Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference for the American Society of Newspaper Editors

February 12, 1943

Q. Perhaps you will tell us something about your trip to Africa.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, on this African trip, there are certain things that I suppose everybody ought to realize—it is rather difficult to realize—and that is that in a world war there are a lot of Nations involved. You can't leave things to the military, otherwise nothing gets done. Now that's a dreadful thing to say, but the fact is that if you get almost all Admirals and Generals from different Nations, or even one Nation, talking over future plans, they spend a month or two in talking about why each plan or suggestion won't work—get just a series of Noes.

On the other hand, if you get certain laymen to stick pins into them all the time—prod them, if you like- and say you have got to have an answer to this, that, and the other thing within so many days, you get an answer. And that is true in this war—partly true in the last war.

And that is why, after the November landing in North Africa, Winston Churchill and I started the military and the naval and the air to work on plans; and by about the first of January we found that it wouldn't be until late spring before they had plans, if they were left to themselves. It's a perfectly natural thing; they are all technicians.

So we decided that we would have them meet. I am afraid we met so that we could stick the pins in. And the result was that, when we got there, we gave them a week to bring out plans that were based on technical things—war operations during the balance of the war. And at the end of a week they were substantially completed; and in the next three days they were actually put down on paper and approved by everybody.

Well, of course, it also emphasized what we had come to learn a year ago, when Churchill was here in January and again in June, and that is that the military or the naval can't simply say, "Now we are going to do this," press a button and have it done in a week or two weeks, or a month or two months, or three months. No human being can do that, where large operations overseas are involved.

And I suppose it's perfectly obvious to all of us by now, that the lesson of last fall, when everybody was yelling for a second front, has been pretty well learned. The second front had been not only planned but was in process of being organized and put through. But it took from July until November to perfect and actually put into operation the landings in North Africa. Well, of course, that is true with any large body of men, or even any large transportation problem for the Navy.

And another thing—when we got there on the fourteenth of January, Mr. Churchill and I decided it would be a great chance to see if we couldn't bring General Charles de Gaulle and General Henri Honore Giraud together.

I said, jokingly, "Now we'll call Giraud the bridegroom, and I'll produce him from Algiers next Saturday afternoon. And you get the bride—de Gaulle—from London, and we will get them down here, and we'll have a shotgun wedding." (Laughter)

Well, Saturday afternoon came, and I had my man there, but Winston couldn't produce the bride. (Laughter) And it took- oh- until the following Friday morning before we could get de Gaulle there.

And then came the two days of conversations between them. And Churchill and I kept discreetly out of it, except that we got every afternoon a report of no progress; except that they had said, "Apres vous, Gaston"—"Apres vous, Alphonse"—and got nowhere. (Laughter)

So we got down to Sunday morning, and we were to leave—Churchill and I—at noon; and after great effort I got them to sign two very simple sentences. The first was that the one great objective that they both could agree on was the liberation of France. The second was that they would continue to meet together and confer, so that they could work as closely in unity as possible toward that objective. I had to pull of[ some little dramatics to get them to do it.

Then we went out on the lawn to get photographed. And we had- some of you may have seen it- the row of four chairs: Churchill, de Gaulle, and me, and Giraud. Some of you people in the East have seen a little photographer that used to follow me around the country in the old days-Sammy Schulman. He is a great boy, Sammy is. And there he was in Army uniform, in front of us with his camera. And I worked it out beforehand with Sammy. After the pictures of the four of us were taken, Sammy Schulman in the front row said, "Oh, Mr. President, can we have a picture of the two Generals shaking hands?" (Laughter) So I translated Sammy to Giraud, and Giraud said, "Mais, oui," and he got right up and held out his hand. It took Churchill and myself five minutes to persuade de Gaulle to get on his feet to shake hands. And we got them to do it. And I think you have all got that picture. If you run into a copy of the picture, look at the expression on de Gaulle's face! (Laughter) However, the main point was that we got them together.

And, of course, on North Africa, there have been an awful lot of sincere people- especially what we call "liberals"-who were awfully upset by certain events in North Africa. Well, there are two things that have to be made perfectly clear, and the first is that we have a line of communications from Casablanca—oh, about a thousand miles long to get to the fighting front, and about 700 miles long from the landing port of Oran, and about 500 miles long from Algiers. We are going through country which until you have been there—I had no idea of it until I got there- is a country that is so heterogeneous.

