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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK —We live in a world today where confidence is the basis of almost any agreement. Every time we do the most commonplace of daily things we have to show confidence in someone or something. We take a bus with confidence that the driver knows how to drive. We travel by taxicab, airplane or ship, confident that the operators of these means of transportation are competent. We risk our lives very frequently with no assurance whatsoever except this confidence that we have in somebody or something.

And so I suppose there is some justification for the Russian contention that to come to any kind of agreement on disarmament there will have to be confidence in each other. But while one recognizes the Soviets' logic in this, one also recognizes the logic on the part of the Western nations who have long ago lost their confidence in promises made by the Soviet government because these promises have not always been kept.

In addition, the Soviet government has not been very logical about its own nuclear tests. It prepared for them deliberately while carrying on discussions as to how tests could be given up. Then when the Soviet government was entirely ready to resume testing its representatives broke off further discussion and, on the plea that they needed to catch up with the United States, they resumed testing.

Now, quite logically, the U.S. has said to them that unless they come to some agreement before a given date, we will feel obliged to resume testing to catch up with them or advance our present knowledge.

Many of us are greatly discouraged with this prospect because we feel fundamentally an action that endangers the people of the world is morally wrong and should be so understood—not only by the Western powers but by the Eastern powers as well.

We also have a great sense of discouragement when no concrete steps can be taken toward disarmament, because we know that in the long run this is the only real assurance we have of doing away with the fears of possible nuclear war which people now live under.

We, as a people, probably have less fear of this possibility than any other people. In the first place, we have a built-in sense of security. We have always been able to take care of ourselves, and it is difficult for us to understand that a new element has come into war that could make war as destructive for us as it is for anyone else.

We also have a feeling that our government is able to take all the precautions needed to ensure, in case a war should be brought about by our adversary, the greatest possible protection to our people. And we have an unerring faith that, in spite of possible terrible losses, we would be able to rebuild better perhaps than any adversary could possibly recover.

With this assurance and optimism among our people our representatives know that they speak from strength. And that is the basis, I think, for the hopeful tone in which we have entered the current Geneva disarmament conference, in spite of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's refusal to consider any kind of inspection.

Our representatives have a hope that common sense will finally dictate some kind of compromise. Inspection may not be foolproof. In fact, our scientists tell us that we have not yet found a way that will detect all types of tests, but it is in the interest of all governments to make sure that so far as possible each one of us is keeping his word. And it seems to me that the Soviet Union should realize that since it is essential that we all keep our word the confidence which their government demands of us may grow.

ALL of us must keep our word, however. There must be no defaulting on either side.

And we must also be very sure that when we write our agreements we really understand what we mean by the words we use. I think this is one of the most difficult problems to overcome, because a meaning accepted by us may not be at all the same as the meaning accepted by some other nation. The word "freedom," for instance, has many different connotations; the word "democracy," and even the word "socialism," might vary in definition if the definition were given by a Soviet citizen and by a citizen of the U.S.

That is what makes international documents such extremely difficult things to write, and the long arguments and explanations that seem to us so wearying and useless are really a necessity if there is to be a true meeting of minds on the substance of an agreement.

Let us pray that something tangible comes out of the present meetings in Geneva. This would mean that we would have made a beginning toward preventing the spiral of continued competition, which seems to some of us to lead only to disaster.


(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, March 16, 1962

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.