- Historic Sites
“I've Got This Thing Simplified”
A private interview with F.D.R. April 7, 1944
April 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 3
He tipped his head back, laughing. He and Steve exchanged one or two more remarks about the press conference and then Steve left the room. I sat on the President’s left. It seemed very still in the room. There was no sound of traffic. A policeman walked back and forth on the gravel drive beyond the windows at the President’s back. Across the drive, Fala, the black Scottie, was in his pen.
The President offered me a cigarette from the flat silver case open on his desk. He used the word “cig” instead of cigarette. I took one. He fitted one into his discolored ivory holder and I lighted it. I began by telling him that I had been out into the country, and that many people wondered why he hadn’t gone on the air and told them something about the hopes for the future, the peace, etc.
“It works both ways,” the President said. “Some people would have me go on the air at least once every two weeks, while another set of people work just as hard to keep me off the air altogether. I think I will make a radio talk in which I will say that my one real desire is to go back to Hyde Park.
“We can look at this in a detached way. We can know what history will say fifty years from now. On the other hand, I wonder if we can afford to take that point of view.”
Implied in this was his responsibility, although he did not say that in so many words. This implication ran through much of what he said. It tempered the detached attitude he seemed to be deliberately assuming. He talked about what he could and could not tell the public.
“Now you take Poland, for example. What if I had said a year ago that the boundary should be here,” he marked with his forefinger on the brown desk pad before him, “or here?” marking again. “The Russians are in Poland today. They might not agree. Then what could I do?
“We are not going to fight Russia over the boundary of Poland. I told Stalin that at Teheran. I said, ‘We’re not going to go to war with you over Poland.’” He laughed hard at that.
“Or take France. What can be said about France? People come out of there and tell me that all of France feels this way, or all of France feels that way. How do they know? I don’t think that anyone going into France today could tell. You take Pete Brandt’s question at the press conference today. [Raymond P. Brandt, chief Washington correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, had put a question about General De Gaulle and American support for the Free French once France was liberated.] I can’t give a final answer. No one knows.
“I remember in 1918 I was in the Château-Thierry sector, up where the Germans had been pushed out and the country had been reoccupied. There was one particular man—the name eludes me—who had done a magnificent job. He had resisted the Germans from the very beginning and effectively. Now what if someone had come in there and had said, ‘No, we are going to overlook this man and select, for political reasons, old M. Labouis to be mayor or to take over the administration.’ How do you think the other man would have felt?
“Or take the Balkans and Greece. We can’t go ahead and talk about what will be done there. We might arouse their hopes far beyond anything that can possibly be fulfilled. That would be a mistake.”
Just how he got onto the question of the Far East I do not recall but his talk went more or less like this:
“We have to be extremely careful there. The white man is more and more in disfavor. His position is becoming increasingly difficult. I know that Churchill is very concerned about Burma and what is going to happen there. We are going to have to take some positive steps or find ourselves pushed out completely.
“Some time ago I worked out a form of trusteeship for French Indochina. You know that colony was governed very badly. For every dollar the French put in, they took ten dollars out. Those little people had a culture of their own … Cambodia … their kings. But they were badly treated.
“Now my idea is for a trusteeship to administer Indochina. I put this up to old Chiang … of course, he isn’t really old but he looks old … he isn’t as old as I am, as a matter of fact … and he was strong for it. The idea is to have one Chinese trustee, one Philippine trustee, one French trustee, one British, and perhaps one American.
“It would work out just as it does with a woman whose husband has died and left some property, let’s say. She knows nothing about money. Perhaps she hasn’t ever signed a check … there are women like that, you know. So her property is put under a trustee for her use. That’s exactly what we’d do with Indochina.
“At Teheran I asked Stalin about it. I said, ‘Mr. Marshal, what would you think of such a trusteeship?’ Well, he thought it was excellent. So then I asked Churchill what he thought. He didn’t like it. I said, ‘I suppose you have Burma in mind.’ He said, ‘Yes, yes, thinking of Burma.’”
I put in here: “Of course, they would regard this as a very unhappy precedent.” The President assented and went on.
“But I said to him that after all there were three votes against one and he had better look out. He didn’t like that at all.