RELEASED FOR MORNING PAPERS, SATURDAY, MAY 19, 1917.
STATEMENT, - Army Bill.
I shall not avail myself, at any rate at the present stage of the war, of the authorization conferred by the Act to organize volunteer divisions. To do so would seriously interfere with the carrying out of the chief and most immediately important purpose contemplated by this legislation: the prompt creation and early use of an effective army and would contribute practically nothing to the effective strength of the armies now engaged against Germany.
I understand that the section of this Act which authorizes the creation of volunteer divisions in addition to the draft was added with a view to providing an independent command for Mr. Roosevelt and giving the military authorities an opportunity to use his fine vigour and enthusiasm in recruiting the forces now at the western front. It would be very agreeable to me to pay Mr. Roosevelt this compliment and the Allies the compliment of sending to their aid one of our most distinguished public men, an ex-President who has rendered many conspicuous public services and proved his gallantry in many striking ways. Politically, too, it would no doubt have a very fine effect and make a profound impression. But this is not the time or the occasion for compliment or for any action not calculated to contribute to the immediate success of the war. The business now in hand is undramatic, practical, and of scientific definiteness and precision. I shall act with regard to it at every step and in every particular under expert and professional advice, from both sides of the water.
That advice is that the men most needed are men of the ages contemplated in the draft provisions of the present Bill, not men of the age and sort contemplated in the section which authorizes the formation of volunteer units, and that for the preliminary training of the men who are to be drafted we shall need all of our experienced officers. Mr. Roosevelt told me, when I had the pleasure of seeing him a few weeks ago, that he would wish to have associated with him some of the most effective officers of the regular army. He named many of those whom he would desire to have designated for the service, and they were men who cannot possibily be spared from the too small force of officers at our command for the much more pressing and necessary duty of training regular troops to be put into the field in France and Belgium as fast as they can be got ready. The first troops sent to France will be taken from the present forces of the regular army and will be under the command of trained soldiers only.
The responsibility for the successful conduct of our own part in this great war rests upon me. I could not escape it if I would. I am too much interested in the cause we are fighting for to be interested in anything but success. The issues involved are too immense for me to take into consideration anything whatever except the best, most effective, most immediate means of military action. What these means are I know from the mouths of men who have seen war as it is now conducted, who have no illusions, and to whom the whole grim matter is a matter of business. I shall centre my attention upon those means and let everything else wait. I should be deeply to blame should I do otherwise, whatever the argument of policy or of personal gratification or advantage.