If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

December 1943


Was your trip to Australia in a Government plane absolutely necessary?

This question is curiously worded. The only absolutely necessary thing I know of that we do is to breathe. Outside of that, nothing in this world that anyone does is absolutely necessary, because if any of us were to be obliterated tomorrow, the world would undoubtedly go on perfectly well without us. We would just have ceased to breathe.

As long as we are alive, we usually try to do such things as we think may be useful and rely on the judgment of people whom we respect to advise us as to whether the things we are setting out to try to do may be useful or not.

There are two things which, as an individual, I have long tried to train myself to do: one is to speak, the other is to write. As the President's wife, there is one thing I can do: by going anywhere and being interested and friendly, I can prove that the President and the people at home are interested and friendly. These are the things which should be used for the war in the position which I happen to be in, and because of the training I have tried to give myself.

In both Australia and New Zealand I am sure they felt we were interested, sympathetic and friendly as a result of my visit, and in the islands and among our own men I hope they felt that the President was thinking of them and their magnificent achievements and therefore felt closer to their homes than they would have felt if I had stayed at home. I learned much which, as I write or talk at home, may, I hope, be useful to others. Therefore, I hope my trip was useful if not "absolutely necessary."


What are American girls going to do for husbands if our soldiers are permitted to marry abroad?

Do you think that a man who is forbidden to marry the girl he falls in love with would make a very good husband for any other girl? The answer, I imagine, to your question is that some of our girls who are now overseas, or who may go overseas, may marry abroad.


Shouldn't women demand that their interests and ideals be represented by women of distinction and achievement, like yourself and Mme. Chiang Kai-shek, at the peace table?

I think it would be very wise for women to demand that their interests and ideals be represented at whatever peace conferences may be held. As a matter of fact, I think they should begin now to ask for this representation.

The women chosen to be these representatives should, I think, be very carefully chosen. Mme. Chiang would seem to me to be quite suitable, because she has taken an active part in the government of her country. I have never done that, and I am considerably older, therefore my own feeling would be that the representative from this country should be younger and should have had experience in some responsible Government position.


Why are defense workers permitted to strike, while a soldier who deserted his job would be shot?

Because one of the things which we have guarded jealously all through the years of freedom is the right of the individual to strike. A soldier has automatically accepted a different status from that of the civilian.

However, I think during a war it would be better if, voluntarily, workers would give up any and all strikes; but if they are going to do that, then the citizens of the country as a whole must see to it that the workers' rights are safeguarded. By that I mean that the citizens must make it their business to know that the conditions against which a worker is giving up the right to strike are properly investigated and, if found wrong, are corrected. You cannot ask one section of the population to give up the only weapon they have against injustice, unless the people as a whole are going to make it their business to see that the rights of that section of the population are really preserved through Government channels.


What is your honest opinion of Westbrook Pegler?

I hardly know Mr. Pegler. He has been my guest twice, once at the White House and once at Hyde Park, but I had very little opportunity to talk with him; and without knowing him better, I do not feel justified in having any opinion.


Do our boys in the armed forces draw their full pay while in an Army or Navy hospital?

A boy in the armed forces does draw his full pay while he is in a hospital, unless he is in the hospital because of disabilities caused by his own misconduct.


When you said a trend was sweeping this country in opposition to labor, did you mean all labor or just organized labor?

I do not recollect making any such statement as that a trend was sweeping this country in opposition to labor. There is a trend in some places against organized labor, and opposition to organized labor would, of course, injure all labor, as the standards set by organized labor affect the conditions of all labor.


What disposition does the President make of the many gifts he receives?

The President usually sends all the gifts he receives to the library at Hyde Park, unless there is some special reason for putting them into some other public place.


Isn't the use of family codes by men in service overseas dangerous because information, slipped past the censor, is liable to slip out in conservation?

I have explained that family codes as such should not be used. It is, however, very difficult for people who know each other well not to say things in writing to each other which will mean something special to the person to whom they are written, though they would mean little to anyone else. I do not think this dangerous, as anyone with any understanding of the war situation would be extremely careful in what he said in conversation.


Why are some of our boys in the Air Forces kept in a combat zone in the Pacific so long that they go to pieces physically and mentally?

I doubt very much if our boys in the Air Forces are kept in a combat zone until they go to pieces physically and mentally. I saw a great many of them in rest camps and recreation areas. Flying is a hazardous business, and all of them are given a certain amount of time off. They are not brought home to the United States because the trip would be too far and too much time would be consumed in the trip to give them very much time for rest, but they are given furloughs from the combat zone. Some of them do go to pieces anyway, but boys in other branches of the service do too. This war is a very great strain on the nervous systems of all the men who are engaged in it.


Why are English soldiers shipped over here when they are so much nearer the war activities when they are in England?

I know of no English soldiers sent over here except those who are here for training, or to learn how to use some of our equipment which they are getting from us. In Australia and New Zealand soldiers have returned to their own country through the United States from the fighting in the Near East and North Africa. Some of them are already, as you know, fighting on New Guinea.


Is it not true that a Class A dependent of a soldier in the last four grades can legally demand and collect an allowance and allotment even against the wishes of the soldier?

Yes. From the fourth to the seventh grades the monthly family allotment is payable to Class A dependents upon request of the dependent, and the soldier has nothing to say about it.


In the service flag, why can't we have red stars for men who are in the merchant marine, green stars for war industries and blue for armed forces?

The statutory basis for the service flag is Public Law 750, passed by the Seventy-seventh Congress in October, 1942. In this statute, the Secretary of War was given authority to approve a service flag to be displayed in honor of persons who are members of the armed forces of the United States. A later law, passed around May of this year, provides that the Administrator of the War Shipping Board could design a flag to be displayed by families of men in the merchant marine, but the Administrator must co-ordinate his design with that approved by the Secretary of War for the armed forces. This flag is still in the process of being designed and approved, but has not yet materialized. There is no statutory authority for a flag for those working in war industries.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, December 1943

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 60, December 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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