Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939

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Author: Franklin D. Roosevelt  | Date: April 15, 1939

59 Press Conference.
April 15, 1939

Appeals for peace sent to Hitler and Mussolini.

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning.

Q. Good morning, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Quite a few people missing today.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, the real correspondents this time. My Lord, is this all there are? They don’t know what they are missing.

The cause for this—what I am going to read to you—is that for the second or third time I feel that we in this country should leave no stone unturned to prevent war and, having made this decision, the State Department, the Secretary of State and I both slept last night with a clearer conscience than we had had before.

In other words, in doing this, we are doing what we can to save humanity from war.

We sent off at nine o’clock last night the following two dispatches: The first is directly from me to Chancellor Hitler. The other is from the Secretary of State—approximately the same message—to Premier Mussolini. You understand the reason for that, that he is the Premier, and Chancellor Hitler is the head of the State.

The messages are identical except for the transposition of the word, in one or two places, of "Italy" for "Germany."

Now I thought, as I went over it, that there are one or two little background things I could give you as I read it. It is very, very short, but let me interpolate as I go through it. This [interpolation] is not for quote or attribution—it is background for you.


"THE WHITE HOUSE

"April 14, 1939

"His Excellency
Adolf Hitler,
Chancellor of the German Reich,
Berlin, Germany

"You realize, I am sure, that throughout the world hundreds of millions of human beings are living today in constant fear of a new war or even a series of wars.

"The existence of this fear-and the possibility of such a conflict—are of definite concern to the people of the United States for whom I speak, as they must also be to the peoples of the other nations of the entire Western Hemisphere.

"You will note that I did not assume to speak for them. I said, "as they must also be for them."

"All of them know that any major war, even if it were to be confined to other continents, must bear heavily on them."—

I did not say "all the people of the Western Hemisphere.""heavily on them during its continuance and also for generations to come.

"Because of the fact that after the acute tension in which the world has been living during the past few weeks there would seem to be at least a momentary relaxation-because no troops are at this moment on the march—this may be an opportune moment for me to send you this message."

Well, in other words—this is on the background end of it-it has always been a problem for us in this country, if we want to try to do something by way of a message or an appeal for the averting of war, to do it at such time as there would be the greatest prospect of success. And there is, of course, less prospect of success in making any appeal when troops are actually on the march or have actually invaded another country.

I think we can remember that in the last two instances of the ending of independence of two nations, they occurred-both incidents—occurred so fast and with such little warning that there would not have been time for us to make an appeal. That was true in the case of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and also the invasion of Albania. The thing was a fait accompli before you could get a cable over to the other side; and, therefore, this seems to be an appropriate time to make this appeal, because there are, at the present moment, no troops that are marching to the invasion of, or have invaded, some neighboring State. It is, let us say, a moment of peace.

"On a previous occasion I have addressed you in behalf of the settlement of political, economic, and social problems by peaceful methods and without resort to arms."
That was the time of Munich, last fall.

"But the tide of events seems to have reverted to the threat of arms. If such threats continue, it seems inevitable that much of the world must become involved in common ruin. All the world, victor nations, vanquished nations, and neutral nations will suffer."

If I were writing a story I would stress the word "neutral"-"neutral nations"—in recognition of the fact that there would be, undoubtedly, a great many neutral nations but that they would suffer also.

"I refuse to believe that the world is, of necessity, such a prisoner of destiny. On the contrary, it is clear that the leaders of great nations have it in their power to liberate their peoples from the disaster that impends. It is equally clear that in their own minds and in their own hearts the peoples themselves desire that their fears be ended."

I think that applies to peoples in every nation of the world, literally without exception. "It is, however, unfortunately necessary to take cognizance of recent facts.

"Three nations in Europe and one in Africa have seen their independent existence terminated. A vast territory in another independent Nation of the Far East has been occupied by a neighboring State. Reports, which we trust are not true, insist that further acts of aggression are contemplated against still other independent nations. Plainly the world is moving toward the moment when this situation must end in catastrophe unless a more rational way of guiding events is found."

And, in connection with that, just for background, I think some of you will remember on the way down to Key West, I said that it might be possible that I would have to curtail my cruise and come back here. A good many people laughed at me for saying that. Of course it wasn’t alarmist—it was just straight, plain fact. It was not necessary for me to return, but, of course, after that Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, and, when a thing like that happens, nobody can tell how far the fire will spread.

There is a good deal that has come out in the press about the danger of things on the other side; and of course those published stories are implemented for us by the confidential information we receive from our own people on the other side. I think we recognize not only from what you read but also add to that what we know from Government sources, that it is a pretty dangerous, pretty anxious moment in Europe.

"You have repeatedly asserted that you and the German people have no desire for war. If this is true there need be no war.

"Nothing can persuade the peoples of the earth that any governing power has any right or need to inflict the consequences of war on its own or any other people save in the cause of self-evident home defense."

I used the words "home defense" because nobody can get around that. That means "home defense" and does not mean defense thousands and thousands of miles away.

"In making this statement we as Americans speak not through selfishness or fear or weakness. If we speak now it is with the voice of strength and with friendship for mankind. It is still clear to me that international problems can be solved at the council table.

"It is therefore no answer to the plea for peaceful discussion for one side to plead that unless they receive assurances beforehand that the verdict will be theirs, they will not lay aside their arms. In conference rooms, as in courts, it is necessary that both sides enter upon the discussion in good faith, assuming that substantial justice will accrue to both; and it is customary and necessary that they leave their arms outside the room where they confer."

