Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day (1945)

June 9, 1945

WASHINGTON, Friday – At the moment, certain actions of American Communists in this country have added fuel to the general fear of Communism as an international force.

Earl Browder has been reprimanded for an attitude which many of us believed had represented the attitude of the Soviet government.

We, in this country, feel that any nation has a right within its own borders to the kind of government it feels best meets the needs of the people. It is only when those beliefs begin to encroach on other nations and on other people, and to endanger their free beliefs and actions by attempting to propagandize them, either openly or secretly, that fear is awakened. The next step, we have learned through the rise of Fascism, is to try by force to push upon the rest of the world the beliefs which your particular nation holds. That is what we, including the Soviet Union, have had to fight, and the war has been a long, cruel war.

It frightens us to see any group in our midst proposing to propagandize instead of cooperating where possible and letting people think and act for themselves. This might lead to war at home and abroad. Therefore, the French Communist leader and the American Communists who encourage a policy of world revolution have done the peace of the world harm.

The American Communist Party had been cooperative where they could be. But now, as we understand it, they are out to force Communism on our democracy. That we will not tolerate.

I am not afraid of the Communists in the United States. They are a very small group, and my feeling has always been that as long as the needs of our people are met by our own form of government, democracy need have no fear of the growth of other ideas, either in the field of economics or of government.

As a people, we are not afraid of the Soviet Union. We feel kindly toward the Soviet people. Our soldiers admire them, and so do our people generally, for the way they have fought in the war. We do not understand them very well, nor do we understand their problems or their real feelings about things which affect us deeply. That understanding can only come gradually, as we get to know each other better, and we cannot know each other unless we live in a peaceful world.

The sooner we clear up authoritatively this whole situation of the Communist Party outside of the Soviet Union, the better chance we will have for peace in the future. The Russian people should know this, and so should the people of the United States. If they both demand a clarification of a situation which may grow until it endangers peace in the world, responsible people will have to listen. Light may break on what now seems a situation through which all the people who want to make trouble between the United States and the Soviet Union can do so.

June 11, 1945

HYDE PARK, Sunday – Because I mentioned American Communists in my last column, it does not mean that I think they are the only group that is guilty in helping prepare for war rather than peace.

It is not hard to recognize Fascist groups in this country, even though they do not call themselves Fascists. But it is not easy to recognize some of the other forces within our nation that pull us apart internally. These forces make us less powerful in the world, less strong internally, and therefore less able to use our power to hold the great nations together in the service of peace.

President Truman did a courageous and wise thing when he came out in favor of the Fair Employment Practices Committee bill. That is a moderate bill which gives all citizens of our country an equal opportunity to earn a living without discrimination because of creed or color. It does not deal with the social lives of people; it merely emphasizes something which has been written in our Constitution since the very beginning.

Yet there are individuals and groups in this country who will fight this measure. These men are not so easy to recognize as dangerous because they talk about freedom and democracy as though it belonged only to them. They forget that every time we deny freedom and democracy to any group within our country, we thereby serve notice on people in other parts of the world that they cannot be sure that we would concede them the right to freedom and democracy if they differed from us in any particular.

I rode with a taxi driver the other day who was both an economist and a moralist. His thesis went something like this: We will not get rid of war in the world until peoples’ hearts change and they are willing that nobody should starve. Sure, there can be rich and poor people. But everyone should be able to work, and if they work they should have some assurance that they will eat and have shelter.

He was really advocating the full employment bill, but we will find opposition from some people to this minimum assurance of security. They are dangerous because they hide behind phrases such as “free enterprise” and “the rights of individuals.” This opposition will claim that they are dealing only with domestic issues. What they are really doing is to serve notice on the world that we haven’t yet grown up to the acceptance of responsibility for the rights of human beings everywhere.

Until we convince the world that we assume this responsibility at home, that we recognize our own power and the power of our great Allies in this world and intend to help in using that power to promote the good of the peoples of the world as a whole, we can have no real confidence in building a peaceful world.

