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

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NEW YORK—I have been receiving an increasing number of letters from groups who want to have peace demonstrations of one kind or another.

The latest one came from a young girl in San Francisco who attended a meeting at Hyde Park last summer. At that time she asked me about peace and how young people could keep from "being afraid." I gave her a general answer, saying that we must first develop the capacity to live peacefully with ourselves, and then to feel at peace with our surroundings, our family and our friends. Once this is achieved, we may then be able to be of use in trying to bring about a peaceful atmosphere between the countries of the world. She now writes me that students in the San Francisco and Bay area held a demonstration on October 14 to promote peace, but she would like to feel that they could make some constructive suggestions of how active citizens could work for peace and the avenues through which they could do so.

The answer, I think, is that our obligation as citizens is to find out from our own government what are the helpful things we can do to assist in making the peoples of the world realize that we as a nation want peace, that we believe in a peaceful world and are willing to make sacrifices to obtain it. Our great difficulty is that the maintenance of peace seems to lie in the hands of two nations, the Soviet Union and ourselves. The Russian leader, Premier Khrushchev, by his many provocative speeches has made it appear that it is our attitude which is the aggressive one. But when you study his own proposals you find that while he says he wants peace, he wants it only on his own terms. Unless we agree to what he wants—to the kind of treaty or the kind of action on any subject which he wishes to interpret in his own way—then there can be no agreement between us and he threatens us with annihilation.

Thus, we have had months and months of negotiations on the question of stopping nuclear tests. In the end, Khrushchev has started nuclear tests in the atmosphere without regard to what anyone in the world might feel or think about it. He believes that we were as unreasonable in our demands as we think he was; and neither of us feels that they can endanger the safety of their people by giving up in any way. As a result, we in the U.S. find ourselves engaged in rearmament—after having disarmed at the end of World War II. We look upon every move in space made by the Soviet Union as a danger, and not as something that might be used by cooperative effort in the U.N. for the benefit of all nations.

Now we find ourselves faced with the dilemma of making Khrushchev understand that beyond a certain point we cannot yield in any area of the world. We are not interested in appeasing or giving in to him. But we are very much interested in negotiating with him, for there are broad areas in which, if he is willing to give a little, we could also give. Instead of this, we find ourselves obliged to prepare for defense because we believe he might use an atomic weapon against us. We think he is bluffing and that he will give in, but we cannot be sure.

The President naturally feels he cannot risk the lives of the people without taking every known precaution to save as many as possible in case of attack. This is what leads to a civilian defense program and the request for building shelters. One's private opinion may be opposed to such measures, but it is understandable that the President should feel he must prepare for all eventualities. As I have previously said, I think it should be a thoroughgoing plan made and supervised by the Pentagon. I think we have the right to ask for this type of shelter program if the President feels the need of proving that we are willing to do whatever our government asks.

Any demonstration for peace should clearly be an effort to show the world our desire to support peace, but should not indicate any weakening in the support of our President in whatever he may think necessary to ask us to do under the present circumstances. If he does not receive this support, and if Premier Khrushchev is not aware of such support, it might weaken the President's hand for negotiation. We are, one might say, in something of a gigantic poker game for the highest stakes that nations have ever played.

E. R.

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

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 16, 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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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.