If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

June 1961


Now that you are again a member of the United States Delegation to the UN, would you tell us a little about your duties and responsibilities in that post?

Every delegate to the UN for a General Assembly session reports to the head of the permanent delegation (in our case, Mr. Adlai Stevenson) and does whatever he or she is asked to do. I have been told there is no committee work for me at this session. Therefore, my duties will be to attend the General Assembly sessions and do anything else I am asked to. In ordinary sessions, the delegates and the alternates would be assigned to a committee; but in this extension of the last session, there is no need for more than two or three committees to be active.


Do you agree with Israel's David Ben-Gurion that Jews living outside that country should emigrate to Israel?

Certainly not, if they have no desire to do so. It would be ridiculous to ask people who are citizens of other countries and happy there to go permanently to Israel unless they felt this was the fulfillment of a strong and lifelong desire.


During his campaign, Mr. Kennedy promised he would appoint the "best men available" for our various foreign embassies and would insist that they be able to speak the language of the country to which they were assigned. Yet he has made the same proportion of political appointments that President Eisenhower made, and nearly the same number of our new ambassadors are unable to speak the languages of the countries they will be sent to. This does not seem to me to be a vast improvement. Does it to you?

You have made a statement I have no way of verifying without requesting the State Department to give me a full list of all appointees and the qualifications of each man appointed. I think I can say, however, that President Kennedy has tried to find the best people to fill the different embassy posts and has found those who either can speak the language or will study the language immediately. He has certainly not chosen anyone merely because of his wealth or party affiliations. On the whole, I would say his choices are freer from political pressures than I have ever known any to be.


Do you go to church regularly? Do you engage in private prayer? Have you found prayer a solace? Do you ever have the feeling that all religion is a sham?

I will begin with your last question. I have never had the feeling that all religion is a sham. I go to my church in Hyde Park absolutely regularly when I am home. I belong to no other church and do not go regularly in other places, for the simple reason that it is not an easy thing to do. I think there are very few people in the world who do not pray, and while I do not consider prayer a solace, I think prayer is an essential to most human beings.


Has any movie company ever approached you with the idea of making a movie of the life of President Roosevelt?

Except for Mr. Dore Schary, who has done a movie about one incident in my husband's life, I have not been approached by any other film company. I think it would be difficult to do a movie on my husband's entire life. I would much prefer to see it done in episodes, as I think Sunrise at Campobello was a fine film.


What do you think of President Kennedy's creation of a Peace Corps, which will enlist volunteer American men and women for unpaid service in the developing countries of the world? Can it really accomplish anything?

I think the Peace Corps is a remarkably good idea, and I think it can accomplish a great deal. It is, however, a developing organization, and many things will change during its development period, so one cannot judge it now as a finished organization. In fact, it will never be a finished organization, because it must always fit into the general organization of the whole United States program abroad.


I know it has long been the custom of the Internal Revenue Department to pay a percentage of the amount it collects as a result of a tip that some individual or corporation is evading some portion of his taxes. To me, there is something immoral about encouraging vindictive people to become informers. How do you feel about this practice? If you had definite knowledge that someone you knew was evading a tax, would you report him?

I never believe in anything that encourages people to become informers. I think this is a bad practice. I would certainly try to prevent anyone I really knew from trying to evade a tax of any kind, though I think it is entirely legitimate to pay a tax and fight it if you feel it is unjust.


When you travel in foreign countries, do they provide any security measures, or do you come and go unattended, like other private citizens?

I come and go entirely freely and without any special security measures. I am a private citizen. People are polite to me, and they may facilitate my getting accommodations or getting on and off planes or through customs because of respect for my late husband; but no security measures of any kind are set up.


Whom do you consider the most beautiful woman you have ever known?

My mother—somewhat cold, but very beautiful.


With the efforts of Communist countries to gain a foothold in South America, shouldn't we go back to a strict interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, in order to preserve the safety of the United States?

A strict interpretation of the old Monroe Doctrine is really out of date now. South and Central American countries are on their own. We all join together in the inter-American organization, but we join as equals. We meet for our joint security and to make our joint plans, but the United States no longer occupies the position of "big brother." The menace of Communism must be fought by the nations themselves. Although we can consider the menace collectively, there is absolutely no action we as an individual nation can take.


Do you think a picket line should be honored in the absence of full information about the dispute involved?

Ordinarily, I do not cross a picket line unless I know enough about the circumstances of the strike to know that it is a strike I do not approve of.


Many educators have expressed the opinion that a ten-week summer vacation is needlessly long and hence a waste of irreplaceable time that could be devoted to learning. Do you agree?

I do agree. I think that it would be better to space school vacations, to give young people a shorter summer vacation and a longer winter vacation.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, June 1961

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

McCall's, volume 88, June 1961

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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