If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

January 1961


During the recent opening sessions of the United Nations, it was suggested that it might be wise to move the UN headquarters to some other country. Do you feel such a move would be advisable, and what do you think the consequences would be?

I don't think it would be advisable to move the UN headquarters. The facilities in New York are excellent. This is a center where TV and radio and other means of communication with the world are most accessible. The Swiss, I think, have no great desire to have the UN in Geneva. I suppose they might be persuaded, but all the improvements and the increase in facilities would have to be undertaken there, and the time lost would be great. We should concentrate on helping the UN help the world. More and more, I think, aid to the underdeveloped areas of the world must come from the UN, not as formerly, from individual nations. Therefore, any time lost on an unnecessary move and relocation would be most unfortunate.


The question is often raised as to just how much public criticism of the United States government by its own citizens and office seekers may damage our reputation in other countries. Do you believe there is any way we can preserve our right to examine publicly the actions of our government and, at the same time, not give ammunition to powers that seek to discredit us?

The countries of the world are accustomed to the workings of our democracy. They expect Americans to criticize, and they would be surprised if we were suddenly silent. This country is too big for everyone to be always in agreement, but the world knows that in times of crisis and danger it is a unified country. Even when we think our government has been unwise, we know we must back it up if our country is in real danger. But, as long as possible, we preserve our right to try, by open discussion and criticism, to get as good a government as we can. To silence this would, I think, be a real detriment to democracy.


Do you think human beings, as a whole, are getting worse or better? If better, how do you explain all the trouble we seem to be in?

I certainly think human beings have improved. We are not perfect, and therefore trouble is unavoidable. The day there is no longer trouble, we will be living in paradise.


We hear a great deal about raising the salaries of teachers as a way of improving the quality of our education. We also hear that the caliber of our present teachers is often not nearly so high as it should be. Yet these are the very people whose salaries we are told we should raise. I do not believe more money is going to make good teachers out of inferior ones. Do you?

Certainly not. However, in an economy where the gauge of one's importance or of one's success is the amount of money one makes, it is quite evident that if we think teaching is an important career, it must be adequately rewarded. Just raising the salaries of teachers is not going to improve the caliber of the present ones. But it will, in the long run, attract to the teaching profession better-qualified people. When we have better-qualified teachers, I hope the role of the teacher in the community automatically will become more and more dignified, more respected. A gain in teachers' status will give us better-qualified personnel. At the same time, however, we must improve the quality of the instruction in our teacher-training institutions all over the country. We have not always seen to it that the best possible preparation is given the young people who decide to devote their lives to the teaching profession.


Do you think you could be happy if you were poor?

No one is happy without the necessities and decencies of life, but if these are available, I think we can be happy. I might wish for certain things that I could afford only if I had more money, but I don't believe happiness is primarily a question of being either rich or poor.


Is there any particular event you would especially like to live to see, such as a cure for cancer or man's reaching the moon? Does one thing more than others fire your imagination?

I would like to live to see a firm establishment of the machinery by which we can enforce a peaceful world. I don't expect to live to see this; but the idea of what can be done if peace is really established in this world is, I think, the most exciting one that anyone can contemplate.


Have you ever suffered a period of deep depression, when it seemed there was little to hope for? If so, how were you able to lift yourself out of it?

There are times, I think, in everyone's life when the wish to be done with the burdens and even the decisions of this life seems overwhelming. But sane and normal people pull themselves out of these moods by going about their daily business, doing what needs to be done, and finally discovering that there is interest in life and that one can appreciate the beauty of nature and of people.


Do you think Khrushchev is telling the truth when he says he doesn't want war? If he is and no one wants war, what are we afraid of?

Yes. He knows the power of destruction and knows that, in all probability, destruction could not be limited. But this does not mean there is not grave danger of having war either accidentally or through some irresponsible action—not always by the chief of a state. We are afraid of such an accidental war, and also of being conquered by Communism through nonmilitary means.


I have heard that you teach a seminar course at Brandeis University. What kind of course is it, and how often do you teach?

I teach on Monday morning once a month. The course is on international organization.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, January 1961

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

McCall's, volume 88, January 1961

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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