Franklin D. Roosevelt

Radio Address for the Drawing Under the Selective Service Act of 1940

October 29, 1940

Members of your Government are gathered here in this Federal Building in Washington to wit-ness the drawing of numbers as provided for in the Selective Service Act of 1940.

This is a most solemn ceremony. It is accompanied by no fanfare—no blowing of bugles or beating of drums. There should be none.

We are mustering all our resources, manhood, and industry and wealth to make our nation strong in defense. For recent history proves all too clearly, I am sorry to say, that only the strong may continue to live in freedom and in peace.

We are well aware of the circumstances—the tragic circumstances in lands across the seas-which have forced upon our nation the need to take measures for total defense.

In the considered opinion of the Congress of the United States this selective service provides the most democratic as well as the most efficient means for the mustering of our man power.

On October sixteenth, more than sixteen million young Americans registered for service. Today begins that selection from this huge number of eight hundred thousand who will go into training for one year.

Reports from all over the country attest the quality and the general spirit of the young men who registered for service.

The young men of America today have thought this thing through. They have not been stimulated by or misled by militarist propaganda. They fully understand the necessity for national defense and are ready, as all citizens of our country must be, to play their part in it.

They know simply that ours is a great country—great in perpetual devotion to the cause of liberty and justice, great in faith that always there can be and must be a will to a better future. They know that in the present world the survival of liberty and justice is dependent on strength to defend against attack.

Briefly and in simplest terms, the processes of selection are these: Each registrant in each of sixty-five hundred local areas has been assigned a number at random by a committee or board of his neighbors. Each man's number in each local board area has been officially recorded as pertaining exclusively to him in that area. Those numbers run from one to seven thousand eight hundred and thirty-six. Opaque capsules, each containing a different number, have been placed in a glass bowl in the room where we now stand. These capsule numbers also run from one to seven thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, with a few extra higher numbers to allow for late registration. One capsule at a time will be drawn from the bowl until none is left. As each capsule is drawn it will be opened and its number read over the radio to the listening nation.

While all numbers are called, only the first 10 per cent will be considered as the "first drawn" 1,640,000 out of the total 16,400,000. If your number is drawn after the first 10 per cent of the numbers, you will not be called into this year's service.

If your number is among the first 10 per cent, you may be called, but only 800,000 out of the 1,640,000 will be. Thus more than 95 per cent of the grand total are not to be called, and less than 5 per cent are to be.

I have here three letters from representatives of the three great faiths, Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic. They were written to me, in solemn recognition of this occasion, and I want to read you brief excerpts from them.

The first is from Dr. George A. Buttrick, President of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. He says:

The twenty-two national communions . . . are united in a deep interest in the thousands of men called today to national service. We will give our best assistance in providing the ministries of the Christian faith. They shall be encompassed by friendship .... We assure all men in the Army and Navy of our active comradeship and prayer. We are glad that the rights of sincere conscientious objectors have been recognized in the Selective Service Act.

The next letter is from Dr. Edward L. Israel, President of the Synagogue Council of America. He says:

It is my supreme confidence that you, Mr. President, and the military officials of our nation will be ever mindful of the fact that this peacetime Selective Service System is an extraordinary measure in the interest of preserving democracy, and that the System will therefore be administered so as to deepen in the minds and hearts of our youth, a love and respect for democracy and our democratic institutions . . . And it must never be forgotten that democracies cannot indefinitely endure under a war system—and that the ultimate goal of a free people rallying to National Defense must ever be to help usher in that day when the prophetic ideal will be realized that "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they make war any more."

And finally a letter from the Bishop of the Catholics in the Army and Navy of the United States, His Excellency, The Most Reverend Francis J. Spellman. He says:

I do believe: It is better to have protection and not need it than to need protection and not have it. I do believe that Americans want peace but that we must be prepared to demand it for other people have wanted peace and the peace they received was the peace of death.

I do feel that our good will and the sincerity of our desire for peace have been demonstrated by our action in sinking many battleships and that no more sincere demonstration of a willingness to lead the way toward universal disarmament could have been given by any people.

But we really cannot longer afford to be moles who cannot see, or ostriches who will not see. For some solemn agreements are no longer sacred, and vices have become virtues and truth a synonym of falsehood.

We Americans want peace and we shall prepare for a peace, but not for a peace whose definition is slavery or death.

These three letters give eloquent testimony to the quality of the religious faith that inspires us today and forever.

To these spokesmen for the churches of America—to all my fellow countrymen of all races and creeds and ages—I give this solemn assurance:

Your Government is mindful of its profound responsibility to and for all the young men who will be called to train for our national service.

Your Government is aware that not only do these young men represent the future of our country: they are the future. They must profit as men by this one year of experience as soldiers. They must return to civilian life strong, and healthy, and self-respecting, and decent and free.

Your Government will devote its every thought, its every energy, to the cause that is common to all of us—the maintenance of the dignity, the prosperity and the peace of our country.

To the young men themselves I should like to speak as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army:

You who will enter this peacetime army will be the inheritors of a proud history and an honorable tradition.

You will be members of any army which first came together to achieve independence and to establish certain fundamental rights for all men. Even since that first muster, our democratic army has existed for one purpose only: the defense of our freedom.

It is for that one purpose and that one purpose only that you will be asked to answer the call to training.

You have answered that call, as Americans always have, and as Americans always will, until the day when war is forever banished from this earth.

You have the confidence, and the gratitude, and the love of your countrymen. We are all with you in the task which enlists the services of all Americans—the task of keeping the peace in this New World of ours.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Radio Address for the Drawing Under the Selective Service Act of 1940 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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