1,000 tons of edible oil, and a few smaller amounts of cheese, dried eggs, margarine, rice, and vegetables. They were requested by General Eisenhower.

And they were needed for a lot of things, to obtain native labor sufficiently well-fed to work in the docks. We had some experiences where workers just dropped of exhaustion when they came to work for us, because they were so ill-fed. The same thing happened on the roads and railroads. Those supplies were needed to minimize the danger of famine and food riots that would require assignment of troops in order to keep order; to prevent the spread of disease that might menace the health of our troops; and to feed the large army that was then being mobilized by the French authorities and has, since then, distinguished itself in Tunis and Sicily and Corsica. Those original supplies were made available under lend-lease, but in view of their present financial position, the French have repaid us in dollars for these supplies.

Meanwhile, the agricultural experts sent over a lot of seeds, and things like that, in order to expand local agricultural production. These shipments, of very small amounts of tonnage, were carefully budgeted. They consisted of seeds, and a very small amount of agricultural machinery and equipment, certain spare parts, fuel oil, binder twine, bags, and fertilizers and sprays. They were all requested by General Eisenhower.

Some of them began to get over there way back in early spring, and arrived in time for the harvest in June and July. The remainder of it, especially the seeds, will arrive in time for fall planting this year, for harvest next year. They will produce many times their own weight in foodstuffs. The total tonnage of all of these is 15,000 tons—a ship and a half. Food imports into North Africa have stopped entirely since the first of July. In other words, they are self-sustaining.

Many thousand tons of local fruits and vegetables and meats have been delivered to the British and American forces for local consumption, on a reverse lend-lease basis, and without payment. That means without our paying anything for them. In addition, the French are providing the Allied forces with 30,000 tons of North African flour for use in the Italian campaign, thus avoiding our having to send the flour direct from here, saving 3,000 miles of shipping. And agreements are now being negotiated to provide our forces with more than 60,000 tons of fruit and vegetable produce. Supplies are being furnished in reverse lend-lease, in partial return for the munitions with which we are equipping the French Army.

Beyond these immediate military objectives, the French authorities, working with the Combined Food Board, have begun to accumulate food supplies for use during and after the coming liberation of France. I can't give you the exact date today. (Laughter) The success of that program will greatly reduce the shipping and future needs of France itself for American food.

And in the coming year 1944, these harvests in North Africa, aided by mounting agricultural help and a year of peaceful cultivation, should greatly ease the strain on the United States. And incidentally, in saying that, I mean that we won't have to ship as many food products out of the United States as we would have otherwise. It works both ways. . . .

Q. Mr. President, with respect to this food experience in North Africa, have you reached the point where you are having any kind of experience in Sicily or southern Italy that you know about?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't officially. I can only tell you what I have heard from various people coming back from there.

Sicily was bled white by the Germans, we all know that; and under the Fascist policy of government, the actual acreage successfully cultivated had gone way, way down in the last ten or fifteen years, especially the last two or three years. I think, as I remember it, that five-eighths of the total food and drink production of all Sicily was taken out of Sicily, so that the average farmer could only retain three-eighths of what he produced. At this time there seems to be a pretty general feeling on the part of the farmers of Sicily that they will be able to retain 100 percent of what they grow; that none of it will be taken away from them, and that what they do have in excess, they will be able to sell, instead of being robbed of it. . . .

Q. Mr. President, do you have anything to say about the food conference you had today?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think so. I think the thing is that we are, I hope, gradually eliminating a whole lot of smoke and a lot of details, and coming down to brass tacks.

I am sending up a message to Congress on it, I think tomorrow or the next day, but the situation in a nutshell is that since July, since Marvin Jones came in, we have done on the whole a pretty good job, at comparatively low cost. The cost-of-living index is not as low as we hope it will be, but on the other hand it has come down somewhat. The cost of food we hope can go a little bit further; and the other costs of living, like rent and the other things, are holding their own and going down a little. And therefore, when all the intricacies of food, and bills, are cleared away to the essentials, I personally hope that on the first proposition they will let the present system continue. It has been pretty successful. There is no reason why we should try some other scheme. This one is working. And it doesn't cost an awful lot, compared with the total cost of the war.