June 12, 1945

HYDE PARK, Monday – I came back to the country Saturday afternoon. My household had been augmented by three, but no one was as vociferously pleased to see me as Fala. He really does not see much sense in our going away, but he settles down very happily with whoever stays at home to look after him. Since a child has now come to play with him, his cup of joy is running over.

I told my young six-year-old guest that I would show him our “secret woods,” a wonderful pine grove where the needles have been falling for so long that you sink in and walk noiselessly and where everything around you looks mysterious. You can imagine almost anything just across the brook or just behind the next tree.

My day in Washington was interesting. In the morning I attended the ceremony when President Truman gave Mrs. Edwin Watson the Medal for Distinguished Service which my husband had planned to award to General Watson because of the valuable service which he had rendered. My husband was devoted to General Watson, and I was very happy to be there with Mrs. Watson.

I saw a number of people, members of Congress, some of the Cabinet, and old friends. I was particularly glad that Mrs. Morgenthau was home at last and on her way to health and strength again.

It was with sadness that I saw my daughter and her husband and little Johnny Boettiger depart for Seattle, but she and her family will be very happy to be back in their own home again. I can only be deeply grateful that her father and I were able to have her with us and to enjoy her company during the last year and a half. She meant a great deal to her father, and this was one of the strange by-products of the war which I count as a blessing; for if her husband had not been away in the service she would not have been able to be with us.

On the train trip to and fro, I was able to read many of the things I have been saving up against the time when I could sit quietly without the interruptions of my home. Among the most interesting was the May issue of Survey Graphic, the tenth in the “Calling America” series which has as its subject the British and ourselves. The lead article by Herbert Agar, called “Our Last Great Chance,” I think none of us should fail to read. It is a magnificent exposition of some of the problems and possibilities which lie before us in the near future. It is simple enough for all of us to understand, but is backed by all of the author’s experience of the past years in Europe.

June 13, 1945

HYDE PARK, Tuesday – Yesterday afternoon a very triumphant secretary came to me and announced that at last, after all these weeks, we had succeeded in opening the last piece of mail which has come to this address between the date of my husband’s death and the present. It will, of course, be completely impossible to answer these thousands of letters, some of which included poems and pieces of music and money for various purposes in which the senders felt the President was interested.

Here in my column, however, I want to say again a word of thanks. I want to tell you how much it has meant to feel that so many people not only have felt a personal loss, but have appreciated my husband’s leadership during the past twelve years. A few people, of course, went even further back than that, back to the early days of service in the Legislature, in the Navy Department or as Governor of the State of New York. Some remembered primarily the early days in Warm Springs when my husband was often friend and doctor and philosopher, before the staff came to take over their respective jobs.

I wish we had the ability to answer at least some of the letters which have come in, but aside from the lack of actual time and help, there is a shortage of paper! I would like to give you some examples of the kind of letters people have written, but there is little space and it would be hard to choose among so many messages.

One of my boys, writing from the Pacific, said he had been deeply touched by the efforts of the men under his command to express, often very shyly, their own sense of loss. He added that one of the things he felt to be most outstanding about his father was the ability which had been granted him to make people who had never seen him feel that they knew him personally and that they could get confidence themselves from his strength.

The radio, of course, has become a great instrument for bringing people together. Millions of people who have heard only voices on the radio have come to attach to those voices personalities and qualities of character. In many of my letters there is a sense of loss because my husband’s voice will no longer come into a living room or a kitchen in some remote corner of the United States.

To those who have written in such numbers, since I cannot say any individual words of thanks, I would like to send a thought: Out of sorrow and loss must come renewed strength, and I know that my husband’s hope would be that every citizen of this country will work a little harder than ever before at the business of being a citizen.

