Eleanor Roosevelt to Alma Sue Emrick

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Alma Sue Emrick

24 October 1947 [New York City]

My dear Miss3 Emrick:

You did not enclose the ballot so I do not know what you received.4

I agree with you that the PTA organizations are extremely valuable but I am afraid you will find it hard to unite with women in the same type of organization in Russia. That just does not exist and if it did, you could not possibly get any communication to them.

I think you are unwise not to face the fact military training is not preparation to fight a war, but preparation to prevent war. In two wars we have been saved from being a primary target by the fact that others defended us. We can not always expect to be saved. I hope very much as the UN grows stronger that we may prevent war, but as long as there is force in the world we can only reduce our own as the other nations reduce theirs. We can not do it alone.

I wish you could come and spend six months watching the Russians work. I quite agree with you that the Russian people do not want war any more than we do, but they would have little or nothing to say about it since they only get the news which their government wishes them to have and they probably would believe that we were attacking them.

We all want a government in this country for the people and by the people but that is not the case all over the world and shutting your eyes to facts does not do one any good.

                                      Very sincerely yours,


1. The California Congress of Parents and Teachers, Inc., was the name of the California State PTA from the 1920s to the 1970s, when it adopted its present name (California State PTA, "A Brief History: Working Together for Children Since 1897," http://www.capta.org/sections/basics/brief-history.cfm, accessed 2 November 2005).

2. Alma Sue Emrick to ER, 10 October 1947, AERP.

3. Though Mrs. Emrick called herself a "common housewife" in her letter to ER, the extant carbon copy of ER's reply in the FDR Library reads as given, "Miss."

4. ER mistakenly calls this document a ballot rather than a petition.

Defending Freedom of the Press

In a speech before the General Assembly, September 18, 1947, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vyshinsky accused the United States, and particularly the American "reactionary" press, of inciting war against the Soviet Union. It was his belief that while the American people, as well as the peoples of other democratic countries, were against a new war, American newspaper magnates were "provoking hatred" towards the Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations. "It cannot be but mentioned as an example that such organs of the press as the New York Herald Tribune and a number of similar organs, especially of the Hearst press, publish systematically all possible provocative articles, which promote in the minds of their readers the necessity for 'military action if Europe faces collapse or falls under the control of the Soviet Union,'" he said. Vyshinsky also implied that because the press was "entirely in the hands of the bosses of various newspapers enterprises, and does what is ordered," it was hardly as "free" as it claimed.1

Later that same day, Vyshinsky introduced a resolution into the First Committee of the United Nations urging all member governments of the General Assembly to forbid war propaganda within their borders, on pain of criminal punishment.2

ER interpreted these attacks on the press as nothing more than propaganda designed to embarrass the United States, and went on a campaign to defend the freedom of the press. In the first of her "The World Security Workshop" broadcasts, October 5, ER made it clear that there was a distinction between "war-mongering" and a "critical attitude:"

The real difference … is that our press is run by individual people or groups, and they are free to say whatever they want to say. It is a very different thing when you have a press that does represent the government and only the government, where everything has to be considered as official.3

Three weeks later, in a statement before the Third Committee, ER again defended the right of free speech and the importance of an independent press, but also highlighted the problems of a government-controlled press:

Sometimes what is printed in the controlled press of these countries is not false so far as it goes, but the whole truth is rarely told. A careful selection of items is made to build up the desired general picture, and the rest of the news is frequently omitted or distorted. I think those of us who listened to the debates here must know that by this time, because we have heard cited both here and in Committee One definite quotations, but we have never heard anything on the other side, and there is, of course, more on the other side that could be quoted. I think that that is something that we ought to remember in discussing what happens in a free press.

A recent example of this technique is the treatment by the controlled press of the statements made by Mr. Vyshinsky and Secretary Marshall at the opening session of this Assembly. Mr. Vyshinsky's address was given copious space, frequently being produced verbatim. Secretary Marshall's statement, on the other hand, received no mention whatsoever in many press organs, and where brief mention was given, the account was slanted in the desired direction. In the United States press, on the other hand, Mr. Vyshinsky's statement was reported fully and fairly in all major press organs, despite the fact that it contained an indictment, among other things, of the American press itself. In this way the people of the countries in which the controlled press functions are being sealed off from the outside world, kept in the darkness of governmental and semi-governmental propaganda, and systematically shielded from the light of full truth.

The threat to international peace and security is indeed grave when behind these walls of contrived ignorance governments persistently slander governments and official propagandists work to poison the wells of international friendship—without possibility of effective reply.4

Three days after her statement before the Third Committee, ER continued to stress the importance of the freedom of the press in My Day:

No one believes in printing untruthful news. Certainly no one wants to see the press or individuals or any organizations incite to war. But I cannot believe that suppression by law or by government edict is going to bring about the desired results.

I found myself in the absurd position of defending the Chicago Tribune, since this newspaper was specifically mentioned in the Yugoslav presentation. I defended that paper, certainly not because I either agree with or believe most of the things which it stands for, but because I think we should defend the right of all individuals to their freedom of thought and speech.

And when they began on the columnists and news broadcasters, I could not help smiling again. There are plenty of these gentlemen who have said things that I could deny if I cared to undertake a constant running fight, but even where they are concerned I would have to defend their right to express their points of view. Sometimes, when I hear things or read things which I know quite well are not true, I have almost a wistful feeling about the English libel laws! They would be helpful occasionally if they existed here. Nevertheless, in spite of annoyances and the harm which evil minds can bring about in personal, national and international situations, I still think it would be more serious to curtail, in any way, freedom of thought and expression.5

Although ER by this point was firmly on record as opposed to the Soviet and Yugoslav resolutions, she made one last attempt to caution against curtailing the freedom of the press prior to the vote. The following remarks were reproduced by Durward Sandifer's wife in her memoir, Mrs. Roosevelt As We Knew Her.6

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Alma Sue Emrick

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Alma Sue Emrick