If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

July 1943


Would you care to comment on the Supreme Court's decision on the notorious case of the U. S. Government vs. Local 807 of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Stablemen and Helpers of America in which the Supreme Court upheld the union in the commission of the crime of extortion—this special privilege being reserved for labor unions only?

Not being a lawyer or a judge, I cannot comment on the legal aspects of the opinion handed down by the Supreme Court. I should like to say, however, that if the person who put this question is an American citizen, he or she is doing a very dangerous thing, for to try to undermine the confidence of the people in the Supreme Court as a whole is bad. You might say that any one individual, or a few individuals, had rendered, in your opinion, a decision which should not, from your knowledge of law, be upheld, and that could be reargued. Or you might say that any one or a number of the individuals on the court were lacking in certain qualities you deemed necessary for the position, but the type of question which you have put seems to throw a slur on the whole court and is, I think, an injustice and a harmful approach. The particular decision which you may dislike was, nevertheless, one in which the majority of the court agreed, therefore it must have legal authority behind it.


Is it true that soldiers from the Midwestern states, which are normally Republican, are sent into combat zones before soldiers from Democratic states?

I have never heard anything so idiotic as your question. No soldier is asked what his politics are, and they would be so mixed in the units it would be utterly impossible to separate them. Anyone who believes such a statement as this should go at once to a psychiatrist.


Why not have butchers pay women in points for their fats instead of in money—thus assuring that fats would be brought back to the butcher?

I find, on inquiry, that this suggestion is considered to have merit, and it is being worked on at the present time. The man in charge of the fats-and-oils section of the OPA has been supporting it and is prepared to submit a recommendation to the rationing people. He thinks it would be much more effective in inducing people to bring in their fats to the local butcher than to pay for the fats in money. However, they anticipate one difficulty. Our meat assignments have been set up and the amount of meat allotted to the civilians on the basis of the points already issued. If the housewives generally turned in quite a bit of fat and were to receive extra points, it would increase the demand for the meat and there would not be enough meat available to meet the demands. There would have to be careful evaluation of the number of points housewives would receive under a program such as the above in order to assure that sufficient meat would be allotted to civilians to allow for the extra points and still not interfere with the needs of the military and Lend-Lease programs.

It would also be possible to stipulate that the points for fats be used for other foods where the allowances might be increased.

This is written in a spirit of bitterness, though not, as it may seem, in resentment. How do you justify in the eyes of the Amercian people, of whom you are the First Lady, the fact that wherever you appear, on your many, many trips, one of your sons is given time from his trivial (apparently) Army or Navy duties, to meet you? Yet not long ago in our bay, ships were anchored for two and three days; on board them were boys who were not permitted even to telephone their homes in this area, though they had not seen their parents for months! You might justify yourself in your secret heart with the thought that surely the President's wife should have some privileges. I heartily agree, but not during a crisis such as this! She should be, as is her "sister under the skin" in England, an example to all. Sorry, but you ask for just this sort of comment, Mrs. Roosevelt!

I imagine it is quite possible that ships were anchored in the bay and the boys were not able to get ashore until leave could safely be granted them. There are many reasons for this, but these are military reasons which I cannot explain.

I can explain quite well, however, the reasons why it was possible, when I went to San Francisco recently, for one of our sons, who is stationed at the naval base there, to meet me. He is an officer and works long hours, but he can leave for meals or he can leave at special times. His work, however, must always be done. I saw him only at lunchtime and in the evening, when he was through his work. When he goes to sea, which he will do shortly, he will be able to do what he wants only when he is given leave from the ship, just like an other officer.

In the case of our son who is on a destroyer doing convoy duty, I cannot recall that he has met me at any time except when he has been on shore leave. He has come to my apartment in New York City on occasions when I have been in New York City to fulfill some engagements. That he is entitled to do, as is any other officer on leave. He may also have come to Washington during the period of his leave to see his father, as his father, of course, cannot get away; but this son has exactly the same amount of leave as the other officers on his ship and must fit whatever he does into his time off.

