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Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches

Radio Interview at Lake Success

December 12, 1949


Radio interview, Dwight Cooke interviews Eleanor Roosevelt at Lake Success.

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[Dwight Cooke:]  I’m sitting here in Colombia's booth overlooking the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations out here at Lake Success and sitting across the microphone from me is perhaps the most influential single delegate to the United Nations: Mrs. Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt, in coming out here to talk with you today it took a taxi driver, three policemen, ten gas station, oh six or eight assorted people giving us wrong directions and an hour and a half to find the United Nations. Is that symbolic of the United States' ignorance of what's going on?

[ER:]  [ER Laughs] Oh, I'm afraid it is and I'm very sorry because uh at least it will help when we get into the City.

[Dwight Cooke:]  I wonder if the main objection to the United Nations in the minds of most Americans today is that they think it's a kind of a glorified debating society, very nice when you have nothing better to do.

[ER:]  Well, it doesn't seem that way to me because while I recognize the value of being-having a place where peoples can talk to each other and even amuse each other, if they feel like it.

[Dwight Cooke:]  As has been felt from time to time.

[ER:]  Certainly, and never the less, I think that there is much being done by many different agencies in the United Nations.

[Dwight Cooke:]  So as we start this United Nations Week, what are a couple of things you think most important going on right now?

[ER:]  Well, of course to me, one of the most important thing is done by the specialized agency of food and agriculture, a world survey of our food supply, our agricultural methods, the way in which we increase our food supply. That's been needed for years and years and not until we got together as the United Nations could we do a really world survey.

[Dwight Cooke:]  And although that doesn't seem like a spectacular way of creating peace tomorrow it has very definite implications in terms of world peace.

[ER:]  Well, very decidedly because it's the movement of peoples when they can no longer eat that is one of the causes of war.

[Dwight Cooke:]  Well now Mrs. Roosevelt, I know you're chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the Economic and Social Council, in that you had to deal not only with the points of views of Americans and other representatives of Western Democracy, but all the other kinds of peoples in the world, doesn't it eh give you kinds of problems which would never exist in the American congress?

[ER:]  All kinds of problems, but I think that the thing people don't realize is that this is a great educational agency. It uh gives people who are delegates here the opportunity to learn about other people, about their religions and their legal systems and their habits and customs, and it gives them an opportunity to learn about us, and that after all must seep through us to our different nations, that's one of the ways of promoting an atmosphere in which peace can grow and in which cooperation can be fostered.


[Dwight Cooke:]  Well now, in-in your own education, [ER coughs] which doesn't seem as if it was very much needed from the deftness with which you handled delegates from other nations, you've been up a good many times against the Russian point of view, which is a somewhat different one from ours. Are they harder to deal with than other nations?

[ER:]  Yes, because they're most suspicious. They're very suspicious. [ER coughs] And we may know the reasons for that and we may be able to explain it, but it exists and it makes all dealings very much harder and um when you have suspicion, cooperation is practically impossible, but I feel that great patience, great firmness, and an insistence on doing what we believe is right will eventually bring about better understanding.

[Dwight Cooke:]  There is no other way but that, Mrs. Roosevelt.

[ER:]  I don't know of any other way.

[Dwight Cooke:]  Well now, that sounds easier than it probably is in practice, all of us being as human as they as we are. [ER laughs] I was impressed when you were dealing with the Russian delegates over a question of the Western democracies' treatment of the DPs, I think they were talking about monopolistic exploitations, it's always safe to say

[ER:]  It's always the same thing.

[Dwight Cooke:]  are talking about it. You um switched the iron curtain into a different kind of a metaphor the garden wall and thus combined humor with a very pungent truth there.

[ER:]  Well, I don't think they like me especially, in fact the Ukrainian said that I had been playful on a very serious subject the other day, but I think that is one of the ways. Of you can keep from being bitter and if you can keep from accusations which you cannot prove, which they can just insist on are true without proof either, but which get you nowhere, but if you can keep on a uh more or less calm basis you do not embitter them and yet you-you point out, for the world as a whole, the facts that really exist.

[Dwight Cooke:]  Well you did that so neatly because that assembly of yours, I think you said something along the lines that if everything was so beautiful in the garden of the Eastern democracies and in the Russian garden, it would be very nice if they would let us look over the garden wall.

[ER:]  They would just let us to have a little gate through which we could pass.

[Dwight Cooke:]  That combined firmness with tact I would say [ER laughs], but how do you know and in the midst of a debate, how can you possibly know which times when you're dealing with a group thinking so differently from the way we do and so suspicious of us, how can you possibly know which times to be especially firm and which times to be especially humorous or tactful?

[ER:]  Oh, I don't know, I suppose you learn a little bit as you go along, now I've been at this a long while sir and I think you--

[Dwight Cooke:]  Since the United Nations started.

[ER:]  Yes, I wasn't in San Francisco, when the charter was drawn up, but ever since, I've been at every meeting and I've also had the opportunity of serving on the human rights commission and the result is you do learn something, experience does help you a little bit, I think.

[ER laughs]

[Dwight Cooke:]  Well, do you feel, Mrs. Roosevelt that you're getting very far so far in convincing them of your own sincerity and your own truthfulness?

[ER:]  I-I don't know because you never have an opportunity for any personal, real uh personal contact, but I would say that they believed that I believed what I said.

[Dwight Cooke:]  And that is a compliment to any American from any Russian, I would say. [ER laughs]

[ER:]  I hope they do anyway!

