If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

April 1942

 

Why in all these wars to save democracy do the Colin Kellys, the Smiths and the Joneses—boys like ours—have to be ones who make up the expeditionary forces to the Icelands, the Africas or the Indies, to die in action or of disease, while the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, the duPonts never seem to meet with such misfortune? I grant you some of these men are in uniform, but usually in berths so distant that danger is practically nonexistent.

You are quite wrong. There are more Smiths and Joneses and Kellys in the world. They go in greater numbers to West Point and Annapolis, and enter the regular Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. There are fewer Whitneys and Vanderbilts, and so on, but many of them in this war are in dangerous places and might easily have suffered the same fate which Colin Kelly suffered. There do not happen to be so many financially prominent names in the world. You will perhaps remember that ex-President Theodore Roosevelt's four sons all served in the last World War and one was killed in action in France and I can pick out for you in almost every war a percentage of men whose names are well known in social, financial and professional circles and who, in accordance with the percentage of the population they represent, suffered in quite as large numbers as others. Incidentally it was the young officers in the last World War who suffered the greatest percentage of loss in the British Army, and very often that meant wiping out three or four sons in one family; but it was still a greater number of the privates who were killed.

 

Should the fact that my husband is of draft age make any difference in whether we purposely have a much wanted baby in the very near future? We have been married a year and had planned to have a baby soon. But I have been told the only reason I want a baby is in order to have dependents, the better to enable my husband to dodge the draft. That isn't true. Please give us your opinion. We want to be patriotic but we also want our babies too.

I see no reason why you should not have a baby if you are going to be able to support it. If your husband is liable for the draft, and you are not going to ask for exemption because of dependents, then I think you should consider whether you would be able, in case of his death, to support the child. Outside of that question, I think it would be advisable to have a child because it will be a comfort to you and a very absorbing care during the time, if your husband goes into the Army, when you will naturally be lonely and want something to take up your mind.

 

I am a girl of fourteen. I am very fond of a boy. My mother thinks I am too young to have dates. Do you think a girl of fourteen is too young to have dates?

It depends on the kind of dates. If you are going off with a group to have fun together, you are not too young, but if you are going off by yourself with some boy, I think you are much too young.

 

My mother and I don't seem to be as great pals as I think we should be. One main reason is that she avoids talking about sex relations. Although I am eighteen years old, I still don't know very much about human reproduction, only what I gather from girl friends when they are talking among themselves. Do most girls of my age understand this subject? What is the best age to learn such things and what are some books from which I can learn?

I would advise your telling your mother exactly how you feel. I do not believe it is necessary to talk much about sex; but if you really want to know certain very definite facts, at your age you are entitled to know them, I think. If I were you, I would ask my mother, or have her ask your family doctor or someone whom she trusts to tell you. I think it is foolish to talk about such things with other girls; you are apt to get wrong information and many foolish impressions. You will not need to read any books on the subject.

 

I come from a family, originally Quakers, the members of which for generations have lived by the principle that a constructive life is more satisfying and more Godlike than a destructive one. My husband and I thought alike on the subject until recently, and tried always to teach our three children the futility of indiscriminate bloodshed. Last spring my husband applied for an ensign's commission in the Navy, and since last September, when he was assigned, I have carried on alone.

My problem is the reaction of my children, ages ten, eleven and fourteen, to this right-about-face of their daddy. Since Pearl Harbor they have, of course, been very proud that he is serving his country. But they reason that since I have been proved so wrong (in the eyes of the world) in my pacifistic teaching, perhaps other ideas of mine are not worth paying attention to either.

So my question is: How can I reconcile the viewpoint they have been taught with the situation as it now is, and especially their father's change of mind?

The explanation to your children is that you and your husband are both right.

Indiscriminate bloodshed is wrong and futile, but unfortunately we have to meet situations in this world which exist regardless of our beliefs, no matter how right our beliefs may be. That being the case, when we are confronted with a war for which we may be in some sense responsible, but which we certainly did not want to take part in, we must treat it as something which exists and which has to be met before we can go back to trying again to build the kind of world in which the things in which we really believe may exist.

Your children should not be allowed for a moment to lose faith in the beliefs of their parents. Your husband, being realistic, probably sensed that the present situation was on its way; but that does not make his former belief wrong, nor does it change your essential rightness, even though you may have to accept a change in your husband's point of view for the time being, and even adapt your own views to the needs of the present moment.

 

Why weren't the naval officers whose negligence was responsible for the deaths of our boys at Pearl Harbor court-martialed, as any of our boys would have been had their carelessness caused the deaths of any of their comrades?

You do not know yet whether the two officers will be court-martialed or not. In any case, they have already suffered as probably your boys, who carry less responsibility, will never suffer. Has it ever occurred to you that even such carelessness as existed in Pearl Harbor was only a reflection of the carelessness and the attitude of our own citizens who would not be concerned about any military preparation in spite of all military leaders might say, and that this attitude was reflected in the attitude of Congress? You may like to think the two military officers are responsible. As a matter of fact, we as citizens are quite as responsible.

 

There is a widely circulated rumor that the Red Cross charges the soldiers and other needy persons for sweaters distributed by them. Has this rumor any foundation in fact?

Certainly not. If any soldiers are paying for Red Cross sweaters, it is because some individual is dishonest and not because it is the policy of the Red Cross anywhere.

 

After reading what Mr. Westbrook Pegler has been saying about you in the newspapers, I want to know why you claimed you could not cross a picket line and what you meant by it. How can a public woman like yourself take sides with labor against legitimate business—or vice versa?

I do not cross a picket line where I do not know about the question involved. I do not want to be in the position of taking sides either with the employer or the employee. If I cross a picket line I take sides with the employer. If I do not, I take no sides whatsoever. I did not say I would never cross a picket line, because when I have known about the subject under dispute, I have crossed picket lines; but in the particular case that Mr[.] Pegler mentions, my remark was that I did not know what question was under dispute and therefore would not cross the picket line. I did not expect any fuss to be made about it, but it must have seemed good publicity to someone.

 

What, specifically, can we do now to help bring about a just and lasting peace at the end of this war?

Face the fact that we are going to have to make a world-wide economic adjustment. That we are going to have to be willing to accept much responsibility for the world as a whole. That it is going to mean plenty of work for all of us. Inform ourselves on economic and historical questions dealing with the world as a whole. Prepare to be just to all nations and not allow ourselves to seek any personal advantage. Be thinking now about the machinery we are willing to accept in order to have some method of adjustment in the future, and take some responsibility now in the choice of public servants so that when the time comes to make peace we will feel that in both the executive and the legislative bodies we have people who can be trusted to formulate the kind of peace that we are willing to back.

 

Many women will soon be in uniform. Don't you think slacks, instead of skirts, should be at least permissible for them?

Slacks are only becoming to very slim figures and it would be hard on the stoutish ladies to condemn them to slacks! I do not know why you think women will soon be in uniform, because we have been asked not to wear uniforms because of conserving material, as most women have the clothes necessary to carry on their work at present.

 

What do you consider true charm?

Charm is evanescent and very difficult to describe, and varies in every individual. Perhaps the basic thing which contributes to charm is the ability to forget oneself and be engrossed in other people.

 

Because you have succeeded so well where I have failed so miserably, would you give me a few pointers on how to make friends?

I do not know that I have succeeded. I have a few friends to whom I am devoted and who are devoted to me, I hope. I have had some disappointments, as everybody has. The only way to make friends is to be friendly. It is what you give of yourself that makes friends for you.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, April 1942

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | SNAC ]

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 59, April 1942

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
The George Washington University
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