Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

March 10, 1942

THE PRESIDENT: I have been given a very delightful thing that is very nice at this time. A little model of the Mayflower, made out of a piece of the Mayflower.

A number of years ago, some antiquarians discovered that there was an old barn in England that had been built out of timbers which were sufficiently identified to make it seem almost certain that they were made out of the original timbers of the Mayflower when she was broken up. Sent over by Mr. Brendan Bracken, who was Mr. Churchill's secretary, and is now the head of the Ministry of Information in London, and sent over by Gil Winant, who gave it to me yesterday. The piece of wood that it is made out of was furnished by the Society of Friends, who now own the barn. . . .

I have a statement, which was worked out by Steve [Early]. He is the author. You will recognize his English- (laughter) I said English. (More laughter)

(Reading): "Many people have written to the Executive Office asking for some statement of the general attitude of the Federal Government toward the continuation of various sports, dramatics, concerts, vacations and general recreation and amusement during the war effort. Most of these letters point out that the writers are anxious to do their utmost to help in the prosecution of the war and wonder whether such activities are considered to be harmful to the prosecution of the war.

"It is, of course, obvious that the war effort is the primary task of everybody in the Nation. All other activities must be considered secondary. At the same time it has been proven beyond much doubt that human beings cannot sustain continued and prolonged work very long, without obtaining a proper balance between work on the one hand and vacation and recreation on the other. Such recreation may come by participation in, or attendance at, various sports, motion pictures, music, the drama, picnics, et cetera. All of them have a necessary and beneficial part in promoting an over-all efficiency by relieving the strains of war and work.

"The actual occurrence of very large gatherings, of course, must depend on local safety conditions of the moment.

"Within reasonable limits, I believe the war effort will not be hampered but actually improved by sensible participation in healthy recreational pursuits. It must be borne in mind, however, that 'recreation as usual' is just as bad as 'business as usual.' Recreation under present conditions can be undertaken solely for the purpose of building up body and mind and with the chief thought that this will help win the war."

And of course I can't down here—nobody down here—it ought not to be done here—can make final determination in some specific case. They have got to do the best they can. We are not going to set up a bureau in Washington, to tell the people in Poughkeepsie as to whether they ought to have local horse races or not. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, can you say whether you plan to ask the more essential industries to forego vacations this year?

THE PRESIDENT: You can't lay down a general rule for everybody. I can say that if people get very tired they should do what a lot of persons do, and that is take a few days off, but only if they feel they need it. If they think it is going to make them more efficient and turn out more in the way of munitions by taking a few days off, it would be common sense to go ahead and do it.

Q. So long as the industry itself doesn't slow down?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And of course what we always forget is that things of that kind slow down industry so much less than illness slows down industry. The percentage of people who are out because of illness, in any given plant almost, is much higher than people realize.

Then we have all got a question here in Washington how we are going to black out Federal buildings in case of air raid. So the Director of Civilian Defense wrote a letter, for me to send to Federal Works Agency, which is in charge of public buildings. It reads as follows:

(Reading): "Such preparation shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal Government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination. Such—

"I don't know- this is not my word —

"Such obscuration is—" (loud laughter)

Sounds almost like some people's I see before me—

(Continuing reading): "Such obscuration may be obtained either by blackout construction or by terminating the illumination." (Laughter)

Q. Sounds like—

Q. (interposing) Does that mean turning off the lights? (More laughter)

Q. That isn't the one you said Steve [Early] wrote, is it?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Steve did not write that. The Dean of the Harvard Law School [James M. Landis, Director of the Office of Civilian Defense] wrote this. (More laughter)

(Continuing reading): "This will of course require that in building areas in which production must continue during a blackout, construction must be provided that internal illumination may continue."

I have known lots of people that have had internal illumination. (Loud laughter)

Q. (interjecting) just for a holiday though?


(Continuing reading): "Other areas, whether or not occupied by personnel, may be obscured by terminating the illumination.

"The Administrator of the Federal Works Agency is hereby authorized to effect this policy in all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal Government, both in Washington and throughout the country."Steve?

MR. EARLY: Yes, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Rewrite that for me, will you? (Laughter) Tell them the buildings will have to keep their work going—put something across the windows. In buildings that can afford it, so that work can be stopped for a while, turn out the lights and stop there. I don't think I have got anything else. . . .

Q. Mr. President, will you comment on the reorganization announced by the Navy Department last night?

THE PRESIDENT: It is toward simplification. The old Navy method of a Chief of Operations goes back to about 1916, when it superseded what was called the Aide System. As time went on, from the end of the postwar period down to a few years ago, this Chief of Operations—of course the title was chosen because he was supposed to be the person who was in charge of the movement of ships. And that worked pretty well during the World War. It was rather a much simpler matter than it is today, on the question of moving ships.

And the difficulty has been that since the World War the materiel situation has become, especially in the last two years, of such very great importance that additional duties have been saddled on the Chief of Operations.

And it has been very difficult to draw the line between Operations in the sense of movement of ships and Operations in the sense of getting the ships ready to move, or supplying them at some distant place. So it seems better to merge the movement of ships, which was put under Admiral King a few months ago—merge it with the general duties of Operations, and give to the one person several subdivisions under him, that would handle the different component parts of putting ships to a task, and at the same time providing them with the necessary things to keep them going in any part of the world.

Well, it is a thing that we have been, I suppose, working toward for the last six or eight years. And it seems a logical thing to do. Also centralizes responsibility- could be called somewhat akin to the recent so-called "streamlining" of the War Department. . . .

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

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