November 17, 1942
New York Herald Tribune, November 22, 1942.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have always welcomed the opportunity to participate in the Herald Tribune Forum because I have always been interested in the public presentation of all kinds of national problems.
In time of peace every variety of problem and issue is an interesting subject for public discussion.
But in time of war the American people know that the one all-important job before them is fighting and working to win. Therefore, of necessity, while long-range social and economic problems are by no means forgotten, they are a little like books which for the moment we have laid aside in order that we might get out the old atlas to learn the geography of the battle areas.
In time of war your government cannot always give spot news to the people. Nearly everybody understands that-and the reason for it.
This means that those relatively few people who do have the facts from all over the world, not only every day but every hour of every day, are somewhat precluded from discussing these facts publicly, except in the most general of terms. If they did, they would almost inevitably say things which would help the people who are trying to destroy us.
In reverse, those who are not in possession of all the news must almost inevitably speak from guesswork based on information of doubtful accuracy. They do not know the facts, and therefore the value of their statements becomes greatly reduced. Nor must we, in the actual progress of the war, lend ears to the clamor of politics or to criticism from those who, as we know in our hearts, are actuated by political motives.
The fact that this type of criticism has done less harm in the United States than might be expected has been due to the good old horse sense of the American people. I know from a somewhat long experience-in war time as well as peace time-that the overwhelming majority of our people know how to discriminate in their reading and in their radio listening between informed discussion and verbal thrusts in the dark.
I think you will realize that I have made a constant effort as Commander in Chief to keep politics out of the fighting this war.
But I must confess that my foot slipped once. About ten days before the late Election Day one of our aircraft carriers was torpedoed in the southwest Pacific. She did not sink at once, but became clear that she could not make port. She was, therefore destroyed by our own forces. We in Washington did not know whether the enemy was aware of her sinking-for there were no Japanese ships near enough to see her go down. You will realize of course, that the actual knowledge of the loss of enemy ship has a definite bearing on continuing naval operations for some time after the event. We, for instance, know that we have sunk a number of Japanese aircraft carriers and we know that we have bombed or torpedoed others. We would give a king's ransom know whether the latter were sunk or were saved, repaired and put back into commission.
However, when we got news of the sinking of this particular ship a great issue was being raised in the Congress and in the public vehicles of information as to the suppression of news from the fighting fronts. There was a division of opinion among responsible authorities.
Here came my mistake. I yielded to the clamor. I did so partly in realization of the certainty that if the news of the sinking were given out two or three weeks later it would be publicly charged that the news had been suppressed by me until after the election.
Then, shortly thereafter protests came from the admirals command in the southwest Pacific and at our great base in Hawaii on the ground that, in all probability, the Japanese Navy had information of the sinking, and that handing them the information on a silver platter-although we were careful not to reveal the name of the carrier-still gave to the Japanese a military advantage which they would otherwise not have had.
This confession of mine illustrates to the people of this country the fact that in time of war the conduct of that war, with the aim of victory, comes absolutely first. They know that not one of their inalienable rights is taken away through the failure to disclose them, for a reasonable length of time, facts that Hitler and Mussolini and Tojo would give their eyeteeth to learn. Facts, therefore become paramount-facts that cannot be told to the public at the time, as well as facts that can and should be told at all times.
The posters that tell you, "Loose talk costs lives," do not exaggerate. Loose talk delays victory. Loose talk is the damp that gets into powder. We prefer to keep our powder dry.
We have a gigantic job to do-all of us, together. Our battle lines today stretch from Kiska to Murmansk, from Tunisia to Guadalcanal. These lines will grow longer, as our forces advance.
Yes, we have had an uphill fight, and it will continue to be uphill, all the way. There can be no coasting to victory.
During the last two weeks we have had a great deal of good news and it would seem that the turning point of this war has at last been reached. But this is no time for exultation. There is no time now for anything but fighting and working to win.
A few days ago, as our Army advanced through North Africa, on the other side of the world our Navy was fighting what was one of the greatest battles of our history.
A very powerful Japanese force was moving at night toward our positions in the Solomon Islands. The spearhead of the force that we sent to intercept the enemy was under the command of Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan. He was aboard the leading ship, the cruiser San Francisco.
The San Francisco sailed right into the enemy fleet-right through the whole enemy fleet-her guns blazing. She engaged and hit three enemy vessels, sinking one of them. At point-blank range she engaged an enemy battleship-heavily her superior in size and firepower. She silenced this battleship's big guns and so disabled her that she could be sunk by torpedoes from our destroyers and aircraft.
The San Francisco herself was hit many times. Admiral Callaghan, my close personal friend, and many of his gallant officers and men gave their lives in this battle. But the San Francisco was brought safely back to port by a lieutenant commander, and she will fight again for her country.
The commander of the task force of which the San Francisco was a part has recommended that she be the first of our Navy's vessels to be decorated for outstanding service.
But there are no citations, no medals, which carry with them such high honor as that accorded to fighting men by the respect of their comrades-in-arms.
The commanding general of the marines in Guadalcanal, General Vandergrift, yesterday sent a message to the commander of the fleet, Admiral Halsey, saying, "We lift our battered helmets in admiration for those who fought magnificently against overwhelming odds and drove the enemy back to crushing defeat."
Let us thank God for such men as these. May our nation continue to be worthy of them, throughout this war, and forever.