Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

April 15, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think I have anything except a little human interest thing that I have saved out yesterday. In the first list of non-military equipment which the British Purchasing Commission wanted, I ran my eye down the list and suddenly it brought back something to me. I remember, once upon a time, I was talking about what people would do if their neighbor's house caught fire—if they happened to have some garden hose in the cellar they would take it out and lend it to their neighbor to put his fire out. On this first list, there are a number of different items like tar, kettles, and road rollers, and pumps, and graders. The last three items are for 900,000 feet of garden hose! (Laughter) Not garden hose but fire hose—actually fire hose—at a total cost of about $300,000. I thought it was a rather nice little coincidence.

Q. Mr. President, you said you were going to loan them to them at the time?


THE PRESIDENT: We will have to get it over the ocean some way.

Q. Mr. President, do you have any ocean-going fire hose?

Q. Mr. President, could you talk to us about the possibility of dropping the minimum age limit from 21 to 18, and the possibility of keeping troops in training longer than the one-year period?

THE PRESIDENT: No, we are working on it at the present time. We haven't anything yet. It was felt, I think, that both in the Committees of the House and also in the War Department it was better to get some idea a little bit later on. I don't know what dates are set for Committee hearings. I would say at a guess not until the end of May, the beginning of June, which will give plenty of time for any legislation to be enacted before, let us say, September. It is being studied.

This is entirely offhand. Of course, literally nothing has been decided—that after the first needs are filled, in the way of manpower in relation to the different grades and necessities of turning out an army, then we would come to a more regularized system with the age limit lowered and a certain number of years for people to give their one year of service to the Government of the United States. And of course, as you know, there is a certain amount of talk about everybody giving a year of service to the Government of the United States out of his life. It isn't a bad idea. I should think, as I remarked before, all of you, and I, would have been a lot better of[ today if we had given one year of service to the Government of the United States from the time we were eighteen until the early twenties. That is just general. . . .

Q. Mr. President, the press reports from Europe indicate that the situation looks rather gloomy for the British at the moment.


Q. Would you care to comment?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. No. I don't look that way, do I? (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, do you expect—

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing) I hope that is a good enough answer. . . .

Q. Mr. President, now that the S.W.O.C. [Steel Workers Organizing Committee, C.I.O.] and Big Steel have reached an agreement on wages, can you tell us what went on last week in your conference with Mr. Murray, and Olds and Fairless?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think I told you what they were.

Q. Sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I think I told you at the time, didn't I? Yes, we had a press conference since then. I don't think there is anything new to add.

Q. The situation has changed since then.


Q. An agreement has been reached—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) The conference didn't change.

Q. What I am getting at is this: Did you have something to do with bringing about that agreement?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no. I never have anything to do with that.(Loud laughter)

Q. In their talks with you, did Mr. Olds and Mr. Fairless intimate that if they raised wages they might have to raise prices?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. We talked about all kinds of technical things, as to the amount of molybdenum that was needed for a ton of steel, and things like that. (Laughter). . .

Q. Are you going to Warm Springs, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: I was afraid somebody was going to ask that question. It will come out anyway—Walter Winchell will break it. What happened is—it's one on me. What happened was that I had hoped to leave last night for Warm Springs, but about last Thursday they had a rather violent outbreak of German measles down there. I didn't mind particularly. I have had German measles. I don't know whether you can get it again, but of course I have quite a number of members of the press following me around, and I was thinking about their fate, so—(laughter) I had given the trip up until the thing had died down, and then somebody said, well, you would have to do it anyway, because if the President should come down with German measles at this time—(loud laughter) it would be subject to a radio broadcast. So, I still hope to get off, but it does depend on what happens down there.

Q. Twenty years ago that was called "liberty measles." (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: I remember it in 1917—there was quite an out-break, and we called it "hun pox." (Loud laughter)

Q. Mr. President, will Mr. Hopkins be a dollar-a-year man?

THE PRESIDENT: No, he will not.

Q. Will he be an Administrative Assistant then, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: No. I don't know what he will be, but he won't be a dollar-a-year man.

Q. Will he get paid? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sure. He's a Democrat! What a foolish question. (Loud laughter)

Q. Mr. President—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) That was what I said to Bill Knudsen the other day. In about the fourth or fifth list of these dollar-a-year men, they were all listed as Republicans except a boy who had graduated from Yale last June and never voted, and I said, "Bill, couldn't you find a Democrat to go on this dollar-a-year list anywhere in the country?" (Laughter) He said, "I have searched the whole country over. There's no Democrat rich enough to take a job at a dollar a year." (More laughter). . .

Q. Is it part of the policy of this Government to protect merchant ships—our merchant ships—wherever they go, as long as they are not in a combat zone?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that is the law, you know.

