Travelling Around the World (1952)
After the end of the spring 1952 UN General Assembly session in Paris, ER traveled to Lebanon, Israel, Trans-Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, and back to the United States in what she called her "round-the-world trip home." ER began planning for the trip in 1949, after Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited Hyde Park and invited her to visit his country as his personal guest and as a guest of the Indian government. ER had hoped to go in 1951, but ultimately was unable to schedule her visit until the following year. When she finally went, her initial plan to stop briefly in a few other nations quickly turned into a series of longer visits, especially in the Middle East and in Pakistan.
ER's unwavering support for Israel made her an unpopular figure in the Arab states, where she met with what Secretary of State Dean Acheson described as "an absence of cordiality." The State Department was concerned enough about her travel to these countries that it pushed her not to go to Egypt, as she had planned, believing it too dangerous. Instead, she began her trip Lebanon where she visited refugee camps which housed hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who had fled Israel in 1948 and 1949. She told her readers both of the wonderful work being done by some camp workers and of the hunger and illness that they could not prevent. "Human misery anywhere is heartbreaking, and it is no less heartbreaking when one feels something could and should be done about it. As always happens, the people who suffer are in no way to blame." She spent seven days in Lebanon, Syria, and Trans-Jordan, then went on to spend an equal amount of time in Israel.
ER's time in Israel was less tense. She went to tourist sites, visited a Youth Aliyah center, saw a Kibbutz, and learned about irrigation and efforts to battle tuberculosis. She also met with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Her "My Day" columns emphasized both the conditions of the new emigrants in Israel and the flurry of building and development she saw throughout the young nation.
With the sight of both Arab refugees and the numerous Israeli emigrants fresh in her mind, ER identified what she described as the "larger and more difficult" problem of displaced persons in Pakistan almost immediately, and one of her first visits was to a refugee camp. She compared the division between Pakistan and India to that she had already witnessed between Israel and the Palestinians—where "bitterness and fear of one's neighbor has resulted in spending for defense huge sums badly needed for health, housing, education, and other programs." As the guest of the All Pakistan Women’s Association, she spent much of her week in Pakistan meeting with women's groups and seeing the work they did. In a lighter moment, she even taught one group of young women how to dance the Virginia Reel.
She spent the greatest part of her time in India, which she described as "the most critical area in the world." India had held its first general elections over the course of several months in late 1951 and early 1952. ER was awed by the process of instituting a democracy where one had not existed before. In India and the Awakening East, her book about this trip, she wrote that India where people had to "ford rivers and walk miles of jungle trails in order to vote," had to make and distribute "well over two million [ballot] boxes," and devise a system that allowed illiterate citizens to vote. Although Nehru won reelection, his popularity in India was not mirrored in the United States. There, his attempt to push negotiations over the Korean War and his refusal to brand China an aggressor in that conflict led to criticism that he was no real ally to the US. It also led to threats that the U.S. would cut aid programs for the new nation, despite famine conditions in parts of India. ER, however, believed that India’s friendship with China might help the United States, "not in preventing China from being communist, but in encouraging them to have a different type of communism."
ER’s time in India was as much personal as political. Her interest in the country had been sparked by her father’s stories of his time there as a young man, especially his account of his visit to the Taj Mahal. "He always said it was the one thing he wanted us to see together," she later said. "I will carry in my mind the beauty of it as long as I live." ER also looked forward to seeing friends, including Nehru and his sister, Lakshmi Pandit (a politician and ambassador in her own right). Pandit guided her for much of her trip. ER also spent time with American ambassador Chester Bowles, a long-time friend and political ally.
As she did wherever she went, she visited factories and farms, schools and hospitals. In India, ER was especially interested in seeing and reporting on the effects of Point Four aid money, in hopes that she might increase American support for this program. At Etawah, for example, ER visited farms where Indian leadership combined with American tools and technical aid had doubled crop production. In Allahabad, against the advice of her hosts, she met with communist students who protested their limited access to her. (Ultimately these students gave her what she considered "a very nice welcome.") ER also addressed a special session of Parliament, telling the legislators that of all the democracies she had seen, "India has perhaps the highest urge to gain what democracy holds out."
The remainder of ER's trip involved a series of short stops on her way East to the United States. She left India on a Friday, and was in Hawaii by Sunday night. She stopped briefly in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island, at one point having to go without a change of clothes for thirty-six hours.
Though the trip was unofficial, Acheson wrote President Truman to say that it "served the public interest exceedingly well," and that "she appears to have done much to increase understanding of United States foreign policy objectives," especially in India and Pakistan. She left feeling that, to improve the relationship between the US and the "awakening East," "we must show by our behavior that we believe in equality and in justice and that our religion teaches faith and love and charity to our fellow men."
ER's account of the trip
ER to George Warren
Tel Aviv, Israel:
State Department dispatch
New Delhi, India:
ER interview with Lakshmi Pandit
ER's Mysore itinerary
ER on Hyderabad
ER on Jaipur
George Edman to ER
Dean Acheson to Harry Truman, [April 1952], AERP, FDRL; "India-U.S. Goal Cited," New York Times (March 1 1952): 4; Jawaharlal Nehru to ER, 6 November 1949, AERP, FDRL; ER to Jawaharlal Nehru, 8 November 1949, AERP, FDRL; ER, "My Day," 10 February 1952-31 March 1952; ER, India and the Awakening East (New York: Hutchinson, 1953); ER to Dorothy Bourne, 16 March 1952, AWERP, FDRL; ER, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (NY: HarperCollins, 1961); "Schedule of Mrs. Roosevelt’s Trip to the Middle East and Asia, ," HSTL, HSTSF.