What Has Happened to The American Dream?

Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady longer than any other woman in American history, and since her retirement from the White House she has continued to work unsparingly in the public interest, first as an official member of our delegation at the United Nations, and more recently in her lectures and telecasts originating at Brandeis University. She has spoken on more than one hundred campuses in the past fifteen years, and the paper which follows reflects her interest and experience.
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On January 4, 1961, the New York Herald Tribune carried on page 9, subordinated in space to a story on a castle for sale for $12 million, a news item from Russia. It described the new propaganda drive which is in line with the world Communist manifesto recently published. This manifesto declared "the United States is the bulwark of world reaction and the enemy of all the peoples on the globe."

Writers, lecturers, and agitators are being trained in special schools to spread this propaganda wherever they can. How many Americans read that news item? How many of them glanced at it and shrugged or laughed and dismissed it from their minds? How many of them were aware of the slow and relentless effect of Soviet propaganda among the uncommitted nations of the world and its effect on our standing among many peoples? I don't know, but I am sure that there were not enough. Not nearly enough. We are facing the greatest challenge our way of life has ever had to meet without any clear understanding of the facts.

There is in most people, at most times, a prone-ness to give more credence to pleasant news than to unpleasant, to hope that, somehow or other, things "will come out all right." But this was not the frame of mind that created the United States and made it not only a great nation but a symbol of a way of life that became the hope of the world. One can fight a danger only when one is armed with solid facts and spurred on by an unwavering faith and determination.

On my first visit to Russia I had watched the training of small babies. On my second trip, I studied the older children, their conditioning, their discipline, their docility, their complete absorption in the Communist system. Every child learns his Marxism backwards and forwards. By the time he leaves school, he is prepared to take not only his skills but his political ideas with him, wherever he may be sent, to whatever part of the world.

Wherever I went in Russia I found no personal hostility. But there was an unshaken conviction that the United States not only threatens but actually desires and seeks war. Here we are, equipped with the best communications in the world, and yet we have not learned how to use them in a way that can reach people.

Today, we are one of the oldest governments in existence; ours has been the position for leadership, for setting the pattern for behavior. And yet we are supinely putting ourselves in the position of leaving the leadership to the Russians, of following their ideas rather than our own. For instance, when the Russians set up a restriction on what visitors to the country may be allowed to see, we promptly do the same thing here, in retaliation. Whenever we behave in this manner, we are copying the methods of dictatorships and making a hollow boast of our claim that this country loves freedom for all. We owe it to ourselves and to the world, to our own dignity and self-respect, to set our own standards of behavior, regardless of what other nations do.

By practicing what we preach, putting democracy to work up to the very hilt, showing the world that our way of life has the most to offer the men and women and children of all countries, we may regain our lost leadership. Against those mindless millions we can oppose the unleashed strength of free men, for only in freedom can a man function completely.

When I visited Morocco in 1958 1 had my first opportunity to see for myself the difficulties that arise in the transition stage between colonialism and independence. The troubles that Morocco was encountering were, it seemed to me, fairly typical of the basic difficulties of all young nations in transition.

As the French withdrew from Morocco, taking their nationals along, the villages found themselves stripped of teachers and of doctors. Countless villages were without a single person trained to give medical assistance. The Moroccans themselves were not yet prepared to replace the doctors, the teachers, the civil service employees with their own men. It may be decades before they are ready to do so. Where, then, are the necessary people to come from? I feel that in that answer lies the key, or one of the major keys, to the future.

The great problems seem to be that, while people may be able to fight successfully for freedom, they may not yet be prepared to set up a stable and functioning independent government. The French pulled out, but the Moroccans had no one to replace them. They were totally unprepared for self-government. They were, in fact, much worse off than they had been a year before.

Today, this is happening again, in the Congo with the withdrawal of the Belgians. The time for colonization has gone forever, but some intermediate transition system is essential if chaos is not to follow.

A recent Afro-Asian resolution in the United Nations reveals the difficulty of the position by these words: "Inadequacy of political, economic, social or cultural preparedness" shall not serve as a pretext for denying independence. Now, it is certainly true that such a pretext has often been used in denying the right of self-determination. But it is equally true that without some basic qualifications, self-determination will lead to self-destruction.

In the Near East one finds the fluctuating and uncertain position of young countries which are in transition from the ways of the past to those of the future, with no certain path to tread and with the ultimate goal still obscure. That is becoming the situation of an increasing number of infant nations as they shake off the fetters of colonialism, or of ancient laws and customs, and grope for their own place in the sun. And what that goal is to be, what kind of place they are to occupy, what political philosophy they will choose in the long run will depend in great part on how we, in this country, prepare to meet the challenge.

Is what we are doing good enough? Have the changes that have revealed themselves in recent years, particularly in Africa and the Near East and the Latin American countries, shown overwhelming evidence that we are doing an intelligent job, an adequate job? I am afraid not. Genuinely afraid.

To me, the democratic system represents man's best and brightest hope of self-fulfillment, of a life rich in promise and free from fear; the one hope, perhaps, for the complete development of the whole man. But I know, and learn more clearly every day, that we cannot keep our system strong and free by neglect, by taking it for granted, by giving it our second-best attention. We must be prepared, like the suitor in The Merchant of Venice and, I might point out, the successful suitor—to give and hazard all we have.

Man cannot live without hope. If it is not engendered by his own convictions and desires, it can easily be fired from without, and by the most meretricious and empty of promises.

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