MAY 29, 1941
WASHINGTON, Wednesday—The flags of all the Americas decorated one end of the East Room of the White House and were draped over the room's main door. It gave me a curious feeling to sit there and watch the President at his desk, faced by all the microphones.
I felt as though all the newspaper photographers in the world were grinding and clicking in front of him. The atmosphere in the room was one of suppressed and intense excitement. Diplomats are trained to observe the amenities, no matter what they feel, but last night everybody's face showed some emotion as the evening progressed.
I felt strangely detached, as though I were outside, a part of the general public. I represented no nation, I carried no responsibility, except the responsibility of being a citizen of the United States of America. Then I looked at the President, facing representatives of all the Central and South American countries, Mexico and Canada. Like an oncoming wave, the thought rolled over me:
"What a weight of responsibility this one man at the desk, facing the rest of the people, has to carry. Not just for this hemisphere alone, but for the world as a whole! Great Britain can be gallant beyond belief, China can suffer and defend herself in equally heroic fashion, but in the end, the decisive factor in this whole business may perhaps be the solidarity of the Hemisphere and, of necessity, the President of the United States must give that solidarity its leadership!"
If we all preserve our freedom, it must be accomplished because we believe in each other, because we want to go forward with the democratic processes, no matter how far short we may be today of perfection. We can only do this if we work together.
Then the President began to speak. For three-quarters of an hour he told us what conditions existed, what obligations lay before us and, finally, what his present step to meet those obligations was to be. More must follow, and day by day each one of us is going to realize that his life is changing, that he has an obligation to perform.
In my capacity of objective citizen, sitting in the gathering last night, I felt that I wanted to accept my responsibility and do my particular job, whatever it might be, to the extent of my ability. I think that will be the answer of every individual citizen of the United States, for when all is said and done, it is our freedom to progress that makes us all want to live and to go on.
After the speech was over, we went out to the porch and the rose garden. The Marimba Orchestra, sent especially for this occasion by the President of Guatemala, General Jorge Ubico, played beautifully under the magnolia trees.
After our guests had departed, we, who were in the house, went into the Monroe Room, to listen to Mr. Irving Berlin sing two of his new songs, as well as some of his old songs.
I caught the 2:00 a.m. train for New York City. After seeing two or three people this morning, I attended a two hour meeting of the United States Committee for the Care of European Children, and then took a 1:00 o'clock plane back to Washington. In a few minutes I shall be at the National Nutrition Conference for Defense.