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Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches
Radio Interview at Lake Success
December 12, 1949
Radio interview, Dwight Cooke interviews Eleanor Roosevelt at Lake Success.
[Dwight Cooke:] I’m sitting here in Colombia's booth overlooking the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations out here at Lake Success and sitting across the microphone from me is perhaps the most influential single delegate to the United Nations: Mrs. Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt, in coming out here to talk with you today it took a taxi driver, three policemen, ten gas station, oh six or eight assorted people giving us wrong directions and an hour and a half to find the United Nations. Is that symbolic of the United States' ignorance of what's going on?
[Dwight Cooke:] I wonder if the main objection to the United Nations in the minds of most Americans today is that they think it's a kind of a glorified debating society, very nice when you have nothing better to do.
[ER:] Well, of course to me, one of the most important thing is done by the specialized agency of food and agriculture, a world survey of our food supply, our agricultural methods, the way in which we increase our food supply. That's been needed for years and years and not until we got together as the United Nations could we do a really world survey.
[Dwight Cooke:] Well now Mrs. Roosevelt, I know you're chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the Economic and Social Council, in that you had to deal not only with the points of views of Americans and other representatives of Western Democracy, but all the other kinds of peoples in the world, doesn't it eh give you kinds of problems which would never exist in the American congress?
[ER:] All kinds of problems, but I think that the thing people don't realize is that this is a great educational agency. It uh gives people who are delegates here the opportunity to learn about other people, about their religions and their legal systems and their habits and customs, and it gives them an opportunity to learn about us, and that after all must seep through us to our different nations, that's one of the ways of promoting an atmosphere in which peace can grow and in which cooperation can be fostered.
[Dwight Cooke:] Well now, in-in your own education, [ER coughs] which doesn't seem as if it was very much needed from the deftness with which you handled delegates from other nations, you've been up a good many times against the Russian point of view, which is a somewhat different one from ours. Are they harder to deal with than other nations?
[ER:] Yes, because they're most suspicious. They're very suspicious. [ER coughs] And we may know the reasons for that and we may be able to explain it, but it exists and it makes all dealings very much harder and um when you have suspicion, cooperation is practically impossible, but I feel that great patience, great firmness, and an insistence on doing what we believe is right will eventually bring about better understanding.
[Dwight Cooke:] Well now, that sounds easier than it probably is in practice, all of us being as human as they as we are. [ER laughs] I was impressed when you were dealing with the Russian delegates over a question of the Western democracies' treatment of the DPs, I think they were talking about monopolistic exploitations, it's always safe to say
[ER:] Well, I don't think they like me especially, in fact the Ukrainian said that I had been playful on a very serious subject the other day, but I think that is one of the ways. Of you can keep from being bitter and if you can keep from accusations which you cannot prove, which they can just insist on are true without proof either, but which get you nowhere, but if you can keep on a uh more or less calm basis you do not embitter them and yet you-you point out, for the world as a whole, the facts that really exist.
[Dwight Cooke:] Well you did that so neatly because that assembly of yours, I think you said something along the lines that if everything was so beautiful in the garden of the Eastern democracies and in the Russian garden, it would be very nice if they would let us look over the garden wall.
[Dwight Cooke:] That combined firmness with tact I would say [ER laughs], but how do you know and in the midst of a debate, how can you possibly know which times when you're dealing with a group thinking so differently from the way we do and so suspicious of us, how can you possibly know which times to be especially firm and which times to be especially humorous or tactful?
[ER:] Yes, I wasn't in San Francisco, when the charter was drawn up, but ever since, I've been at every meeting and I've also had the opportunity of serving on the human rights commission and the result is you do learn something, experience does help you a little bit, I think.[ER laughs]
[Dwight Cooke:] Well now, leaving the Russians for the more mundane of the operations of daily life as an American delegate, there are a great many differences between being a congressman, a senator, or a member of the House of Representatives, and being a member of the United Nations. The one that hits me first of all is the fact that within reason, at least, a senator votes as he pleases, using his own judgement, you are in effect an ambassador from the United States, responsible to the United States, and to some extent, voting according to the direction of our foreign policy and our Department of State.
