By Kevin Henning
For the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, June 17, 2023
In his January, 1941 message to Congress, President Franklin Roosevelt ended his speech by explaining the concept of four freedoms. We had not entered World War II with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor some ten months away. FDR was focused on broadening the Lend Lease program for the allies fighting the war and gearing up for a possible US entry, something he knew we could not avoid. Here are his words:
“The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.”
FDR’s stance against isolationism was evident with his call to action to defend global democracy and to fight for four universal freedoms for people in every part of our country and throughout the world. The “Freedoms” became a universal message stressing the need to stop Germany and Japan. World War II was not just a war to defeat fascism, but the key to preserving the freedom that defines life in a free, democratic society. Artist Norman Rockwell was inspired by FDR’s speech and vision. He created four images representing the “Freedoms.” They were published in the Saturday Evening Post and became famous. They were used to sell war bonds and requests for the posters were huge. The “Freedoms” were also incorporated into the WW II Victory Medal.
FDR and First Lady Eleanor were not perfect but no couple represents leadership, humility, and humanity more than the Roosevelts. FDR made mistakes over his many years in office with his effort to pack the Supreme Court a poignant example. Presidential scholars rank Abraham Lincoln as our greatest president but President Roosevelt comes in a close second. FDR overcame polio and led us through two great crises, the Great Depression and World War II. First Lady Eleanor advocated for democracy, civil rights, and social justice. Historian Jon Meacham credits FDR with saving democracy and saving capitalism, by injecting enough government to overcome the economic ruin. He established the first social safety net for all Americans and established Social Security. The “New Deal” saved our nation from the “Great Depression.” In his first week in office, FDR took remarkable steps to end the banking crisis, and in his first 100 days caused 77 new laws to be enacted to promote an economic recovery. He skillfully led us during WWII and made visionary decisions like establishing the Manhattan Project to create an atomic bomb before Germany. The fact that he was re-elected four times shows how much he was loved. While very appropriate that we now have term limits, he was the right person for his times. He had the vision to pick a Vice President who would end World War II.
Eleanor lived 17 years longer than Franklin and distinguished herself by advocating for civil rights and for expanded roles for women. She was our first delegate to the United Nations and remains one of the 20th century’s most admired persons. She changed the role of First Lady by holding press conferences and on some occasions disagreeing with her husband. Eleanor Roosevelt Dinners hosted by Democratic Party organizations are common throughout the country.
She was a great champion of the American people and the “Freedoms” and picked up the baton after FDR’s death. Throughout the rest of her life, she advocated for the “Freedoms,” common principles so dear to anyone who loves freedom and humankind. Her work resulted in the principles being incorporated into the United Nation’s Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”
Today we continue to be tested both here and around the world to defend freedom. FDR’s message still rings true. The freedom of speech and worship, and from want and fear represent an ideal for humanity to realize. It is time to end extremism. It is time to replace hatred with kindness.
Kevin Henning is a local Democrat.