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Eleanor Roosevelt -  The United Nations

Eleanor Roosevelt

December 17, 1954; Brandeis University, Massachusetts

"You hear people say, "Why hasn't the United Nations done this or that?" The United Nations functions just as well as the member nations make it function, and no better or worse. And so the first thing to look at is, I think, the kind of machinery that was set up, and what it was meant to do. Now we have to go back in our minds to the time when the Charter was first planned. At that time the war was not over, and this was a dream, and everybody accepted it as a dream - an idea to set up an organization, the object of that organization being to keep peace.

Great areas of the world knew what it was like to have war on their doorsteps. We did not know what it was like, either to be occupied or to be bombed. That experience has made such a difference to many nations. I think we need to use our imaginations, because we really have to understand what the nations felt, what they feel today - where they actually were occupied or had great destruction within their own lands. They had co-operated during the war; they believed that they were going to go on co-operating after the war. That was one of the great myths of the centuries. They also believed that this organization they were setting up was to be an organization to maintain peace, not to make peace. Peace was going to be made, and then this organization would help to maintain it.

What happened, of course, was that peace has never been found. And so this organization, which was not set up to meet certain questions, has had questions brought to it that were not in mind at the beginning. But talk can have great value; you have to think of it as a bridge. You have to think of the General Assembly as a place where bridges are built between peoples. 

We in the United States are an impatient people. We want to see results tomorrow. I am not sure sometimes that it isn't the people who can outwait the other people, who have the advantage. Frequently, moving too fast can set you back. People are meeting in the United Nations that come from backgrounds where there have been certain customs and habits for generations. Some people grow impatient of these. We might think occasionally that other people find their way the best, and not our way. There are things we can learn from other people. You must have as a basis to all understanding, the willingness to learn and the willingness to listen. Even though we have difficulties through having the Soviets as apart of the organization, just remember that it may be a very good thing.

That is the bridge - if ever a time comes when there is a crack and we can perhaps meet people of another country, a Soviet or a satellite, it may be the one real way of increasing understanding. At the present time, they use the United Nations as a platform to boast about what they achieve. What they are told to say, they have to say, just exactly as they are told to say it. It must be hard to be that much of a slave. Their government wants to reach their own people; a speech made by a Soviet delegate is reported in full in the Soviet press. No answer is ever reported. These things are real difliculties.

When we look upon the failures in the United Nations, we should not be disheartened, because if we take the failure and learn, eventually we will use this machinery better and better. We will also learn one important thing, and that is, no machinery works unless people make it work. And in a democracy like ours, it is the people who have to tell their representatives what they want them to do. And it is the acceptance of individual responsibility by each one of us that actually will make the United Nations machinery work. If we don't accept that, and if we don't do the job, we may well fail - but it lies in our hands. And I think that is the main thing for us to remember today.

We are the strongest nation in the world. We, whether we like it or not, are the leaders. And we lead not only in military and economic strength, but we lead in knowing what are our values, what are the things we believe in, and in being willing to live up to them, and being willing to accept the fact that living up to them here, we help ourselves, but we also help the world."