My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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WASHINGTON, D. C., Wednesday—Since the Secretary of State released the letter written by my husband to King Ibn Saud, in which he gave assurance that the United States would take no action without consultation with both the Jewish leaders and the Arab leaders, I think the rumors surrounding this subject are clarified.

There have been so many assertions both abroad and at home of what had been said in conversations, that I think many people felt somewhat confused. I had heard my husband, on a number of occasions after his return from Yalta, give an account of the visit paid him by King Ibn Saud. My husband stated that he felt his conversations with the Arab king had been a failure, since the king had told him that as long as he lived he did not wish any change. An influx into Palestine of Jewish people from the big cities of the world—like London, Paris, Berlin, New York—would meet resistance because it tended to change the way of life of the whole land. The Arabs, said King Ibn Saud, are of the same Semitic race as the Jews, and got on well when their backgrounds were similar. My husband said that King Ibn Saud asserted that he had been a warrior all of his life; he was not interested either in farming or forestry; his people were herdsmen and nomads, and he wished no change.

My husband felt that a later generation might feel differently, but at present there was very little hope of a changed attitude on the part of the Arabs where Palestine was concerned.

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It has always seemed to me very unwise to quote people after they are dead. Their written documents, of course, can be considered in the light of the circumstances and the period in which they were written. They are factual and represent at least what the man himself put down at that period.

Even that, I think, is sometimes misleading, because all intelligent people change their minds in view of changed circumstances and conditions. Only stupid people remain rigid and inflexible in their opinions and ideas. Therefore you can really never tell what a man who has been a thinker and a leader, in either public or private life, would think or do if he were alive and facing new circumstances. You can take what he has written and what he said and what you know of his character and principles, and it may influence you in your thinking. But it should never be considered as the attitude of the man in the new situation. A new decision should always be the result of new thinking.

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There is one other consideration in quoting the dead. They can no longer speak for themselves. They can neither explain why they did or said certain things, nor give the reasons which influenced them at the time. Therefore it seems to me that using past utterances to influence new decisions is not only unfair but very unwise. People who may themselves have had some special axe to grind, and who quite easily may have understood a conversation in the light of their own desires instead of those of the speaker, are never reliable reporters.

E. R.

TMs, AERP, FDRL