If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

September 1942


Now that times are so hard and help to our country so much in need, why is it that you and your husband, who continually talk and preach equality and democracy, continue to not only keep nine or ten homes fully equipped with men and women who could be doing war work, but you continually get more apartments and homes? Or is it another case of don't do as we do but do as we say?

I think you are mistaken. The White House is not our home. It belongs to the nation and the President lives there while he is in office. Outside of that, the President has owned for many years, in New York City, two houses, in one of which his mother lived. He did not wish to sell them while she was alive. As soon as she died they were put on the market and sold. Now we have a small apartment in New York City where just one maid is used, and I doubt if she would be of much value in any factory.

Our other home, which the President inherited from his mother, at Hyde Park, has been in the family for many years. The house is run almost entirely by the people who are employed in the White House and who go there only when the President is there. On the place at Hyde Park there are a number of cottages which are run by people who would not be of assistance in the war effort, or who are producing food.

Two cottages on the island of Campobello, one of which belongs to my husband and one which did belong to his mother, can be occupied only in the summer. We never use them at present, so we have tried to make them useful to others, and for the past two years they have been used as a summer institute by the International Student Service, and some thirty young people have been there for several weeks. It is quite impossible to sell them—there is no market for them.


Was there ever a member of the Roosevelt family killed on the field of battle in America or any other country?

President Theodore Roosevelt's son, Quentin Roosevelt, was killed during the last World War, being shot down in the air in France. One other member of the Roosevelt family died on a transport on the way home in the last war.

In every war many of the Roosevelt men have served and been wounded, but I do not know enough of the family history to know how many were actually killed previous to the last war. Innumerable people in the collateral branches on all sides of the Roosevelt family have been killed in wars both abroad and in this country.


With what the Germans, Japanese and Italians are trying to do to the democracies of the world—especially our United States—do you really mean you would permit your children to number among their friends any Germans, Japanese or Italians?

I certainly do. How are we going to live in peace in the world of the future if we cannot be friends ourselves with Germans, Japanese or Italians? I have friends of all those nationalities; some of them have fled their own countries because they were in disagreement with the policies of the governments of those countries. I imagine there are many people still in those countries who are suffering because they do not agree with what their governments are doing. If we take the attitude that we can never be friends with people of these nationalities, our chance for a peaceful world in the future is slim indeed!


Why was the Imperial Palace spared in the attack on Tokyo?

I haven't the remotest idea, but I should judge that it was not considered as important an objective as a railroad junction or a plant which was making some kind of material of value in the war, and we have stated that we would not bomb anything except military objectives. When the men are dropping bombs, they drop them as far as they possibly can on military objectives or on places directly serving war purposes. The Imperial Palace—in which, in all probability, the emperor does not reside—would be a less important building on which to waste bombs.

In the second part of your letter you ask why so many soldiers are sending Army uniforms and shoes home, especially as they start overseas. I doubt if they are sending any Army uniforms or Army shoes—they are probably sending civilian clothes which they wish to have kept at home until they return.


In our local hospital I am told it is necessary for girls finishing high school to pay $350 to enter for training as nurses. Does it not seem unfair to these girls when there is such a demand for nurses at the present time?

I do not know anything about your Williamsport, Pennsylvania, hospital. I do know that in many places hospitals take girls entirely free and provide them with their uniforms and living expenses so that their expenses during training are very small indeed. Of course a hospital, to do this, must either have public or private support, and perhaps your hospital does not have sufficient funds.


Shouldn't a senator or any other elected or appointed official, who has been publicly charged with moral turpitude, sue for libel or resign so that the people's confidence in their Government may be preserved?

This is not so simple as it sounds. Proving libel is governed by certain legal aspects, and it seems to me that an elected official has an obligation to serve out his term and then to decide whether he wishes to become a candidate again, when the people will have an opportunity to make their own decisions as to whether they wish him to continue to represent them or not.

There are certain things which might greatly affect the value of a public servant, and others which might not, and to make a general pronouncement where one does not know all the facts is rather difficult and certainly foolish.


Have you read Major de Seversky's challenging Victory Through Air Power, which makes a convincing case for a separate air force? If so, what did you think of it?

I have read it in great part, but I do not feel that I know enough to make a decision in this matter. That must remain with the people directly charged with responsibility and having experience in this field, because there are more questions involved than just the fact of bringing together the various flying services.


Would you be in favor of compulsory Spanish in our high schools; to promote Pan-American unity by breaking down the language barriers?

I do not think I would be in favor of any more compulsion than we now have. At present one must take one foreign language, and I think a great many young people, when they have the advantages of knowing Spanish explained to them, will take Spanish; but it might be possible they would wish to prepare for some kind of work where another language would be of more value. Therefore I think it would be unwise to make any particular language compulsory.


During the First World War, Indians were exempted through their treaty rights. It looks like President Roosevelt doesn't respect our Indian treaty rights because they are being drafted; and yet I thought that is why the United States is in this war—because they are seeking justice. Do you think we should be forced to become citizens against our rights?

During the last World War, Indians were not citizens. According to the Citizenship Act of 1924 and the Nationality Act of 1940, Indians were declared citizens whether or not they were on reservations. As all male citizens of the United States between certain ages are liable for training and service, the Indians could be drafted just the same as any other citizens.


Do you think it's fair that a man, who long ago lived down a slight criminal offense, should be excluded from the draft, no matter how sincere his patriotism may be?

It does seem very hard that an offense for which the offender has atoned should prevent a man from serving in any armed forces, particularly where a long period has elapsed during which proof of reform has been given. We must remember, however, that he will be serving with other men, many of whom, if they discovered that he had had a criminal record for even a slight offense, would feel very bitterly. I understand that under certain circumstances the general rule can be waived, and perhaps it is better to have each case considered on its own merits.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, September 1942

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 59, September 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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