Remarks by Eleanor Roosevelt Meeting of the Third Committee of the General Assembly

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Remarks by Eleanor Roosevelt Meeting of the Third Committee of the General Assembly7

28 October 1947

Mr. Chairman,

I am not going to begin by saying that I hope that none of my colleagues here will be offended, because I am going to try not to say anything which will offend them.8

Neverless, the longer I listen to this Committee and I hear what happens in other Committees, I think the time has come for some very straight thinking among us all. The ultimate objective that we have is to create better understanding among us, and I will acknowledge that that is going to be difficult. And I will give you the reasons why. I have never yet heard a representative of any of the USSR group acknowledge that in any way their government can be wrong. They may say it at home—I do not know—and they may think it is wrong to do it outside. They are very young and the young rarely acknowledge anything which they may have done that may not be quite right. With maturity we grow much more humble and we know that we have to acknowledge very often that things are not quite perfect. Because we acknowledge it, does not mean that we love our country any less; that we do not basically believe in the rightness of the things that exist in our country. What it does mean is that we know that human nature is not perfect and that we hope that all of us can contribute to something better.

Now, we have been going back and forth on the things which we could produce, that had been said on each side, which were bad. I could now say that the pamphlet from which my USSR colleague cited yesterday is written by a gentleman who belongs to the CIO, American Newspaper Guild9—to which I also belong—and I could also say that as you read it, it is quite evident that he is one of our American Communists and we allow American Communists in this country freedom to print what they want to say in criticism of this country.10 The mere fact that it is printed shows that they have that freedom. Whether that is really very good to base our criticism on, I don't know, but the more we talk—we hear, for instance, the constant repetition of a capitalist press, or a capitalist economy versus a Communist economy.11 Well, it is true and we have to live in the same world. The point is that somehow or other we have to learn to live together and work together on the bases and places where those economies are going to have to touch—in business, in trade, in the various things.

It is true too that we probably have basically different philosophies. For instance, our Ukrainian colleague said, "The way in which we understand the word freedom," by which he implied that he understood it differently.12 I am quite sure that we have a different conception of what the meaning is. I think that we will have to grow very gradually over the years to a better understanding. But, in order to do that we must work together. Growing apart is not going to help us. I, for instance, would say, who is going to decide what is truth and what is a lie because some of the things which our colleagues have cited I don't happen to think have absolute truth anymore than they think that some of the things I cite are absolutely true. And it seems to me that if you curtail freedom in any respect, you curtail it sooner or later in every respect.

Now I think there is no such thing as absolute freedom. But I think we have to be careful to curtail as little as possible and I think that at the present time the thing for us to do is to acknowledge that there are basic differences in our economies, in our backgrounds, perhaps in our customs, in the way that we have done things, and that therefore both of us with different points of view have got to try to find some measure of cooperation between us.

I could not vote for the Yugoslav resolution. I did not really feel at first that I could vote for the French as it stood. I am not sure that I like doing anything except turning this over to the people who are experts to discuss it and to recommend what they think is the right thing to do, because I think experts are apt to get away more in the discussion of a subject from the political point of view or any other point of view. Nevertheless, with the amendments which have been introduced by Mexico—and the Luxemburg is very much the same—we will vote for the French resolution13 because we do not believe that one should incite to war—we would far rather see peaceful things said—and we would hope that as far as possible all responsible writers and speakers and radio commentators and newspapers would try to do the things which will help cooperation. But, believe me, I do not know anything that I can say which will be impressive enough to make this Committee realize that our main objective is to create better understanding, to learn to live together in peace, and to try to make every measure—every act that we undertake—serve the purpose of increasing good will.

Now, I don't expect the millenium immediately, but I do expect and hope and pray that we are going to see the gradual increase in good will rather than a continual backwards and forwards of telling us what dogs we are and how bad we are.14 I can see no use in that at all. I am weary of it and all I can say to my colleagues is that I hope we can work with good will.

