Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Churchill

December 23, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: I am sorry to have taken so long for all of you to get in, but apparently—I was telling the Prime Minister the object was to prevent a wolf from coming in here in sheep's clothing. (Laughter) But I was thereby mixing my metaphors, because I had suggested to him this morning that if he came to this conference he would have to be prepared to meet the American press, who, compared with the British press- as was my experience in the old days are "wolves" compared with the British press "lambs."

However, he is quite willing to take on a conference, because we have one characteristic in common. We like new experiences in life.

I only have one or two things. And the first is I will get myself out of the way first—the first is that I have established the Office of Defense Transportation, in the Executive Office of the President. They are to coordinate all of the transportation policies and the activities of the several Federal agencies and private transportation groups, compile and analyze estimates of the requirements of the future, and coordinate and direct domestic traffic movements. They will have in the Office a Division of Railway Transportation, a Division of Motor Transport, a Division of Inland Waterway Transport, a Division of Coastwise and Inter-Coastal Transport, and such other operating and staff divisions as the Director may determine.

And I have appointed Mr. Joe Eastman to the position of Director, and asked the Interstate Commerce Commission to give him leave of absence for that purpose.

I think that is all that I have.

If you want to know something about plans for the immediate future, I think last night's statement covered the great purpose and the objective of the conference Mr. Churchill and I are having with the staffs.

And we want to make it clear that this is a preliminary British-American conference, but that thereby no other Nations are excluded from the general objective of defeating Hitlerism in the world. Just for example, I think the Prime Minister this morning has been consulting with the Dominions. That is especially important, of course, in view of the fact that Australia and New Zealand are very definitely in the danger zone; and we are working out a complete unity of action in regard to the Southwest Pacific. In addition to that, there are a good many Nations besides our own that are at war.

THE PRIME MINISTER; (interposing) Canada.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Canada, the Prime Minister suggests, is also—

THE PRIME MINISTER: (interposing) In the line.

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing)—in the line- both sides of Canada. I think it is all right to say that Mr. Mackenzie King will be here later on.

In regard to the other Nations, such as the Russians, the Chinese, the Dutch, and a number of other Nations which are- shall I say—overrun by Germany, but which still maintain governments which are operating in the common cause, they also will be on the inside in what we are doing.

In addition to that, there arc various other Nations, for example a number of American Republics which are actually in the war, and another number of American Republics which although not acting under a declaration of war are giving us very definite and much-needed assistance. It might be called on their part "active non-belligerency."

At five o'clock we are having a staff meeting. We have already had a meeting with the State Department officials, and during the next few days decisions will materialize. We can't give you any more news about them at this time, except to say that the whole matter is progressing very satisfactorily.

Steve [Early] and I first thought that I would introduce the Prime Minister, and let him say a few words to you good people, by banning questions. However, the Prime Minister did not go along with that idea, and I don't blame him. He said that he is perfectly willing to answer any reasonable questions for a reasonably short time, if you want to ask him .... And so I am going to introduce him, and you to him and tell you that we are very, very happy to have him here ....

And so I will introduce the Prime Minister.

(To the Prime Minister) I wish you would just stand up for one minute and let them see you. They can't see you.

(Applause greeted the Prime Minister when he stood up, but when he climbed onto his chair so that they could see him better, loud and spontaneous cheers and applause rang through the room.)

THE PRESIDENT: (to the press) Go ahead and shoot.

Q. What about Singapore, Mr. Prime Minister? The people of Australia are terribly anxious about it. Would you say to be of good cheer?

THE PRIME MINISTER: We are going to do our utmost to defend Singapore and its approaches until the situation becomes so favorable to us that the general offensive in the Pacific can be resumed.

Q. Thank you, sir.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, isn't Singapore the key to the whole situation out there?

THE PRIME MINISTER: The key to the whole situation is the resolute manner in which the British and American democracies are going to throw themselves into the conflict. As a geographical and strategic point it obviously is of very high importance.

