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Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches
Is America Facing World Leadership? (Part 1)
Address to the Business and Professional Women's Club at William Chrisman High School, Independence, Missouri
November 15, 1960
Speech, "Is America Facing World Leadership?" Truman introduces ER, ER discusses the US as leaders of the non-Communist world and the responsibility the US in its other nations, and the role of the UN
November fifteenth, 1960. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at the William Chrisman High School Number One for the Women's Business and Professional Club of Independence, Missouri.
I would like to pay tribute to our beloved past president and my co-chairman, Mrs. Effle Tiffie. [Applause] Now at this time may I present our first citizen of Independence, the former President of the United States, the honorable Harry S. Truman. Mr. President.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. [Applause overlaps speaking] Madam uh president and distinguished guests, I have a very pleasant duty to perform this afternoon-this evening. I have been uh uh invited-asked to present the speaker this evening. Now when I went to Washington in nineteen hundred and thirty five, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first lady of the United States. When I became President of the United States, it was my privilege to appoint her as a member of the General Assembly of the United Nations and she did a magnificent job there. In fact, she became the first lady of the world as a result of the work that she did in the United Nations, and since that time she has been delivering lectures all over this United States for the welfare and benefit of the country and for the education, not only of the youngsters, but of the oldsters also. Now it gives me the greatest pleasure in the world to present to you Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first lady of the world.
Mr. Chairman, Mr. President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. My subject tonight is "Is America facing world leadership?" And I find--
Could you put this on? They can't hear you. They can't hear you.
They say they can't hear you.
Oh no that's alright. This is only the recording, this just records.
May I see that? This is the mic. [Microphone movement sounds]
You want me to use this? What? Use this? Alright.
I am not accustomed to using this, so if I forget every now and then and put it down, just remind me [ER laughs]. [Audience laughs] [ER coughs] I think a great--as I better start over again perhaps you didn't hear me. My subject is, "Is America facing world leadership?" And a great many people, I think, would say "Why does America have to face world leadership?" We've done very well for ourselves a long while. Why do we suddenly now feel that we have to lead the non-communist world because of course we do not lead the communist world. The answer is very simple. After World War II all the nations that had been actively engaged in that war, except Canada and the United States, had to sweep away miles and miles of rubble and rebuild before they could begin to produce, and where were they going to find materials? Credit? Help? Nowhere in the world except from the United States. We, by the grace of God and the fact that our men fought [ER coughs] in far distant places, we had the good fortune not to be bombed, and as a result, we had little difficulty in housing because during the war we hadn't been allowed to build housing. Materials were needed for other things. But, by and large, we had greater productive capacity when the war came to an end than we had at the beginning. It had to change over to peacetime uses and our government had foresight and had its plans made, and it was done very quickly. But overnight the whole world that needed help very badly had to turn to the United States. I don't think they liked it any more than we would've liked it if it had been reversed, but there wasn't any choice. [ER coughs] There was nowhere else to go. And so, quite suddenly we became the leaders, the leaders of the non-communist world.
At first of course, we didn't realized what a real rift there was going to be because those who had prepared ahead and hoped to build some machinery, so that we could try and preserve a peaceful world, had hoped that the nations that had fought together in the war would live together and work together in an effort to preserve the peace. But very soon it became evident that the Soviet Union was going to lead a communist bloc, and that they hadn't changed their original ideas at all, and they never have. If you talk to Mr. Khrushchev today he will tell you with complete conviction, and he believes it, that the law [ER hammers the podium for emphasis] of the future is communist. And now when somebody tells you that, there isn't much you can say except, "I don't agree with you. And I shall work as hard as I know how to prevent your being successful, but I shall expect you to work for your beliefs as hard as you know how," and from then on you know that you are in a struggle.
Now, as a member of the United Nations, the Soviet Union has always said that they were a peace-loving nation, and they go on constantly telling us that they want peace. It's they who want disarmament. [ER coughs] But when you get to working out the steps by which you can have disarmament, then I'm afraid-afraid that they always withdraw, and we are sometimes rather cagey too. We withdraw also because we have no confidence and neither have they. They are afraid of us and we're afraid of them. We don't think they'll keep their word, and they certainly don't think we'll keep ours.
