Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

August 21, 1942

THE PRESIDENT: I will give you the most important thing first, which is a warning to the enemy Nations. I am making it in the form of a statement, because I think probably that is as good a way as any.

Of course, we had hoped that the barbaric acts against civilian populations would decrease. On the contrary, they seem to be increasing. And I just give you the example of the shooting of hostages, not only in France but very recently five or six very important citizens in The Netherlands, and a good many people in Norway. Well, it's just an illustration. We don't get much news out of the other countries, but it is probable that similar—I call them atrocities on the part of Germany still exist in those other countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia that we don't get much news out of. . . .

I think that's clear enough. I don't think it needs much comment.

Then Steve [Early] has got for you a copy of a letter that went out yesterday morning to the head of every department and agency of the Federal Government in regard to talking too much. (Laughter)

I won't read it. It's fairly long. But the object is to prevent the people, from the top to the bottom, in these different agencies from talking too much, thereby creating false impressions, and in many cases taking opposite sides of a policy argument out in public which hasn't been passed on in any way, trying to make you good people decide that this is going to be the policy of the Government, and then citing somebody who has talked too much, and—Oh, well, you can understand why it's done just as well as I can.

The third thing I have is that Mr. Wendell Willkie is going out to the Near East and Russia.

Well, the Near East- I think you can make a fairly good guess—includes Egypt, and Arabia, and Palestine, and Syria, and Turkey, and Iraq, and Iran, and in addition to that, Moscow.

And he is going as- I don't know exactly what his title would be. At any rate he is going for me. He is going—I suppose the best thing to call him is a Special Representative of the President. He will carry letters to the various Americans, and so forth, out there, and to some of the other people too. And he will be back by the fifteenth of October. (Laughter)

Q. I wanted to ask you whether, in this very judicially minded statement of yours about the retribution, if you could commit those folks over there in these ravished countries to acting through courts of law, when they got a chance at them? You are speaking for the Government of the United States?


Q. You are not committing those people to stand up there, are you? In other words, I don't see how those fellows could stand going in a law court if they got a hold of these guys.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, of course, I can't talk for them, but I express the hope that there will be a judicial process.

Q. Mr. President, have you heard the remark of some of the representatives of the occupied countries: "Give us one week"?

THE PRESIDENT: I have. And I hope that they won't carry that idea out. I think sober judgment all over the world would be distinctly in favor of the judicial processes, when we win the war and can give it back. We don't want to kill innocent people. . . . We had a very good example of it here two or three weeks ago. That was not just a form. That was a definite judicial process that was carried up to the highest court.

Q. Well, you mentioned Iraq and Iran and a lot of those Near East countries. Is there anything you could say about what you desire Willkie to do there? Information? Or is there anything more than that?

THE PRESIDENT: I think you could say this: that, of course, in each country there are special tasks, depending on the country. I am not talking about Russia. I am talking about the other countries in the Near East.

I should say that his principal task would be to tell the truth to them, representing the leadership of the minority party in this country. What he says will carry a very great weight on what the United States is doing to win the war. In other words, that we have unity, and that we are going all-out.

And we talked for a while about one phase of it, which is perhaps an unintentional result, but a great many people all over the world get from our dispatches that originate in the United States the idea that our production is being hurt to a very, very large extent- remember I talked about this last week—there will be a threatened strike in one small plant, and it lasts 24 hours—there will be another shutdown by management in some small individual plant for 24 hours. That is so handled by the news agencies as to make the outside countries think that that is the rule instead of the very rare exception.

I have had British labor people come in here, saying, "Oh, it's terrible. It's perfectly terrible. Why all these strikes, all these shutdowns?" And so forth and so on. "You are not carrying out the program." And when I tell them what this country knows pretty well, that the total of delay in war production caused by strikes or shutdowns is an infinitesimal percentage of the total, they are very much surprised. Now a lot of people in Britain think that, because of a- what shall I call it politely?—a disproportionate exposition of the news.

