Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

February 01, 1944

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't got much new information. You have probably seen that a powerful naval force consisting of all types of vessels supporting the invasion has landed in the Kwajalein, commanded by Vice Admiral R. A. Spruance. And I think the operation is going up to this time quite well, with heavy opposition. So we are all waiting to see what happens.

In that connection, I dictated something that I hope will clarify the air a little bit on what we are doing in the Far East as a whole.

The American objectives in India or elsewhere in continental Asia are to expel and defeat the Japanese, in the closest collaboration with British, Chinese, and other Allies in that theater.

Our task in expelling the Japanese from Burma, Malaya, Java, and other territory, including all the islands, is military. We recognize that our British and Dutch brothers-in-arms are as determined to throw the Japanese out of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies as we are determined to free the Philippines. We propose to help each other on the roads, and in the waters, and above them westward from where we are now and eastward from the Burma area to these places and beyond as far as Tokyo. No matter what individual or individuals command in any given area, the purpose is the same. There will, of course, be plenty of problems when we get there. The solution will be easier if we all employ our utmost resources of experience, good will, and good faith. Nobody in India, or anywhere else in Asia, will misunderstand the presence there of American armed forces, if they will believe, as we do at home, that their job is to assure the defeat of Japan without which there can be no opportunity for any of us to enjoy and expand the freedoms for which we all are fighting.

Of course, in that connection, I think the country is very much startled by the atrocity stories the other day, and very rightly. The particular stories came in, I think it was about five or six months ago, and when they came in the first impulse of almost everybody was to release them immediately. But after we slept on it about overnight, we took it up with the military, both here and abroad. We took it up with the British Government and the Chinese Government, and humanitarian questions at that time were given consideration. In other words, at that time we were still running the Gripsholm back and forth, and we were thinking not merely of the terrible things that had been done to American prisoners and British prisoners, we were also thinking of those who survived; and we thought, then, that the publication of these atrocity stories might incite the Japanese to kill a great many other American soldiers.

And so from that humanitarian point of view, in an effort to save American lives, and hoping that the Japanese would allow more prisoners to be exchanged and got out of Japan, we held it up with the reservation that just as soon as it seemed to be hopeless to get food and supplies into the hands of American prisoners we would say nothing until that time —hopeless time came.

Well, over the past two or three weeks it became more and more clear that there was grave doubt as to whether our packages and medical supplies for our troops were actually getting in, and we came to the reluctant conclusion that they were not getting to our people; and therefore the story was published.

And I think that from now on we have got to recognize that we probably can't hurt our own men by publishing these stories. Since that is so, the country ought to know the stories. We thought, of course, a great deal about the suffering that would be caused to the families of many of the people of this country, like the families of that little community down in New Mexico, and another one in Illinois, where almost every family had some member of the family in what had been the old State Guard forces from that locality, that were taken into the regular Army and sent out to the Philippines before the seventh of December, 1941. I think everybody in the country will have the utmost sympathy for them, and horror for what has been done to American troops in. those towns, and a great many other towns in the country.

I think it gives us a pretty good slant, also, on the mentality of the Japanese. I have spoken of that before, and I think we all feel even more strongly about it today than we did then.

We are moving as fast as is humanly possible to move. It's all very well to say we ought to move faster. Well, unless you have a good deal of the knowledge of just how you would move faster, it would be better not to write that. I am always open to suggestions of how to move faster ....

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

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