Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fourth of July Address

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fourth of July Address

In a broadcast from his home in Hyde Park, New York, on July 4, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt warns Americans who wish not to get involved in the war that "the United States will never survive as a happy and fertile oasis of liberty surrounded by a cruel desert of dictatorship."

Pearl Harbor Address To The Nation

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

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State of the Union Address (1942)

In fulfilling my duty to report upon the State of the Union, I am proud to say to you that the spirit of the American people was never higher than it is today—the Union was never more closely knit together—this country was never more deeply determined to face the solemn tasks before it.

The response of the American people has been instantaneous, and it will be sustained until our security is assured.

Exactly one year ago today I said to this Congress: “When the dictators. . . are ready to make war upon us, they will not wait for an act of war on our part. . . . They—not we—will choose the time and the place and the method of their attack.”

We now know their choice of the time: a peaceful Sunday morning—December 7, 1941.

We know their choice of the place: an American outpost in the Pacific.

We know their choice of the method: the method of Hitler himself.

Japan’s scheme of conquest goes back half a century. It was not merely a policy of seeking living room: it was a plan which included the subjugation of all the peoples in the Far East and in the islands of the Pacific, and the domination of that ocean by Japanese military and naval control of the western coasts of North, Central, and South America.

The development of this ambitious conspiracy was marked by the war against China in 1894 the subsequent occupation of Korea the war against Russia in 1904 the illegal fortification of the mandated Pacific islands following 1920 the seizure of Manchuria in 1931 and the invasion of China in 1937.

A similar policy of criminal conquest was adopted by Italy. The Fascists first revealed their imperial designs in Libya and Tripoli. In 1935 they seized Abyssinia. Their goal was the domination of all North Africa, Egypt, parts of France, and the entire Mediterranean world.

But the dreams of empire of the Japanese and Fascist leaders were modest in comparison with the gargantuan aspirations of Hitler and his Nazis. Even before they came to power in 1933, their plans for that conquest had been drawn. Those plans provided for ultimate domination, not of any one section of the world, but of the whole earth and all the oceans on it.

When Hitler organized his Berlin-Rome-Tokyo alliance, all these plans of conquest became a single plan. Under this, in addition to her own schemes of conquest, Japan’s role was obviously to cut off our supply of weapons of war to Britain, and Russia and China—weapons which increasingly were speeding the day of Hitler’s doom. The act of Japan at Pearl Harbor was intended to stun us—to terrify us to such an extent that we would divert our industrial and military strength to the Pacific area, or even to our own continental defense.

The plan has failed in its purpose. We have not been stunned. We have not been terrified or confused. This very reassembling of the Seventy-seventh Congress today is proof of that for the mood of quiet, grim resolution which here prevails bodes ill for those who conspired and collaborated to murder world peace.

That mood is stronger than any mere desire for revenge. It expresses the will of the American people to make very certain that the world will never so suffer again.

Admittedly, we have been faced with hard choices. It was bitter, for example, not to be able to relieve the heroic and historic defenders of Wake Island. It was bitter for us not to be able to land a million men in a thousand ships in the Philippine Islands.

But this adds only to our determination to see to it that the Stars and Stripes will fly again over Wake and Guam. Yes, see to it that the brave people of the Philippines will be rid of Japanese imperialism and will live in freedom, security, and independence.

Powerful and offensive actions must and will be taken in proper time. The consolidation of the United Nations’ total war effort against our common enemies is being achieved.

That was and is the purpose of conferences which have been held during the past two weeks in Washington, and Moscow and Chungking. That is the primary objective of the declaration of solidarity signed in Washington on January 1, 1942, by 26 Nations united against the Axis powers.

Difficult choices may have to be made in the months to come. We do not shrink from such decisions. We and those united with us will make those decisions with courage and determination.

Plans have been laid here and in the other capitals for coordinated and cooperative action by all the United Nations—military action and economic action. Already we have established, as you know, unified command of land, sea, and air forces in the southwestern Pacific theater of war. There will be a continuation of conferences and consultations among military staffs, so that the plans and operations of each will fit into the general strategy designed to crush the enemy. We shall not fight isolated wars—each Nation going its own way. These 26 Nations are united—not in spirit and determination alone, but in the broad conduct of the war in all its phases.

