The most iconic American image of Thanksgiving is Norman Rockwell’s ‘Freedom from Want’, which is the likely reason many of us are reminded of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, which prompted Rockwell to memorialize them in paint for posters and Life magazine. It was, of course, his January 6, 1941 State of the Union address in which he outlined his plans for lend-lease to aid the British against Nazi aggression.
It was a speech designed to trumpet putative American democratic values abroad, and it worked with Congress: not long after the speech, they passed and funded the program; you know the rest about the US swinging into full-scale production of planes and tanks and other weapons.
But in the speech, he spoke of the core values of democracy that are either missing entirely or have been so tarnished that when we speak of them, they sound revolutionary.
“Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others,Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.”
On this Thanksgiving day, as high as one in four Americans are without jobs, and millions more of us are sliding into poverty. Congress is intent on destroying our social safety programs. The agencies that were originally designed to keep us secure are now being turned against us as we make a now-or-never effort at restoring our democracy and adherence to our Constitution and the Rule of Law.
That President Roosevelt spoke against the ‘special privilege of a few’ seems almost quaint now that ‘the few’ are so utterly in control of not only our own government, but too many others around the globe. It would take a number of years before an American President would http://my.firedoglake.com/myfdl/wp-content/themes/myfdl_user/_inc/images/domain_blocked_default.png”http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5407.htm”>envision that our nation could fall prey to the hideous convergence of a fascistic state in which the military, police, Congress and multinational corporations were so intertwined as to seem unstoppable.
We would likely add to FDR’s list, but these are fairly profound in their simplicity:
“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.”
The last two paragraphs make my stomach hurt as I consider what our nation’s become today, and on how many fronts we are waging war, both overt and covert, for Empire, resources and profit. Coupled with this bit from Wikipedia, the irony is almost complete:
“The concept of the Four Freedoms became part of the personal mission undertaken by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt regarding her inspiration behind the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, General Assembly Resolution 217A. . Indeed, these Four Freedoms were explicitly incorporated into the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads, “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 the highest aspiration of the common people,….”
The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday condemned the Supreme Military Council in Egypt for their brutal crackdown against demonstrators in Tahrir Square and numerous other cities in the nation.
Will we hear from them as the security state increases its crackdown on our own bid to reclaim our nation for ourselves?
For the fans of irony, it may not surprise you to learn that another artist, one given work by the WPA back in the day…also painted the Four Freedoms. They were murals in a school in New Jersey, and as far as I can tell…they have been painted over. The artist was Michael Lenson; his work looked http://my.firedoglake.com/myfdl/wp-content/themes/myfdl_user/_inc/images/domain_blocked_default.png”http://www.ettc.net/njarts/details.cfm?ID=164″>like this.
I would have enjoyed seeing Lenson’s ‘Freedom of Speech’; but just now this image is crowding out any others. From Charles Dickens:
‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon
them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy,
for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the
writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out
its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye.
Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.
And abide the end.’
We can do better; we must do better.