Società italiana per lo studio della storia contemporanea


Eleanor Roosevelt and the Anti-Nuclear Movement: The Voice of Conscience

Dario Fazzi

London, Palgrave Macmillan, 202 pp., € 96,29 2016

The book details Eleanor Roosevelt’s role as advocate of peace and international cooperation. ER feared nuclear proliferation and the threat of atomic catastrophe, and supported multilateral disarmament efforts and a moratorium on nuclear testing. As Fazzi explains, «Eleanor Roosevelt’s direct involvement in the so-called struggle against the bomb was not just a naïve pastime. It epitomized instead a very specific view of the international affairs and the Cold War relations, as well as an enduring yearning for world peace and social justice» (p. 193). The book proceeds in chronological form. The first chapter discusses Mrs. Roosevelt’s early embrace of international peace efforts, and suggests that her prewar role as a «realistic pacifist» paved the way for her later positions. The second chapter deals with the first years after World War II, and details her efforts to promote international control of the atomic bomb through the United Nations (to which she offered unwavering support as a channel for peace). The author diverges from mainstream historiography, which has portrayed Mrs. Roosevelt as a firm, if reluctant, Cold Warrior, by revealing her public attacks during 1946-1947 on the Truman Administration’s containment policy and her advocacy of negotiations to arrive at an understanding with the Soviet Union. Chapter 3 explores Mrs. Roosevelt’s actions as a «pragmatic cold war dissenter» during Truman’s second term. While identified with the administration as an official delegate to the United Nations, she granted a public profile to critics of the president’s decision to build a hydrogen bomb. In particular, she invited Albert Einstein and other dissident scientists to appear on the weekly television news program she hosted. The second half of the book covers the years after ER left government service, and centers on her support for the anti-nuclear lobby group National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), who called for disarmament talks. Although she never formally joined the group, with which she had significant differences, by attending its rallies and signing its public letters against nuclear testing Mrs. Roosevelt granted SANE further visibility as well as political cover. In particular, during the 1960 presidential campaign she pushed for the Democratic Party to support nuclear disarmament as a winning political strategy. Because of its clarity and its detailing of a less-known aspect of ER’s political leadership, the book is a welcome addition to the literature, especially for the years after 1945. No doubt due to space restrictions, the author does not cover the entire subject. Left untreated, for example, is Mrs. Roosevelt’s 1953 trip to Japan, during which she visited Hiroshima. Without expressing regret for the bombing, the visit made her pray that «God grant to men greater wisdom in the future». The author mentions only in passing ER’s work during the 1950s for the American Association for the United Nations, the focus of her political activity.

Greg Robinson