If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

February 1949


My son enlisted in the Army because he did not care to serve for more than a year. At the time, he was told that when his year was up he had a choice of the active or inactive service. Inactive, he was told, meant he would be subject to call in case of war, that he would not have to do any training for six years; but the active meant actual training. He chose the inactive. Now, I understand, that information was incorrect, that he must train fifteen days once a year, two hours a week for six years after the completion of the first year, regardless of being active or inactive. Is this true?

As I understand it, under the present program to enlist in the Army for one year, the applicant would have to be eighteen years of age; no one else can do this. The program was inaugurated in September of this year, so I imagine your son has at least one year to serve. Automatically at the end of one year he will be on inactive service. He does not have any choice, and in that status he serves for five years. Inactive status means that you have to train one night a week for six years. Active status means that you have to train one month a year for five years. This is the best information that I can get from the Army and I hope that it covers your son's case.


As mayor of our small city, my husband has been approached by the National Committee for American Education to head an investigation into the textbooks, teaching staff, and so on, of our local school system to discover, if any, and eradicate any subversive communist and socialist propaganda. What is your opinion of the National Committee for American Education?

I am afraid I am not familiar enough with the Committee for American Education to give you a very valuable opinion. If I had been in the United States when this had to be written, I might have been able to look into it more carefully. I can only give you the results of what I have heard casually. As I understand it, this committee was set up about six months ago to screen textbooks and to look into teaching staffs to prevent the teaching of subversive doctrines. My feeling about most of the screening processes that are undertaken is that they are a type of censorship and should be undertaken only when very essential and that the people charged with such a duty should be carefully chosen. I have an instinctive feeling that censorship is bad, particularly when it comes to censoring teachers. I think it may discourage any kind of liberal thought more often than it actually uncovers any communists. The communist is well enough trained to hide his opinions usually and to do his job in very indirect ways, but the liberal is apt to be forthright and inquiring and not always wary enough in hiding his intellectual explorations from those who label all inquiry as subversive.

Why should we screen out of our schools knowledge of either socialism or communism? Socialism is increasingly accepted in a number of governments in Europe and Asia, and though we have accepted only some socialist ideas, it would be very unwise if we did not learn about them and weigh our own system and its results against these other systems. It is only by greater knowledge and conviction and enthusiasm that democracy can be made to meet the needs of the people. Our economic system has to be modified from time to time to meet new needs, and certainly our children should be trained to understand and to analyze and to compare all that we do with other systems and other results throughout the world. Academic freedom is something we cannot afford to endanger. There is a difference between studying something to know and understand and refute that which is false, and inculcating a particular line for the purpose of making a convert. That is really where the line should be drawn, and no one should be prevented from spreading knowledge among young or old on any legitimate subject. Calling anyone with a liberal or inquiring mind a communist or subversive person is a dangerous habit which has shown a tendency to increase in the United States of late.


Please tell me where all the social clubs everyone speaks of are located. I am in my late 20's, dress well and am attractive, yet so lonely I don't think I can stand it much longer. Any suggestions you could give me will be gratefully received.

I do not know that giving you the address of clubs about town would do you any good, but if I were you I would join the Y.W.C.A., where you would find yourself drawn into groups of people your own age; or you could join with some of the groups working in your church, which would also put you in in touch with social groups. I should think if you are working anywhere you should make friends among the people with whom you work and create some social life for yourself in that way.


In view of how it has turned out, would it not have been much better to let Germany and Russia fight out their own battles without interference from us?

Unfortunately you seem to have forgotten that the battle in World War II was not between Germany and Russia alone. It was begun by Germany against Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Great Britain. When Germany attacked Russia many people felt that was her greatest mistake, because in so doing she had to divide her forces and it took considerable pressure from the other Allies. Once Russia was attacked and become no longer an ally of Germany but ally of the other nations that had been attacked by Germany, it was not up to us to decide whether she would fight it out alone. She was fighting our battle; we were still fighting in many places against the German armies and we were more than grateful for the valiant fight put up by the Soviet soldiers when their country was invaded.

Aside from that, however, Germany was a totalitarian state and Nazism would have meant destruction to the soul of all the other nations. We hope that communism, which was founded to free the people from Czarism but which, because the people were not ready for self-government, has unfortunately become, to a great degree, a totalitarian government, will someday move toward greater democracy. If we have firmness and patience and can prove that democracy gives greater freedom to all people, a better standard of living and a higher level of happiness, then the Soviets may be persuaded by peaceful means to draw closer to our way of life.


Do you not think that loving and trusting President Roosevelt, we, the constituents back home, influenced Congress to grant extraordinary powers to the President under his administration, and which are beyond the intended limitations of that office wisely outlined in the Constitution of the United States?

No. I do not think it was affection for President Roosevelt which made you influence Congress to grant extraordinary powers to the President. Those were granted him because the domestic conditions when he came into office were so chaotic he had to have such powers in order to carry out programs which would change the trend which was bringing complete despair to most of the citizens of the United States. Later, when the war was upon us, conditions again were such that the President had to have extraordinary powers. You would have had to grant these powers in both cases to anyone who was forced to pull the United States out of the difficulties in which she was engulfed during the depression and to steer her through the worst war in her history. The Constitution was written so as to permit of interpretations to meet whatever might come in the future. One cannot write such a rigid Constitution that when new circumstances arise it cannot be applied. The value of our Constitution lies in its extreme flexibility, and Congress is free, when it feels certain powers are not needed, to withdraw them.


What happened to some of our boys in the Army? The other night a friend of ours was asking, "Is it right to take advantage of others to get ahead?" He feels that that is the only way. Have you found many of our boys who feel as this friend of ours?

No, I cannot say that the men I know who have come back from the war feel that they must take advantage of others in order to get ahead. Many feel that they have to work hard to achieve success, but they have learned consideration for others and the value of giving a helping hand, and of building friendships. I think your young man must be a particularly unfortunate one.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, February 1949

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 66, February 1949

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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