Eleanor Roosevelt's stirring call for peace in the face of rising fascism.
We will have to want peace, want it enough to pay for it, pay for it in our own behavior and in material ways.
In 1938, with fascist regimes gaining strength and global tensions on the rise, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt published a visionary plan for achieving world peace. This Troubled World offers a clear-eyed assessment of the political climate in the aftermath of World War I and a set of pragmatic proposals for avoiding global violence.
Anticipating the United Nations by nearly a decade, Roosevelt calls for a new world court to replace the failed League of Nations. She speaks of the need to define aggressor nations and to establish a system of trade embargoes to punish wrongdoing. She also advocates for an international peacekeeping force to intervene where economic weapons are insufficient.
Along with these proposals—which were in direct opposition to the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration—Mrs. Roosevelt concludes that world peace cannot be achieved with political machinery alone; it requires a popular commitment to tolerance and brotherly love.
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About the Author
Following the death of her husband in 1945, Roosevelt went on to serve as delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, representative to the Commission on Human Rights under Harry S. Truman, and chairwoman of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women under John F. Kennedy. In addition to her political work, Roosevelt is the author of multiple books on her life and experiences, including This Is My Story, On My Own, and The Moral Basis of Democracy. She died on November 7, 1962.
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This Troubled World
By Eleanor Roosevelt
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2016 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Case as it Stands
THE newspapers these days are becoming more and more painful. I was reading my morning papers on the train not so long ago, and looked up with a feeling of desperation. Up and down the car people were reading, yet no one seemed excited.
To me the whole situation seems intolerable. We face today a world filled with suspicion and hatred. We look at Europe and see a civil war going on, with other nations participating not only as individual volunteers, but obviously with the help and approval of their governments. We look at the Far East and see two nations, technically not at war, killing each other in great numbers.
Every nation is watching the others on its borders, analyzing its own needs and striving to attain its ends with little consideration for the needs of its neighbors. Few people are sitting down dispassionately to go over the whole situation in an attempt to determine what present conditions are, or how they should be met.
We know, for instance, that certain nations today need to expand because their populations have increased. Certain people will tell you that the solution of this whole question lies in the acceptance or rejection of birth control. That may be the solution for the future, but we can do nothing in that way about the populations that now exist. They are on this earth, and modern science has left us only a few places where famine or flood or disease can wipe out large numbers of superfluous people in one fell swoop. For this reason certain nations need additional territory to which part of their present populations may be moved; other nations need more land on which to grow necessary raw materials; or perhaps they may need mineral deposits which are not to be found in their own country. You will say that these can be had by trade. Yes, but the nations possessing them will frequently make the cost too high to the nations which need them.
It is not a question today of the "free" interchange of goods. If standards of living were approximately the same, throughout the world, competition would be on an equal basis and then there might be no need for tariffs. However, standards of living vary. The nations with higher standards have set up protective barriers which served them well when they were self-contained, but not so well when they reached a point where they either wished to import or export.
When you take all these things into consideration, the size of this problem is apt to make you feel that even an attempt to solve it in the future by education is futile. Faint heart, however, ne'er won fair lady, nor did it ever solve world problems!
Peace plan after peace plan has been presented to me; most of them, I find, are impractical, or not very carefully thought out. In nearly all of them some one can find a flaw. I have come to look at them now without the slightest hope of finding one full-fledged plan, but I keep on looking in the hope of finding here and there some small suggestion that may be acceptable to enough people to insure an honest effort being made to study it and evaluate its possible benefits.
For instance, one lady of my acquaintance brought me a plan this past spring which sounded extremely plausible. Her premises are: We never again wish to send our men overseas; we wish to have adequate defense; we do not need a navy if we do not intend to go beyond our own shores; submarines and airplanes can defend our shores, with guns along our coasts as an added protection. Therefore, we do not need an army, for our men are going to stay at home. With our coast defenses strong, nobody will land here, so why go to the expense of an army? We do not need battleships or, in fact, any navy beyond submarines because we do not intend to own any outlying possessions.
In this way, said the lady, we will save vast sums of money which can be applied to all the social needs of the day — better housing, better schools, old age pensions, workmen's compensation, care of the blind and crippled and other dependents. There is no limit to what we might do with this money which we now spend on preparation for destruction.