So, so far, the actual first steps for working out ways in which together we can work for a more peaceful world we've never been able to agree upon. But we must go on working for it, and as the United Nations grows stronger, I think the United Nations is going to increase in value as machinery. Now, as the leaders of the non-communist world, we have watched the United Nations grow and we are faced with one great problem: namely, we know that the Soviets are doing everything they can to persuade the new countries of the world and many of the less fortunate countries that have to develop themselves, to believe that they can provide them more quickly with the first things they want. Now almost any country that has a very low standard of living wants a better life materially for its people. If you see a really hungry person, you know that there isn't much chance to talk about values that are not material until that person can eat. And in the world there is a very large portion of the world where people do not have enough to eat. And therefore the Soviets have played on the feeling that they are nearer to the conditions that these people have, that they have come out of them in forty years and that the cause of their success--they're very careful never to say that this success is brought about under compulsion, that every single person in the Soviet Union lives under compulsion. They never say that, but they say, "We are much closer to your conditions. We can help you a great deal better than the United States, which has gone so far ahead and is so far away from your difficulties." Now the areas of the world in which these conditions exist are largely Asia, Africa, and South America, and the struggle is to find out how either the communist or the non-communist parts of the world are going to win the greatest number of people, are going to feel that one or the other is going to offer them more. And being the leaders of the non-communist world, we have a very great responsibility, but it's difficult for us to grasp this responsibility because until very recently we had only the responsibility for ourselves in our own country. We had a very a vast country and it had great natural resources, and so we were busy developing our own country. And what we wanted from other areas of the world was, for a large part of our early days, not very great. And travel at that time was difficult, transportation was difficult, and so we developed the things we had at home. Now, the world has changed a great deal. Communications are very rapid. Travel is getting more and more rapid. The world is shrinking every day, and things about us are known all over the world very, very quickly.
Now I don't know what the experience among you has been when you have gone to these areas of the world, but I have been asked very frequently two questions, and I find them questions worth remembering because either we are going to win in this struggle-- and while it is in part a military struggle, we could not afford not to keep a balance in military power. Mr. Khrushchev will tell you over and over again he does not want war. Now this isn't because if he had the power at one fell swoop to wipe out all retaliation it wouldn't be a temptation that he would find hard to resist. This simply means that he faces realities that he knows as long there is a balance in military power he could not avoid retaliation, and knowing as he does as much about destruction as we do, he would a great deal rather not have a destroyed world. That would be of very little use to him. A world that is producing is what he hopes someday to control. So he has decided that he is going to use two other methods and he thinks he is a great deal better than we are, and this is really where facing up to our world leadership comes in. He thinks that in economic and cultural ways, through the fact that he can compel his citizens to do whatever he wants, he can win out over our form of government because we have to persuade our citizens, to educate them, to get them to agree that they have an obligation to do certain things. We even have to prepare our children because we can't do what the Soviets can do: say to our children, "You show such and such capacities. You are going to learn such and such things, and we are going to use you for two or three years in such and such a country. You will therefore learn the language of that country and when you go you will not only take your skill, you will take a friendly gesture. Everybody's flattered when you learn their language. And all the years you've been at school, ten years, every afternoon you've spent two hours in the youth room of a village or the youth house of a city, and every day you've had your training in Marxism, so you know the ideas you are going to impart and you will impart them." Now this is a kind of infiltration which is extremely effective but we can't object to it, because persuasion is what we believe in for ourselves, and what we hope to do. But we can't tell our young people, "This is what you will do." We have to say to them, "This is the challenge before you today. We hope that if we can open opportunities for you, that you will take them and that you will meet this challenge." Now this is a very big challenge because it means changes in some of our methods and our values in learning. It means greater emphasis on certain things. You know there was a very interesting thing that came out of this last meeting at the UN, when Mr. Khrushchev decided to come over here, and it had a great deal to do with this question of facing world leadership. We now have ninety-nine members of the United Nations and many of them are new African countries that require a great deal of help to set up their government, and it will have to come from the United Nations because, having just freed themselves from political control, they're frightened to death of economic control. And that's why Mr. Khrushchev says, "We don't want anything from you. We're not asking you any promises. We'll just send you one or two people. Send someone who's trained in organizing a civil service." Can you think of any better position in which to infiltrate communist ideas than helping a new nation to set up its civil service? This is all part of the struggle that we