Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

August 19, 1941

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us anything about your conference with Lord Beaverbrook?

THE PRESIDENT: We talked about the general problems of need and supply. And I told him that I had asked, before I left-oh, about three weeks ago—our own Army and Navy to make another survey of actual production deliveries- needs and deliveries—not only through 1942 but also for 1943, and that I would be very glad if the British would do the same thing. We probably will have the Chinese needs and certain Russian needs.

In other words, try to get, as of this time a new picture going further into the future than we have gone up to the present. We had a survey, of course, of that kind about a year ago, and it's time that we had a new picture, a year having gone by. And the British will give us their figures pretty soon, and I will get our own figures pretty soon. Then we will put the whole thing together and draw a line and add it up.

Q. The final military part on production and needs?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Oh, yes.

Q. Mr. President, does that assume that this war is going to go through 1943?

THE PRESIDENT: If necessary.

Q. Mr. President, would you care to take up with your press conference anything in connection with your high seas conference? In other words—

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think there is—

Q. You must have seen or heard of reports. Is there anything that you care to clarify?

THE PRESIDENT: No. I don't think so. I don't think it is necessary for me to go into any criticism such as I think Alben Barkley is making this afternoon on the Senate floor—in regard to certain newspaper articles. That is neither here nor there, but on the whole I do want to say this: that the whole idea of my getting away without telling you people about it was, from my point of view, based on the security and safety of the Prime Minister and his staff; and the joke was that his consideration of secrecy was based on his conception of the safety of the President of the United States and his staff. (Laughter) And you might say that between the two there was agreement that it should be kept secret.

And there were a great many reasons why the press should put two and two together, on the ground of the absence of certain people from their usual haunts. And I of course have not the slightest objection to stories that were based on guesses and implications that something was happening, because these people were away, because those guesses were all stated in the press that they were guesses. There wasn't any assertion, except one or two radio commentators that I happened to hear. There was no assertion that either the Prime Minister or I had definitely gone to a certain place.

There were surmises. Well, surmises are perfectly legitimate if they are labeled surmises. I think that the press ought to be congratulated on the restraint that they showed during that blackout week in using only the surmises, and nothing else. On the whole—the whole thing was very well kept. And of course there was a great difficulty afterwards in keeping certain details as to location and times, and so forth, until the British Prime Minister could get home.

Well, now, he is safely home, so the thing is all right, except that I think it was generally agreed that the actual timing, and the actual location, should not be given out until a good while later, possibly the end of the war, for the reason that there are so many—what shall I say?—scientific considerations to be taken into consideration- radio signals, just for example. It is better not to give information which would be of advantage to the Axis powers. . . .

Q. Mr. President, I think a great many people have the idea that the war—as carried on between Nations at war—on our side —will be—there will be more to it—more punch to it more actively engaged. Is that a good surmise?

THE PRESIDENT: Help for the democracies of the world, yes.

Q. As a result of this conference, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. In other words, it clarified many, many things. It discussed operations. As I said the other day, in practically every section of the whole world—and it has brought a—what shall I say?—a better meeting of the minds on needs, and the fight that the democracies are putting up against Nazism. . . .

Q. Mr. President, could you tell us whether the Prime Minister seemed confident that Britain can win the war, without our entry?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think that that kind of question is a useful kind of question, because it is too—it is too "headliney," without any substance to it. You know what I mean. I can tell you, off the record, what the answer is, but I think it would be a great mistake to quote me as quoting Winston Churchill that they are going to win the war.

Off the record, I can say: Yes- that he is extremely confident, in the long run—in the very long pull. But at the same time- mind you this is off the record- at the same time, both he and I did talk over a tendency in- that goes with democracies for the population as a whole- the peoples that make up democracy—to be on the crest of the wave one minute, and in the depths of despair the next minute. It comes from our type of civilization. You don't find that in dictatorship countries, where individual thinking is almost entirely eliminated, by decree.