[Dwight Cooke:]  Well now, leaving the Russians for the more mundane of the operations of daily life as an American delegate, there are a great many differences between being a congressman, a senator, or a member of the House of Representatives, and being a member of the United Nations. The one that hits me first of all is the fact that within reason, at least, a senator votes as he pleases, using his own judgement, you are in effect an ambassador from the United States, responsible to the United States, and to some extent, voting according to the direction of our foreign policy and our Department of State.

[ER:]  Yes, that is-that is entirely true, um, but a senator is responsible to the people of his constituency, at least he may feel that he must educate that constituency, but in the long run, that constituency is also his master. Now with us, it is true [ER coughs] that the government gives us uh the benefit of their information and their point of view. We are briefed before each session, we are allowed to express our opinions, and if what is given us does not seem to us justified, we can ask for more information, and of course, in the long-run, if we still were in opposition, we could resign and go back to our own personal lives, nothing would happen to us.

[ER Laughs]

[Dwight Cooke:]  Well, in a very modest way then, Mrs. Roosevelt, you're suggesting perhaps that the delegates to the United Nations help in reversed form, American policy towards the United Nations?

[ER:]  Well, I don't know that we actually help to form it, but at least we-we can as-as individuals uh representing a policy, we must understand that policy and we must be-have a conviction that it is uh, on the whole, a wise policy, otherwise we couldn't argue it with conviction ourselves.

[Dwight Cooke:]  But besides the conviction, you must have to grasp a great many different problems during any week because whatever instructions the Department of State may give you, innumerable surprise and differences must come up in all the arguments and debates.

[ER:]  That's perfectly true and then there are certain things that are inherent in [ER coughs] our system, which are sometimes difficult to fit in with uh the systems of other peoples. For instance, we always have to argue for a federal state clause in any convention. Now, [ER coughs] whether that will be so forever, I don't know. But at present, our people still feel that that is desperately important. Now, you have to accept that as part of our system and whether you think in time it should be changed or not is something you have to wait for as you do for many things in a democracy. In a democracy, you move as people are convinced they wish to move.


[Dwight Cooke:]  Well then one of the points I should think you would be making, Mrs. Roosevelt, is in viewing the United Nations, we'd better view it with the same kind of patience we view the various aberrations of our own democracy in action.

[ER:]  Well exactly, that's exactly it because the United Nations is a uh great many peoples put together and all of them are going to move slowly, they can't move too fast.

[Dwight Cooke:]  And you have the constant difficulty, which no senator has when a senator talks about the United States, or democracy, or freedom of speech, everyone else in the Senate at least knows what he's talking about. When you talk about freedom of speech, do many of the delegates know what you mean?

[ER:]  No, a great many of them have still to discover that all the papers in this country are not controlled by the government, and the whole USSR bloc uh thinks that we deliberately, as a government, do not want uh to keep people from saying things that they consider are incitement to war, and they cannot believe, they cannot understand because it's so foreign to their point of view that the government does not have the right to interfere with private individuals and their ways of expressing themselves.

[Dwight Cooke:]  And your only hope is patiently, over and over again, reiterating the facts you know to be true and gradually hoping it percolates?

[ER:]  Gradually, I think they know it in words. They know it, but they are so far away from accepting it that they think it's wrong, and therefore, they cannot accept it.


[Dwight Cooke:]  Well now, Mrs. Roosevelt, in this, the first day of the United Nations Week, necessarily, most Americans think of the United Nations most importantly affecting their own lives in terms of peace, that was the great hope held out to them when the United Nations was adopted. Today they see a world which is not exactly peaceful in its implications and they wonder, "How far can I trust", or, "How far should I back the United Nations if I want world peace?"

[ER:]  Well they haven't anything else, so they'd better back the United Nations with all they have because there is no other machinery through which they can work at the present time and uh it's the one-the one group that holds the world together today and keeps us talking to each other and does create a place where we can learn cooperation and learn about each other.

[Dwight Cooke:]  It's one of the curious things in all these great fields of public affairs, there are certain things which could be called bromides because they're so obvious, and yet there's no escaping from them. It-it seems obvious, and yet often, we miss the significance of the single fact that there is no such thing as a simple and easy road to peace.

[ER:]  It's harder, a great deal harder to attain than the winning of the War because when you win a war [ER coughs] you cease to fight, but um in winning a peace you've got to live it every day and you've got to live it as long as you live, and that's quite a different thing.

[Dwight Cooke:]  A very demanding thing and one worthy of a democracy.

[ER:]  I think it's probably [ER coughs] the most difficult thing that any of us have ever tried to do, but people have tried to do it for generations, but this time we're trying to do it together.

[Dwight Cooke:]  Well Mrs. Roosevelt, I'm very grateful that you took time off from your many duties here at the United Nations to sit and talk with me and emphasize the essential points about the United Nations and the rest of us living here in the United States, and during the next week, a good many other people will be sitting and chatting with me, I'm sure they're going to be merely underlining the points which you've made so nicely today. Thank you for being here.

[ER:]  Thank you.

Program Participants

  • : Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
    Cooke, Dwight Irving   [ LC | VIAF | SNAC ]

About this document

Radio Interview at Lake Success

December 12, 1949


Eleanor Roosevelt

Project Editors
  • National Endowment for the Humanities

Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches is a project and publication of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University, Academic Building, Post Hall, Room 312, 2100 Foxhall Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007

Transcript Editors

Transcribed and published by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, 2019-11-27

Transcription created from holdings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library