Mrs. Roosevelt As We Knew Her15

1. "Text of Address by Vishinsky Before United Nations General Assembly Stating Soviet Views," NYT, 19 September 1947, 18.

2. The Yugoslav delegation had introduced a similar resolution into the Third Committee, October 4, calling on member states to "take urgent legislative and other measures" to "prevent the publication and dissemination through the channel of governmental or semi-governmental bodies of reports or news which have not been carefully verified," or which "provoke conflicts and incite war … against another State or another nation" (Frank S. Adams, "Russia Urges Gag," NYT, 19 September 1947, 1; GA, Request for the Inclusion of an Additional Item in the Agenda of the Second Regular Session, 18 September 1947 [A/BUR/86], AERP; Third Committee, Draft Resolution Submitted by the Delegation of Yugoslavia, 4 October 1947 [A/C.3/162], 256, UNORGA, MWelC).

3. "Air Forum Opened by Mrs. Roosevelt," NYT, 6 October 1947, 6.

4. Statement by the U.S. Representative to the General Assembly, 24 October 1947, DSB, 2 November 1947, 874-77. For a summary record of these remarks, see Third Committee, Sixty-eighth Meeting, Summary Record, 24 October 1947, 126-34, UNORGA, MWelC.

5. MD, 27 October 1947, AERP.

6. Irene Sandifer does not say whether she took down ER's words herself or obtained a transcript in some other way. The New York Times quoted briefly from ER's remarks, but did not print them in full in "Amity Plea Made by Mrs. Roosevelt," NYT, 29 October 1947, 10.

7. For the summary record of these remarks, see Third Committee, Seventy-first Meeting, Summary Record, 28 October 1947, 144-54, UNORGA, MWelC.

8. ER alludes to the repeated statements by Stephan P. Demchenko, the Ukrainian delegate, asking the American and British delegates not to be offended by the statements he quoted from sources that charged, for example, that wealthy publishers of American, British, and Australian newspapers censored the news (Third Committee, Seventy-first Meeting, Summary Record, 28 October 1947, 150, UNORGA, MWelC).

9. American Newspaper Guild.

10. Valerian A. Zorin, the delegate from the USSR, quoted from a pamphlet later identified by the New York Times as, "The 'Free Press'" by George Marion and published by New Century Publishers in New York in 1946. The summary report describes Zorin's presentation as follows:

Replying to the United States representative who had contended that the majority of the United States organs of information were in the hands of private and independent owners, he quoted a book by an American author on the United States Press as showing that the facts completely contradicted the contention of the delegation of the United States. The picture of the American Press as painted by an American journalist, determined, in Mr. Zorin's view, the attitude which the Third Committee should adopt in order to check the malpractices of the Press in relation to certain political problems.

It was no part of the intention to overthrow the systems in force in the United States or elsewhere. He merely sought to demonstrate that if, as the United States claimed, the Press in some countries was a kind of State monopoly, in the United States it was the monopoly of the big financiers (Third Committee, Sixty-Ninth Meeting, Summary Record, 28 October 1947, 138, UNORGA, MWelC).

The New York Times reported that Zorin contended that Marion's book exposed the "monopolistic structure of the newspaper business" in the United States.

He added that, according to this source, all the papers in fifteen of the largest cities of the United States belonged to three owners. Where are the "free newspapers" referred to by Mrs. Roosevelt? Mr. Zorin asked. "Apparently there are none," he added.

"All this talk about freedom of the press is simply fog," Mr. Zorin said, "because this freedom does not exist in reality."

Marion, a member of the Communist Party, wrote for the Daily Worker. The full title of the pamphlet is "The 'Free Press': Portrait of a Monopoly" ("U.S. Press Scored by 3 States in U.N.," NYT, 26 October 1947, 3; "Got Material From Pamphlet," NYT, 28 October 1947, 6; "Guide to the Papers of George Marion," Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Archives,, accessed 15 March 2006).