As an example, there was, as we all know, one reason for this vote the other day—mind you this is all off the record -there had been a feeling growing actually, because Russia had done a lot better than anybody expected, not only the press but the generals. (Laughter) And there was general "hooray boy" stuff that Russia was doing so much better than expected. Thereupon, everybody in the lightness of their hearts under the democratic system said: "Oh, isn't that perfectly grand! Now let us—let us slow up a bit. Everything is going to be all right. Russia is going to come through."

Now of course that is a terribly, terribly dangerous tendency. And there was a little of that feeling, I think, over in England itself—as much as to say: "This thing is all right now."

And of course that can't be justified, if you know all the facts. On the contrary, when you're winning, or when things look a little bit better, that's the time for you to redouble your efforts. If you think the thing through, there is a chance to redouble your efforts and go a little bit faster.

And—I wonder if I have got it—I have got an interesting thing—you might like to use it. See if I can find it. (Looks through the papers in his workbasket) It's a thing I dug out of Carl Sandburg's Lincoln [The War Years] the other day, something he said to some ladies who came in to see him at the end of the first year of the war, in 1862. If you will bear with me for a minute, I will try to find this. (Still looking) Here it is.

This is Sandburg's Volume One; 1862. Statement of Lincoln—(Reading)

"1862—to Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, Chicago. 'I have no word of encouragement to givel' was the slow, blunt reply. 'The military situation is far from bright; and the country knows it as well as I do.'

"The women were silent. They knew it was a heart-to-heart talk, that he was telling them what he could not well tell the country, that he was frankly relieving the burden of an overweighted mind. It was a silence of a moment, but 'deep and painful,' said Mrs. Livermore.

"The President went on 'The fact is the people have not yet made up their minds that we are at war with the South.'"

— mind you, this is a whole year later

"'They have not buckled down to the determination to fight this war through; for they have got the idea into their heads that we are going to get out of this fix somehow by strategy! That's the word—strategy! General McClellan thinks he is going to whip the Rebels by strategy; and the army has got the same notion. They have no idea that the War is to be carried on and put through by hard, tough fighting, that it will hurt somebody; and no headway is going to be made while this delusion lasts.'"

That is rather an interesting parallel. Lincoln's belief that this country hadn't yet waked up to the fact that they had a war to win, and Lincoln saw what had been going on. Well, there are quite a lot of things for us to think about in this day and age.

Q. Mr. President, would that very narrow vote on the draft bill indicate that perhaps there are others who hadn't waked up to the war?

THE PRESIDENT: I think there are a lot of people who haven't waked up to the danger. A great many people.

Q. Mr. President, if you were going to write a lead on that, how would you do it? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: I'd say, "President Quotes Lincoln"—(Laughter)-"And Draws Parallel." . . .

THE PRESIDENT: I will read you something else which will be good for your souls. This is a letter I got this morning from an old friend of mine. (Reading):

"Inevitably, constant misuse can rob some phrases of their noble meaning. Therefore, regard for truth compels one to say that somewhere in the Atlantic you did make some history, and like all historic events, it was not what was said or done that defined the scope of the achievement. It is the forces, the impalpable, the spiritual forces, the hopes, the expressions, and the dreams, and the endeavors that are released. That's what matters. And so all that is implied is the fact that you and Churchill met in the circumstances under which you did.

"The aims for which you met, that is the vital achievement from all -from which all else will flow. We live by symbols and we can't too often recall them. And you two in that ocean, freed from all the tawdry accompaniment of cheap journalism"—

(laughter)—I told you this is good for your souls—some of you, I mean —

"— in the setting of that Sunday service, gave meaning to the conflict between civilization and arrogant, brute challenge; and gave promise more powerful and binding than any formal treaty could, that civilization has brains and resources that tyranny will not be able to overcome.

"All this talk of press and picture releases, and what not, are the merest trivia."

