Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

August 26, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: The first thing I have is a statement, which you needn't take down. Steve sent it down to be put on the mimeograph—one page. (Paraphrasing):

"This Government is prepared to send a military mission to China. The mission will be sent for the purpose of assisting in carrying out the purposes of the Lease-Lend Act. Being organized and will operate under the direction of the Secretary of War. The chief will be Brigadier General John Magruder. The function of the mission will be to study in collaboration with Chinese and other authorities the military situation in China, and need of Chinese Government for materiel. Formulate recommendations regarding types and quantities of items needed; to assist and procure in this country and deliver to China such materiel; to instruct in the use and maintenance of articles thus provided. Give advice and suggestions of appropriate character toward making Lend-Lease assistance to China as effective as possible in the interests of the United States, of China, and of the world effort to resistance to movements of conquest by force. Sending this mission is in keeping with, and on a parallel line to, sending a similar mission to the Soviet Union. The purposes of the two missions are identical."

That is, of course, with the exception of the Lend-Lease Act which does not apply to the Soviet Union. (Reading)

"General Magruder has had long experience in China. Has twice served there as Military Attaché. He will be working on familiar ground, among people he knows well, and to whom he is well known. An adequate staff of thoroughly qualified officers will accompany General Magruder."

Q. Mr. President, your announcement says that these men will collaborate with Chinese and "other authorities." Can you explain the "other authorities?"

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know, but I will make a guess: That it probably applies to the method of getting material to China which might have to go, for example, through Burma. That would be other authorities, wouldn't it?

Q. How about the Russians?

THE PRESIDENT: Same thing.

Q. When would they really leave?

THE PRESIDENT" I think inside of about two weeks. . . .

Q. How soon do you expect to appoint the Russian mission?


Q. Nothing unusual in delaying that, is there, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Not a thing. . . .

THE PRESIDENT: The only other thing I have got is this. We have in the Government an enormous number of papers, which are not archives. They are records. Well, there is all the difference in the world. Archives are supposed to be really tremendously important papers relating to our national history, and rather limited in their total scope. On the other hand, there are millions and millions of records which are occasionally looked at, but which are not of general historical importance, but which are of family or genealogical importance. For instance, we have, I think, somewhere around three million individual jackets of the Civil War soldiers. And the tendency of any department is to hang on. It's not merely acquisitive, but it is retentive.

And here are these three million jackets. Now the individual soldiers that served in the Civil War, actually they are referred to about ten a day, that is all. In other words, one filing clerk can handle the whole thing and get them out as needed. We have public lands records on the development of the great West—as far back as 1820 or 1830— I think the Interior Department has jurisdiction over them. There are millions and millions of those and only ten or fifteen of them referred to in the course of the day. They are records rather than archives, and what we need is a great records building. The Census records, they are dead. The Census records going back as far as, I think, 1790. Those are records, and they certainly are not archives. They ought not to be kept in the building devoted to current administration.

Now, my thought is that this new War Department building over there would be built on extremely simple lines, and that when this emergency is over, and the War Department reverts to a peacetime status, they will be able to come back here to their regular place in this triangle which we are developing, and that in peacetime this building over there, of two million, or two and a quarter million feet, should be the—I think the word is repository—for the records—the dead records of all these departments.

I always think of this retentive spirit. I went over, in pursuance of this subject—two or three years ago—to the State Department one afternoon- after all the people had gone home—because they assured me that in the State Department over here they only had very current records. Nothing more than four or five years old. Everything else was stored. Well, frankly, I didn't believe it, and I went over there, and I got into a wheel chair, and I wheeled through various rooms, and came to a closed door which had been separated off.

One of these great doors was opened up, and there was a great, big, long room—oh, I suppose six or eight people had worked there in the course of the day—nobody there, they had all gone home—and along the sides of the room and stacked out into the middle of the room were hundreds of square feet of filing cabinets. So at random I said, "Open that one." And in there it happened to be a case that was devoted to consular reports of the years 1907 to 1911, on the "History and Future of the Mongolian Pony." (Laughter) It's very nice, but it wasn't exactly current, or of great importance at that particular time. It was a record story, and it ought not to have been in that building, while the State Department was yelling for more space. They had it right there. So I hope that this new building, when this emergency is over, will be used as a records building for the Government. . . .

Q. Mr. President, there are rumors that lend-lease has been misused. Would you care to comment on those rumors?


Q. There have been printed rumors.

THE PRESIDENT: I mean—but where?

Q. One of them that I read in a local paper was that the British had run up large bills at a local restaurant—whisky—liquor.


