The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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ZURICH, Switzerland, Friday—Several people in the United States have written me with deep concern because our Congress has put aside consideration of the question of our joining the World Health Organization—which will hold its organizing meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in June.

I cannot quite understand why we, of all countries, should hesitate about becoming a member of this specialized agency of the United Nations. Our interest in public health has been enlightened and forward-looking, and it has long been recognized that we could not fully protect the health of our own country unless we cooperated with other countries and built up joint safeguards.

Last year, the epidemic of cholera in Egypt showed us how unprotected we are unless there exists a world health organization to take measures on a worldwide scale to prevent disease and its transmission. All available world supplies had to be used to check the epidemic in Egypt. However, this was accomplished in a very short time, and the record was so good that great pride was felt over the success of the joint program.

* * *

Now, of all nations, we lag behind in becoming a member of this organization. I cannot believe that the men and women of our country who are really concerned about the safety of their communities—especially of their children—quite understand what is at stake in this matter. Here is an organization that can do research on a scale that would be impossible for any individual country. It can prevent the spread of disease with far greater ease than any one country can do it. And yet we hold aloof.

This is a subject on which mothers and fathers might well write their Congressmen. I suppose the considerations against joining are those of expense, but the expense of one epidemic would be far more than the expense of taking part in this world organization and trying to prevent such menaces.

Perhaps we are going to wait until there are one or two really bad epidemics, and then, under the pressure of fear, we will decide that our people are willing to spend the money. It seems to me it would be wiser to educate the public as to the need of spending the money now to prevent anything so disastrous that it might endanger the people of our whole nation.

* * *

I have just received a copy of a New York paper giving an account of the memorial ceremonies at Hyde Park on April 12th. I was glad to read the speech made by Secretary-General Trygve Lie of the United Nations, reaffirming his belief in the strength and vigor of the United Nations. Above everything else, I think, that is important.

I sometimes think that the real trouble with our whole international situation is not fear and suspicion and the desire for expansion, but just simply a difference in manners and customs. It's quite possible that the Russians are surprised when we resent certain kinds of behavior which seems to us antagonistic. They may think that to be rude is just a sign of determination and firmness, and they don't see why you have to be polite when you want to express firmness. Probably they do not even think we mean what we say when we say something calmly and politely. To them, that may be a sign of weakness. It may well be that they feel that mild expressions cannot cloak determination.

Where the struggle for existence is great, the amenities of life are much more difficult to observe—and the struggle for existence is still very much a matter of preoccupation in the USSR. That may change if we can prevent another war. The Russian people would no doubt like to prevent another war but, as things are at present, the people in Russia will have even less to say about it than the peoples in other countries.

* * *

Before I left London, my mail had piled up in such quantity that it appalled Miss Thompson, so Lady Reading lent us two of her voluntary workers (from the Women's Voluntary Services) to help sort it. I am most grateful to everyone in England for their kindness and the wonderful messages they sent me. As it is impossible to answer all of them personally, I hope that those who do not get an answer will realize my heartfelt gratitude.

Even two or three days after the unveiling of my husband's statue in Grosvenor Square, crowds still filled the square and moved slowly around the statue. The Lord Mayor told me that people were coming to the city just for a day, even from Scotland and Wales, and were spending part of their day in a pilgrimage to Grosvenor Square.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Zurich (Switzerland) [ index ]
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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, April 17, 1948

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.