Franklin D. Roosevelt

Press Conference

May 14, 1940

THE PRESIDENT: I apologize for my coatless condition. I did not have time to put it on. It is a somewhat timeworn excuse but a perfectly good one.

There are a lot of things I could tell you but of course I know you will understand that there are probably a good many things it is better not to discuss in too much detail these days. They are somewhat difficult days for the whole world.

I am sending up to Congress, this message on national defense. I do not know yet whether it will be tomorrow or Thursday; it depends on whether I get the figures in and whether I have time tonight to dictate a message to go with the figures. If I get through with it, it will go up tomorrow, and if I do not, it will go up on Thursday. I cannot give you any figures because I am not ready yet. I am afraid it will be pretty high; and I think it should be made clear that there are two primary reasons for doing it at this time.

The first is the matter of what has been gained in the way of knowledge from experience in the last two months. The other is the—what shall I call it?— progress of military events which inevitably, in the last few weeks, has brought the defense picture of the United States a little closer to the United States.

I do not think there is anything more in particular that I can say about it. I think Steve [Mr. Early] told you about a simile that I used this morning. If there is a fire in a big city, it is almost inevitably going to affect the expenditures of the city in the following fiscal year; and it may affect even the real estate values—in other words, the tax collections—in the following fiscal year. But the newspaper men and women who are covering the fire do not make the following ¥ear's budget the lead of their stories. It is a homely way of putting it, that you will all understand.

This defense appropriation and contract authorization run to a large sum of money. Of course, it is going to be paid for by the Government some day, but the main thing to do is to put the money to work at the present time. It can come, of course, out of taxes or it can come out of borrowings, or it can come out of a combination of the two; but the important thing is national defense rather than the next year's method of payment. So I am suggesting, very gently, how I would write the lead. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, yesterday on the floor of the Senate there was considerable point made of the fact that we spent about six billion dollars on national defense in this Administration, and the question was raised whether we had got our money's worth out of it. What do you figure as to that? Do you think there is just criticism in that, or not?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I will ask you what you think.

Q. What?

THE PRESIDENT: I will ask you what you think.

Q. I do not believe: that is why I am asking you.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I hoped that you would know because it seems so perfectly obvious. In other words, these expenditures have been for two things primarily. One has been to keep up with the expenditures in other countries, and, as far as the best information we could get, we have been spending the money for the same kind of military equipment as other nations have been doing. We have felt that we were up-to-dale in what we were doing. Of course that type of equipment costs a lot of money. That was one thing—to keep abreast of this race of armaments that was forced on us and to do it the same way that the military and naval experts all over the rest of the world were doing it.

The other reason was that, beginning in '33, we had to make up for a lot of lost time. In other words, as you know, the Navy had had very, very little money spent on it between nineteen hundred and—the end of 1921 and 1922, the Disarmament Conference, and 1933. There was a great deal of replacement that had to be done, a great many gaps that had to be filled; and of course the Army was in exactly the same position. So we had, first of all, to catch up and, having caught up, we had to keep up.

Practically all of these new expenditures are for needs that have been developed by the modern competitive methods of actual war- the new things. The airplane for which appropriation was made in 1935 at great cost, delivered, say, a year and a half or two years later, is today on the scrapheap. The Navy ships—our ships are probably the equal of any ships in the world—have to have certain alterations made to them. Besides you have to have new ships of slightly different design because of the experiences of the past few weeks; and that will be done in every navy.

Those are just the high spots. I think the rest of the story speaks for itself.

Q. Will your message deal solely with appropriations or will it require some authorizations also?

THE PRESIDENT: I suppose it will take some authorizations; and, as to the appropriations, it will take two things: it will take actual appropriations for the expenditure of money out of the Treasury in the fiscal year 1941 and also the authorization to make an additional amount of contracts which would not have to be paid for until the year 1942.

Q. Mr. President, has there been any revival of the discussion of the need for a two-ocean Navy, in view of the German gains in the air over the British fleet?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, when you talk about a two-ocean Navy in regard to our naval defense, I don't know. I think it probably goes back to the days of—when did we first get California? 1847, wasn't it?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: In other words, it is an entirely outmoded conception of naval defense, and it has been since about 1847 when we first acquired California. I just never discuss two ocean Navy in one way or the other, because it is not sensible to talk of naval defense in those terms. . . .

