Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

October 10, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: I have a lot of things for you today, for a change. Charity begins at home. This morning Mr. Crim, Head Usher of the White House, came to me and said that he had been rummaging around in the basement, and had turned up about half a ton of copper and brass waste. Now, if that happens in the White House, isn't it reasonable to assume that an awful lot of Government-owned metal, which is not only usable but extremely useful, is lying around all through Washington, and in other Government buildings, and other parts of the country?

This particular metal happened to be some valves and joints, and things like that, that were put aside many years ago, with the idea that they might possibly be used. They are out of date, and they are going to be sent down to the Navy Yard to be melted up. And I am asking Mr. Peters, the Building Superintendent for the District, to go around and make a search, and see what else he can dig up in the way of metals like copper and brass, things we are short of, and deliver them to the nearest point where they can be melted up for Government use. And one building in which you can dig up a half a ton—a thousand pounds—is pretty good. And we hope to do our own housecleaning, so that we can't be charged with not being thorough.

Q. Sounds like Calvin Coolidge.

THE PRESIDENT: Sounds just like President Coolidge all right.(Laughter)

Q. Do you plan to melt up any brass hats? (Loud laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we are doing that now, and we have a much politer term for it. We call it "liquidating." (Laughter) Essentially the same thing. . . .

Q. I want to ask about aluminum, when the time comes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. What about aluminum?

Q. There have been criticisms that the aluminum campaign was a fake, or a phony, that it was not necessary—in very bald language. Do you care to say anything about that?

THE PRESIDENT: Of course it is necessary, because we are terribly short of aluminum in every part of the world. Now, how much actually came in as a result of that campaign you will have to find out from the people who ran it. It was very successful on the whole.

And, the next point is that I am going to broaden out Navy Day, the twenty-seventh of October. I think it should be broadened out. The same way next year—Army Day—we will broaden that out. And the thought is that on the twenty-seventh of October we will call it Navy and Total Defense Day, and I probably am going to go down to the hotel here to a dinner—I think it is under the auspices of the Navy League—and say a few kind words into the microphone.

Number three, I have the checkup on the people who were disqualified under the Selective Service Act for physical, mental, or educational reasons. There were about a million young men rejected, which is about 50 percent, just under— a fraction of a point under 50 percent of all those who were called. That is a pretty serious thing. Something the country ought to take unto itself. The breakdown of this 50 percent, or a million men, is roughly somewhat as follows:

About a hundred thousand of them were turned down because they couldn't meet the fourth-grade educational requirements. Of the other 900,000, they were rejected because of physical or mental disability. So on the basis of that 900,000, this memo shows the percentages of rejection for physical or mental reasons. Dental defects—teeth—188,000. Little over 20 percent of them. That is the principal trouble. Defective eyes 13 and something. Cardiovascular diseases-well, I will call it heart and circulation- relatively the same thing—10 percent. Musculo-skeletal defects 6.8 percent. Venereal disease 6.3 percent- 57,000 people. Mental and nervous diseases 6.3 percent. Hernia 6.2 percent. Defects of the ears, 4.6 percent. Defects of the feet 4 percent. Defective lungs, including T.B., 2.9 percent. And then a very large miscellaneous group, 17 percent. Those include loss of an arm, or a leg, or an eye, or something of that kind. A very large percentage in the miscellaneous group are caused by accidents.

Of this number, General Hershey estimates that 200,000 out of the 900,000 can be completely rehabilitated and made available for general service in the armed forces. Many of the remainder can be rehabilitated to perform only limited service. Some, because of mental and nervous cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, and musculo-skeletal defects, are incapable of rehabilitation, or even limited service, and are therefore not being considered under this new rehabilitation program for the Selective Service registrants.

The initial objective, that I decided on yesterday afternoon in this rehabilitation program, will be the 200,000 registrants who can be completely rehabilitated and made available for general military service, at a relatively small cost and a reasonably short period of time.

Certain types of diseases, such as deficiencies of teeth, operable hernia, venereal diseases, and eyes, and other minor defects, will be corrected in cases where the Army determines that the registrant will then be acceptable for general military service.

It's a long-range thing. It isn't at this time a matter so much of aiding immediate national defense for this year, or the next year, as of getting a stronger race of Americans in the days to come. And that is why this subject is going to be of a good deal of interest in the papers, and to cause people to talk about it. It requires a more detailed study than anything that we have ever attempted. It requires the cooperation of States, and counties, and cities, and townships. And we hope that out of it all, we are going to accomplish something toward the better health of the Nation. One of the phases which we can't approve yet, because we haven't studied it, is the phase that has been talked about a great deal in the past few years, and that is the periodic checkup on everybody.

I suppose, under the Constitution, a person has a right to die at an early age. But I think what we call government, local government, State government, has a right to say to that fellow, "Now, look, don't die. Why don't you get better? Why let this thing go on?"—and know more or less as to whether that individual insists on dying or not. Constitutionally, he has the right to do it. But the Government ought to know what his attitude is. (Laughter) . . .

Q. Mr. President, that 100,000 rejected because they haven't a fourth-grade education, are they people who cannot be educated?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. People who are poor, as well as ignorant.

Q. Will anything be done about them?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that is of course primarily—always has been—a State matter, because the Federal Government's educational work has always been limited to suggestions, and a clearing house of information for all the States' educational departments. It is primarily a State matter.

Q. (interposing) Mr. President —

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing) Education is a local problem.

Q. Would you not favor Federal aid to education?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't like to say "yes" or "no" to that question. As we know, there are certain sections of the United States that are so poor that their tax valuations- their assessments —are necessarily insufficient to bring in the revenue to run modern and adequate schools. Now, perhaps some day we may come to some form of Government aid for, not the poorer, but the poorest sections of the United States. As it is, this only proves that they can't afford to educate their own children, but I don't think that the Federal Government ought to undertake running the educational field. A great majority of States have pretty good educational systems. And certainly the richer States do not need any Federal money.

Q. Are the people who are handicapped in health, and in education, grouped in any particular part of the country, or are they pretty —

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Well, that depends; there are many classifications. It is perfectly true that the larger part of the people who failed in education come from the South. Now, when you come down to the medical and dental end of it, in some diseases there is a greater proportion in the North. As to some, there is a greater proportion in the West. And some of these cases, the greater proportion is in the South. I don't know. I haven't got the figures, so it's a general guess on my part. I would say, offhand, that on the heart disease thing, and the nervous disorders, you would find a higher percentage coming from the cities than you would from the farms. Now that's just guess. But it is based on what you might call common sense reasoning. We farmers are not so nervous as you city slickers. . . . (Laughter)

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

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