Q. Mr. President—

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing) It is not a question of policy, it is the law.

Q. Have any of the commodities shipped abroad to aid the democracies under the terms of the Lease-Lend Bill been sunk?

THE PRESIDENT: I couldn't tell you. I don't know.

Q. Mr. President, could you tell whether you feel there is an increasing demand toward the use of American naval power?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I couldn't tell you that.

Q. Mr. President, is there any agreement-

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) I would also—let me put it this way—there has been more nonsense written, more printer's ink spoiled, more oratory orated over that subject by people who don't know a "hill of beans" about it than any other subject in modern times. I know a little bit more about it—not an awful lot—but I know so little that I wouldn't care to discuss the thing from the point of view of "if that" or "if the other" thing. That is just a word of suggestion. Most people have no idea about the subject of protection of shipping.

Q. Mr. President, your answer to the question about the protection of ships wherever they go, if they are not in combat zones, leaves the impression that if our ships go through the Red Sea we will protect them there.

THE PRESIDENT: No, because I don't know of American ships that are in the Red Sea.

Q. You know of ships going there pretty soon?


Q. Sir, there has been some talk of the possibility of arming our merchant ships. Is that under consideration?

THE PRESIDENT: No, only by orators. . . .

Q. Would you care to comment on the Danish Minister's decision to disregard the order for his recall?

THE PRESIDENT: I think I can give you a little historical background on that. You see it has been perfectly clear to anybody who has ever analyzed it- as far as I know practically all writers or people who had anything to do with the interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine—way back—that there was recognition at that time of the sovereignty of certain European Nations over territory in the Western Hemisphere, but at the same time a general interpretation of the Doctrine that that sovereignty could not be transferred, that it might be against the interests of the Republics of this hemisphere if they were transferred from one European Nation to another. There were several instances where it was attempted, with the general disapproval of the American Republics, and there was one instance, of course, where a European army did come to this continent when we were somewhat busy with other matters, and as soon as the Civil War was over, the European army withdrew.

In the case of Danish possessions, there were principally two of them; one was what used to be called the Danish West Indies, colonized in large part by Danes, and the other was Greenland, which again had been colonized in large part by Scandinavians. They had a civilization up there, as you know, which started at the time of Leif Ericson. They had a Christian people up there. They had a cathedral, I think, and quite an influx of immigrants into Greenland that came from Norway and Denmark, which during at least part of that time were in the same kingdom under the same king.

At all times, through all the centuries, Denmark was, you might say, the father—the sponsor- of those colonists in Greenland. And during the past century, for instance, they have done a great deal to help the colonists and the natives the Eskimos. They have seen to it that they improved agriculture. They have helped them on mineral surveys and on actual mining, and they have seen to it that they had enough food to last them through bad winters. They have sent icebreakers there early in the year, and a few years ago a question did come up involving, you might say, the old question of the right of sovereignty as gained on one hand by colonization, on the other hand by exploration. The United States had a claim by exploration to a large part of northern Greenland. That of course was disputed by other countries which had sent explorers up there—earlier explorations by the British and, as an example, some explorations by Norwegians and the thing came to a head because there were a lot of rather wild claims about Greenland.

Denmark, however, had the only claim to Greenland through the process of colonization. Our country said quite rightly, "That is a better title than mere exploration, and we therefore are going to recognize your sovereignty over Greenland because of colonization, and the fact that colonization has been going on for about 900 years—way back in the days of Left Ericson. Long before Columbus. It seems to be the just thing to do." Therefore, it was recognized by us, thereby officially putting Greenland in exactly the same status as Martinique, British West Indies, Guadeloupe, Curacao, and the Dutch West Indies, and the same status which had previously been held up in 1917 by the Danish West Indies which at that time—January, 1917—we purchased. Therefore, clearly, Greenland fell within the interpretation, and the historic treatment that had been accorded to other European sovereignties—territories—in this hemisphere.

Now, on the recent thing, that being perfectly clear, you have to go back to a year ago last ninth of April, when the Government of Denmark was overthrown by surprise, and Denmark was occupied by a large number of troops of another European Nation. From the very beginning the Ministry of Denmark here, as you know, and the State Department held that most unfortunately the Government- the existing Government of Denmark—was a Government under duress (that has been held by us for over a year), and that during war it was impossible to regard the Government of Denmark as a Government not under duress. It was under duress as a matter of actual fact. That being so, we are applying to Denmark what might be called a carrying out of the Monroe Doctrine, which of course has been reinforced by the conferences at Lima and Panama, and Havana, and we are protecting Greenland against any other European Nation, and will continue to do so, and trusting that as soon as the duress is lifted from the Government and people of Denmark, Greenland will be restored to an independent Denmark. That is about all.

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

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