Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

March 19, 1940

Q. In the light of recent discussions on the subject, would you care to clarify for us the policy of your Administration toward releasing airplanes and armaments for foreign shipment?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the trouble is this. It is awfully hard to lay down a hard and fast rule because each case ought properly to be considered on the facts of the immediate case, and in careless writing it is awfully easy if you have one general rule to fail to differentiate between two different cases with different facts. However, I shall have a go at it by way of explanation.

Speaking as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy which, under the Constitution, entails a certain amount of responsibility on my part, a year ago when things seemed to be coming to a head in Europe—I mean seemed to the Administration; some other people didn't agree—we began to look around to see what our national defense problem was. We looked at it, of course, primarily from our own point of view, but also in the light of experiences in other nations. At that time it seemed to us—this was a full year ago—at that time it seemed pretty clear to us that one of the essentials of national defense, more and more so in the light of modern experience, was productive capacity of airplanes. We had seen instances of nations having a pretty good air force with very little or no productive capacity for new planes. We had seen other nations with practically no airplanes—I mean relatively—but with potentiality of a large productive capacity.

And so, looking at it from strictly our own point of view, beginning at that time, we began to ask ourselves two questions: first, how many planes do we need in peacetime? How many pilots do we need in peacetime? As a result, we felt that we were too low; and we got through Congress appropriations for very definite increases to the Army, Navy and Marine Corps air services, and we began putting in orders.

But, at the same time, we looked at it from the point of view of production; and we found that American production of military and naval planes was an even more serious problem than our shortage of actual planes in full commission. The increased Army and Navy orders of last year, last fall, did help slightly, but only very slightly, to increase our plant capacity.

The beginning of the war in Europe showed us that we could build up our plant capacity if the Nation—private manufacturers—could sell a large additional number of planes to other nations, not only belligerent nations but other nations, neutral nations; and the orders began coming in.

So, looking at it from a purely selfish point of view, we did everything we could to develop American productive capacity; and we have been doing it right along with the net result that inside of a year, approximately, we have multiplied American capacity about three times. It is an amazing story.

We have about three times the capacity of engines, and engines really are the neck of the bottle. It is harder, for example, to increase the engine capacity than it is your fuselage capacity. All that is, from the point of view of the Commander-in-Chief, the most significant thing that has happened in the past year, from the point of view of improving national defense by building up our productive capacity of planes.

From that as a statement of policy, you come to the obvious next question: How could we have done it unless we had been able to sell planes? Well, the answer is that we could not. What was the criterion on selling planes? Sell them a plane that they would buy. There is your answer.

Now, when you come down to all this "bunk" about secrets: The P-40 —I believe there is some talk about it at the present time—I saw one down here at the Army Field—I think some of you people went down with me—in November, 1938. I think some of you saw it there at the time. It was almost in the stage of having its drawings, etc., perfected and being put into the point of getting orders for it-a question of a few months longer. But we actually saw a P-40 down there that had been flown. That was nearly a year and a half ago. There is no secret about the P-40. As I remarked—"Bunk!"

Now, what is secret? There are three or four devices—a plane is not a device—there are three or four devices which we have in the armed forces of the United States which we think other nations have not got. They are absolutely secret, to be given to nobody. They will be kept secret as long as it is possible for us to keep them secret. You ask what they are, and I will tell you frankly it is none of your business; and don't go looking for them, for that is not the part of good Americanism.

Q. Mr. President, I think nearly everyone is in agreement that the P-40 is safe to release now, but there are two others of the same type that are later models. Are you in favor of selling our very latest models?

THE PRESIDENT: Depends on what you mean by the "very latest model."

Q. I mean like the Airacobra; that is the Bell ship?

THE PRESIDENT: Anything confidential about it?

Q. I don't know.

THE PRESIDENT: Neither do I. There was a beautiful engine the other day that everybody called the latest type of engine. It has not been put into actual production yet. One of the latest issues of an aeronautical magazine has complete drawings of it. Does that help you any?

Q. It does not answer my question.

THE PRESIDENT: In other words, I cannot answer your question because I do not know which particular type it is, whether it is public property or not, whether it has been placed on order by us or not, whether on a small scale or a large scale. I would have to have all the facts. . . .

Q. Mr. President, where you said that this trebling of the capacity was the most amazing and significant thing, do you care to mention any figures per month or per year or not?

THE PRESIDENT: Didn't Steve [Mr. Early] give those out last week?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: As I remember it, roughly from seven— are these figures right?— from 7,000 to 21,000 or 22,000.

Q. Senator Barkley gave all those figures in the Senate a week ago.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, the same figures.

Q. Do you consider our own national defense policies, our national defense aims, are involved in selling to one or the other of the particular sides in the current controversy in Europe?

THE PRESIDENT: Consider what?