In the case of our son who was in Great Britain when I was there, I did not know he would be there when I left this country. He took his whole unit to Great Britain in preparation for going to North Africa, and he left for North Africa at practically the same time that I left to come home. He is in command of his unit, and he must, therefore, do all the work that is required in that position. He has the same right as any other officer—the right to leave when it is compatible with his duty. He was able to come up to London, partly for military reasons. I managed to see him twice, and neither of use neglected our work or gave up anything which we were obligated to do in order to meet. I haven't seen him since that time, which is now over six months ago. He hasn't been back in this country since he left. Several of the men in his unit have come back and have brought messages from him.

Our other son, whose duty has been in the Pacific area, I have not seen for over a year. He was not able to get East on leave before he sailed the last time, because his orders were changed very suddenly and the leave which he had hoped for could not be granted him or the other officers and men in the unit of Marine Raiders which he commands.

I do not consider that I have any extra privileges because I am the wife of the President. I do consider that I have the obligation of any mother to see her children when it is possible to do so without neglecting her own obligations or theirs. I suppose you would be surprised to know that no President's wife has any privileges that I can discover, and many obligations! If she is granted so-called privileges, it is always because she must fulfill an obligation which is not one of the obligations of unofficial individuals in the country.

I have no objection to your comment. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. I have tried, however, to give you the answers because, in a time like this, when so many people are suffering because they cannot see or hear from their loved ones, I would not have it made more bitter for them, or more difficult, by allowing them to believe that it is any easier for others. Women who are, because of their husbands' temporary official positions, in temporary prominence may have certain opportunities, but with them go many obligations which outweigh any seeming privileges. When I ask for any particular consideration it is not usually for myself, but in an effort to get information or attention for someone else who has presented a particularly difficult situation which can be solved only by reaching channels which are inaccessible except through officials in responsible positions.


Why haven't Brazil and Mexico sent some of their soldiers overseas as part of their war against Germany, Japan, and Italy?

I am afraid this is another question to be answered by the high-ranking military officials who plan the strategy of the war. I know that Brazil is taking part in the patrol work, and I know that Mexico is preparing her military forces for participation, but this question should be directed to the heads of our military forces and cannot be answered by a layman.


If the Bible tells us that there will be wars and more wars, why do the President and Congress try to convince people there will be no more war?

There have been wars down through the ages but there is also in the Bible the promise that we can improve ourselves. War is the result of the failures of human beings and not of their successes; therefore, if we struggle, we may hope to do away with war.


Why can't mothers know where their soldier sons and daughters are? What harm could it do if our enemies did know Bill Jones was in Alaska or Australia?

If you and your children would use a little ingenuity, you would probably be able to keep each other informed as to your wherabouts!

If it were openly done it might be harmful, not because the enemy would know that Bill Jones was in Alaska or Australia, but because the enemy would be able to find out to what group Bill Jones belonged and from that might discover what type of opposition they were facing and the number of men probably involved.


Recently, before our Rotary Club, an astrologer said President Roosevelt, like Hitler, consulted astrologers. Is this true?

I have never known my husband to consult an astrologer. Many astrologers have sent him his horoscope, but he is much too busy a person to consult them.


What sound reason can there be in denying our men in the armed forces the right to run for office?

I have inquired from the best sources I could find and learn that it is a policy, not a law. Enforcement of the policy is manifestly of special importance in the time of war. It would be plainly incompatible with the effective functioning of the fighting forces of a country at war to allow personnel on active duty to divide their energies between outside interests, whether political, business or professional, and military duties. The successful prosecution of the war demands a complete devotion of the entire time and energy of those actively engaged in the country's fighting forces to their military duties. This matter of policy applies only to reserve officers and National Guard, but the Attorney General has ruled that it should be applied to all cases during wartime. There is a law applying only to regular officers and enlisted men, Act of July 15, 1870, which provides that no officer of the Army on the active list shall hold any civil office.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, July 1943

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 60, July 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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