Morocco, for instance, is not a French colony. It's only in the last thirty-one years that there has been a French Protectorate over what is known officially as the Riffian Empire of Morocco, with a Sultan who is the spiritual and the temporal leader.

The Moors represent ninety-something percent of the population. And the French rule the place with a very light hand. They are good colonizers, only they are not colonizing there. They are doing well. They are building roads for Morocco. They are improving agriculture. They are gradually putting in education, but they so far give no vote to the Moorish population, which is over 90 percent.

Now they like the French who are there over them, because the French understand them. They have had experience, and they don't want any change. And the Sultan is an intimate friend of the French Governor.

Well, it's a perfectly simple thing; this French Governor Auguste Nogues—is all for one party. He is a very definite partisan. He is for Nogues. (Laughter) And what he wants is to keep his position as Governor of Morocco, in a beautiful marble palace built by Marechal Lyautey in the old days right near to the Sultan, in Rabat. Nogues has been there for seven or eight years, and he is no more pro-Hitler than I am, or pro-Laval. He is pro-Nogues—and the palace.

Well, it's much better in the rear of our armies to keep a perfectly nice, quiet position in Morocco than it is to go off chasing rainbows as to the future of France.

Well, as to the future of France, I think everybody is agreed that we must not exercise any influence by any act or deed today—by recognizing this, that, or the other individual as to what that future has got to be. It has got to be chosen by the people of France at the end of the war. And that is why you have the great efforts by de Gaulle to be recognized as what he calls "L'esprit de France," "L'ame de France"-"The spirit of France," "The soul of France." Nobody is going to do that, because it would give an unfair advantage. Giraud wants to be recognized as the representative of France all over the world. I said, "No. That will give you an unfair advantage. Let France choose her own government. In the meanwhile, run your own little bailiwick wherever you may happen to be."

There has been so much ink spilled by people in this country—and people who talk on the Hill, and elsewhere—about it, and they don't know one blessed thing about it. You have to go there to understand it.

Now things are going along all right. What I want is the support of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Now that is, after all, the main thing now, with the definite assurance that we are going to let France choose its own form of government at the end of the war. With the one proviso, you might say, that neither France nor any other Nation should be allowed to choose a Nazi or a Fascist form of government. I think that is fairly clear.

Then the other principal thing—except I was very much interested to see the development of different types of colonization in West Africa. It hasn't been good.

And on the way back —you know, it's an amazing thing. On Wednesday I flew 650 miles in the morning, down to Liberia. I had the President of Liberia to lunch with me at our camp. I flew back to Gambia in the afternoon. I left. I had supper on a cruiser that was in the harbor. I got on a plane at 10:30 P.M. I got to Natal, Brazil, in the morning, and I had lunch with President Vargas that day.

It's an amazing thing: Wednesday in Liberia, Thursday in Brazil!

And I don't like flying! (Laughter)

Not one bit. The more I do of it, the less I like it.

It has been a great menace, more than we realize in this war, the fact that the Germans had it in their power to take over Dakar and use it as a raider and submarine base. It's a direct threat against Brazil and this continent, the West Indies, and so forth.

And I think when the war is over, we have got to take certain steps. First, to demilitarize western Africa all the way down. And second, possibly to have a strong point either in Dakar or Bathurst, where we will have sufficient air strength, and sufficient Navy, and sufficient airfields, and so forth, to prevent any aggressor Nation in the future from reestablishing a threat against this continent.

Well, as to details I have no idea; it isn't worth talking about. But you have an objective. When people ask the details about an objective, I say, "I am not interested," or "I am not ready to talk," or "We haven't studied the methods and the details." We can all agree on the objectives. I never worry very much if we have a six months' debate in the press or Congress as to methods or details, as long as we are agreed on objective.

I think that is one of the things that would help the country an awful lot if we could all bring it out. The objective is the principal thing. And most of us, 90 percent of us, I think, can agree on the objective. Make it clear that the other part of it is good space-filler, and of real use, because it makes people think. All right. But no hard feelings over a difference on detail, if we are agreed on the objective ....

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

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