April 27, 2015

1953. Eleanor Roosevelt on Liberalism and American Foreign Policy

An Interview With Eleanor Roosevelt


August 26, 1953. 11:00 PM on the Longines Chronoscope:
EDWARD P. MORGAN: Mrs. Roosevelt, some nights ago I had dinner with a man and his wife in Spokane, Washington. Quite sincerely, but quite seriously, they asked me two questions. They said, "Do these foreigners hate us as much as they seem to?" and "Are they ever going to be grateful for the things that we do for them?" Now, you've just come back from one of your latest trips in far parts of the world. Could you answer those questions?

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: Well, I would not say that foreigners hated us. I would say that many of them were a little suspicious; that they did not like to feel that everything they wanted to do—they had to ask us for our help. Or some of it would come from the United Nations, and they liked that better because they were members and they felt they got it by right and there was no one individual nation that they had to depend on. But I would say that it was always hard to be grateful for something which you felt. You would like to be able to do without asking anyone.

BILL DOWNS: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, we've heard a lot about criticism of American policy and what we have done or tried to. Is this something new or, I mean, is this something to do with this administration, the Truman administration, or perhaps even your late husband's administration?

ROOSEVELT: I think it began probably when the war was over and we began to have to help people to build up again, and we were the ones who had not been bombed and who had no homes destroyed. We had difficulty in getting new homes, but we didn't have to carry away acres of rubble of old homes that once existed. And we had our whole production unit intact, and practically no other nation in the world was in that fortunate position.

DOWNS: In other words, this is history rather than policy.

ROOSEVELT: This is history rather than politics, and I think, of course, that there is some envy in it—there is when people say, "Will they never be grateful for what we've done?" I think there is gratitude.
But gratitude is sometimes swamped by the sense of "why was this done?" Was it done in the long run so we could—we who just freed ourselves from political domination—be dominated through economics? Now, that's not unnatural, because the history of most of these countries in Asia and some in parts of Europe is that people who do things for you expect something in return.

MORGAN: And I suppose if we do things as we are supposed to do, in enlightened self-interest, that we are not necessarily expected to anticipate gratitude?

ROOSEVELT: Well, of course it is enlightened self-interest, because getting them back on their feet is necessary for us because we need markets.

MORGAN: You spoke of the United Nations, Mrs. Roosevelt, and that brings up a most topical point. And before we get into the heart of it, let's explore public reaction to it here. There seems to be a great deal of suspicion among our own people about the United Nations and its effectiveness. What is your reaction to that?

ROOSEVELT: Well, I think that's easily explained, because you see that we're a very big country and a very strong country. We have not needed any of the programs carried on by the specialized agencies which are the action part of the United Nations. We've not needed those programs in our country because we were alright. India has needed to have land cleared of malaria. Other nations have needed help to get rid of tuberculosis.
There are a thousand and one things that less fortunate nations can see have happened and be grateful for from the United Nations. We don't happen to have been in that category. It matters to us what the United Nations does elsewhere because, again, where people are ridden with malaria they will never buy our goods.

DOWNS: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, do you think that the United Nations as an instrument of world political opinion and operation has lost ground in the last say, five, six years in this country?

ROOSEVELT: I think, like everything else, that we started out expecting that the United Nations would solve every difficulty right just by being the United Nations. We didn't realize that the United Nations was only all the nations gathered in one place, but all the troubles remained just as they were before! And therefore we had to work to make the United Nations work, and we didn't want to work, and we didn't expect to have to do this work. And now we know we have to. Which is healthy, I think.

MORGAN: That brings up another point, Mrs. Roosevelt. Secretary of State Dulles has just made an important speech before the American Bar Association in Boston, the essence of which was that the United Nations Charter, I think he put it, was a pre-Atomic Age charter, and therefore not flexible to the times. And he recommended that the Security Council be stripped of the veto. And said that in some future assembly—in '55, I believe it was—that the United States would consider sponsoring such a move. What do you believe about that?

ROOSEVELT: Well of course that's a great change for the United States because we felt that, unless we had the veto, we would never get the charter through Congress, and that was one reason why the veto was put there.
Of course, the fact that the Soviets have misused the veto; used it for a great many things that it was not intended for. What it was intended for was to make it possible for a nation, a great nation, to prevent the discussion of domestic affairs which they considered were no business of anybody else's in the world. Whether we now are ready to submit to discussion of our domestic affairs is a question that the people will have to decide.

DOWNS: Aren't we in effect—or isn't Secretary Dulles in effect—asking for a showdown, though, when he says "Alright, leave us; split the United Nations, or let people line up on our side or their side with no veto, and we carry this by majority vote." Do you think that is a possible consequence?

ROOSEVELT: Well, I would hope that perhaps just as we trust our people in the United States, we were trying the experiment of trusting the nations of the world. I hope we would do nothing, however, so definite that we really hurt the United Nations, because I think this is the one great hope for eventually building peace. And to do anything like making a pronouncement of a policy which you cannot change if you find it is unwise in the future—and today heaven knows you're being met constantly with new reasons, and you ought to be able to be flexible.

MORGAN: Mrs. Roosevelt, excuse me. Speaking as Bill Downs did a moment ago of lining up on one side or the other—what is your view as to our position regarding India and the issue of her representation at the Korean Peace Conference?

ROOSEVELT: Well, last year I was in India and I wrote a book called India and the Awakening East as just trying to explain some of the problems of that area of the world in very simple fashion because I could only give impressions. It's not a learned treatise.
My feeling is that when you insist on lining up people, what you do is put our friends with the Soviets if you insist that that's the only place they can sit. I feel it's very unfortunate.

DOWNS: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, you have become known as the leader of what is loosely called the "liberal movement" in this country, or what used to be called the liberal movement in this country, and some people call them "do-gooders" and the rest of it. Could you define a liberal for us, I mean, in your own words?

ROOSEVELT: It's very hard to put in a few words what a liberal is, but I would feel that a liberal was a person who kept an open mind, was willing to meet new questions with new solutions, and felt that you could move forward; you didn't have to always look backwards and be afraid of moving forward. 

MORGAN: And that's what this National Issues Committee that you're...

ROOSEVELT: The National Issues Committee is going to try to look at the issues, to put them in simple terms so that the people can understand them as objectively as possible and to feel that they can, as the liberals do, move forward.

MORGAN: Now for the final question, Mrs. Roosevelt. I'm sorry, Bill.
We've been told by our experts that we may have to live in this world of uncertainty and indecision short of war, in a Cold War for x number of years to come. What is your recipe for us to face up to it?

ROOSEVELT: Well, I think the study of our history. Certainly the people who settled this country didn't have any great security, and it's hard for the young to live in uncertainty. They love to be sure of the future. But I really think that we have the stamina, particularly if we look at what we came from, to live through uncertainty.

MORGAN: Thank you very much.