Revisited: Four Freedoms

January 13, 2015


The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial has always been my favorite of the memorials in DC. I like the design – four stone rooms telling the story of his presidency, with symbolic waterfalls and an emphasis on reflection. It’s pretty and peaceful, and usually less swarmed with tourists than the other monuments. But what I like most are the messages carved into rock in each room. “I hate war,” reads one, quoting FDR in 1936. “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little,” reads another from 1937, as the United States recovered from the Great Depression. These messages, and many others throughout the memorial, are just as relevant today as in the 1930s. You could see it as depressing: nothing has changed, inequality is still rampant, and war rages across the world. But I never feel depressed when I wander through these rooms. Roosevelt’s words are instead uplifting and hopeful, something to aim for, something we can still achieve. Over the past year, ISIS has terrorized the Middle East and now Paris, Boko Haram has wreaked havoc across Nigeria, and everyone from the Taliban to the US Government has killed civilians, all in the name of religion, war, or freedom. Sony is afraid of North Korea, and everyone is afraid they’re being watched on the Internet. In addition, we’ve seen amped up hateful rhetoric against muslims and Islam, neither helpful nor well researched, but usually justified by ignorance and fear, and often promoted by the media. In 2015, it seems more timely than ever to look at one of FDR’s most famous quotes from his 1941 State of the Union address, where he detailed the ‘Four Freedoms.’ Just a month after attacks on Pearl Harbor, these freedoms were used to justify war to the American people, and they helped rally massive support. But later, they were used as a basis for postwar human rights, and that is how they are most remembered. All four are relevant today, the first two maybe even more so now. I for one hope we can look forward to a future where these human freedoms are not so threatened.

Four Freedoms:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

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.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt, excerpted from the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941

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