For the first time since the Japanese and the Fascists and the Nazis started along their blood-stained course of conquest they now face the fact that superior forces are assembling against them. Gone forever are the days when the aggressors could attack and destroy their victims one by one without unity of resistance. We of the United Nations will so dispose our forces that we can strike at the common enemy wherever the greatest damage can be done him.

The militarists of Berlin and Tokyo started this war. But the massed, angered forces of common humanity will finish it.

Destruction of the material and spiritual centers of civilization—this has been and still is the purpose of Hitler and his Italian and Japanese chessmen. They would wreck the power of the British Commonwealth and Russia and China and the Netherlands—and then combine all their forces to achieve their ultimate goal, the conquest of the United States.

They know that victory for us means victory for freedom.

They know that victory for us means victory for the institution of democracy—the ideal of the family, the simple principles of common decency and humanity.

They know that victory for us means victory for religion. And they could not tolerate that. The world is too small to provide adequate “living room” for both Hitler and God. In proof of that, the Nazis have now announced their plan for enforcing their new German, pagan religion all over the world—a plan by which the Holy Bible and the Cross of Mercy would be displaced by Mein Kampf and the swastika and the naked sword.

Our own objectives are clear the objective of smashing the militarism imposed by war lords upon their enslaved peoples the objective of liberating the subjugated Nations—the objective of establishing and securing freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear everywhere in the world.

We shall not stop short of these objectives—nor shall we be satisfied merely to gain them and then call it a day. I know that I speak for the American people—and I have good reason to believe that I speak also for all the other peoples who fight with us—when I say that this time we are determined not only to win the war, but also to maintain the security of the peace that will follow.

But we know that modern methods of warfare make it a task, not only of shooting and fighting, but an even more urgent one of working and producing.

Victory requires the actual weapons of war and the means of transporting them to a dozen points of combat.

It will not be sufficient for us and the other United Nations to produce a slightly superior supply of munitions to that of Germany, Japan, Italy, and the stolen industries in the countries which they have overrun.

The superiority of the United Nations in munitions and ships must be overwhelming—so overwhelming that the Axis Nations can never hope to catch up with it. And so, in order to attain this overwhelming superiority the United States must build planes and tanks and guns and ships to the utmost limit of our national capacity. We have the ability and capacity to produce arms not only for our own forces, but also for the armies, navies, and air forces fighting on our side.

And our overwhelming superiority of armament must be adequate to put weapons of war at the proper time into the hands of those men in the conquered Nations who stand ready to seize the first opportunity to revolt against their German and Japanese oppressors, and against the traitors in their own ranks, known by the already infamous name of “Quislings.” And I think that it is a fair prophecy to say that, as we get guns to the patriots in those lands, they too will fire shots heard ’round the world.

This production of ours in the United States must be raised far above present levels, even though it will mean the dislocation of the lives and occupations of millions of our own people. We must raise our sights all along the production line. Let no man say it cannot be done. It must be done—and we have undertaken to do it.

I have just sent a letter of directive to the appropriate departments and agencies of our Government, ordering that immediate steps be taken:

First, to increase our production rate of airplanes so rapidly that in this year, 1942, we shall produce 60,000 planes, 10,000 more than the goal that we set a year and a half ago. This includes 45,000 combat planes—bombers, dive bombers, pursuit planes. The rate of increase will be maintained and continued so that next year, 1943, we shall produce 125,000 airplanes, including 100,000 combat planes.

Second, to increase our production rate of tanks so rapidly that in this year, 1942, we shall produce 45,000 tanks and to continue that increase so that next year, 1943, we shall produce 75,000 tanks.

Third, to increase our production rate of anti-aircraft guns so rapidly that in this year, 1942, we shall produce 20,000 of them and to continue that increase so that next year, 1943, we shall produce 35,000 anti-aircraft guns.

And fourth, to increase our production rate of merchant ships so rapidly that in this year, 1942, we shall build 6,000,000 deadweight tons as compared with a 1941 completed production of 1,100,000. And finally, we shall continue that increase so that next year, 1943, we shall build 10,000,000 tons of shipping.