are engaged in between communism on one side and democracy on the other. And I think too few of us are aware of this struggle. We know about the military struggle, but we do not know why it is that Mr. Khrushchev might possibly not want war any more than we do. And therefore, is perfecting gradually the ways in which he feels he can do better than we can do. And he's quite convinced of this. He is quite sure that he knows how to reach the people, the have-nots of the world, better than we can, and the question before us in the way of leadership is: "Can we do it or can't we?" And one of the necessary things, is that we look with care at the last meeting of the UN. Mr. Khrushchev came partly because he was ang-- [gap in audio recording 21:22] he was made to leave the Congo. He doesn't like being made to do things he really doesn't want to do, and [ER laughs] as a result he was very angry and he wished to destroy the UN and if possible to destroy Mr. [UN Secretary General Dag] Hammarskjöld. The amusing little incident that entertained a great many of us was that on the day celebrating Russian Revolution, he invited of course, all of the diplomats and he incidentally invited Mr. Hammarskjöld, who with correctness went. And as he came in to everybody's surprise, Mr. Khrushchev threw his arms around him and behaved as though here was his long lost friend. Now this is entertaining, but underneath-- don't be fooled by his antics. Because he came and brought his satellite leaders, the heads of many other states in the world felt they had to come too. And he brought a real problem in looking after them to New York City, and he used this time when they were here, in an interesting way. He behaved with rudeness, like a boor, with coarseness. But there was always some reason and the reporters who watched all of the sessions at the end said something that interested me. "Khrushchev has not won the African vote this time. As far as we can tell, he lost. But, he has managed to get across to most of these nations the feeling of his own conviction that communism is the law of the future. And that all of our grandchildren are going to live under communism, and he has done it with so much force and drive." And they look at the West and the best speech that was made was made by Mr. [Prime Minister Harold] MacMillan of Great Britain. And it was a characteristically British speech, a fine speech. But calm and detached and made very little inspirational feeling among the delegates, and because Mr. Khrushchev knew that this was the best speech and this was the speech that would get the front page headlines the next day, he decided to behave worse during that speech than any day. And he did it with a purpose. He wanted to share the front page and he succeeded. Now, he never does things without having a reason back of them, but out of it came the feeling among the reporters who talked to me that the West must develop.
Some people who are articulate-articulate enough and who believed strongly enough in democracy to speak with passion, with drive and force about what we could offer the world. Now this is something for us to think about. If we lead the non-communist world, we better realize that one of the areas most important today is leadership in the United Nations. That's where many of the young leaders and the leaders from these new states are nearly all young because they are only ones who have any education. You have to give them not only the inspiration in words, but you have to be able to show that this, which is the leading democracy in the world, is living what it says it believes in. That means that every one of us in our homes, in our communities, in our states, and in our nation, are painting for the world day by day what democracy can mean to the people of the world.
Now, I think you will find there are two questions, at least these are the two questions that are asked of me in nearly every country that I go. Number one: "How do you treat your minorities in the United States?" Many of these new nations are colored peoples. They've gained their freedom. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to feel that what we say, that democracy means a belief in the value of the human being because he has a spark of the divine, that we really believe that regardless of race, or creed, or color, because they are of [ER laughs] many colors, of many races, and so that is what they watch with very great care. And then the second question: "We hear that in the United States you pay to keep land out of production. Our people go to bed hungry every night. We hear that even paying to keep land out of production you still have more food than your own people can eat. Is there no better way that you could manage this God-given gift and find a way to share with the peoples of the world?" This is a difficult thing to answer because surpluses are a very complicated question. They're a financial question. They're a question of distribution. You have to be careful not to upset the economies of other countries by turning over to them surpluses that you may not happen to want, but that they usually buy from their neighbors. And it probably would mean close cooperation with Food and Agriculture, a specialized agency of the United Nations which has made surveys all over the world and which could probably tell us what kind of surpluses would be the best to grow. Now there are only two nations in the world that have a surplus of food: the United Strates-States and Australia. Canada can grow a small surplus of wheat, but only wheat. We have such a varied climate and I hope, such a literate farm population, that we could grow almost anything we were asked to grow. But it would take planning and we would have to have the best brains in our country look into the financial question, look into the question of distribution. It would be a lot of work, and we haven't wanted to do a lot of work. We've thought of this as our problem and surpluses were a nuisance. But if you are leading the non-communist world, there is almost no problem which is exclusively your country's problem because today almost anything that happens here has repercussions somewhere in the world. And what happens in the most unlikely places may have repercussions right here at home.
