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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK—I am home again and trying to think through what I have really learned from this second three weeks spent in the Soviet Union.

Only a few people in America can tell you even today what communism really is. But fear of communism has taken hold among us. And fear without knowledge is dangerous.

For instance, some of our businessmen began to equate democracy with free enterprise and to state that there could be no freedom without an economic system called free enterprise. This is obvious nonsense because a number of countries which are not Communist countries but which do not happen to have the natural resources for an overall free enterprise system have had to accept some socialism with their free enterprise. Yet, they are democratic countries and opposed to communism.

It is evident, therefore, that one must separate belief in a form of government from one's economic beliefs.

We in the United States can operate very successfully a free enterprise system because of our vast natural resources, and there is no question but what this type of economy develops resourcefulness, initiative and the many traits that make a man successful in building up his own and his country's success. But we may well have to learn to live with other types of governments and other types of economies, and it is well to look at the realities of every situation and not to deal in generalities or in blind prejudices.

Because we dislike the Communist system we chose to believe that for one reason or another we would wake up someday and find that by some miracle the Soviet Union has disappeared. It is time that, as a people, we woke up to the fact that it has not disappeared.

The Russian people are well-disciplined, amenable to direction, healthy, and determined to build a place in the sun for themselves and their country. They accept sacrifice, they do without many things that we consider essential to decent living. They do this out of fear of war and under compulsion, but there is acquiescence in the compulsion.

We must constantly remind ourselves that we are judging people who 40 years ago under the czars had no freedom, practically speaking. They had no education and very little opportunity for health services. Today they have education, free excellent preventive medicine, medical care which is adequate and also free, and a standard of living for the mass of the people which is far above what they had under the czars.

This does not mean, of course, that some people are not living below their old standards, because the mass is being considered here—the people, 200,000,000 of them—who make up the work force and the building force of this country. The government shapes the lives of the people from the time they are babies. The government believes it needs highly educated people, and the government believes in scientific research. It does not have to ask the people about it, but the people are given the benefit of what science in every line can discover, and they soon learn its value.

The U.S. as a nation, I think, should face the realities of the present world situation.

In eight years the Chinese, percentage-wise, from all I can learn, have come along faster than the Soviets in the same amount of time. They still need the Soviets, but the time may come when they will have as much, or more, power than the country which has helped them to develop. We know little or nothing of what goes on in China, but perhaps it is time for us to realize that this is dangerous ignorance.

Look back on the historical picture and try to decide whether the time has not come to make some kind of arrangements with both the Communist Chinese and the Soviet Union. By refusing to trade we are forcing them to build up their own ability to produce the very things they might buy from us. By coming to no agreements we and they have a growing apprehension of war.

By closing our eyes to the existence of Communist nations we are neither helping the more liberal forces within these countries nor are we hurting the growth of their power. All we are doing is wasting time in making a settlement which must sometime come if we are not to destroy the whole world through an atomic war. And every day the settlement by war or by peaceful agreement becomes more costly to us.

If we face the fact that we are dealing with our equals, that they have a right to be recognized as equals, that both of us have a right to ask for the kind of safeguards which we feel will bring us some sense of security, accepting the fact that none of us starts with any sense of confidence in each other, then we may find solutions.

Once we face these realities and necessities we can negotiate, but it will require the best brains that we can muster and our best and toughest negotiators. The sooner we stop talking about war as though it were a possibility, the sooner will we face the realities of this situation before us and begin to find solutions to the problems of today.

In my next article I will tell you the changes that have come about in one year's time in the Soviet Union so that you may see why looking into the future seems to me imperative and needs prompt action after due understanding.


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

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 6, 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.