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

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HYDE PARK—I have received from the Koelner Stadt Anzlinger, a German newspaper, a reprint of the appeal which a group of German writers sent on September 22 to the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Mongi Slim.

The Germans note that the events of August 13 in Berlin, when the wall was erected dividing the city, had more than a physical effect on the German people living in East Berlin and in West Berlin, who in the past had worked together and visited with relatives and friends on both sides of the demarcation line.

The message of the German writers brought great and enthusiastic response from many of the German people in West Berlin and in West Germany generally. But to an outsider their solution seems very unrealistic.

They ask for the right of self-determination, and apparently think it would be simple to take a vote and let the German people decide what they really want. They feel that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should give them this right. Unfortunately, the declaration is not a legally binding document on any country. Therefore, except by mutual consent of the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain and the United States such a vote could not be granted, nor would the results be upheld if they were not satisfactory to one side or the other.

This is why the status of Berlin has to be settled by negotiation between the allies of the West and the Soviet Union.

Everyone probably will agree with the German writers' letter in which they say this question must be peacefully settled. It cannot be settled by the use of force because that would set off a world war. But it is one thing to say this and quite another thing to carry out the negotiations that would bring about a mutually acceptable decision.

I believe there are many ways in which negotiation can move forward, but I am afraid it cannot be done quite as simply as the German writers suggest. It will take a real desire on the part of all the great nations involved to bring about a peaceful settlement, and at the same time it may require some considerable change in the policies of the West as well as the policies of the East.

There was a time when the U.S. could say that it disliked very much being involved in European troubles, and that it washed its hands of all such entanglements. And there are groups in our country today that would like to go back to this same attitude in our foreign policy. At the same time these groups, which might be called the extreme rightists, would like to see the whole economic system turned back to the 19th century and depend entirely on the old laws that worked under entirely different circumstances from those in which we find ourselves today.

This going-backward attitude is one of the things that handicaps our leaders in accepting the realities of the present-day world situations—military, political and economic. It handicaps them in their efforts to look forward and to plan realistically from existing conditions rather than from conditions as they were half a century ago.

One of our troubles, it seems to me, is that we constantly seek to meet world problems one by one as they occur. No one seems to be working on drawing together all the world problems and accepting all of the difficulties of urging solutions—in an effort to come finally to a firm determination to look at our policies in the context of the next 15 or 20 years in the world as a whole and having a definite and firm foreign policy. We might well begin to do this right here and now.

Many of our extreme rightist groups are clamoring for the kind of education that we used to have, free of all the "nonsense" that has crept in. This feeling arises because we did not look into the future and plan for what we really would need in education for a space and nuclear age. What our children learned 50 years ago—their school surroundings and their teachers—would be totally inadequate today. And even with the partial meeting of education problems we are not really giving the young a full and complete preparation for the world in which they live and must soon be making decisions.

It is time we stopped playing with this pleasant idea that the world can be turned backward. Circumstances have changed and we go forward, and going forward means we must have a much more realistic and bold outlook both here at home and abroad.


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

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Hyde Park (Dutchess County, N.Y., United States) [ index ]
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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, December 29, 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.