Q. Mr. Minister, could you tell us what you think of conditions within Germany the morale?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, I have always been feeling that one of these days we might get a windfall coming from that quarter, but I don't think we ought to count on it. Just go on as if they were keeping on as bad as they are, or as good as they are. And then one of these days, as we did in the last war, we may wake up and find we ran short of Huns. (Laughter)

Q. Do you think the war is turning in our favor in the last month or so?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I can't describe the feelings of relief with which I find Russia victorious, the United States and Great Britain standing side by side. It is incredible to anyone who has lived through the lonely months of 1940. It is incredible. Thank God.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, there have been suggestions from various sources that possibly the German retreat- or the Russian success- has some element of trickery in it, that the Germans are not particularly routed. In other words, a bit of camouflage. Can you throw any light on that, or do you care to?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, it is only my opinion, but I think that they have received a very heavy rebuff. Hitler prophesied that he would take Moscow in a short time. Now his armies are joggling backwards over this immense front, wondering where he can find a place to winter. It won't be a comfortable place. They have had immense losses. And the Russians have shown a power of resiliency, a gift of modern warfare under their leader, Stalin, which has rendered immense service to the world cause.

Q. Mr. Minister, can you tell us when you think we may lick these boys?

THE PRIME MINISTER: If we manage it well, it will only take half as long as if we manage it badly. (Laughter)

Q. How long, sir, would it take if we managed it badly?

THE PRIME MINISTER: That has not been revealed to me at this moment. We don't need to manage it badly.

Q. How long if we manage it well, sir?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, it would be imprudent to indulge in a facile optimism at the moment.

Q. Do you favor a personal conference of yourself, Mr. Roosevelt, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek?

THE PRIME MINISTER: In principle, yes. (Laughter)

Q. Do you think it is important, Mr. Prime Minister, that our American war materials continue to go, to some extent at least, through the Middle East and to Russia during this particular period?

THE PRIME MINISTER: My feeling is that the military power and munitions power of the United States are going to develop on such a great scale that the problem will not so much be whether to choose between this and that, but how to get what is available to all the theaters in which we have to wage this World War.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, in one of your speeches you mentioned three or four of the great climacterics. Would you now add our entry into the war as one of those, sir?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I think I may almost say, "I sure do."(Laughter)

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, during your talks here, will you take up economic, and diplomatic, and postwar problems?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I hope not too much on them. Well, really, we have to concentrate on the grim emergencies, and when we have solved them, we shall be in a position to deal with the future of the world in a manner to give the best results, and the most lasting results, for the common peoples of all the lands. But one has only a certain amount of life and strength, and only so many hours in the day, and other emergencies press upon us too much to be drawn into those very, very complicated, tangled, and not in all cases attractive jungles.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, can you say anything now about the prospect of an anti-Axis command on those discussions?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I think it would be very difficult to arrange. What you require is the broad blocking in of the main plans by the principal personages in charge of the action of the different states, and then the release of that to the highest military expert authorities for execution. But this is a war which is absolutely- literally world-wide, proceeding at the same time from one end of the globe to the other, and in the air, on the land, and on the sea. I do not think there has ever been a man born- even if he were Napoleon, he wouldn't know anything about the air—who could assume the functions of world commander in chief for the—I would say associated powers. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, are you giving consideration to creation of an Allied supplies command, whereby materials of the anti-Axis powers would be allocated under a central agency?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, there is the very closest liaison between our people over here and the United States officers. Lord Beaverbrook is here with an executive staff, and we have, I believe, quite a large staff here, and they are in the closest accord. Then at the summit of the problem is a fairly simple one of allocation in accordance with the emergency. And of course, the rule we have got to follow is to see how much we can help each other. It should be a rivalry in mutual helpfulness, and that is the only one.

Q. Mr. Minister, do you anticipate a German offensive on a new front in the near future?

THE PRIME MINISTER; There is a lot of talk about their coming along and making an attack in the Mediterranean. There is a lot of talk about their getting ready for an invasion of England next year. We have heard a lot of this, and I expect something will come of it, but where, I can't tell. I will be very glad to be informed. Gentlemen, if you have got any information, it will be thankfully received. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. Minister, have you any information as to whether the Germans have lost more materiel in Russia than they can replace by spring?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I should think that they have got ample materiel, because they not only have their own vast factories —which were running at full war speed when the war broke out—they have a great accumulation, and they have what they captured from so many other countries. I shouldn't think that was where they would run short. But of course, the quality of the materiel, as we move on each year into new and better times—they might not have the power to keep in the race with that.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, what are the materials that Germany is most likely to run short of? What are the materials of which they are most short?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I did hear something about oil and other things, but it is rather technical for me.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, can you interpret any of the recent events in Germany as possible internal collapse—symptomatic of an internal collapse?

THE PRIME MINISTER. Don't let us bank on that. We have got to bank on an external knockout. If the internal collapse comes, so much the better.

Q. Mr. Minister, have you any doubt of the ultimate victory?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I have no doubt whatever.

Q. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Churchill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210541

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