It is a very attractive picture and I wish it were all as simple as that, but it seems to be fairly well proved that guns along our coasts are practically useless. No one, as far as I know, has ever devised an adequate defense by submarines and airplanes, or calculated whether the cost of the development of these two forces would really be any less than what we spend at present on our army and navy.
The greatest defense value of the navy is that its cruising radius is great enough to allow it to contact an attacking force long before that force reaches our shores. If we trusted solely to submarines and airplanes we would have to have them in sufficient number really to cover all our borders, and this type of defense would seem to be almost prohibitive in cost for a nation with a great many miles of border to defend.
Has any one sounded out the people of this country as to their willingness to wait until an attacking enemy comes within the cruising radius of our planes and submarines? Have we faced the fact that this would mean allowing an attacking enemy to come unmolested fairly near to our shores and would make it entirely possible for them to land in a nearby country which might be friendly to them, without any interference on our part? Have our citizens been asked if they are willing to take the risk of doing without trained men? We have always had a small trained army forming the first line of defense in case somebody does land on our borders, or attempts to approach us by land through a neighboring country. Our army has not been thought of as an attacking force; do we want to do away with it?
Are all the people in this country willing also to give up the outlying islands which have come into our possession? Some of them cost us more than they bring in, but others bring certain of our citizens a fair revenue. Can we count on those citizens to accept the loss of these revenues in the interests of future peace?
Perhaps this is part of what we will have to make up our minds to pay some day as the price of peace; but has any one as yet put it in concrete form to the American people and asked their opinion about it?
One of the things that is most frequently harped upon is the vast sums of money spent for war preparation in this country. Very frequently the statements are somewhat misleading. It is true that in the past few years we have spent more than we have for a number of preceding years because we had fallen behind in our treaty strength but, in a world which is arming all around us, it is necessary to keep a certain parity and these expenditures should be analyzed with a little more care than is usual.
For instance, few people realize that in the army appropriation is included all the work done under the army engineers on rivers and harbors, on flood control, etc. One other consideration which is frequently overlooked is that, because of the higher wages paid for labor in this country, whatever we build costs us more than it does in the other nations. One significant fact is that we only spend twelve percent of our national income on our army and navy, as against anywhere from thirtyfive to fifty-five percent of the national income spent by nations in the rest of the world. It is well for us to realize these facts and not to feel that our government is doing something that will push us into a position which is incompatible with a desire for peace. We are the most peace loving nation in the world and we are not doing anything at present which would change that situation.
One very intelligent friend of mine developed an idea the other day which seems to me common sense for the present time, at least. "Why do we talk," she asked, "about peace? Why don't we recognize the fact that it is normal and natural for differences to exist? Almost every family, no matter how close its members may be, is quarrelsome at times." Quarrelsome may be too strong a word, so we might better say that differences of opinion arise in the family as to conduct or as to likes and dislikes. Why should we expect therefore, that nations will not have these same differences and quarrels? Why do we concentrate on urging them not to have any differences? Why don't we simply accept the fact that differences always come up and concentrate on evolving some kind of machinery by which the differences may be recognized and some plan of compromise be worked out to satisfy, at least in part, all those concerned? Compromises, of course, have to be made; they are made in every family. There are usually some members of a family, who, by common consent, are the arbitrators of questions that arise, and who hold the family together, or bring them together if relationships become strained.
The League of Nations was an effort to find for the nations of the world, a method by which differences between nations would automatically be brought before the court of public opinion. Some kind of compromise would be made and those involved would feel that substantial justice had been done, even though they might not at any one time achieve all of their desires.
Many of us have become convinced that the League of Nations as it stands today cannot serve this purpose. The reason for this is unimportant. The important thing now is that we should concentrate on finding some new machinery or revamping what already exists so that every one will function within it and have confidence in its honesty.
The people of the United States have congratulated themselves on the fact that they had made a beginning towards the development of this machinery in their conferences with the representatives of the other American governments.
Perhaps we have a right to feel a sense of satisfaction for as a nation we have made a small beginning. We were cordially disliked throughout South America for years because we were the strongest nation on this continent. We took the attitude of the big brother for a long time and constituted ourselves the defender of all the other nations. We were not only the defender, however; we also considered it our duty to set ourselves up as the judge, and the only judge, of what should happen in the internal as well as the external affairs of our various neighbors.