June 14, 1945

HYDE PARK, Wednesday – There is much discussion now about the McDonough bill, which would “authorize the release of persons from active military service and deferment of persons from military service, in order to aid in making possible the education and training and utilization of scientific and technological manpower to meet essential needs both in war and in peace.”

It seems fairly obvious now that we should carefully screen the men in the Army and Navy, because we know that a nation strong in both war and peace must not allow the education of certain gifted people to be neglected. The type of mind which is creative, the type of disposition which makes an individual a good research student, and many other attributes and abilities should now be screened out and given a chance to develop for the benefit of the peace which must follow the war.

Certain countries skipped a generation after the last war, and I think they suffered as a result. Now many countries are in danger, and we, too, are not exempt from the danger of losing a whole generation of scientists and able men in many fields because they have been inducted or have volunteered for service in the armed forces.

Consideration of the McDonough bill leads us quite naturally, I think, to the consideration of how we shall best give our country security in future years. I read two articles in the last few days—one by Max Lerner and one by Josephus Daniels—opposing compulsory military service. For months past, on the other hand, advocates of compulsory military service have sent me books and pamphlets showing the need for keeping our country strong by giving our young men military training. I am convinced that our country will be stronger if we give not only our young men, but also our young women training. I am not convinced, however, that this training has to be exclusively under the Army, or exclusively military training.

We are trying to build an organization where the peoples of the world will meet together, and we hope that our young people will work and build for peace. We know that this may not be completely successful, that we may make mistakes, that we may still have wars. But we hope that we can limit these wars so they will not spread and wipe out our civilization. We hope that in time people may learn really to outlaw war.

But we are not yet ready to say that that can be done completely by an organization which we are only beginning to create and which we must learn to use. Our search, therefore, must be for that which gives us the greatest security and, at the same time, the greatest hope for developing confidence among nations and peace in the future.

June 15, 1945

HYDE PARK, Thursday – I concluded my discussion of compulsory military service yesterday by saying that our search must be for that which will give us the greatest security and, at the same time, the greatest hope for future peace among nations. While none of us can give definite answers, all of us can bring up subjects which have to be considered in making tentative progress.

Those who feel that security for this country cannot lie only in the genuine desire of our people for peace, but must also find us willing at all times to keep ourselves fully prepared for war, have advanced the theory that we must have a great navy, a great air force and a citizens’ army. That is, we must have compulsory military training for one year, they say, if we desire only a small standing army which will be the nucleus for expansion when necessary. They claim that this program will cost us less than a large standing army, which we would have to maintain if we did not give a year of military training to every male citizen in the country. They claim that George Washington himself advocated a citizens’ army, feeling that this is a more democratic way of meeting the obligations of the citizens for defense of the country.

They have one argument which, in the light of history, must give us pause. They say that in both of the last wars we were shielded by the fact that our Allies went to war first, thus giving us time to prepare ourselves and to become the arsenal of production for the materials of war. They add that we cannot always expect this good fortune; that in the next war the aggressor nation or nations will profit by the lessons of the past wars. They will know that we are the first nation to be conquered. They will attack us first.

It is common knowledge now that the Nazis in underground factories were preparing weapons which – had the European war lasted longer – could have bombed our cities very precisely from the homeland of Germany. Their talk of secret weapons was not all talk. Our own scientists felt that research might be going on in Germany, as it was going on in this country, which would lead to discoveries of value in peacetime if used for the good of human beings, but which would also furnish weapons of great potential destructive power.

We must bear all of these things in mind when we discuss how we are going to live in the next few years. It may be that this kind of military preparation is essential until we get a peace organization functioning; until we gain the confidence of many peoples throughout the world, and so improve the living conditions of the average human being that the incentives to war are more remote than they have ever been before.

One of my boys wrote me from the Pacific: “No matter how hard it is to feed the peoples of Europe outside of Germany, we must make the effort until their first harvest comes in, for there is no freedom without food.” To me that has always been self-evident. But I think there are other arguments which we must also consider, and in my next column I want to cover them.