If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

April 1943

 

About a year ago my seventeen-year-old son, carried away by war hysteria, joined the Army. My wife—very wisely, I now admit—refused to sign, but I was swept away by emotion and signed.

When my son was home recently on a furlough, I had all I could do to persuade him to return when his leave was over. He was so disgusted to see so many young men not in the services—as he called them, "slackers." He told me that he found the moral conditions at camp very disappointing. When my son went to camp he found so many soldiers in his barracks that talked constantly of the big drunks they went on, the contacts with immoral women they made and the money they won and lost at gambling and dice games, those soldiers of good character who refused to indulge in these vices were laughed at and called "Christers."

 

Now my problem is this: how can I get my son out of the Army? I am willing to pay $500 cash if this could be arranged. I hear that this is possible, or has this privilege been discontinued?

Possibly you can advise me how I can secure his discharge. His mother worries constantly and has not been well; we fear more for his morals than for his life. Thanking you for any advice you may give me.

No discharge from the Army may be purchased for the duration of the war. I hardly think it would be very democratic.

I should say that your boy needed a little hardening! Perhaps it was a mistake for you to let him go into the service so young; but no that he is in, perhaps it is as well that he should learn that people aren't all good or all bad and that you have to stand on your own feet in this world and have your own standards and your own ideals. If you do not talk about them but live by them, people respect you and you eventually gain influence.

Incidentally, it is well to remember that most of these boys he is with are young and they do a lot of big talking, which does not always mean that their actions are quite up to their talk.

 

Why is the New Deal so much more gentle with labor leaders who selfishly obstruct the war effort than it is with capitalists, selfish and unselfish?

I think the New Deal is not any more partial to labor leaders who obstruct the war effort than it is to capital, selfish or unselfish. I think that the Government—which is not entirely New Deal now, since there are many Republicans in it—attempts to push the war effort to the limit and to treat everyone with as even-handed justice as is possible.

Mistakes will be made on both sides; and whenever a mistake is made in a labor situation certain people will play it up to the limit because it suits their particular interests, but others will play up mistakes made by and with management. These latter, however, have a very much smaller outlet in the press and on the radio, so labor will always appear to be more often at fault.

On the whole, I think the point to fix our attention on is the magnificent achievement of the majority of both management and labor in the last year.

 

If you had a very mediocre education and wanted to improve your knowledge in general, what steps would you take?

I would go to the nearest library, talk over my interests and get a course of reading well mapped out, suited to my educational background and my interests. I think you would find that your knowledge was rapidly growing in many fields.

 

What do you think about girls' starting college next fall?

If they intend to do serious work, I think they should undoubtedly start college next fall. We are going to need trained minds, we are going to need girls who understand what it means to work and to discipline themselves so that their work is efficient. Above all we are going to need girls who know what democracy means and accept their responsibility as citizens.

 

What prewar conveniences do you miss the most?

One of the things which we had in the White House before the war was as many flowers as we wanted. Now we are kindly given flowers from other Government greenhouses in Washington, because the greenhouses belonging to the White House have been torn down for military reasons.

We naturally do not have as many as we had before, and I miss them very much. This, however, is not a convenience. It is a pleasure.

I cannot think of any other inconveniences which really trouble me—except, perhaps, the fact that I felt I was not entitled to drive my own car in Washington and I like to drive myself. In addition, the curtailed use of the White House cars makes it necessary to plan for more time in order to keep such engagements as seem really important. This means that I have to work at home later at night, since I can't do as much at home in the daytime.

 

There is talk that the United States will have compulsory military service for its young men after the war. Don't you think something along the line of WAAC and WAVES training might be good for our young women?

I personally hope that we will never have compulsory purely military training, but that both young men and women may be called upon someday to give a year of service to their country. During this time they may receive certain essential military training, but their service would be extended also to the community.

 

When your husband left for Africa, did you know where he was going?

Of course I knew.

 

How can we encourage people to buy bonds for victory when we see and know of such horrible extravagance and waste everywhere? We are in close contact with the air depot near here. Not long ago, three men, working only forty hours per week, drove a six-ton truck of lumber onto the grounds. After waiting two or three hours they were told to unload. Next day it was discovered that the boards had been cut several inches too short. Three men were then told to reload, drive to the edge of the hill, unload, pour gasoline over the lumber and set fire to it. Now comes a request for 109 billion dollars tax! For more waste?

I am afraid you are looking at this question from the wrong point of view. If you know of waste you should go immediately to the nearest authorities and report it, and if nothing is done about it you should go to people higher up until you finally get something done.

I am quite certain that the instance which you report either never occurred or some underling who had no understanding of what he was doing was responsible. No responsible official would do such a thing. It is the obligation of citizens to see that the Government functions properly. If you do not do your job in this way, it still does not excuse you from buying bonds because, by and large, the Government is doing a very good job of getting the supplies to the fronts and to our Allies. Without the work that has been done the country would be lost and you would lose everything. Even waste has not brought that disaster.

 

What do you suggest as a summer vacation for a white-collar worker whose husband is overseas and who wants to do something patriotic and constructive?

What you should do with your summer vacation depends, of course, on a great many things. If you need a rest so as to do your job better, I think you should make your summer vacation a really restful period, because it is important that each one of us do whatever our job is to the very best of our ability.

You might, however, find rest in changed occupation, and the type of occupation should depend very greatly on the length of time at your disposal. Perhaps you would like to work in a summer camp for children, perhaps in some war activity—relieving a hostess I an USO club if they permit short interchanges. I would certainly not suggest taking on any very tiring job in a holiday period.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, April 1943

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 60, April 1943

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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