To them it seemed a bullying, patronizing attitude. As they grew stronger, they resented it, but we went right on regardless of their feelings. During the past few years we have put ourselves imaginatively into their situation. The final result is that we have reached an amicable understanding and actually are in a fair way to get together and discuss subjects of mutual interest with little or no sense of suspicion and fear being involved in the discussion. This can, of course, be spoiled at any time by the selfishness of individual citizens who may decide that, as individuals, they can exploit some other nation on the North or South American continents. The restraint of these individuals will not be a question of government action, but of the force of public opinion which, it is to be hoped, will be able to control and exert a potent influence because of the sense of responsibility acquired by our citizens.
This is satisfactory, but there is still much to be done before we can feel that even here in the Americas we have a thoroughly sound working basis for solving all misunderstandings. We cannot be entirely satisfied with anything, however, which does not include the world as a whole, for we are all so closely interdependent today that we can only operate successfully when we all cooperate.
We have had the experience and can profit by the mistakes and the difficulties through which the League of Nations has passed. Every nation in the world still uses policemen to control its unruly element. It may be that any machinery set up today to deal with international difficulties may require policemen in order to function successfully, but even a police force should not be called upon until every other method of procedure has been tried and proved unsuccessful We have some economic weapons which can be used first and which may prove themselves very efficient as the guardians of peace.CHAPTER 2
What are our ultimate objectives and how shall we achieve them? First, the most important thing is that any difficulties arising should automatically go before some body which will publish the facts to the world at large and give public opinion an opportunity to make a decision. Then, a group of world representatives will have to decide with whom the fault lies. If their decision is not accepted by the nations involved and either nation attempts to use force in coercing the other nation, or nations — in opposition to what is clearly the majority opinion of the world — then and then only, it seems to me, the decision will be made that the nation using force is an aggressor nation. Being an aggressor, the majority of nations in opposition would be obliged to resort to some method designed to make that nation realize that they could not with impunity flout the public opinion of the majority.
We need to define what an aggressor nation is. We need to have a tribunal where the facts in any case may be discussed, and the decision made before the world, as to whether a nation is an aggressor or not. Then the steps decided upon could be taken in conjunction with other nations.
First of all, trade should be withdrawn from that nation and they should be barred as traders in the countries disagreeing with them. It would not seem probable that more than this economic weapon would have to be used but, if necessary in the end, the police force could be called upon.
In the case of a clearly defined issue where the majority of nations agreed, the police force would simply try to prevent bloodshed and aggression, and it would be in a very different position from an army which was attempting to attack a country and subjugate it. Even the use of a police force, which so many think of as tantamount to war, would really be very different and there would be no idea of marching into a country or making the people suffer or taking anything from them. It would simply be a group of armed men preventing either of the parties to a quarrel from entering into a real war.
Of course, I can imagine cases in which the police force might find itself in an unenviable position, with two countries engaged in a heated quarrel trying to do away with the police so they could get at each other!
All we can hope is that this situation will not arise and that the non-aggressor party to the quarrel, at least, may be willing to sit peacefully by and see the police force repulse the enemy without wishing to turn into aggressors themselves.
With all our agitation about peace, we lose sight of the fact that with the proper machinery it is easier to keep out of situations which lead to war than it is to bring about peace once war is actually going on.
I doubt very much whether peace is coming to us either through plans, even my own as I have outlined it, or through any of the theories or hopes we now hold. What I have outlined is not real peace, just a method of trying to deal with our difficulties a little better than we have in the past, in the world as it is today. We may, of course, be wiped off the face of the earth before we do even this. Our real ultimate objective must be a change in human nature for I have, as I said, yet to see a peace plan which is really practical and which has been thought through in every detail. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that there is no perfect and complete program for bringing about peace in the world at the present moment.
I often wonder as I look around the world whether any of us, even we women, really want peace. Women should realize better than any one else, that the spirit of peace has to begin in the relationship between two individuals. They know that a child alone may be unhappy because he is alone, but there will be no quarreling until another child appears on the scene, and then the fur will fly, if each of them desires the same thing at the same time.
Women have watched this for generations and must know, if peace is going to come about in the world, the way to start is by getting a better understanding between individuals. From this germ a better understanding between groups of people will grow.
Excerpted from This Troubled World by Eleanor Roosevelt. Copyright © 2016 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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