Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

October 24, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: You will have to wait a minute and see if I can find something which Steve [Early] says there's a story on. I am not sure whether I can find it or not. (Laughter) (Looking through papers in his workbasket) That's not it. I guess that's it. I guess I can make something out of it. Yes, that's it. (Pause) Just let me take a glance at it. (Pause)

Well, now that the Lend-Lease bill has passed both Houses, although it is still in conference, I think it is all right for you to say something about the development and extension of the whole program of supplies for our own Army and Navy for the future, and also under lend-lease. Studies are being made along this line with the eventual objective of looking ahead as far as is possible, because, as you know, things change all the time. It might be called a comprehensive program- call it an all-out program. Those studies have been going on for two or three months, and they are of course not ready for presentation as a whole at this time. That will come later. But, in the meantime, in making these studies, there are certain items that appear to be of immediate importance in the sense that the starting of these particular items was not dependent on the whole program.

One of them, for example, is the question of tanks, and we've agreed on a very great increase of the tank program. I suppose that the tank problem is as good an illustration of what happens in a world war as anything else.

About a year ago last spring, all of our Army people, with the best information that could be got from the people who are actively fighting against Hitlerism, caused our experts to lay down a tank program which met with the general approval of everybody, all the experts both here and abroad. And that program was, of course, immediately undertaken, and I might almost say it's in full swing at the present time. Actual deliveries have been made for a good many months, and we are reaching the peak of production in it, according to the original program.

Now, since then, certain factors appeared which nobody could tell about over a year ago. The use of tanks in certain areas, not necessarily all areas, but certain areas, has become more important relatively than was believed a year and a half ago, and that is why for some time we have been working on this increase in the tank program. The Army will give me the actual request for funds of which the tank item is the largest. Many thousands more tanks, and of course, in addition, certain other critical items of ordnance connected with tanks, are part of the developing program which I hope to have—I won't say in final form, because nothing is final, but it is in a fairly complete, rounded picture. . . .

I can't give you any actual figures, except that the program on, for instance, tanks, will be vastly greater than it is today, and it is realistic. It will mean the increase of output in existing plants, and will probably mean new plants. These are known immediate needs of essential ordnance items. And probably the request for this will go up fairly soon, with an appropriation to be put into the next appropriation bill. . . .

Q. Mr. President, it was just a short time ago that you told us that you were going to give the totals of aircraft production hereafter, but not break it down into categories-

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) I don't think we will give you even the totals.

Q. I was wondering what was making the change?

THE PRESIDENT: Because it's information that the other side would like to have. . . .

Q. Mr. President, there have been some discussions in the defense agencies of doubling the heavy bomber program too. Can you tell us anything about that?

THE PRESIDENT: No. That's what they would like to know, too.

Q. Mr. President, might it be said that you try to conceal large numbers given you instead of small numbers? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: It reminds me—I don't know—I have probably told you this story many times before.

During the World War in the early summer of 1918, we were getting an awful lot of men over to Europe. Of course, they weren't equipped. We all know that. We didn't send any artillery with them, and we didn't send any planes with them, so when they got there they had to be furnished with French or British equipment. Still an awful lot of men to keep secret, and we were pretty happy about the whole thing. They were actually being landed.

And we had a policy, as you know, of complete secrecy about numbers, and that lasted all through the early summer of 1918. And everybody was asking the same question: "Why this secrecy? Does it mean an awful lot of men, or are they behind schedule?"

Well, I got over to Paris in early July, and they had a meeting of the Inter-Allied Naval Council, and of the Army end of it, and they talked a couple of days as to whether the time hadn't come to do a little boasting. And so we came out with a big splurge announcing that we had got—I don't know what it was—a million and a quarter men, actually in France. And I was deputed to receive the French press, and tell them that the Navy, in cooperation with the British and the French, had very greatly cut down on submarine sinkings, and that our Navy had a complete line of anti-submarine aircraft patrol the whole length of the west coast of France, Bay of Biscay, et cetera.

And the French press came in, and I told them the story, and I made it just as big as I possibly could. In other words, the psychological moment had arrived, which made it perfectly clear to Germany that they couldn't win under any possible circumstances. And it's a question of timing. And the thing went through, and of course it leaked back to Germany and probably was done in just about the right way.

I personally had a little episode that was very funny. I received the French press at 11:00 A.M. in the hotel. And the people in charge of it had prepared one end of the room as a bar, with all the champagne and hots d'oeuvres, et cetera, that you could put on it.

Well, I went in there. It was a great, big room. And the French press arrived at 11:00 A.M., and they were all in full dress suits, with white ties. (Laughter) And they weren't the working newspapermen—a few were—nearly all of them were the redacteurs—the editors—of the papers. They were having the privilege of being received by "Monsieur le Ministre." Apparently it created the most awful furor.

Well, I had a translator there, and he started in trying to translate. He couldn't translate it, so I sat on the edge of the table, and in perfectly awful French told the story. "Well," I said, "go ahead and ask questions." Well, that was something that they had never heard of in the newspaper business in France—asking questions of a "Ministre." Unheard of. So they asked a few questions, and I answered them as far as I was allowed to. And then at the end, one of these editors in the full dress suit said, "Monsieur le Ministre, is it really true that in Washington the members of the Cabinet receive the press once a day?" I said, "Yes. Twice a day." (Laughter) At the time I thought nothing of it.

Next morning I went around to breakfast with old man Clemenceau, and as I went into the room, Clemenceau came at me, just like a tiger, with his claws out- (holding up his hands). He said, "Ah, you overthrow my Government. You overthrow my Government." (Laughter) "You lose the war." Well, I was horrified. I said, "Oh my, what have I done?" He said, "The French news men, they come—they want to see me—they want to see me and my Cabinet once a day, and some of them say twice a day." (Laughter) "I will resign first." (More laughter) So I darn near overthrew the Government and lost the war. . . .

Q. Mr. President, we have a story that one or two papers issued, about a seaman in Honolulu who said he passed through the Red Sea. His ship, he said, was subjected to a very severe Nazi bombing. He said that they couldn't hit a bull with a bass fiddle, but indicated that there is a great deal of that in that area. Are you aware of that, or have you had anything on that line?

THE PRESIDENT: No. The only thing I heard on that was that Hitler had been going to one of the few prominent Jews left in Germany, and told him that he could stay, if he would explain to him how Moses managed to get the waters to stand aside and let the Children of Israel across. (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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