Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Five Hundredth Press Conference (Excerpts)

November 15, 1938

Q. Mr. President, before you get down to the unimportant things, I would like to ask you a national question: Have you settled the matter of the Gravelly Point airport? (Laughter) It may sound funny, but it is important, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: I will tell you; last Friday at Cabinet meeting, it was discovered that there were three different opinions from three groups of lawyers. Of course that creates a very difficult situation! (Laughter) So I referred the matter to the Department of Justice with the request that they straighten it out and make it legal to go ahead with Gravelly Point. At six o'clock that same night, they telephoned they had done it, and it is now legal.

Q. Have you approved the allotment, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I think I did that before it was made legal!(Laughter)

Q. Then they can get their money now?

THE PRESIDENT: They can get their money now, so I am told, and go ahead.

Q. Another important question: Mr. Delano said today during the discussion of the memorial you were going to say something about the cherry trees.

THE PRESIDENT: I was going to withhold that until Friday, because you have so many other things today. I would suggest that you hold in abeyance that about the cherry trees.

Q. I will surely do so...

THE PRESIDENT: Now let us come down to more serious things than cherry tree campaigns. Here are several things you will ask me, so I might as well shoot first. First, about the situation in Germany: I just dictated the following; it is not very long, and I think you might as well take it down:

"The news of the past few days from Germany has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States. Such news from any part of the world would inevitably produce a similar profound reaction among American people in every part of the nation.

"I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization.

"With a view to gaining a first-hand picture of the current situation in Germany I asked the Secretary of State to order our Ambassador in Berlin to return at once for report and consultation."

That is the end of the statement. I think you know this. He is leaving on Thursday on the Manhattan, day after tomorrow.

Q. Mr. President, will that be mimeographed to give out?


Q. Would you elaborate on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I think it speaks for itself.

Q. What about the talk or rumors or report that that is called a "recall"?

THE PRESIDENT: Technically speaking, in diplomatic parlance, it is not a recall; it is a summons to come home.

Q. Have you any estimate how long Mr. Wilson will stay here?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing further than what the Secretary of State said today.

Q. Have you made any protest to Germany?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing has gone that I know of.

Q. There are reports from London that Mr. Kennedy has made a suggestion to the British Government concerning a place wherein the Jewish refugees would be taken care of.

THE PRESIDENT: I cannot comment on the report, because I know nothing of what has been happening in London. We do know that the Intergovernmental Committee on refugees is at work trying to extend its help to take care of an increasingly difficult situation.

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us whether you feel that there is any place in the world where you could take care of mass emigration of the Jews from Germany-have you given thought to that?

THE PRESIDENT: I have given a great deal of thought to it.

Q. Can you tell us any place particularly desirable?

THE PRESIDENT: No, the time is not ripe for that.

Q. Have there been any comments or protests made to you concerning the destruction or damage of American property in Germany?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing has come through on that; I imagine the Embassy is checking up on it.

Q. You said nothing as yet on a possible protest to Germany; is there anything on that?

THE PRESIDENT: I cannot say anything on that.

Q. Would you recommend a relaxation of. our immigration restrictions so that the Jewish refugees could be received in this country?

THE PRESIDENT' That is not in contemplation; we have the quota system.

Q. Mr. President, has there been time for you to obtain any idea of German reaction to the temporary withdrawal of Mr. Wilson?

THE PRESIDENT: Only what I have read through the press.

Q. Mr. President, switching from the German situation to the national defense, is there anything you can say in addition to the piecemeal stories we have been getting recently?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think so; you know that we had a very large conference in here yesterday; you saw them. I can tell you the status of things at the present time. As I -suggested before, you should not try to anticipate things. No decision has been made at the present time; we are simply in the study stage. As a result of world events in the last few years, and as a result of scientific advancement in waging war, the whole orientation of this country in relation to the continent on which we live—in other words, from Canada to Terra del Fuego—has had to be—our conception of it—has had to be changed. There is today a continental solidarity among the twenty-one republics and Canada, which is more definite, more unanimous than ever before in the last one hundred and twenty years, since the Latin-American republics have been struggling for their independence.

Therefore, on this continent we are substantially unanimous in the belief that as a continental doctrine we must be prepared to carry out the outline of continental solidarity that was established at Buenos Aires. It is very important to get the conception that this is a continental solidarity into which we fit as one of the republics. We therefore have to check up and see what is necessary in order to maintain this continental solidarity against any possible threat from any other continent.

These particular discussions that we are having relate to that problem; and the first thing we realize is the fact that any possible attack has been brought infinitely closer than it was five years or twenty years or fifty years ago. There are a good many reasons for that, and there is no use to go into all of them, but one of the reasons is the development in aircraft.

We are therefore studying national defense and continental solidarity against possible attacks from other hemispheres, other continents, along these different lines, including the problem of aircraft. Yesterday's meeting was confined almost entirely to the problem of aircraft. We are not ready to go into figures of any kind.

If I were writing the story, I could not give figures at this time. But the fact remains that the continental safety today is far too low on that particular phase. That is about all I can tell you, except that we are going to take steps, first with resources which are already at the disposal of the Government, and, second, by asking for legislation so as to place the defense of the United States and the continent against any possible aggression from the outside on a safer basis. That is about as far as we can go. . . .

Q. Mr. President, that means that the problem of national defense has now become a problem of continental defense; is that correct?

THE PRESIDENT: In cooperation with other republics and Canada.

Q. That is, it has changed in that period to a problem of continental defense rather than national?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but continental defense which does not rest solely upon our shoulders; in other words, it is defense in cooperation with the other twenty republics and Canada.

Q. Does that take into account the possibility of defection from continental solidarity?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't anticipate any such defection from continental solidarity.

Q. Will you tell us how much reason you have for believing in that solidarity?

THE PRESIDENT: A good deal of reason.

Q. Do you refer to the hemisphere?

THE PRESIDENT: North, Central, and South America.

Q. Mr. President, are you considering the possibility of it being necessary to build a fleet large enough to defend both the Atlantic and Pacific Coast at the same time?


Q. Mr. President, yesterday Mr. Johnson said that the program might mean a half billion dollars more on the appropriation, and we assume that that was the Navy; is that true?


Q. Was that the Army or both?

THE PRESIDENT: In the first place, the figure is wrong, and in the second place the assumption is wrong. The way the question was put, it might assume an additional five hundred million dollars over and above present expenditures in the budget. That is not necessarily so. . . .

Q. Could you amplify the new danger which makes this continental defense necessary.

THE PRESIDENT. Read the newspapers for the past five years.

Q. Mr. President, are you discussing the position of the Philippines in the new plan?

THE PRESIDENT: The American flag floats over the Philippines . . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Five Hundredth Press Conference (Excerpts) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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