Informal Remarks of President Roosevelt to the Volunteer Participation Committee on Why Oil Exports Continued to Japan, Washington, July 24, 1941


[Extract]

There are lots of thing that people don't quite understand. You are an information bureau to all of them. And I will give you the example.

Here on the East Coast you have been reading that the Secretary of the Interior, as Oil Administrator, is faced with the problem of not enough gasoline to go around in the East Coast, and how he is asking everybody to curtail their consumption of gasoline. All right. Now I am-I might be called-an American citizen, living in Hyde Park, N. Y. And I say, "That's a funny thing. Why am I asked to curtail my consumption of gasoline when I read in the papers that thousands of tons of gasoline are going out from Los Angeles-West Coast-to Japan; and we are helping Japan in what looks like an act of aggression?"

All right. Now the answer is a very simple one. There is a world war going on, and has been for some time-nearly two years. One of our efforts, from the very beginning, was to prevent the spread of that world war in certain areas where it hadn't started. One of those areas is a place called the Pacific Ocean-one of the largest areas of the earth. There happened to be a place in the South Pacific where we had to get a lot of things-rubber, tin, and so forth and so on-down in the Dutch Indies, the Straits Settlements, and Indochina. And we had to help get the Australian surplus of meat and wheat, and corn, for England.

It was very essential, from our own selfish point of view of defense, to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was-trying to stop a war from breaking out down there. At the same time, from the point of view of even France at that time-of course, France still had her head above water-we wanted to keep that line of supplies from Australia and New Zealand going to the Near East-all their troops, all their supplies that they have maintained in Syria, North Africa, and Palestine. So it was essential for Great Britain that we try to keep the peace down there in the South Pacific.

All right. And now here is a nation called Japan. Whether they had at that time aggressive purposes to enlarge their empire southward, they didn't have any oil of their own up in the north. Now, if we cut the oil off, they probably would have gone down to the Dutch East Indies a year ago, and you would have had war.

Therefore, there was-you might call-a method in letting this oil go to Japan, with the hope-and it has worked for two years-of keeping war out of the South Pacific for our own good, for the good of the defense of Great Britain, and the freedom of the seas.

You people can help to enlighten the average citizen who wouldn't hear of that, or doesn't read the papers carefully, or listen to the radio carefully, to understand what some of these apparent anomalies mean. So, on the information end, I think you have got just as great a task as you have in the actual organization work.


Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 702-704


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