Of course you are supposed to have a Navy that will go anywhere for national defense purposes, and no human being can say where it will have to go—nobody.

Q. Isn't it conceivable we may have to split the fleet if something happened out in the Netherlands Indies and then—

THE PRESIDENT: I am afraid that is a leading question.

Q. It would take ten years to create another navy like this one?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, and then— Suppose you got an attack from three angles instead of two and then you would have to have three navies. In other words, it really, honestly, is an outworn conception that nobody who knows anything about defense would ever use. Nobody has ever used that term that knew anything about defense.

Q. Mr. President, if we cannot have a two-ocean Navy, would it be logical to have two canals between the Atlantic and the Pacific?

THE PRESIDENT: Personally, I wish we had ten canals because the more communications you have, which are capable, more 'or less, of defending, the better it is. I wish there weren't any isthmus. I wish there were a big open space down there.

Q. Mr. President, I do not mind seeming dumb, but if we have two oceans why wouldn't it be a good idea to have two complete Navies, one for each? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, because, May [Miss Craig], it is just exactly like Portland, Maine. If you break things down in those terms, we ought to have Navy ships at the mouth of every harbor to protect that harbor against any possible attacking for us because, you see, they might attack Portland, Maine, and Boston, Massachusetts, at the same time. Now, wouldn't that be awful? You really ought to have two navies.

Q. Well, I just do not think that is the same thing because you have got oceans—

THE PRESIDENT [interposing]: That is what you call reductio adabsur dum.

Q. What is the answer then, larger fleets of bombing ships?.


Q. What is the answer, then, flying fortresses?

THE PRESIDENT: Now you are coming down to the old relativity business. You have to be complete and perfect as far as you can be, and as far as you can afford to be, in every weapon of war. In other words, as I was saying to a couple of the Chairmen of the House and Senate this afternoon—now, you can use this in terms of an army or in terms of a fleet—in terms of an army, if you have two equal armies in every weapon except one, let us say what, light artillery?—equal in heavy artillery, equal in machine guns, equal in infantry, equal in the air, the army that has no light artillery is going to be beaten by the army that has light artillery. The army that has no airplanes is going to be beaten by the army that has airplanes. In the case of a fleet, the fleet that has no battleships will be beaten by the fleet that has a lot of battleships. The fleet that has the submarines is going to beat the fleet without the submarines. In the air, the fleet that has planes is going to beat an equal fleet with no planes. It is just a question of equality in every weapon of warfare. Right? It is hard to understand but it is awfully simple. . . .

Q. Secretary Hull said that Americans are being asked to leave Italy. Is there any special reason for that?

THE PRESIDENT: Not that I know of. I told them a long time ago to get out of any place where they might be in danger.

Q. That does not indicate we are expecting Italy to get in?


Q. Do you expect this request of yours to prolong the session of Congress?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I see no special reason why it should. As I said to the Vice President and the Speaker and the two Leaders yesterday morning—and I think they all agreed with me—when the Congress has completed the legislation that is before it, the important legislation, there is no particular reason why they should stay in Washington because they have the knowledge, the very definite, certain knowledge, that in case there were need for any legislation of any kind, I would call them back immediately.

If you will remember, last August there was a certain division of opinion as to whether there would be a world war or not and some of the people, I think Mrs. Rogers, wanted Congress to keep on staying all fall. I assured them that, if anything happened and the war broke out, I would call them together again; and I did. Of course I would do the same thing if they went home early in June and we had to have them back here on our hands this summer.

Q. Would you renew your request to have the Leaders stay in town for consultation?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I shall. Not in town, but within easy reach. I would not keep them from campaigning.

Q. Mr. President, you said that expenditures would have to be met by taxes or by borrowing. Would you make any definite recommendation on increasing the statutory debt limit?


Q. No recommendation?


Q. Do you think it is necessary at this session to do that, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it is a completely minor detail. I hope this money will be appropriated and spent for national defense, and I am not frightfully interested in which way it is met, either by borrowing or by taxes. I think it is a minor detail, because the Government has got to spend the money anyway.

Q. It was stated this morning that you had informed the Iowa delegation that you had no intention of running for a third term. Have you any comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't remember it. (Laughter)

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

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