Q. As involving our own national defense aims, in other words?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't understand.

Q. Do you consider it necessary or advisable to sell to one or the other groups in Europe instead of our own national defense?

THE PRESIDENT: I think we are selling to everybody that comes and gets them at the present time. Isn't that the rule? . . .

Q. Getting back to the airplane question once again for a moment: Where you discriminated between devices and planes, that remark would seem to indicate that you do not think there is much likelihood of any secrets being given away as to construction or design of planes. Is that correct?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes—something they couldn't get just as easily by sending somebody over to look at the thing. If we did not sell a type of plane as late as the P-40, because I don't know if we have cleared anything else—well, what would you do if you were a Britisher? You would send somebody down to take pictures of it and look it all over, which anybody can do. There have been pictures in almost every magazine in the United States—design and everything else. A lot of aeronautical magazines have had cross-sections of the mechanical parts. What would you do if you were a Britisher with that information? You would go and build them in Canada, wouldn't you? Well, I would rather have them built here.

Q. That illustration you used of a cross-section in a mechanical magazine, is that a later type than the P-40?

THE PRESIDENT: The one I saw was the P-40. . . .

Q. Did you hear Farley's speech Saturday night on tolerance?

THE PRESIDENT: I read it and thought it was a perfectly grand thing—fine.

And, by the way, that brings up rather an interesting subject that I am in a sort of quandary about, and I think that most of you will sort of sympathize with me. When did we have the last Press Conference—a week ago Friday? Well, somebody at that time asked me about an article by Ernest Lindley; in other words, one of his columns. [This was an article stating that the President had told one of his visitors that James Farley could not be elected President of the United States because of his religion—Editor.] I said I had not read it, which was perfectly true. I did read it afterwards.

Now, here is the predicament; and I would like to have a little help and advice as to what a fellow does about it. You know that every day there are all kinds of columns published in the morning papers and afternoon papers. The best that can be said is that they run the gamut from the so-called respectable columns, which are, oh, about twenty per cent wrong, something like that—I mean, contain a twenty per cent average of misstatements—down to the other column, which we need not characterize, that runs eighty per cent of misstatements.

Now, the question is this: I am asked a question in a Press Conference, "Is such and such a thing true in one of these columns?" It is either one of the respectable columns or one of the other variety.

If I once start, you know, interpreting or answering questions about things written in columns, there is no end. I could not do it. We would have to have a Press Conference every day; and, well, it would be just one continual row between me and the columnists. So, I think for seven years I have always declined to comment on statements that were made in columns on the ground that they were not straight news.

Now, of course, that brings up the question, should I differentiate, should I decline to answer questions about things that are written by the less reputable people, and at the same time answer questions about columns by people like Ernest [Mr. Lindley] and good old Mark Sullivan, et cetera and so on, the four or five so-called respectable columnists? (Laugh. ter)

Now, of course, that creates a class, and it is very difficult, so I have to apply the same rule to the so-called respectable columnists.

Of course, in this case, obviously, those of you who know me—that story of Ernest Lindley was made completely out of whole cloth—obviously. But that is not the point. Of course I never said such a thing about Jim Farley, and the rest of the story was equally false. The point is, though, that after I had said that day that I had not read it—which is perfectly true—and since the next Press Conference was not held- I stayed over at the White House- I was thereupon accused by some of the columnists—deliberately accused because I had not answered it, of having led people to believe that I had given out that interview to that Senator or Congressman, or whoever it was. You see what an awful position that places me in? There is a perfectly simple rule that I do not comment on columnists' stories, but it does not seem to make it easy for me when my living up to the rule is used against me.

Now, the question is, shall we maintain the rule or not? It seems to me the only practicable thing is to maintain the rule and not to characterize as being true or untrue stories of that kind that are written by special writers.

Q. Mr. President, this article was unusual in that it quoted you direct—this Lindley article.

THE PRESIDENT: As having told something to this undisclosed southern statesman?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: There you are! Heavens, half the columnists in that type of story use direct quotes from me to an undisclosed statesman, southern or otherwise. (Laughter) It happens all the time.

Q. How about this daily Press Conference? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I do not think it would be bad at all because Kannee would be taking it down and we would get out a real volume after a while. I wouldn't mind.

Q. When do they start? (Laughter)

Q. May I ask if you are saying that the entire Lindley story was made out of whole cloth and that you did not mention—

THE PRESIDENT: The whole story, because I never talked along that line, in any way, to any distinguished statesman from any point of the compass. . . .

Q. Mr. President, is any consideration being given to returning an Ambassador to Berlin?


Q. In that connection, sir, a story would put it rather definitely that you have in mind the name of Clarence E. Pickett to be Ambassador to Germany?

THE PRESIDENT: I have not heard of it.

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

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