Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

November 06, 1942


THE PRESIDENT: All of the United Nations have been very much heartened by what looks to be a victory of major importance in the Egyptian-Libyan area. There isn't much news from there that hasn't been given out in the communiques, but things seem to be going extremely well. Outside of that, I don't think there is a thing.

Q. Mr. President, do you know to what extent the Montgomery army was equipped from the United States?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know, except I would say to a minor degree. In other words, a great deal less than half. I couldn't give you the exact percentage. Of course, Britain has some of our planes and some of our tanks, but we mustn't get the idea that they were equipped with American equipment. It makes a nice headline, but unfortunately it isn't true.

Q. Mr. President, do you consider any of our activities on Guadalcanal of major scale?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I wouldn't, because the whole thing down there is on a limited scale, both on the Japanese side and our side, because of the same old thing, the problem of transporting men and equipment to that very limited area.

Q. Mr. President, will those actions just be continued then, and where there are continued engagements will they be continued on a limited scale indefinitely, or would it eventually grow to major scale?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I think that is sort of a hypothetical question. It's awfully hard to answer. Can't tell.

Q. Mr. President, is the importance of it necessarily to be gauged by the extent of it?

THE PRESIDENT: No. The importance might be much greater than the extent. On the other hand, it might not be. You remember, I think it was the other day, the headlines used the word "decisive." Now that's an awfully sloppy term to use. It might be, and it might not.

If you look at a map of the South Pacific, you will see that the Japanese have advanced island by island all the way south from the northern end of the Mandated Islands. We attempted, at the beginning of August, to prevent that island-by-island advance from going any further south. So far we have succeeded. If we keep on succeeding in preventing any further southward advance, it's fine—because if we keep on succeeding, we will have the possibility of starting a northward advance on our part.

That will take a long, long time, because as I think I have told you before, it takes months to get a ship with men or munitions from the United States down there and back again. On the other hand, the Japanese line is also long. It takes weeks for them to get a ship from Japan down there and back again.

Now, on the other hand, in words of one syllable, and don't misconstrue them, in case the Japanese were to isolate Guadalcanal—we hope they won't—and take it, it would mean that they had advanced one more island. That is not a decisive victory, because it merely means that the scene of action has been transferred to the next group of islands, their line thereby becoming a little bit longer, and ours remaining constant—it wouldn't be any longer. Therefore, it's an action of importance, but not decisive. You can't tell. . . .

In other words, I honestly think that we all ought to be a bit careful and tend toward understatement rather than overstatement on all operations of that kind.

On the other hand, I think the Egyptian fighting of the last two weeks could be called of major importance. I don't know that I would call even that decisive, in the light of past history.

Remember then, this is the third time that something has happened there. The first time was when they smashed up the Italians, and they went on through and got pretty well past Tobruk. And then the Germans went in to help the Italians, and they pushed the British back as far as Tobruk. And then came the second British push, and it went clear through to Bengasi right across the whole hump of Libya. And having taken Bengasi, well we all thought it was not only a major victory but a decisive victory. Well, it was a major victory, but they ran too fast. They got way beyond their line of supplies. And suddenly Rommel struck them again and drove them back to Tobruk. That is why it wasn't decisive.

Then the third thing that happened was that they started an offensive, roughly from the Tobruk line south, and they didn't get very far. And suddenly, without any warning, Rommel caught them off base and drove them clear back to the El Alamein line. And a lot of people—probably the Germans and the Italians- said, "This is the decisive victory." Well, it was a major victory, but it wasn't decisive, because the British held at the El Alamein line.

Now this is really the fourth time they have moved out of the line, and apparently they have inflicted very heavy losses on Rommel's army. And we hope this time it will be not only a major victory but a decisive one, through the destruction of the enemy's forces. And we hope in the next week we will get as good news about the German-Italian retreat as we have been getting in the last two or three days. . . .

Q. Mr. President, how do you account for Tuesday's election results?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think all I can say on it is this, that I had a very pleasant surprise. Tuesday morning I went up to Hyde Park to vote, and when I got there I was perfectly delighted to find that the polling place was open. (Laughter) I leave the explanation of that remark to the press. (More laughter)

Q. Do you think they expected to be closed?

THE PRESIDENT: Evidently you don't read certain papers [referring to some papers who said that the President was going to Call off the 1942 elections]. . . .

