Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

April 08, 1941


THE PRESIDENT: I have got two things here. One is a statement-is it mimeographed, Steve?

MR. EARLY: Not yet.

THE PRESIDENT: Steve will have it mimeographed and you can have it- about the work of this new organization called the United Service Organizations for National Defense. Yesterday they announced their program of service to soldiers, sailors, and defense workers. This work, of course—by way of explanation—is essentially around the various camps, navy yards, and new plants, and provides for the recreation, welfare, and spiritual needs of the young men and women who have answered, and will answer, the call to the national defense. The six member organizations of the United Service Organizations are fulfilling an essential and patriotic duty. This duty- of maintaining morale on the home front—is one in which every American shares. The Federal Government is doing its part. It stands squarely behind the United Service Organizations, and Congress has been asked to provide money. The national private organizations which have incorporated the United Service Organizations as an over-all planning body are: The Y.M.C.A.; Y.W.C.A.; Catholic Community Service; Jewish Welfare Board; Salvation Army; and the Travelers Aid Society. They are to be congratulated on their vision and on the practical common sense of their plans for staffing and operating these 300-odd service centers. The local communities, both public and private organizations, are preparing to cooperate with them. It is only the groundwork, but what they need is the support of every individual citizen, and they should have united support. To facilitate their work throughout the country a national conference of community leaders is to be held in Washington April 17, in cooperation with the Federal Security Administrator and the Secretaries of War and Navy.

Well, we have been working up toward that. We have got them all together, and of course, if I were writing a story, I would emphasize the fact that we have got all of these organizations in under the same tent—which is a perfectly magnificent thing, and didn't even happen in the World War. . . . It is a great job. In other words, they are all sitting around the same table and working out a combination of their work.

The other thing I have got is a story which I got out of O.P.M., a new basis to show the progress of the work, and I don't want anybody to suggest that this is being given out with any ideas that we are viewing with pride. We are not, we are not satisfied. There is room for an awful lot more improvement; but it just shows the amount of work that has been done in the past three months, in comparison with the previous six months, in terms of disbursement. Now that is a new approach. It isn't in terms of x number of airplanes, or so many guns; it is in terms of disbursement. In other words, money actually spent out of the Treasury for work done, and, as you know, we don't spend the money out of the Treasury until the work is done. In terms of dollars—in the first three months on these particular things—the acquisition of defense material and construction for defense—we have paid out in the first three months of 1941 one billion, eight hundred million dollars, whereas in the whole of the last six months of 1940—calendar year—we only paid out one billion, four. On table number two- aircraft, ships, and ordnance. For those three items in the last six months of 1940 we paid out an average of $116,000,000 a month, and the average of the first three months of this year we paid out an average of $197,000,000 a month. On new plant facilities during the whole of 1940 we only paid out $45,000,000, and in the first three months of 1941 we paid out $240,000,000. For bases, stations, and fortifications during the last six months of 1940, we paid out $330,000,000, and the first three months of 1941 we paid out $550,000,000.

Q. Five hundred fifty was that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Five hundred fifty. Those figures, of course, do not include any payments on British orders.

Well, that is just to give a slant on the angle of money paid out-actual disbursements; and the fact that we are very greatly accelerating it gives a slight comparison of things that have been done in the last three months- I mean the three months of 1941 in comparison with the six months of 1940.

Q. Mr. President—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) But it is not to be taken, as I remarked before, as any satisfaction on my part with the progress of the program. Still much too slow.

Q. How much do you think this should be accelerated in your own mind? You say it is much too slow.


Q. What is being done?

THE PRESIDENT: I can't give you a figure on that.

Q. What is being done to do that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we will just keep on using "chestnut burs" all the time. You are familiar with the use of "chestnut burs" to make a mule go. (Laughter)

Q. Can you identify the mule? (Laughter)

Q. Who is the mule? (More laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: You ought to, you come from Missouri, Frank.(Laughter)

Q. [Frank] I came from Minnesota, sir.

Q. Mr. President, what are the main reasons why the progress is, as you say, much too slow?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, thousands, thousands of reasons.

Q. I say the main.

THE PRESIDENT: Individuals- mostly human beings.

