Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Excerpts from the Press Conference

February 18, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think there is much news that you haven't already got. You saw Averell Harriman when he went out. That is a thing that has been in the process of discussion for a month or six weeks. When Harry Hopkins came back, what we thought probably would be a need has rather definitely become a need; so Averell Harriman is going over in about ten days. As soon as the defense program under the lend-spend, lend-lease—whatever you call it—bill is perfected more or less, he will go over and—Oh, I suppose you will all ask about his title, so I thought I would invent one. I talked over with him what his title would be, and we decided it was a pretty good idea to call him an "Expediter." There's a new one for you. I believe it is not in the diplomatic list or any other list. So he will go over as "Defense Expediter."

That doesn't conform with anything you ever heard of before—but that doesn't mean it isn't an excellent idea. We won't send his name to the Senate—it won't be that kind of job; and that is neither here nor there. He will be Defense Expediter, and he is going in about two weeks.

Q. Is this a permanent proposition?

THE PRESIDENT: No; we talked it over and both agreed that he probably ought to come back here at the end of, say, three months or four months to take what they call in industry a "refresher course" to find out what has happened over here and bring himself up to date in regard to the American production program, and then go on back.

Q. He anticipates there will be contracts, understandings, and agreements, and so forth under the lease-lend?

THE PRESIDENT: Most of that contract work will be ours over here.

Q. I mean somebody has to keep the records to find what they are getting.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes; and another thing that Hopkins took up was the matter of priorities. I had a very interesting talk this morning, just to give you a new slant on priorities, with Anne O'Hare McCormick, and she said, "In working out priorities, can you list them as l, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6?" I said, "No, that is exactly the point; there may be half a dozen different things, different articles, which would all be in the Priority 1 group; now if you list them— say there are 6 of them—as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, the general impression of the public is that No. 1 is more important than No. 6; so what you ought to do is to list all 6 under the figure 1. In other words, they may all be equally important."I think that is something just for your own guidance; that should be explained in writing stories that there is no such thing as saying one particular article is Priority 1. There may be half a dozen that are Priority 1.

Q. Has the lease-lend got to such a point, or have you discussed it, where we send them a thousand units of X and there is an understanding that we get back a thousand units of Y?

THE PRESIDENT: No. In other words, Pete [Brandt], I can tell you exactly what happened yesterday or day before, when I was talking about this thing. We may take time by the forelock, because we want to be ready to shoot just as soon as we are given the green light by Congress. Let me put it this way:

We have, let us say, a column showing what we have on order at the present time for our own Army and Navy; it is very simple to work that up to a boiled-down program so as to get hundreds of pages of orders onto one sheet or one column, and that is divided up into deliveries- expected deliveries; in other words, what they call a "flow sheet." Column 1 will be '41, column 2 will be '42 calendar year, for put-off deliveries, stuff we have already ordered.

Then comes another double column, what the British have already ordered, divided between a 1941 and '42. That is very easy to get.

Then comes a third double column, what we are expecting to order; in other words, the stuff that will be all for our immediate Army and Navy out of the new bills that are up on the Hill today, or will be shortly—deficiency bills, supplementary estimates, and the annual Army and Navy Appropriation Bills for the fiscal year 1942. You see there are three different kinds up there for us. That will be divided into those double columns of 1941 and 1942.

Then you get a fourth category, which is the list the British give us of things that they need which are not on order, and that is the column that the lend-lease bill is about. That will be divided between 1941 delivery and 1942 delivery. Then on the right-hand side of the page you have got a sum total of all of these things which are on order or we expect or hope to place on order this spring.

Then of course you come to a question of working in-dovetailing—the priorities between all these different types of things—four different types: On order by us and the British, and to be ordered by us and the British. That is what they are working on so as to get an over-all picture of the whole scheme, looking as far ahead as we can.

Q. Might there be transfers from one column to another?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, a small amount of transfers.

Q. Haven't the British already started making their list in anticipation?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, coming along very well.

Q. Mr. President, where is the column showing the stuff we can spare?

THE PRESIDENT: There is some transfer in this, a relatively small percentage; for instance, it is in the bill as it passed the House, from the money point of view—what was it?—a billion-three, out of former appropriations.

Q. Mr. President, what is Mr. Harriman's relation to our Embassy over there? Does he represent you directly?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know, and I don't care. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, how does he report?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know, and I don't care.