Q. Mr. President, will it make any difference in your attitude toward Congress? I mean, you have got a very close majority there, and—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Why should it? I assume that the Congress of the United States is in favor of winning this war, just as the President is. . . .

Q. Mr. President, we understand that the manpower report was transmitted to you. Have you completed your review and study of that report?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't read it. Only don't put it on the record. I have got it in my basket. Look at the basket! (stacked high with papers) I will probably get at it this afternoon or tomorrow morning.

Q. How soon might we anticipate some action?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't any idea. I wouldn't even guess at it.

On this whole manpower thing, anybody that studies it and thinks that they can, after studying it for a week, come to an intelligent conclusion, ought to be in St. Elizabeth's. You can't do it. You can't spend a day, or a week, in studying it and form a definite, detailed plan. And that is why it has taken quite a lot of time.

But with that goes this other fact, that this whole manpower thing, with the exception of one or two portions of farm labor, is not at this time an emergency matter. As an example, in farming, practically all of the crops are in, with the exception of one or two very small areas. And the problem of farm labor is therefore not an emergency matter, except in dairying. There will be one or two other minor things. Dairying is difficult, because dairying goes on right through the winter, as well as the crop season. Everybody knows that.

And outside of that we are not having any emergency problem affecting manpower in, for example, our factories, transportation, and similar things. We are going to have it, because we have probably got to put into industry this coming year four or five million people. But I don't know of any factory that is shut down because of lack of labor today. You have got to add the word "today." In other words, something has got to be done, but it isn't a matter of immediate emergency in the conduct of the war. It's going to be a serious thing unless we handle it soon. And that is why I can't give you any date. Neither am I able to formulate at this time any definite plan- there have been various plans submitted—it's an awfully difficult problem. . . .

I see my friend the little Mayor [Fiorello LaGuardia of New York City] has stirred up a hornet's nest as to how to prepare coffee. We will have a lot of grave issues like that during the coming year. (Laughter) What I am a little afraid of is that somebody will raise the issue that was paramount in this country a few years ago, as to whether one should "crumble" or "dunk" the doughnut. (Continued laughter) Now those are very important things in our national life. And it's part of the grand sense of humor of the American people, and it's all to the good.

Q. Mr. President, it's probably useless to ask you on this matter, but does the forty-hour week have anything to do with this manpower? Senator W. Lee O'Daniel has introduced a bill to repeal the forty-hour week.

THE PRESIDENT: We haven't got a forty-hour week. Most of the people in the very important production are working 48 hours.

Q. (interjecting) Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing) And I think that the average of the important production is around—between 46 and 47 hours a week.

Q. O'Daniel wants to work six days a week twelve hours a day, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, really, on that working six days a week and twelve hours a day, there is one thing which I didn't mention about this last trip, and that was that quite a number of people in different plants told me that they have the problem—like any big plant that employs forty or fifty or sixty thousand people—of a certain percentage of the workers not turning up in the morning. And in two or three of these plants when those workers come in the next day, they are asked voluntarily to sign a little card, saying why they didn't turn up the previous day.

And it's interesting that where workers have been working overtime, up in some cases to 56 hours a week that the reasons given for not turning up on these cards are that they were too tired.

Now we all know the very careful studies that have been made of production in Germany; and that after you work anybody over a certain definite period, depending a little on the work that is done, after the first few weeks or the first few months you don't get any more production with a very, very long week— with a lot of overtime—than you do in a shorter week. Now people ought to recognize it. It is a fact that has been proved in England, over here, and in Germany.

Right along that line we got reports last spring, from Germany, that they were very greatly increasing the weekly hours of work in certain munitions plants from which they had to have the munitions; and that they started this great increase in the hours per week, sometime in the spring. And for about two months the total production showed a great increase. At the end of two months it started to slide downhill, until the time came in Germany when, on a greatly increased work week- working as high as seventy or eighty hours a week- after the people had got thoroughly tired and exhausted, the output was not so great as when they had been working forty-eight hours a week. Now those reports obtained by the intelligence services have come in in such volume that they look to be true, that German production in the last few months has fallen off, in spite of the much longer work week. . . .

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

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