Department of Defense files

Memorandum by President Roosevelt to the Joint Chiefs of Staff

I have spoken with Admiral Leahy68 in regard to a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff of March 25th.68a

I cannot agree with the proposed statement or the advisability thereof.

The trouble is that the reasoning of the memorandum presupposes a reconstituting of a German state which would give active cooperation apparently at once to peace in Europe.

A somewhat long study and personal experience in and out of Germany leads me to believe that German philosophy cannot be changed [Page 502]by decree, law or military order. The change in German philosophy must be evolutionary and may take two generations.

To assume otherwise is to assume, of necessity, a period of quiet followed by a third world war.

I think that the simplest way of approaching this whole matter is to stick to what I have already said, (a) that the United Nations are determined to administer a total defeat to Germany as a whole (b) that the Allies have no intention of destroying German people. Please note that I am not willing at this time to say that we do not intend to destroy the German nation. As long as the word “Reich” exists in Germany as expressing a nationhood, it will forever be associated with the present form of nationhood. If we admit that, we must seek to eliminate the very word “Reich” and all that it stands for today.

F[ranklin] D. R[oosevelt]
  1. Adm. William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy.
  2. Not printed; in this memorandum the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted that “the unconditional surrender formula in its present form has apparently enabled the Nazis to envoke the spectre of annihilation and thus has stiffened the German will to resist.” They recommended a restatement of the formula, “elaborating on the points already made by the President and other United Nations Leaders,” and urged that this step be taken at an early date, in order to “establish a favorable condition precedent to Overlord.” For information on the background of the JCS memorandum, see Maurice Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943–1944, in the official Army history, United States Army in World War II: The War Department (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1959), pp. 428–430.