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

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ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland—It is a strange kind of patriotism which makes some of our citizens refuse to participate in civilian defense drills, with others questioning the wisdom of suggestions made by the government for protection of civilians in case of a nuclear war.

I, for one, would like very much to have the government make a complete plan for shelters. It seems to me that homemade shelters will not have as much value as those built according to a prescribed plan by the government and inspected by the government. I also think that shelters will have to be part of a whole plan arranged and thought through by our government, including how food, water and air are to be obtained, and how emergencies such as illness are to be met.

We are told to rely on directions by radio. But how do we know that radios will function? In short, there are a thousand and one things that must be taken into consideration. Simply telling people to build shelters hardly begins to cover the ground.

In this connection I was interested to read the other day that Mrs. Khrushchev, when receiving the Western peace marchers who came to protest Russia's resumption of nuclear tests, had announced that the Soviet Union was building no shelters. I had heard, on the contrary, that the Soviet government had a thoroughly well worked out plan for the protection of its citizens in case of nuclear war through shelters. Hence I could only wonder whether Mrs. Khrushchev had been well informed. I wondered even more when she seemed saddened by the news that nuclear tests had been resumed and behaved as though 18 tests in the atmosphere were a real surprise to her!

Somehow I feel that the people of the Soviet Union are not very well informed as to the steps their government takes. Of course, one might also say that there are many things in our own government about which the people are not told in every detail. Nevertheless, with a free press such as ours it is much harder to keep information that is really deserving of popular knowledge from the people as a whole.

I am coming more and more to wonder whether it would not be advisable to ask all our states not only to prohibit capital punishment for youngsters in their teens but to do away with all capital punishment.

There has always been a question in my mind whether by judicial decision human beings had the right to take the life of any human being, at any age. A doctor does not have the right to shorten life in order to prevent great human suffering, even when he knows that eventually the patient must die. Do juries or judges have any more right to decide that someone who has committed a crime, no matter how dreadful, shall be put to death?

Without question, any person—whether young or old—who is dangerous to society should be separated permanently from society. If such a person's condition should later change, either by medical care or by rehabilitation, and he is made a safe and useful citizen, the case could be reconsidered and decided by a jury of his peers or by a judge. But to cut off a life seems to me not within the province of any human being.

I realize perfectly that this extends to war, which is very often mass murder and certainly will be in any future nuclear war. Perhaps, therefore, we need to look at this question from the moral and ethical standpoint. Perhaps we should try to divorce ourselves from the arguments we have accepted as conclusive in the past and take a new point of view. It may seem a strange moment to bring this up. Yet in the light of the frictions that exist in many parts of the world, and the fact that several heads of state talk of the possibility of nuclear war and we prepare for it as a method of preventing it, it might be well to face the fundamental question of whether we are going to do away on every front with the right of man to take some other man's life. This is part and parcel of the whole world discussion in which we are today involved.

E. R.

(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Saint John's, Newfoundland, Canada [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 9, 1961

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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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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MEP edition publlished on 2008-06-30

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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.