Q. Is it part of the Office of Production Management?

THE PRESIDENT: I suppose he will report to the proper authorities.

Q. That means you. . . .

Q. Mr. President, did you have an opportunity to examine an open letter in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (February 15, 1941) about what men past draft age can do?

THE PRESIDENT: I did; and I thought it was a very interesting story. I have got it right here. It is by a former marine who is past draft age. This is an open letter, of which the general tenor is—well, there are three things in it, really. It starts off: "A good many times when we were lying around in the mud in 1918 —"

meaning over in France

"—we said, somewhat bitterly: 'When the next war comes along we'll go down to the corner and cheer. We'll take off our hats and salute the boys who are marching away. And then we'll dive into the nearest restaurant and order a big steak. With onions.'"

Then he goes on and he says (the President paraphrasing) the other night a lot of draftees were marching away, and they watched and they cheered and then they went into the nearest restaurant and ordered a big steak, with onions—a fine steak, but it had no taste; so apparently, it won't work. When one's country is facing an uncertain future, one cannot fail to be concerned—which brings us to the point. "What we want to know," he says, "is this: What is our part in the current job? What can we do?"

In other words, there are the older fellows, who want to do something and do not quite know what they should do. And that is one of the things that we have been giving a lot of thought to. Quite a lot of people are working on the problem, men and women who want to do something back home, too old to go to the front, Army or Navy. What can they do? They want to do something.

Of course, really, there are two answers; and I suppose, to use a very much overworked word, the word "priority" applies to people as well as it does to machines and tools, people who are doing any kind of useful work in their own community, performing service.

I got a letter the other day from a driver of a school bus up in Dutchess County, 52 years old, who wanted to do something. Well, he is taking kiddies to school every morning and taking them back every night. Somebody has to do it, and he is performing useful service at the present time, probably as useful as is possible for that fellow to do. He ought to be satisfied. He is really doing something.

And the fellow who is running an automobile garage does a lot—another friend of mine up there. He wants to do something. He is performing a useful service to his community. He repairs automobiles and rills them with gas at the present time. . . .

I take it this marine has some regular, steady job that is a useful job in his community, and he is doing it today. Now, as time goes on, it may be necessary for us to—how shall I put it?—do a lot of picking and choosing of some of these people, because they may be needed in other things connected with defense. We might have to increase the defense personnel; but as far as we can tell at the present time the increase in the total on immediate operations of defense is growing in a normal way.

At the same time in these communities there are a lot more things that can be done, and that is what we are studying. We are studying better health of the communities, better physical education of boys and girls and middle-aged people. You remember a few weeks ago I accused you all of being physically soft; you are still. We may put in some kind of Swedish exercises out on the front lawn in front of the Executive Offices, and I will lead you- from a chair. (Laughter)

There are lots of things that can be done through local cooperation, and I think what we call the home defense thing is coming along pretty well. We will have some kind of a plan within a week or two—I keep putting it off—that will indicate from a central point what might be called ideal programs, leaving it to the communities—in other words, decentralization—as to how best to carry them out in communities and States. They are not ready for anything on it yet. I haven't got down to it yet, but I will pretty soon.

Q. Mr. President, the destroyer program is running ahead of schedule; is there anything you can tell us on that, in general terms?

THE PRESIDENT: I would say, of course- look, here's the thing: it's awfully hard to explain in a story, but you set out a goal for a year, or two years, ahead; what is it? It's an estimate; it may be a good estimate or it may be a bad estimate. In the case of plane production, about—what?—a month and a half ago, Mr. Knudsen said he was not satisfied, that he was 30 percent behind his guess that he had made. He couldn't tell you whether his guess was right, or whether it was too high or too low.

In the case of destroyers, the Navy Department made a guess as to how long it would take to turn them out; and that was back- oh, what?— about the first of November. I read their guess and I said, "I know enough myself, just as a layman, to know that your guess is silly—turning out destroyers in 24 to 30 months; in the World War, I turned out destroyers in 10 months." So they revised their estimate; they have nearly cut it in half. Now I don't know whether they are going to live up to that new estimate or not, but the construction of destroyers is speeding up very materially. As I said once before, I don't know whether it is going fast enough yet; if it goes fast and you are tickled to death, the next thing you do is to make it go still faster. . . .

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