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

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PARIS, Friday—In the United States it seems to be extremely difficult for our military services to differentiate between what they can expect of their men and women in wartime and what they can expect in peacetime. Whether this is true in other countries is hard for me to find out, but human beings generally react in much the same way everywhere.

Rules and regulations that are accepted without a murmur in time of war seem oppressive and unreasonable in time of peace. Though heaven knows the world does not as yet seem to be a peaceful one, and we still have what amounts to wartime military situations in various parts of the world where our men are stationed.

It seems to me not very unreasonable to expect that in peacetime if a man is married, even though he is only a private, arrangements should be made whereby it is possible to have his family, under reasonable conditions, in the place where he is stationed. By that I mean that housing should be available and the cost of living should measure up in some way to the man's pay.

Simply because I think it is well for us to remind our military friends from time to time that in the U.S. they are dealing with a nation of people who have a strictly nonmilitary make-up. I am going to write about some of the things which have come to me in a letter from one of our far-flung bases.

In this case it is a Navy base, but I am quite sure the same thing could be said of many an Army and Air Force base.

"The following picture, which I am about to paint for you," the letter says, "is not a pretty one, but it is an accurate one. Will y bear with me for a few minutes, even though I know you are an extremel busy woman?

"First, I would like you to step into the little four-room apartment here that my husband and I share with another Navy wife and her husband and son. The Navy housing facilities for married enlisted personnel are so inadequate that even the married chiefs must wait on an average of 10 to 12 months for quarters. Since the term of duty has been limited to 18 months they find themselves ready to return to the States by the time they have finally succeeded in reaching the top of any Navy housing list. Consequently, they are forced to endure horrid little one-room apartments throughout their tour there at exorbitant rentals. And many of them have two and three children. As for the rated men beneath the rank of chief, it is almost hopeless. Do you wonder, then, that they are going out of the Navy as fast as they possibly can and on any pretext?

"Security in the Navy is a laugh to nearly all the enlisted men today. What is security when they can't have their wives and families with them? And you know for a fact that popular belief that all Navy men are roving Romeos is as old-fashioned as high-buttoned shoes.

“At least 35 percent of the enlisted men at this base are married men, and faithfully and happily so, or rather they would be happy if their living conditions were more bearable. In order to have their families with them, the wives have to secure a civil service position here at the base because civilian housing is the only housing available. And the base has designated this housing as "bachelor girls housing," although 75 percent of the girls to whom they are assigned are married to Navy men and were when they were extended civil service contracts while still in the States. Then when these wives arrive and move into their duplexes, which they all share with another girl, they are presented with one of these little courtesy notes, which is just a reissue of a previous identical order.”

The writer of the letter attached a memorandum that gives the hours when male personnel may visit the female personnel in these quarters, but it is careful to state that the apartments occupied by families are not included. My correspondent says these apartments are assigned exclusively to high-ranking civilian employees and supervisors. The order also states that violators of the regulations set down will be severely punished, and the last regulation, which seems to me to be really unreasonable, says that it is the responsibility of any and all occupants of the quarters in that particular area to report any infractions of the visiting-hour regulations.

This does make it hard on married couples, and it would seem that in peacetime a little thought might be given to changing the regulations that in wartime would be accepted without question.

There is, of course, reflected also in my correspondent's letter the usual feeling that a great deal more is done for the officers and their families than for the enlisted men and theirs. This, again—while I found it during the war in several camps—is better accepted in wartime because then families do not enter into the picture.

I must repeat that I have no idea whether these difficulties arise in other countries, but it is quite evident that in a democracy, where every enlisted man tends to feel that he is as important as an officer, these inequalities are more deeply resented. Many a man feels that while he is not actually in the Army or Navy he may in all probability be going back to civilian life where he might easily encounter those who are his superior officers at the moment on an equal footing.

Therefore, he resents the lines that must be drawn in military organizations. And it is more important to be considerate on every point where it is possible so that when the pressure of wartime necessity is removed, everyone feels they are on a peacetime footing.

Now that we are going through a period, which is none too palatable to many of us, of accepting the draft in peacetime and peacetime training for military service, these questions of difference in living conditions—in military service during peacetime—should be given very careful consideration.

E. R.


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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 16, 1948

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.