Q. The restaurant? Occidental Restaurant.

THE PRESIDENT: I am very certain that that was never charged to lend-lease. And I suppose it's a perfectly fair thing to say, in view of these columns—I think it has got to the point where it can be said, in view of your raising the question, that there can be no doubt that there is an organized campaign to spread rumors, distortions of half-truths, and I fear falsehoods—you probably know the word- being launched by certain forces to sabotage the program of aid to opponents of Hitlerism. And the column which you quote is probably a very good example of what I am talking about. Of course it is perfectly absurd to make any allegations along the lines like that, because they just plain aren't true. It is awfully easy to make allegations and they're read all over the country. Don't say that it is a denial on my part or on anybody else's part.

I think it is a perfectly fair thing to say that all stories of that kind are, as I remarked before, vicious rumors, or distortions of fact, or falsehoods. Now, in other words, that is not a denial. You know my old complaint about things. The denial method is awfully easy for the press to use, but the actual fact is that this type of story—in certain types of newspapers —ought to be labeled for what it is, and the story is the labeling of them as falsehoods, and the spreading of rumor for purposes of sabotage rather than the denial. Denial does not make any difference one way or the other. It's just plain dirty falsehood. Might just as well call it by its right name.

Q. Are you familiar with an article- I think it was published in Time? The report of it was that lend-lease money had been utilized by English interests in such a way that the product of this transaction interfered with or competed with American-made goods.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Of course, what the origin of it was is this, that they did have—dating back a long time—long before any lend-lease program, or anything like that, where they were trying to build up their own foreign exchange, they had some contracts down there—I think it was the Argentine which required certain steel to carry the contract. And in the performance of this contract—it was entered into long before lend-lease—they did deliver the material, which was part steel, in carrying out the contract. Now, nobody in their wildest dreams could say that that was selling lend-lease material.

Q. Was it American steel that they sent down there?

THE PRESIDENT: No. It was their own steel, but of course they imported steel from us. . . .

Q. That same kind of thing is coming out with regard to tankers now. Stories that the British have tankers in commercial use, which is being picked on in the Senate.

THE PRESIDENT: Being what?

Q. Well, it's being kicked around in the Senate that the British are using tankers for commercial purposes, while we are not.

THE PRESIDENT: Of course that is the kind of variation- you have got to tell me where. We ran down the other question. We said, "Where?" to the person who asked the question about the steel, and we narrowed it down finally and we agreed it was steel to the Argentine. I think on the tankers in commercial use, where?

Q. They are basing their argument, Mr. President, on total figures of tankers in existence at the start of the war—estimated sinkings according to official figures, and they say that there will be more in commercial service than they have got—more than they need for war use.

THE PRESIDENT: Of course, that does not hold water, that kind of statement. It means nothing. When you deduct from total figures you do not know where the rest of it is going.

Q. Can you answer this question? Has the British Government asked for—for any more tankers? The rumor's out—70 or 100 tankers.

THE PRESIDENT: I couldn't tell you. I can only tell you in terms of merchant ships. I think the story was in today's paper about the laying down of more ways for more merchant ships. Now some of them may be tankers.

Q. No. This is a statement which came from the Senate anonymously. The anonymous Senator said that 70 tankers—I know the story said 100 oil tankers—for carrying oil would be taken from America for British needs. Do you happen to know anything about that at all?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. As a matter of fact, of course, on the oil situation, there are two reasons to believe that in the East this question of domestic oil will be better by spring. The two reasons are the fact that there will be a lot more tankers launched and put into commission by then, on the assumption that the sinkings don't increase, and we will have a greater number available; and the second is that the two pipelines will be in use sometime this spring. Of course that will help.

Q. Mr. President, has Judge Rosenman reported to you yet on his study of the O.P.M. and O.P.A.C.S. priorities trouble?

THE PRESIDENT: We are nearly ready to tell you something. The papers are now being worked on. And the problem, of course —this particular problem is the problem of priorities. And there are a great many factors that enter into priorities. There is domestic use, and what is very important is the fact that in addition to domestic use there are other things like South American Good-Neighbor policy and this new Economic Defense Board.

There is the problem of China, and, I think, equally important, is the problem of working out the use of priorities, putting people to work in industries that have those plants that have to close down, or transfer to other defense projects, or the substitution of other things for the plant itself to make. And that is being worked out, so that while there may be, in the next few weeks, a certain amount of hardship, I think to tide it over we will have to use unemployment insurance for a while, until we get the organization perfected so that there will be a little leeway of thirty days or sixty days before any given plant is closed down for lack of materials; and that during those thirty days, or sixty days, the Federal authorities, the State authorities, and the local authorities will all cooperate to put those people to work somewhere else, as near by as possible, or in the same plant on other things. . . .

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