That's what I was coming down to—"the merest trivia." Now that applies, in the last analysis, to whether so and so's going into O.P.M., or somebody's going into O.P.A.C.S. That's trivia. There are so many bigger things, and the more we can get away from the trivia, in trying to get out of this great world danger, the better it will be. (Continuing reading)

"The deed and the spirit and the invigoration breathed there in the hearts of men will endure and will kindle actions toward the goal of ridding the world of this horror."

So much for the trivia.

Q. Who was that, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: A friend. (Loud laughter)

Q. Mr. President, who is going to determine what is trivia?

THE PRESIDENT: Why, you fellows. Who else?

Q. There is a great deal of it gotten out.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Perfectly true.

Q. Mr. President, here is a real, trivial question. Can you say anything about the new War Department building in Arlington? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that is of interest to not only the Washington papers. I think it ought to be of interest to everybody. I haven't got the bill yet. And I have talked with the Director of the Budget about it, and I have had a number of memoranda, a number of pleas on one side. And tomorrow I am going to see General Somervell [Brehon B. Somervell], to hear the story on the other side.

My present inclination is not to accept that action by the Congress. I don't say it is the final decision, because I haven't heard the other side yet, but there are some of you that I told over a year ago an old story to.

When I first came down here in 1933, I said I didn't think I would ever be let into the Gates of Heaven, because I had been responsible for desecrating the parks of Washington. Back in the fall of 1917, the Navy Department needed space, and I took up with President Wilson the possibility of building a temporary building— wooden building— down here on the Oval. And he said, "Why do you select that site?" I said, "Mr. President, because it would be so unsightly right here in front of the White House, that it just would have to be taken down at the end of the war." "Well," he said, "I don't think I could stand all that hammering and sawing right under my front windows." He said, "Can't you put it somewhere else?" So I said, "Of course. Put it down in Potomac Park." "Well," he said, "put it down there and we will get rid of it."

And then came up the question—they located it in the park—then came up the question of the dangers of a wooden building. And the President decider] it should be a fireproof building; and I got hold of the Turner Construction Company, and they did a perfectly amazing job, as you know. Well, that was finished in the spring of 1918. That is 23 years ago, and the building is just as solid as the day it was built. There was nothing temporary about it; and then it was so good that we went ahead and put the Munitions Building right alongside.

It was a crime- I don't hesitate to say so- it was a crime for which I should be kept out of Heaven, for having desecrated the whole plan of, I think, the loveliest city in the world—the Capital of the United States. Now, a part of that plan, of course, as it developed over the years, created the great National Cemetery. General Lee's old place. And Arlington is known and loved throughout the length and breadth of the land.

The whole scheme of things was that people on this side of the river—I don't know how many tens of thousands of tourists there are every day here in this town—they go along down here by the river, and they look across to this lovely water front on the other side, and an unobstructed view of Arlington Cemetery- the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier- Lee's Homestead, and everything else.

And here it is—under the name of emergency, it is proposed to put up a permanent building, which will deliberately and definitely, for one hundred years to come, spoil the plan of the National Capital. Quite aside from any question of access to it, or where people live, how you get across the bridge, or anything else, I think that I have had a part in spoiling the national parks and the beautiful water front of the District once, and I don't want to do it again.

There are various other ways of handling the problem of space in the District. I'm going back to the consideration of another possibility. As you know, the plan six or seven years ago was accepted to build the new War Department on this side of the Naval Hospital, and build the Navy Department on the other side of the Naval Hospital. And I sort of felt that I was perhaps squaring myself with the Good Lord by building those two buildings during my Administration, and being able to take down the present Navy Building and Munitions Building in the park.

Now, I am perfectly willing for the War Department, which does need space very much, to go ahead and add some more at the present location for the War Department, and start right in and build the building which has been labeled for the Navy Department on the other side of the Naval Hospital hill. Turn that new Navy Department building over to the War Department until peace comes in the world. And when that time comes, the Army of course will cut down tremendously on its employees, and the Navy will be able to go back to its own building. Actually on footage—square feet—the thing can be worked out pretty well. This building that is proposed on the other side of the river is much larger actually than we need in Washington. Besides which, it spoils the planning of 150 years.

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

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