And of course our enemies seize it—they grab it. Probably some of you know who have access to German newspaper dispatches, or dispatches from newspapers from, say, Paris. Why, heavens above!—if ten men walk out, that's front-page stuff for them. And the enemy, that is part of his propaganda, perfectly obviously. They just magnify something that doesn't exist. Well, the result is that you get false information to the people all over Europe and the Near East.

Well, that is one of Mr. Willkie's tasks, to tell the truth about the United States.

And another matter that I asked him to mention when he gets to these different places is the comparison between an Axis victory and a United Nations victory, as to what would happen to them.

Now you might say that one side or the other is going to win, and therefore those Nations which are not actively at war at the present time ought to begin to think about what is going to happen to them in the case of either victory, in the one case being reduced to the status of a puppet state, totally controlled by Germany and Italy, and in the other case a reasonable opportunity for autonomy, and independence, and development, under certain principles. Well, just for example, the principles of the Atlantic Charter.

And they ought to begin to realize over there the implications of a victory by the Axis powers, versus the implications by the United Nations. I don't think that we have expressed that enough to the individual Governments and peoples of those Nations. Now that is one of the jobs for Mr. Willkie to do.

Q. Mr. President, have you asked Mr. Willkie to report to you when he comes back?


Q. Mr. President, you said that he would carry communications to some of the leaders of the Governments that he would visit. Could we presume that they would include one to Mr. Stalin?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

Q. (interposing) Mr. President—

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing) In fact, Mr. Stalin knows he is coming.

Q. In your illustration there—the dissemination of news—you brought up the strike. Would you care also to include—and it isn't mine at all—the fact that the statement is made by competent authorities, labor leaders, that production is falling off and they blame the dollar-a-year men, and some member of Congress will make the statement on the floor. It arises as a legitimate matter of news sometimes, so far as reporting is concerned.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. It depends, of course, a good deal on what paper you work for. Of course, you can always write a story any way you want it. The principal problem at the present time is getting the raw materials to these plants, where you have—it isn't an easy thing—you have got literally thousands and thousands of plants. And with the best intentions in the world, the W.P.B. and the Army and Navy make priorities. Well, sometimes those priorities that are made at the beginning of the contract don't work out the way we expect them to. And we also know, in addition to that, that the very use of the word "priorities" means "not enough material to go around." And those are the principal causes of slowing up at the present time.

Q. Well, as a general over-all matter, are you satisfied with the progress of the manufacture of munitions, and the distribution of—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) I never will be.

Q. Are you dissatisfied?


Q. Are you blue about it? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. No. . . .

Q. Mr. President, can you tell me the effect yesterday afternoon in New York will have on the conduct of the war? (Referring to the nomination of John J. Bennett, It., over James M. Mead for Democratic nominee for Governor of New York State)

THE PRESIDENT: I thought somebody probably would ask that (laughter), and so this morning, while at breakfast, I was reading a piece by Mark Sullivan, which has a lot of wisdom in it. (Picking up the New York Herald Tribune for August 21) I shall read this. He is talking about a press conference that Bob Patterson had on the commando raid.

(Reading): "The newsmen asked if Mr. Patterson had any comment. The question was asked in a manner which suggested that the questioner really didn't have much hope of an answer." (Laughter)

Which I think is very nice. Then Mark goes on. He says this:

"By thus setting his expectations below his hopes, he escaped disappointment." (More laughter)

This is one of the grandest things I ever read.

(Continuing reading): "Mr. Patterson said merely that he had no worth-while comment. If Mr. Patterson has no copyright on those four short words, 'no worth-while comment,' they could be advantageously used by some other Washington officials who face press conferences. If all officials were as immune as the impassive Mr. Patterson from feeling that courtesy or other motive requires them to satisfy the newsmen with something interesting or amusing—in that event the quantity of words that go out of Washington would become at once diminished (laughter)—and more informative." (More laughter)

I wanted to read that because I want that to go into the record of the press conferences that will come out some day.

Q. Mr. Sullivan is with us today, if you care—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Yes? Is Mark there?

MR. SULLIVAN: Always here, Mr. President. (Loud laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Now it's going down in the Presidential papers to be issued later on.

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

Simple Search of Our Archives