Now that all relates—put it the simplest way— to the cost of food to the housewife, keeping it where it is, or perhaps a little bit lower. We have had three or four months of pretty successful operation. In other words, what I am thinking about in this first instance is the cost to the housewife between now and next July. We are all substantially agreed on a program for a great increase in the total production of crops.

I think the total production of this country is rather interesting. Take the 1935 to 1939 period—call that a hundred. Well, we thought we were doing pretty well in those years. And in 1942, in the calendar year, the total production rose to 125. It will probably surprise you when I say that in 1943 it will probably rise to 131, and not a good crop year. We either had drought, as in Oklahoma and that section, or we had floods as in Illinois and certain parts of the East.

The principal reason for the total gain in foodstuffs is the tremendous gain in cattle. Many of the agricultural crops are off a bit, but they are more than offset in- what shall I say?- the calories- isn't that the word that they use nowadays?—in cattle, hogs, and so forth—four-looted calories.

Well now, people get thinking in a foggy way, and come out and say, "No subsidies for anybody any more, beginning on the first of January." Those same people, some of them professional farmers, they have been getting subsidies ever since 1933, and even before that. We have given subsidies to agriculture for a great many years. Parity, and the effort to obtain it for agriculture, came along about 1933, and the Treasury has been spending many, many millions every year out of the Treasury and into the farmers' pockets. Of course that is a subsidy, subsidies which have always been demanded by the agricultural interests.

Then on the question of the gains of agriculture during the past year: In 1942, calendar year, the farmers of the country made about nine and a half billion dollars, and did a grand, cooperative job in raising all the extra food that they needed. They showed fine spirit. Give them all due credit. And this year, which isn't quite finished, we think they will earn about twelve and a half billion dollars, which for one year is not bad at all. The average farmer is cooperating.

With the coming year, we have this new program for planting next spring and of raising the total acreage planted by a much larger increase over 1943 than 1943 was over 1942.

In that we are being greatly helped by something that I hope we can double next year, and that is the victory gardens. Well, they raised ten million tons of foodstuffs in the victory gardens. Well, that's an awful lot of foodstuffs. And we hope this year that we will double that to twenty million tons.

Of course, there are a lot of people who put in victory gardens this year who got hit by the drought or hit by the rain. Next year they will be much better agriculturists in running their victory gardens than they were this year. I would advise you to try it. And so we are going to start a campaign to get everybody, even with just a backyard, to put in some seeds, at any rate to double that amount from ten million tons to twenty million.

Well, those are some of the things we talked about this morning.

I told them a couple of stories. I told them that one of them had been asked, I think it was in a House committee hearing, "Well now, don't you think that a little inflation wouldn't be so bad?" And that the fellow who was asked that said, "Yes, I think a little inflation wouldn't hurt anybody."

So I told him the story about a friend of mine, who is a perfectly good citizen, quite strong-minded, had no vices.

Somebody went to him one day and said, "Did you ever try a little pill of cocaine?"

And he said, "No. I wouldn't touch cocaine, I might form a habit."

Well, this friend of his said, "Well, you know, it's the loveliest sensation in the world. It's perfectly grand. You just feel up in the skies. There isn't anything as wonderful as the sensation that cocaine gives you."

And he talked so enthusiastically that this fellow said, "All right, give me a pill." And then he took it, and he felt just grand, just as his friend had said.

He came back the next day, and said, "That was the most wonderful sensation I have ever had. Slip me another."

Well, within a week he was taking two, and at the end of a month he was a cocaine addict, a drug addict.

And I said to the men at the food conference, "You know, this inflation business is a little bit like that. You get a little inflation—you say you like a little inflation—and then you will want twice the amount, and then you will get the inflation habit."

Well, that's a pretty unanswerable argument, philosophically and economically. We know what has happened to the countries that have, unnecessarily, taken a little pill, just one little pill of inflation.

Q. Well, Mr. President, some of the Congressmen think you could get a subsidy habit, too.

THE PRESIDENT: We have had it for ten years and we are still alive. It doesn't seem to have the effect of cocaine.

Voices: Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Don't take cocaine or inflation! (Laughter)

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

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