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

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NEW YORK—I can best begin this series of articles on the Soviet Union by letting Nikita S. Khrushchev, leader of the Communist Party of the USSR, speak for himself. I was asked to submit my questions, but Mr. Khrushchev did not have them before him when I appeared. And he answered my questions as though he was speaking completely spontaneously.

This first article will cover only in part some of the recorded answers, and while I have his answers in Russian, I can give you only the translation as it came from my interpreter, Mrs. Anna Larova, who told me she had translated for my husband at Yalta.

I opened by asking her to tell Mr. Khrushchev that I appreciated his taking the time to see me when he was on vacation and I added that I had enjoyed and had been much interested by my trip in his country. Mr. Khrushchev answered, "Politicians never cast aside political obligations."

Here are my questions and his replies:

ROOSEVELT: I came to the USSR for the newspapers I write for and to use what information I could gather for lectures which I will be giving in the coming year, but I have the hope that being here I can gain greater understanding and clear up some of the questions we get at home from some of our people who do not understand certain things they hear about the USSR.

KHRUSHCHEV: I appreciate your coming here and I want to speak of President Franklin Roosevelt. We respect him and remember his activities because he was the first to establish diplomatic relations between the U.S.A. and the USSR. President Roosevelt understood perfectly well the necessity of such relations between our two countries.

He was a great man, a capable man who understood the interests of his own country and the interests of the Soviet Union. We had a common cause against Hitler and we appreciate very much that Franklin Roosevelt understood this task, which was a common task of our two countries. I am very happy to greet you in our land and to have a talk here.

ROOSEVELT: Mr. Khrushchev, may I ask the questions which I have submitted? Then if you have any questions to ask me, I will be happy to try to answer them and may we have some further informal talk, not for direct quotation?

KHRUSHCHEV: Yes, Mrs. Roosevelt, you are welcome.

ROOSEVELT: At home people would say, "How does the Soviet Union expect us to disarm without inspection when she forced us to rearm after World War II? We reduced our army from 12,000,000 to 1,000,000 men." That would be one of the first questions asked, sir.

KHRUSHCHEV: I believe, Mrs. Roosevelt, we have different points of view on this armament complaint. We do not agree with your conception. We consider that demobilization took place in the U.S. and in the USSR.

You mention that you had 12 million army men but in our country men and women were all mobilized. In our country, perished roughly the number of people which you mention made up the army in your country, almost the same number of people. Mrs. Roosevelt, I do not want to offend you, but if you compare the losses of your country and the losses of ours, your losses just equal roughly our losses in one big campaign, one big attack by the Germans.

As you know, Mrs. Roosevelt, what terrible ruins we got and destruction because we lost our mining, our metallurgy. We lost our cities. That is why our country was so eager to establish peace and to establish firm peace. No country wished it so eagerly as our country.

When you consider demobilization, just some circles in your country wanted it. Others thought and believed that the Soviet country would perish as a socialist state, so they just hoped that it will perish, that it will die.

ROOSEVELT: I can't quite understand that. You mean, Mr. Khrushchev, that you think we thought, or rather that some circles believed, that all socialist countries would die?

KHRUSHCHEV: That is exactly. But these hopes failed and you see now that our socialist state was established out of the ruins, has established its economy and has become even more powerful.

ROOSEVELT: I understand, Mr. Khrushchev, but the Soviets kept a much greater proportion of men under arms than we did at that time.

(Dr. David Gurewitsch, who made the trip to Russia with me, was making the recording of the conversation and, at the same time, listening to make sure the translations were correct, since he knew Russian and was allowed to take photographs. So he broke in here to say, "Not just the proportion but the absolute figures were far greater—6,000,000 men under arms in the Soviet.")

KHRUSHCHEV: Dr. Gurewitsch, you may perfectly know the number of your army men, but don't feel so sure of the number of our army men. You don't know it. (Turning to Mrs. Roosevelt) I do not reject that our army was bigger than yours. We approached this question in a quiet way, in a calm way. Then it can be looked at reasonably and easily understood.

Take a map and look at the geographical location or situation of our country. It is a colossal territory. Mrs. Roosevelt, if you take Germany or France, just small countries which keep their army either to defend either their East or their West, that is easy. They may have a small army, but if we keep our army in the East, it is difficult to reach the West, you see, to use this Western army in the East, because our territory is so vast. Or the army which is in the North cannot be used in the South.

So, to be sure of our security in our state, we have to keep a big army, which is not so easy for us. When people speak about borders, they speak about 3,000 kilometers, which is the distance between the continents. But when we move our army from East to West, it means 3,000 kilometers.

ROOSEVELT: I understand all this, of course, but you have nothing to fear from the North. I understand that at Yalta Germany's defeat was accepted and you did not want Germany built up as a military power and you wanted a group of neutral countries between you and Germany. I understood at that time that these countries were to be free countries but to be closely tied to the Soviet Union, since the USSR was actually thinking of its protection.

Today, certainly, Great Britain, France and Germany are not a military menace. I don't say they might not become so, but they are not today. They are purely on a defensive basis, so I think it is possible to discuss very calmly how a country like the Soviet Union can be secure, which I understand perfectly the need of and the desire for, and still it should be possible not to have in the Soviet Union an army that can be an offensive army, because that frightens the rest of the world.

KHRUSHCHEV: What can I tell you in answer, Mrs. Roosevelt? When we increase our arms, it means that we are afraid of each other. Russian troops, before the Revolution, never approached Great Britain and never entered America. Even in old times they never came to the United States of America, but the troops of the U.S.A. approached our Far East, Japanese troops were in our Far East in Vladivostock, French troops in our city of Odessa, and that is why we must have an army. Your troops approach our territory, not we yours.

We never went to Mexico or Canada, but your troops went there, so that is why we have to have an army in case of danger. Before the time when troops will be drawn out of Europe and military bases will be liquidated, of course, the disarmament will not succeed.

ROOSEVELT: The actual type of armament today that is important has changed. It is not what it used to be in the old days. We are reducing our army, but what today matters is atomic weapons, and that is why I imagine the emphasis will have to be on how we can come to an agreement.


(Copyright, 1957, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 3, 1957

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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