FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech in the Context of 2020

On January 6, 1941, FDR gave his Four Freedoms speech. While the speech would ultimately serve as the basis for the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations, the speech’s historical context tells pieces of the story regularly not discussed.

The Speech

As America entered World War II, Roosevelt used the Four Freedoms speech to supposedly unify America behind ideals it was fighting to preserve and protect. The Four Freedoms Roosevelt insisted America was fighting for were:

  • The freedom to worship
  • The freedom of speech
  • The freedom from want
  • The freedom from fear

Historical Context

On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt used Executive Order 9,066 to make it the policy of the United States to force people into concentration camps simply because they were Japanese.

More than 13 months after proclaiming America was fighting to protect people from want and fear, Roosevelt, who once said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, used the race-based fear of white Americans and the overall racism of America to strip Japanese people of everything they had and forced them to live in fear.

The Equal Justice Institute issued a heartbreaking report on a number of instances of black veterans being violently attacked and even lynched after serving a country supposedly fighting to protect people from fear.

On July 26, 1948, Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9,981 establishing a commission to end segregation in the United States military. This means the entire war fought to supposedly protect people from want and fear was waged by a segregated military.

My Thoughts

While much more could be said about the racism that has defined America, the point here is to highlight how the explanations furnished to the American public and accepted by too many white Americans is almost always based on lies and separated from reality.

The sad truth about America is that basically everything in its history has stemmed from and/or resulted in more racism. Certainly classism has also been a dominant theme. But the truth is politicians from all of America’s political parties have achieved consensus by rallying too many white people around racist thoughts and values.

In 2020, 75 years after America lied about its commitment to equality as it waged World War II, America is experiencing an election between a Republican Party openly encouraging racism and race-based violence and a Democratic Party too racist and afraid to actively confront Republican racism.

As in 1941, the Democratic Party is spouting platitudes about its commitment to eliminating racism while promoting policies that keep in tact America’s systems of race-based oppression and ensure equality remains nothing more than an ideal America never seeks to reach.

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