[ER:] Yes, that is-that is entirely true, um, but a senator is responsible to the people of his constituency, at least he may feel that he must educate that constituency, but in the long run, that constituency is also his master. Now with us, it is true [ER coughs] that the government gives us uh the benefit of their information and their point of view. We are briefed before each session, we are allowed to express our opinions, and if what is given us does not seem to us justified, we can ask for more information, and of course, in the long-run, if we still were in opposition, we could resign and go back to our own personal lives, nothing would happen to us.[ER Laughs]
[ER:] Well, I don't know that we actually help to form it, but at least we-we can as-as individuals uh representing a policy, we must understand that policy and we must be-have a conviction that it is uh, on the whole, a wise policy, otherwise we couldn't argue it with conviction ourselves.
[Dwight Cooke:] But besides the conviction, you must have to grasp a great many different problems during any week because whatever instructions the Department of State may give you, innumerable surprise and differences must come up in all the arguments and debates.
[ER:] That's perfectly true and then there are certain things that are inherent in [ER coughs] our system, which are sometimes difficult to fit in with uh the systems of other peoples. For instance, we always have to argue for a federal state clause in any convention. Now, [ER coughs] whether that will be so forever, I don't know. But at present, our people still feel that that is desperately important. Now, you have to accept that as part of our system and whether you think in time it should be changed or not is something you have to wait for as you do for many things in a democracy. In a democracy, you move as people are convinced they wish to move.
[Dwight Cooke:] Well then one of the points I should think you would be making, Mrs. Roosevelt, is in viewing the United Nations, we'd better view it with the same kind of patience we view the various aberrations of our own democracy in action.
[Dwight Cooke:] And you have the constant difficulty, which no senator has when a senator talks about the United States, or democracy, or freedom of speech, everyone else in the Senate at least knows what he's talking about. When you talk about freedom of speech, do many of the delegates know what you mean?
[ER:] No, a great many of them have still to discover that all the papers in this country are not controlled by the government, and the whole USSR bloc uh thinks that we deliberately, as a government, do not want uh to keep people from saying things that they consider are incitement to war, and they cannot believe, they cannot understand because it's so foreign to their point of view that the government does not have the right to interfere with private individuals and their ways of expressing themselves.
[Dwight Cooke:] Well now, Mrs. Roosevelt, in this, the first day of the United Nations Week, necessarily, most Americans think of the United Nations most importantly affecting their own lives in terms of peace, that was the great hope held out to them when the United Nations was adopted. Today they see a world which is not exactly peaceful in its implications and they wonder, "How far can I trust", or, "How far should I back the United Nations if I want world peace?"
[ER:] Well they haven't anything else, so they'd better back the United Nations with all they have because there is no other machinery through which they can work at the present time and uh it's the one-the one group that holds the world together today and keeps us talking to each other and does create a place where we can learn cooperation and learn about each other.
[Dwight Cooke:] It's one of the curious things in all these great fields of public affairs, there are certain things which could be called bromides because they're so obvious, and yet there's no escaping from them. It-it seems obvious, and yet often, we miss the significance of the single fact that there is no such thing as a simple and easy road to peace.
[ER:] It's harder, a great deal harder to attain than the winning of the War because when you win a war [ER coughs] you cease to fight, but um in winning a peace you've got to live it every day and you've got to live it as long as you live, and that's quite a different thing.
[Dwight Cooke:] Well Mrs. Roosevelt, I'm very grateful that you took time off from your many duties here at the United Nations to sit and talk with me and emphasize the essential points about the United Nations and the rest of us living here in the United States, and during the next week, a good many other people will be sitting and chatting with me, I'm sure they're going to be merely underlining the points which you've made so nicely today. Thank you for being here.
About this document
Radio Interview at Lake Success
December 12, 1949
- National Endowment for the Humanities
Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches is a project and publication of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University, Academic Building, Post Hall, Room 312, 2100 Foxhall Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007
Transcribed and published by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, 2019-11-27
Transcription created from holdings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library