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

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NEW YORK—Before I finish my comment on the present military defense situation in this country, I, who knows absolutely nothing about the requirements of the military establishment, would like to say how things look to a simple citizen.

It seems to me that in modern warfare you need two kinds of armies. One is a small, highly trained career army—and when I write about an army, I am not using the technical term; I mean Army, Navy and Air Force. These people who use nuclear weapons require constant training. As their weapons—it doesn't matter much whether they are used on the ground, on the sea or in the air—change, these people must be familiar with the changes.

We have these people for defense, with a prayer in our hearts that the weapons with which they are trained will never be used in a war, for if they are, our civilization is probably gone. Nevertheless, these people must be experts to prevent anybody else from thinking they can attack and not suffer retaliation.

There is another kind of military preparedness which for some years may be essential.

The Soviet Union has the habit of inciting other nations to small wars, largely with the knowledge that such wars prove extremely irritating to countries of the West, particularly to the United States. In these small wars, conventional weapons and old-style tactics probably will be necessary.

I know that the Army contends that it takes a year or longer to make a soldier out of civilian. But we are trying to organize our people into a unit ready to defend ourselves and, if necessary, to be called to service in a conventional kind of war, either with a United Nations force or in conjunction with our allies.

The Swiss have learned to prepare their civilian population for national defense without taking them out of their training, professions or occupations for a long period of time. It seems to me that six months of intensive training, followed by two weeks more every year for 10 years during which they are on call, would give us an adequate conventional-type army. Nobody's life would be disrupted and everybody would serve in one way or another.

At present we draft a boy for two or three years. If we train him as a jet pilot, for instance, it costs us about $10,000 a year, and we lose him just as he becomes useful.

One boy out of eight who are drafted gives us about two years of his life, while the others go scot-free. This seems unfair and un-American.

I am just an outsider, a grandmother looking, as many other grandmothers, mothers and fathers must be, at the lives of the youngsters. I am perfectly willing that everyone should have a keen sense of responsibility in serving his government but unwilling to see this responsibility not shared by every citizen of the country—and I would include girls!

I know there are plenty of arguments opposed to this idea, but it works in Switzerland and it might well work here, with greater fairness to our young citizens and greater safety for us all.


(Copyright, 1958, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, January 17, 1958

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.