If You Ask Me [Excerpt]
If You Ask Me [Excerpt]
Ladies' Home Journal January 1947
I am puzzled about what is going on in [the] U.N. It seems to me that when the Americans or British make a proposal, the Russians ignore it or make a directly opposite one. I get the feeling that we will never be able to work with the Russians. Do you feel that way?
No, I do not feel that way. It seems to me quite possible to get on with the Russians, though I think it is going to take us a long while really to understand each other. There are fundamental differences that exist between us, in our backgrounds and in our points of view, which arise very largely from the fact that Russia is a very young nation—young and virile—but, nevertheless, insecure.1 We have more than 150 years behind us, and we have attained a good deal of the poise and security which come with maturity.
The desire for security motivates practically every country. They need a sense that they have friends and are safe in the family of nations; that their people and their own strength are adequate to meet the demands which living in the modern world requires.
It is much easier to have confidence in people if you have a sense of security. We have gained it, and I think for that very reason we should perhaps be better able today to be generous about some of the very obvious moves which are made by the Russians, largely because of their lack of security. Only with confidence and trust can peace be a reality.
There is no question, for instance, that ultimately we will all have more security if we have a greater sense of interdependence; put more strength into the United Nations, and count less on our own individual strengths. Even we find that hard to accept, because it is such a new concept of living with other nations, and for the Russians, who have lived on the continent of Europe, where every nation has looked askance at every other nation for years, it is even harder than it is for us.
We are apt to forget the changes that have come over the world, and to judge whatever moves Russia makes to assure her security from the point of view of the world ethics of today, rather than from the point of view which was prevalent years ago when we met our own problems. In many ways, Russia is today where we were a hundred years or more ago. We did not like it when people criticized us. And it was not just because of the criticism; it was because we were a little afraid that some of the things they said were probably true!
One takes criticism better as one grows older; and if we really understood, I think we would face more realistically some of the things which Russia has done, even though we might still oppose them, because we know both the world of today and the world of our youth.
For instance, we proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine2 for our own security; and many of the other moves which we are reminded of as we go back through the pages of our history were made to give us a sense of security. Many a time in our history we have done highhanded things, but we have done them always with a sense of virtue because they made us more secure! They increased our economic stability, or our defenses; so, as we felt that our motives were good, we justified our self-interests.
That is something we must not forget when we watch another nation, a virile, young nation, in a period when international and national ethics have changed considerably, trying to gain some things which we have already achieved. It is far harder today to live by modern standards and still achieve these things, since the buccaneer days are over. The Atomic Age has wiped out the past in which we grew up.
When all this is considered, however, I think it is essential that the Russians also understand that the nations living around them, who have greater maturity, have set up certain standards, and that to live successfully with them the effort to understand those standards must be made. They will have to stop some of the practices which are relics of the past, and recognize eventually the basic difference between our two beliefs: We think the state must serve the individual; and they think the individual is subservient to the state. Gradually as our conceptions become clearer to each other, and as life becomes more worth while to every individual in his part of the world, we will, I believe, find a happier medium for working together and living together in peace and amity.
1. ER would make this point again in December 1947 when she wrote:
There was a time in the United States when the individual was less important than the community as a whole—that grew out of our weakness and our need for expansion. That is probably one of the reasons why the Russians are genuinely surprised that you should be concerned with the fate of smaller nations, since they represent such a small number of people. I am quite sure it has never occurred to the Russian government that the rest of the world might believe that some of the smaller nations they dominate have as much right to consideration as their great nation has.
The importance of the mass of people as against a small group of individuals will change only as the whole nation reaches a higher standard of living and begins to have time to think of itself on individual lines. The sooner Russia as a nation becomes conscious that there are those of us who have reached the point where individuals and small nations are as important as big nations and masses of people, the sooner we'll begin to understand each other and at least work together in certain fields where we have a community of interest" (MD, 22 December 1947; see also MD, 1 June 1945 and 7 October 1948).
2. In his annual message to Congress, December 2, 1823, President James Monroe proclaimed that "the American continents … are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers" and in return, promised that the United States would not interfere with territories then under European control (RCAH).
Eleanor Roosevelt and Americans for Democratic Action, Part 1
Saturday, January 3, a week after 300 delegates assembled at the Hotel Commodore to form the Progressive Citizens of America, a group of 120 non-Communist, New Deal liberals convened at Washington's Willard Hotel to reorganize and expand the Union for Democratic Action. As covered by Washington's leading newspaper, the Evening Star, those who addressed the preconvention banquet focused their remarks on how best to organize against the "forces of reaction." ER, whom UDA executive secretary Loeb hoped would offset the publicity Wallace had brought to the PCA founding meeting, also addressed the activists, calling on liberals to awaken "a sleeping people" to "the sense of responsibility which they have to accept" not only for America but for the rest of the world.1