I would like to have used the American expression but they would not have understood it—"Park your guns outside." However, this is a diplomatic way of saying the same thing.

"I am convinced that the cause of world peace would be greatly advanced if the nations of the world were to obtain a frank statement relating to the present and future policy of Governments.

"Because the United States, as one of the Nations of the Western Hemisphere, is not involved in the immediate controversies which have arisen in Europe, I trust that you may be willing to make such a statement of policy to me as the head of a nation far removed from Europe in order that I, acting only with the responsibility and obligation of a friendly intermediary, may communicate such declaration to other nations now apprehensive as to the course which the policy of your Government may take."

I want to make one thing perfectly clear. You know English as well as I do. I said here, "acting only with the responsibility and obligation of a friendly intermediary." I mean "intermediary" and not "mediator." Now, they are entirely different words. You see the point? Of course there will be a danger—this is of course off the record—that some of our friends on the Hill and some newspaper owners will try to make it appear that I will mediate. There is nothing in it at all. I am the post office, the telegraph office- in other words, the method of communication. That is what I mean by "intermediary."

"Are you willing to give assurance—"

Here is the question:

"Are you willing to give assurance that your armed forces will not attack or invade the territory or possessions of the following independent nations":

Now we come right down to brass tacks and name them.

"Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain and Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, the Arabias, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Iran."

Now you have got them all. No dodging; there are the whole works.

"Such an assurance clearly must apply not only to the present day but also to a future sufficiently long to give every opportunity to work by peaceful methods for a more permanent peace. I therefore suggest that you construe the word ’future’ to apply to a minimum period of assured non-aggression—ten years at the least—a quarter of a century, if we dare look that far ahead.

"If such assurance is given by your Government, I shall immediately transmit it to the Governments of the nations I have named"

Then there is that whole list on the other side.

"and I shall simultaneously inquire whether, as I am reasonably sure, each of the nations enumerated above will in turn give like assurance for transmission to you.

"Reciprocal assurances such as I have outlined will bring to the world an immediate measure of relief.

"I propose that if it is given, two essential problems shall promptly be discussed in the resulting peaceful surroundings, and in those discussions the Government of the United States will gladly take part."

Now, be careful! Be careful! I said "two essential problems" in which we would take part in the discussion.

"The discussions which I have in mind relate to the most effective and immediate manner through which the peoples of the world can obtain progressive relief from the crushing burden of armament which is each day bringing them more closely to the brink of economic disaster."

There is, of course, nothing new in our taking part in that because we have been doing it for a long, long time.
The other is the next sentence:

"Simultaneously the Government of the United States would be prepared to take part in discussions looking toward the most practical manner of opening up avenues of international trade to the end that every Nation of the earth may be enabled to buy and sell on equal terms in the world market as well as to possess assurance of obtaining the materials and products of peaceful economic life."

Of course there is nothing new in that because, as you know, we have at all times been ready to confer and have done a great deal of conferring on the economic side of international problems. So in that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, new that we have not been doing right along. Now you come to the third thing:

"At the same time—"

This is after those reciprocal assurances have been given.

"At the same time, those Governments other than the United States which are directly interested could undertake such political discussions as they may consider necessary or desirable."

Well, of course all of you who cover the State Department know what that means. "Political discussions" relates to boundaries and territories and so forth and so on. We do not, of course, enter into that type of discussion. We have not done it since Paris and there is no prospect of our doing it.

Then, finally, just a few short sentences:

"We recognize complex world problems which affect all humanity but we know that study and discussion of them must be held in an atmosphere of peace."

Same old thing—"Park your guns outside."

"Such an atmosphere of peace cannot exist if negotiations are overshadowed by the threat of force or by the fear of war.

"I think you will not misunderstand the spirit of frankness in which I send you this message. Heads of great Governments in this hour are literally responsible for the fate of humanity in the coming years. They cannot fail to hear the prayers of their peoples to be protected from the foreseeable chaos of war. History will hold them accountable for the lives and the happiness of all—even unto the least.

"I hope that your answer will make it possible for humanity to lose fear and regain security for many years to come.

"A similar message is being addressed to the Chief of the Italian Government.

"FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT"

Well, I think that covers it.

Q. When was this message sent?

THE PRESIDENT: 9.00 o’clock last night.

Q. They got it today?

THE PRESIDENT: It was three o’clock in the morning in Berlin and Rome, that it was received over there.

Q. May I ask whether the Pan American Union or, through other channels, the Latin American Governments were advised that this action was being taken?

THE PRESIDENT: Nobody was advised. They were informed by cable during the night through our ministers and ambassadors down there and undoubtedly they are receiving this just about this moment. And in the same way, our embassies and legations in Europe were advised of it by cable last night.

Q. There has been no consultation on this matter among the Latin American—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] Absolutely not. Great Britain, France or any other nation in the world was not consulted in any way and did not know anything about it. You "got a mouthful"; better run.

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Chicago: Franklin D. Roosevelt, "59 Press Conference.," Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939 in Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1938-1950), Item 174 Original Sources, accessed April 20, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD8E47HJIC5A7LE.

MLA: Roosevelt, Franklin D. "59 Press Conference." Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939, in Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1938-1950), Item 174, Original Sources. 20 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD8E47HJIC5A7LE.

Harvard: Roosevelt, FD, '59 Press Conference.' in Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939. cited in , Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1938-1950), Item 174. Original Sources, retrieved 20 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD8E47HJIC5A7LE.