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

Dario Fazzi
London, Palgrave Macmillan, 202 pp., € 96,29

Anno di pubblicazione: 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
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