MR. WOOTON [Mr. Paul Wooton, President of National Conference of Business Paper Editors]: Mr. President, I thought that since you have this group here, and behind these men are several hundred thousands of readers, that you might like to say just the sort of editorial they could write, or what kind of an article they might run, that would be most helpful in forwarding the defense program. They are all anxious to do something constructive, and they go to the key men in industry in the papers, and if you have any thought at all that would be helpful along that line, I know they would appreciate it.
THE PRESIDENT: I think you can't overstress the seriousness of the present situation. I think it does need stressing, because we all know that this world situation, if it goes the wrong way -the Axis powers win—it is going to hit business far more than any one thing that has ever hit them. It will hit them far worse than a mere ending of all of these emergency orders, because it will mean that you will get "put in a vise," not by our own volition, or the volition of all the democratic Nations that have an economy that is somewhat similar to ours. We will get "put in a vise," a "strait jacket," by the Axis powers; and I don't think that the seriousness of that situation can be overestimated. I think it ought to be played up all the time. And furthermore, that if we are going to meet the situation as it develops, and as it is becoming increasingly serious, that we have got to quit all this silly business of "business as usual." The Nations that are actually at war certainly are not conducting "business as usual," and the more we help to defeat the control of the world by dictatorships, the less "business as usual" we are going to have.
It means giving up, of course, on the part of the American public, and therefore of the manufacturers of the country-the businessmen of the country—a great many things which were all very nice and pleasant in our normal lives, and substitute for them the things that are necessary to carry on this aid to the democracies that we are giving at the present time.
Well, it is going to hit a lot of people, sure, but you can't eat your cake and have it too. That is the message to give to the American people: "You can't eat your cake and have it too." If you do one thing you have got to go all out for it. If you are going to do the other thing— lie down and take it on the chin—it will be putting us in a strait jacket that we won't get out of for one hundred years. I think that should be told quite frankly to the public.
After all, the country can get on without a great many things that it uses normally. Is it worth while to give up certain things in order to carry through an effort to survive, or isn't it? We know that there is a very great lack of understanding at the present time of the seriousness of the world situation as it affects us. You take, for example, a great deal of this perfectly well-intended publicity has been stupid. I begged them when they started the so-called Aid to Britain movement—I said, "You know there are an awful lot of people in this country that don't personally 'give a continental' about Aid to Britain, but on the other hand, if you tell the whole sentence you get people to understand."
What is the whole sentence? "America First Through Aid to Britain." Now that's a very different thing; that tells the truth. You are working for America first, because England today is holding the line and is doing practically all the fighting. Now the real sentence is, "Let us keep America going by giving aid to Britain while we are arming ourselves," and that is the thought to get across. And I think you can all help tremendously to make people realize the seriousness of the situation, and eliminate a lot of the perfectly silly prejudices that exist today because of wrong slogans—literally, the wrong slogans.
I suppose, for example, that if there is any person in the United States who happens to be the leader of the America First movement, it is the unfortunate fellow who happens to have the responsibility—who happens to be President of the United States. He is the leader of the America First movement. Now these other fellows jumped, and nobody's printed the fact that they have grabbed off something that does not belong to them. . . .
We are all pretty well agreed that these are times not to make large profits, and we have to go back in working things like that out. We have a curious situation. I notice one or two- the best friends that I have in the world- are very large stockholders, and I will give you an illustration—in the Coca-Cola Company. There are some of the original people that went in, and they went in with what to them was an awful lot of capital—ten thousand dollars- and today on that original investment of ten thousand dollars figure out the percentage on that investment that they are getting in the way of dividends. And yet, under the present tax laws mind you, that happens to be, of course, one shining example under the present tax law—Coca-Cola—you take the average they would get during the previous five years. They don't pay any excess taxes on—what?—a thousand percent of profit, yet that is an awfully big profit on an original amount of capital that they put in.
On the other hand, you take some other organization like United States Steel. Taking it over a period of ten years the yield to the individual who bought United States Steel common is not high, while they are hit today because the average of their earnings this year is way ahead of the average—above the average of the last five years. They are paying enormous excess profits, but it is hitting the fellow who made the investment in United States Steel. He is lucky if on the average of the past ten years he has made four or five percent on his money. . . .
Well I think—I think that, taking it by and large, business as a whole is going along awfully well in this whole thing, and we are having very, very few complaints.
I was talking the other day to one of those people who had been largely responsible for the great effort of 1917 and 1918, and there were three of the fairly top people who were running the war production of the country, which began, mind you, not until the day we got into the war in 1917. There had been a certain amount done in the way of orders from the British and the French before we got into the war, but the great volume of orders came after we got into the war with no preparation for it. To these three people I asked the straight question: "How does the speed of our present production effort, on a relative basis, compare with the speed from the sixth of April, 1917, to the sixth of April, 1918?" And all three of them—although they are not in this year responsible for this production as they were then—all three of them said, "You are way ahead of what had been done in the first year of the World War." I said, "How far?" They agreed about three months ahead in the first twelve months of effort. Well, now, that is quite a record to have that admitted by three fellows who were responsible for the 1917 effort.
MR. WOOTON: It certainly is.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that is a pretty good compliment to pay to American business. I really do.
MR. WOOTON: And that is the text of these editorials that industry by and large is doing-
THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Yes.
MR. WOOTON:—a breath-taking job.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right. Of course, there are an awful lot of things that- oh, what will I say?- interpretative writers some people call them- columnists some people call them. (Laughter) They are not fair to business, not fair to government, either one. I will give you a very good example.
Somebody came out the other day with a story that we are way behind where we ought to be on the production of tanks. Tanks are needed. They are needed by the British in Egypt, in England, all over the place. We need them also, and yet we are way, way behind. We have only just begun turning out a few tanks. Of course, it did not tell the real story, the real story on tanks. It is not their fault. They put the thing down on paper without checking.
Now, on tanks, what happened? Last year, about last summer, from about the end of May on up to July, when they were working out the priorities, that is to say, the classification that these orders would go into, we needed to make four main divisions of production. One was airplanes, of course, and another was guns—anti-tank guns and all other kinds of guns. A third was ammunition—I would say powder and shot and shell. And the fourth was tanks. And we couldn't give an A-1 priority to all four groups because it would have slowed up the whole program group if we had given equal priority to all four groups.
So the military people were called in, and the British were called in, and we said to them, from the production point of view, one at least of these groups has got to be put in the second category. Now, we fellows were laymen—businessmen—and the Army and the Navy and the British said, '.'Well, about the last thing we need today is tanks." They didn't see the need at that time for tanks. Now, that is the best possible opinion that we could get, so out of those four groups we put the tank group into the second priority category- deliberately- on military advice- which we have to go on. Now, of course, everybody is cussing out the tank manufacturers, and cussing out the Government for being behind.
Well, that is just an illustration of how you have to know all of the surrounding facts before you can write intelligently on some particular thing that you hear. I think it is probably a good illustration.
MR. WOOTON: It certainly is. Well, Mr. President—
THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) It's good to see you all.
MR. WOOTON: I think it's mighty fine of you to see us, and in behalf of these editors, I thank you very, very much.
THE PRESIDENT: If there's anything we can do to help, let us know.
MR. WOOTON: Thank you, Mr. President.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209604