Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

August 23, 1940

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't got any news this morning except the release that Steve [Mr. Early] will give you afterwards, a statement on the signing of the Investment Company Act of 1940, which is accompanied by the Investment Advisers' Act of 1940, legislation that both Houses of the Congress passed unanimously. And this is a great clarification; it is an aid to small business; honest business, and part of the regular Administration program in social legislation that was very much needed, as shown by experience from time to time. It is about a page and a half long and I am not going to read it to you. Steve [Mr. Early] will give it to you. It has all kinds of details.

There isn't any news. You saw the appointment of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense yesterday. They are to meet on Monday in Ottawa for organization purposes and to start to work.

There is no news whatsoever on conversations with Great Britain in regard to bases or destroyers or anything else. Just plain "ain't no news." It will save you all time.

Q. [Mr. Charles Hurd] Mr. President, would you care to comment on the wisdom of this Senate proposition to postpone conscription to January first and give the volunteer system a further trial?

THE PRESIDENT: Personally, I am absolutely opposed to the postponement because it means in these days—and we all know what the world situation is—nearly a year of delay. We have to remember, furthermore, that while we have been concentrating this summer on letting orders for new equipment, a very large portion of that equipment will begin to be delivered late this autumn or early in the spring, and while we knew beforehand that manpower without equipment was no use, we are getting to the point now of saying that equipment without manpower is no use.

The Secretary of War gave me some points—I asked him for some points in regard to this legislation, I mean, the selective draft as a whole. He pointed out that to fill up the . present units of the Army to full strength, that is to say the regular Army and National Guard and the Reserves, will require nearly 400,000 men and that even at the present high rate of voluntary recruiting this will require a year. Now, we cannot afford a year. In other words, time is of the essence. In addition to filling up present units, we need another 400,000 men to create the additional necessary supporting troops in the shape of corps troops, Army, and G.H.Q. troops that are necessary to make the combat division of the regular Army and the National Guard function as an organized team. To recruit these additional 400,000 men would take nearly a year more on the basis of the present high basis of recruiting.

Then, in the present maneuvers one of the important factors that was shown was not the lack of willingness of the men—they were completely willing and earnest in their work—but we have proved one thing pretty conclusively this year and last year, and that is that we have too many men that are soft. In other words, put it this way: that a 15' mile march is a terrible physical strain; and we know that on the other side of the ocean there are certain armies that are perfectly capable of marching thirty miles a day. In warfare that means an awful lot- an awful lot- hardness, physical stability.

Then he made the other point that if we put off increasing the Army to its definite needs, until sometime next spring, it is going to put off the whole defense program, as a whole, about a year, nearly a year, because of the fact that we have the equipment for all these new men now. I will give you a very simple example, if the ladies will pardon me. It is very nice to be able to order special Army B.V.D.'s. (Laughter) You know what B.V.D.'s are?

Q. [Miss Craig] Yes, I have heard. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Now, it does not make an awful lot of difference whether we have a special Army order for B.V.D.'s or whether we go into the average- what do they call it?—haberdashery store and buy them. There are plenty of B.V.D.'s in the United States. The same way with shoes. It is awfully nice to have completely uniform shoes for everybody in an army-delightful—but there are plenty of good marching and working shoes that are in the stores of the United States. So, any question about not having that kind of equipment for them is just plain nonsense.

Now, when it comes to rifles, we know that we have plenty of rifles in reserve for all the men that would have to be taught to drill with rifles. Furthermore, on this training question, there are large numbers of things in modern war which people do not realize. For instance, you fellows, you would not be, most of you, any good whatsoever, because. you do not know any of these technical trades; besides which, you would, nearly all of you, be soft. (Laughter) Well, we all know it—I am soft too—for defense purposes.

But there are all kinds of things that a modern army has to know about, a vast number of men, for instance, who have got to learn all about the use of "walkie-talkies." Now, that is not a movie term, it is an Army term. The "walkie-talkie" is a portable field radio set that you carry on the back of a man, and you are able to talk through that portable field radio set to the Colonel in command of the next regiment or, if it is an extended operation, to the Lieutenant Colonel or Major in charge of your next door battalion, which may be a half mile away, beyond the range of voice, and you can talk to him through one of these little portable field sets. There isn't anyone in this room who knows how to run one of those, and there are darned few people in the country. We need to train them.

Take, for instance, one of those new detectors to detect approaching airplanes. Well, we are going to have detectors, but it takes a lot of technical training to be able to run one of those detectors. Furthermore, they open up a wide field, all of these things, in the subject of cooperation among the .different units of an army, and these new instruments open up a new line to American troops, and they have to be trained to use that line.

We have the new problem of cooperation between air troops and ground troops, and our progress is rudimentary. I use the word advisedly—"rudimentary"—at the present time. There is no use to train ten men when you have to have a thousand. That is the easiest way of putting it. You have to have actual trained manpower.

And then, finally, all of this new training they say is thorough and novel, and the Secretary of War says the Army cannot practice efficiently as a team until it is filled up to full strength and until the men are physically hardened. (Reading)

"To inject a large number of untrained men at a later date will serve to postpone by just that delay the effective development of the Army as a team."

Well, the gist of it is that if we do not get a bill right away, this fall—I don't mean this fall, I mean in the next couple of weeks—we are going to have a real delay in getting our team together. They have had discussions on this, in Committee and in the House and Senate, as I remember it, since the twentieth day of June. Is that right?

Q. Right.

THE PRESIDENT: I think the bills were put in on the twentieth day of June and they are still talking about it. There has been no action on either one, and it is now the twenty-third of August, and that is why I am asking for action now.

Q. [MR. HURD] Thank you. May I impose one other question on you?

THE PRESIDENT: All right. I may give you an equally long answer. I can't tell. (Laughter)

Q. [MR. HURD] I think we can survive it. Have you had any reports about the discovery of Nazi bases in the Caribbean area?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Steve [Mr. Early] told me about the story. I did not even read it. We are checking up. The only thing I can say is that the check-up may disclose something and perhaps it won't; because we have checked in the past on a lot of similar stories, and they have turned out to be figments of the imagination. Maybe this one won't. . . .

Q. To get these figures straight, does this contemplate an army of 1,200,000 a year from this fall?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I haven't got the tables down here, but I should say so, offhand—about. Of course you have about 400,000 now and need two more increments. It would be about a million and a quarter men. . . .

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

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