11. The Communist delegates made many statements like the following one by Demchenko, as summarized by the UN rapporteur: "The people of all countries would reject the idea of freedom to spread malicious slander, but that was not the case with certain monied groups in capitalistic countries" (Third Committee, Seventy-first Meeting, Summary Record, 28 October 1947, [US/A/C.3/116], 149, UNORGA, MWelC).

12. The phrase ER quotes does not appear in the summary report or in the New York Times, but the UN rapporteur provides the following summary of Demchenko's remarks on the definition of freedom: "The rights of freedom of speech and of the Press were an important part of the democratic structure, but those freedoms were difficult to define and in certain countries they had no reality" (Third Committee, Seventy-first Meeting, Summary Record, 28 October 1947, [US/A/C.3/116], 149, UNORGA, MWelC).

13. The French resolution stated:

I. Invites the Governments of States Members:

1. To study such legislative or other measures as might with advantage be taken on the national plane to combat the diffusion of false or tendentious reports likely to injure friendly relations between States;

2. To submit reports on this subject to the Conference on Freedom of Information so as to provide the Conference with the data it requires to enable it to start its work immediately on a concrete basis.

II. Recommends to the Conference on Freedom of Information that it study, with a view to their co-ordination, the measures taken or advocated in this connexion by the various States (Draft Resolution Submitted by the Delegation of France, Annex 11a, 24 October 1947, 257, UNORGA, MWelC).

Luis Quintanilla, the Mexican delegate, rejected the Yugoslavian resolution, but said, according to the summary report, that he could accept the French resolution with certain amendments: "Those amendments would consist first of adding the words within the limits of constitutional procedure' to the third paragraph of the preamble and deleting the words 'and tendentious' from that paragraph; secondly, deleting the words 'legislative or other' and 'or tendentious' from the paragraph beginning: 'To study such legislative or other measures …' and adding the words 'within the limits of constitutional procedure' after 'to combat' in that paragraph; and thirdly replacing the words with a view to their co-ordination' in part II by the words 'as being relevant to the discussion of item 2 (d) of its provisional agenda,'" (Third Committee, Seventy-first Meeting, Summary Report, 28 October 1947, [US/A/C.3/116], 145-46, UNORGA, MWelC).

The Third Committee voted to reject the Yugoslavian resolution and adopted the French resolution with the proposed amendments by Mexico and Luxemburg.

14. Neither the UN summary reports nor the New York Times reports the actual language the Communist delegates used in describing the Americans and British as "dogs."

15. Irene Reiterman Sandifer, Mrs. Roosevelt As We Knew Her (Silver Spring, MD: privately printed, 1975), 53-55.

On HUAC and the Hollywood Ten

May 1947, the House Committee on Un-American Activities began to hold closed hearings in Los Angeles to investigate Communist and "subversive" influence in the Hollywood film industry.1 Public hearings in Washington, DC, began October 20. The committee asked each witness: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?" Ten directors, producers, and screen writers—dubbed the "Hollywood Ten"—ultimately faced jail sentences for refusing to answer this question. Many others who refused to cooperate with HUAC found themselves banned from further film work in American studios.2

ER first referenced HUAC's Hollywood investigations in her October 27 column when she discussed UN debates on freedom of information. After recounting Vyshinsky's "most intemperate attack upon the United States," ER told her readers that she found herself "in the absurd position" of defending the American press which had attacked her most intensely. She "defended" the Chicago Tribune, "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." She concluded the column by relating the debate with the Soviets to the HUAC hearings:

Just this angle, too, is one of the things which worries me a little about the Congressional investigation into the Hollywood movie world. When you begin to let this and that person testify against this or that actor or writer, you take a step toward Nazi and Communist totalitarian attitudes toward the individual. It is so easy to depart from the path of democracy and succumb to the attraction of totalitarian edicts!3

Two days later, ER revisited the Hollywood hearings, devoting a full column to the subject.

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Remarks by Eleanor Roosevelt Meeting of the Third Committee of the General Assembly

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