So we are in a new position. We're in a world which isn't very familiar to us. We haven't been told in the past that we had to find out about the religions of other people, the habits and customs of other people, but if you're going to lead you have to know about the other peoples of the world, and it's not too soon to begin when you are very young because it takes a long while to really know about this world as a whole. Not to feel that when you go somewhere you don't know anything about these people, they are strangers. To feel instead, that oh yes you've heard about this or that you are now going to see, and this is exciting and new and interesting. But it is not as though you were going into a new world.
This is a matter of education, and one of the things I think that is the most important to us today, is to see that our schools are the best schools we can possibly make them. I don't think Soviet education is one bit better than ours. I think ours is better. But it's easier to do things with people if you have trained them in discipline from the time they were two months old, and the Soviet baby when he or she is put in a nursery and its mother goes back to work on the fifty-second day after it is born, that day discipline begins. It's mild discipline. It's very gentle because the Russians love children. They're not cruel to the child at all, but there is an objective in their education. They want amenable and thoroughly disciplined citizens, and this is accomplished by the time these citizens have finished their education. At two months old you start by being taught your exercises [ER coughs] and I was much interested [ER coughs] to see the same exercises, the same massage being given to a little Russian baby in a nursery that we would give our own babies with this difference: that the Russian baby, after a little while, you didn't hold their little hands when you lifted them up. They took the rings which you held out to them and they held on themselves for the requisite number of times that you lifted them up and let them down. And by the time they were one and a half to two years old, they went through a whole routine of exercises without a single mishap or a single deviation and no older person said one single world. When you are seven and have finished nursery school and kindergarten, in your first class there will be forty children, very likely in a place like Moscow, and a little president will be elected for the class. He will march that class in-in absolute order, and I was very unbelieving because I'd been told the teachers were trained very quickly to detect any emotional disturbance in their children. And I said, "With classes of forty this is impossible," and they said, "Oh no not at all." So I watched, class after class, and I soon discovered why it was possible. If any child did anything which was out of the ordinary you knew it right away because nobody, nobody did anything that wasn't expected of them. At the end of the school there's a long staircase that goes from floor to floor and between each class the children walk around a long corridor, the school rooms are off the corridor, and they walk, they don't run. And this is supposed to use up their surplus energy. They walk in twos and threes and I looked at the superintendent and I said, "Don't the children ever run up and down those stairs?" And he said to me, "No, it is not allowed!" And I said, "Well, uh don't they ever forget and run?" "No, it is not allowed!" Well now this kind of discipline [ER coughs] is very effective when you have it for all those years [ER coughs] and it makes it easy to produce certain things. Now it may mean, and I've asked any number of psychiatrists, if it would take away initiative if it would hurt certain processes [ER coughs], but so far nobody seems to know just what the harmful things will be. [ER coughs] I don't know if I have a glass of wat-- no I had one. But [ER coughs] in any case, this is what Mr. Khrushchev is relying on. And this is what we have to meet. We have to meet it [ER coughs] by making our people, young and old, understand what the challenge is and what the responsibility of world leadership is. How do you meet this? Well the first thing, I think, is that our children should know that we are living in a period of history which requires the best that is in any of us. You can't just get by. You've got to do the very best you know how.
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Is America Facing World Leadership? (Part 1)
Address to the Business and Professional Women's Club at William Chrisman High School, Independence, Missouri
November 15, 1960
Address to the Business and Professional Women's Club at William Chrisman High School, Independence, Missouri PT38M44S
- 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
Transcribed and published by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, 2019-11-27
Transcription created from holdings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library