Q. Can you break that down? (Much laughter)


Q. Mr. President, do you agree with Mr. Biggers that the next hundred days are going to be crucial in our production program?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, and the next hundred after that (he laughs) and the next hundred after that probably. I can't see as far ahead as that. . . .

Q. Mr. President, Secretary of the Navy Knox yesterday commended those newspapers and photographic agencies which made no reference to the arrival of the battleship Malaya in New York Harbor. That might have been interpreted as a rebuke to those who did? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. The editorials in those papers which did print the stories and did carry the pictures were the lamest excuses to try to get square with our reading public that I have ever read.

Q. Do you think that the voluntary censorship as suggested was more effective?

THE PRESIDENT: I noticed some of the papers advocated the immediate clamping down of legal censorship, which is very interesting probably to all the other papers in the United States. I prefer to go along with the great majority of the newspapers in the United States at this time. I think that covers it.

Q. Would you like to be quoted in words on that?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I much prefer to go along with the overwhelming majority of newspapers at this time.

Q. Does that mean something more may be necessary later?

THE PRESIDENT: You can leave out "at this time," because there is nothing else in sight.

Q. Would you prefer that we leave that off, "at this time"?

THE PRESIDENT: I believe the best thing to do is to add to it what I had, "nothing else is in sight at this time.". . .

Q. Mr. President, five Governors representing the Southern Governors Conference arrive here tomorrow for furthering defense industries. Do their efforts in that regard have your Support?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me tell you—let me tell you a story. In the first place, this should not be regarded as- what shall I say- national defense. We are not proceeding on a basis of the benefit by dollars and cents to each and every State of the Union on a square-mile basis or a population basis; we are trying to create national defense on the basis of the greatest speed and efficiency, on a national basis.

Now, I can go on and point out that I had a certain group come in from certain States that have what might be called a rather severe winter climate- three or four feet of snow; they understood perfectly well when I explained to them that we could not put a camp of 60,000 men up in their State, except in the summertime; and because we want these camps to operate all the year round, from the point of view of national defense, we put them in another section of the country, where they could run all through the winter as well as all through the summer. In other words we weren't doing it on a geographical basis but on a climate basis, not an area basis or a sectional basis but on a climate basis.

In the same way, there are certain industries which from the point of view of efficiency ought to go where they have the best and cheapest access to raw materials, and the most practical and useful access to the type of labor that goes into it. Well, that means that there are certain areas, unfortunately, in the country that do not have ready access to certain types of materials, or certain forms of labor.

Now in the South, of course, they have a great many more of these camps than any other place in the country; that is on account of the climate. The Middle West and the East have probably a great deal more factory production allocated to them than in other parts of the country. That is solely from the point of view of efficiency. We are trying all the time, of course, to decentralize- and it is working out pretty well—in accordance with efficiency. I wouldn't want to put, for instance, a steel plant up at the entrance to the Glacier National Park. I don't think it would work. I don't think that I would want to put an all-the-year-round camp of 60,000 men up at the mouth of Glacier National Park. I don't think it would work in the wintertime. We don't need that many ski troops. (Laughter) And so I think it will be a fairly easy thing to persuade these Governors of southern States that they are getting a good deal, and we want them to have anything else they can handle for the efficiency of the whole national program. . . .

Q. Mr. President, you may have answered this question sometime before. Is there any law under which you can acquire these German and Italian ships other than purchase?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think so.

Q. And may they be condemned?

THE PRESIDENT: After all, things like that—As I have said several times before, if the Federal Government in times of emergency-mind you this is not a full emergency—can take away your ship, Frank [Kluckhohn], your yacht (laughter), against your will, you see, that is called the old "right of eminent domain." Well, if they can do it to an American citizen—the yacht in our harbor—I think probably the Federal Government would have the right in a future emergency to use the old "right of eminent domain" against some foreign ship.

Q. But that would be only under a full emergency, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that is the way I construe it, although I think probably you can get legal opinion to say that I can do it, even under the present limited emergency.

Q. Mr. President, when you take by eminent domain it is for the use of the Government. Could you devote it to the use of another Government?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not necessarily. You could if you wanted to—if you were at war with the other Government. . . .

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

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

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