A Fireside Chat (1943)



My fellow Americans. Over a year and a half ago I said this to the Congress: “The militarists in Berlin and Rome and Tokyo started this war. But the massed, angered forces of common humanity will finish it.”


Today that prophecy is in the process of being fulfilled. The massed, angered forces of common humanity are on the march. They’re going forward—on the Russian front, in the vast Pacific area, and into Europe—converging upon their ultimate objectives: Berlin and Tokyo.


I think the first crack in the Axis has come. The criminal, corrupt Fascist regime in Italy is going to pieces.


The pirate philosophy of the Fascists and the Nazis cannot stand adversity. The military superiority of the United Nations-on sea and land and in the air—has been applied in the right place and at the right time.


Hitler refused to send sufficient help to save Mussolini. In fact, Hitler’s troops in Sicily stole the Italians’ motor equipment, leaving Italian soldiers so stranded that they had no choice but to surrender. Once again the Germans betrayed their Italian allies, as they had done time and time again on the Russian front and in the long retreat from Egypt, through Libya and Tripoli, to the final surrender in Tunisia.


And so Mussolini came to the reluctant conclusion that the “jig was up”; he could see the shadow of the long arm of justice.


But he and his Fascist gang will be brought to book, and punished for their crimes against humanity. No criminal will be allowed to escape by the expedient of “resignation.”


So our terms to Italy are still the same as our terms to Germany and Japan—”unconditional surrender.”...


In every country the Fascists and the Nazis, or the Japanese militarists, the people have been reduced to the status of slaves or chattels.


It is our determination to restore these conquered peoples to the dignity of human beings, masters of their own fate, entitled to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.


We have started to make good on that promise.


I am sorry if I step on the toes of those Americans who, play party politics at home, call that kind of foreign policy “crazy altruism” and “starry-eyed dreaming.”...


It’s a little over a year since we planned the North African campaign. It is six months since we planned the Sicilian campaign. I confess that I am of an impatient disposition, but I think that I understand and that most people understand the amount of time necessary to prepare for any major military or naval operation. We cannot just pick up the telephone and order a new campaign to start the next week.


For example, behind the invasion forces in North Africa, the invasion forces that went out of North Africa, were thousands of ships and planes guarding the long, perilous sea lanes, carrying the men, carrying the equipment and the supplies to the point of attack. And behind all these were the railroad lines and the highways here back home that carried the men and the munitions to the ports of embarkation—there were the factories and the mines and the farms here back home that turned out the materials—there were the training camps here back home where the men learned how to perform the strange and difficult and dangerous tasks which were to meet them on the beaches and in the deserts and in the mountains.


All this had to be repeated, first in North Africa and then in Sicily. Here in Sicily the factor of air attack was added—for we could use North Africa as the base for softening up the landing places and the lines of defense in Sicily and the lines of supply in Italy.


It is interesting for us to realize that every Flying Fortress that bombed harbor installations at, for example, Naples, bombed it from its base in North Africa, required 1,110 gallons of gasoline for each single flight and that this is the equal of about 375 “A” ration tickets--enough gas to drive your car five times across this continent. You will better understand your part in the war— and what gasoline rationing means—if you multiply this by the gasoline needs of thousands of planes and hundreds of thousands of jeeps and trucks and tanks that are now serving overseas….


Those few complain about the inconveniences of life here in the United States should learn some lessons from the civilian populations of our allies—Britain and China and Russia—and of all the lands occupied by our common enemy.


The heaviest and most decisive fighting today is going on in Russia. I am glad that the British and we have been able to contribute somewhat to the great striking power of the Russian armies.


In 1941-42 the Russians were able to retire without breaking, to move many of their war plants from western Russia far into the interior, to stand together with complete unanimity in the defense of their homeland.


The success of the Russian armies has shown that it is dangerous to make prophecies about them—a fact which has been forcibly brought home to that mystic master of strategic intuition, Herr Hitler….


In the Pacific, we are pushing the laps around from the Aleutians to New Guinea. There too we have taken the initiative—and we are not going to let go of it.


It becomes clearer and clearer that the attrition, the whittling down process against the Japanese is working. The Japs have lost more planes and more ships than they have been able to replace....


The same kind of careful planning that gained victory in North Africa and Sicily is required, if we are to make victory an enduring reality and do our share in building the kind of peaceful world that will justify the sacrifices made in this war.

The United Nations are substantially agreed on the general objectives for the postwar world. They are also agreed that this is not the time to engage in an international discussion of all the terms of peace and all the details of the future. Let us win the war first. We must not relax our pressure on the enemy by taking time out to define every boundary and settle every political controversy in every part of the world. The important thing, the all-important thing now is to get on with the war—and to win it.


While concentrating on military victory, we are not neglecting the planning of the things to come, the freedoms which we know will make for more decency and greater justice throughout the world.


Among many other things we are, today, laying plans for the return to civilian life of our gallant men and women in the armed services. They must not be demobilized into an environment of inflation and unemployment, to a place on a breadline, or on a corner selling apples. We must, this time, have plans ready—instead of waiting to do a hasty, inefficient, and ill-considered job at the last moment....


Of course, the returning soldier and sailor and marine are a part of the problem of demobilizing the rest of the millions of Americans who have been working and living in a war economy since 1941. That larger objective of reconverting wartime America to a peacetime basis is one for which your government is laying plans to be submitted to the Congress for action.


But the members of the armed forces have been compelled to make greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and they are entitled to definite action to help take care of their special problems.


The least to which they are entitled, it seems to me, is something like this:


First, mustering-out pay to every member of the armed forces and merchant marine when he or she is honorably discharged; mustering-out pay large enough in each case to cover a reasonable period of time between his discharge and the finding of a new job.


Secondly, in case no job is found after diligent search, then unemployment insurance if the individual registers with the United States Employment Service.


Third, an opportunity for members of the armed services to get further education or trade training at the cost of their government.   


Fourth, allowance of credit to all members of the armed forces, under unemployment compensation and federal old-age and survivors’ insurance, for their period of service. For these purposes they ought to be treated as if they had continued their employment in private industry.


Fifth, improved and liberalized provisions for hospitalization, for rehabilitation, for medical care of disabled members of the armed forces and the merchant marine.


And finally, sufficient pensions for disabled members of the armed forces...


The plans we made for the knocking out of Mussolini and his gang have largely succeeded. But we still have to knock out Hitler and his gang, and Tojo and his gang. No one of us pretends that this will be an easy matter....


We shall not settle for less than total victory. That is the determination of every American on the fighting front.  That must be, and will be, the determination of every American here at home.