These figures and similar figures for a multitude of other implements of war will give the Japanese and the Nazis a little idea of just what they accomplished in the attack at Pearl Harbor.

And I rather hope that all these figures which I have given will become common knowledge in Germany and Japan.

Our task is hard—our task is unprecedented—and the time is short. We must strain every existing armament-producing facility to the utmost. We must convert every available plant and tool to war production. That goes all the way from the greatest plants to the smallest—from the huge automobile industry to the village machine shop.

Production for war is based on men and women—the human hands and brains which collectively we call Labor. Our workers stand ready to work long hours to turn out more in a day’s work to keep the wheels turning and the fires burning twenty-four hours a day, and seven days a week. They realize well that on the speed and efficiency of their work depend the lives of their sons and their brothers on the fighting fronts.

Production for war is based on metals and raw materials—steel, copper, rubber, aluminum, zinc, tin. Greater and greater quantities of them will have to be diverted to war purposes. Civilian use of them will have to be cut further and still further—and, in many cases, completely eliminated.

War costs money. So far, we have hardly even begun to pay for it. We have devoted only 15 percent of our national income to national defense. As will appear in my Budget Message tomorrow, our war program for the coming fiscal year will cost 56 billion dollars or, in other words, more than half of the estimated annual national income. That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other non-essentials. In a word, it means an “all-out” war by individual effort and family effort in a united country.

Only this all-out scale of production will hasten the ultimate all-out victory. Speed will count. Lost ground can always be regained—lost time never. Speed will save lives speed will save this Nation which is in peril speed will save our freedom and our civilization—and slowness has never been an American characteristic.

As the United States goes into its full stride, we must always be on guard against misconceptions which will arise, some of them naturally, or which will be planted among us by our enemies.

We must guard against complacency. We must not underrate the enemy. He is powerful and cunning—and cruel and ruthless. He will stop at nothing that gives him a chance to kill and to destroy. He has trained his people to believe that their highest perfection is achieved by waging war. For many years he has prepared for this very conflict—planning, and plotting, and training, arming, and fighting. We have already tasted defeat. We may suffer further setbacks. We must face the fact of a hard war, a long war, a bloody war, a costly war.

We must, on the other hand, guard against defeatism. That has been one of the chief weapons of Hitler’s propaganda machine—used time and again with deadly results. It will not be used successfully on the American people.

We must guard against divisions among ourselves and among all the other United Nations. We must be particularly vigilant against racial discrimination in any of its ugly forms. Hitler will try again to breed mistrust and suspicion between one individual and another, one group and another, one race and another, one Government and another. He will try to use the same technique of falsehood and rumor-mongering with which he divided France from Britain. He is trying to do this with us even now. But he will find a unity of will and purpose against him, which will persevere until the destruction of all his black designs upon the freedom and safety of the people of the world.

We cannot wage this war in a defensive spirit. As our power and our resources are fully mobilized, we shall carry the attack against the enemy—we shall hit him and hit him again wherever and whenever we can reach him.

We must keep him far from our shores, for we intend to bring this battle to him on his own home grounds.

American armed forces must be used at any place in all the world where it seems advisable to engage the forces of the enemy. In some cases these operations will be defensive, in order to protect key positions. In other cases, these operations will be offensive, in order to strike at the common enemy, with a view to his complete encirclement and eventual total defeat.

American armed forces will operate at many points in the Far East.

American armed forces will be on all the oceans—helping to guard the essential communications which are vital to the United Nations.

American land and air and sea forces will take stations in the British Isles—which constitute an essential fortress in this great world struggle.

American armed forces will help to protect this hemisphere—and also help to protect bases outside this hemisphere, which could be used for an attack on the Americas.

If any of our enemies, from Europe or from Asia, attempt long-range raids by “suicide” squadrons of bombing planes, they will do so only in the hope of terrorizing our people and disrupting our morale. Our people are not afraid of that. We know that we may have to pay a heavy price for freedom. We will pay this price with a will. Whatever the price, it is a thousand times worth it. No matter what our enemies, in their desperation, may attempt to do to us—we will say, as the people of London have said, “We can take it.” And what’s more we can give it back and we will give it back—with compound interest.

When our enemies challenged our country to stand up and fight, they challenged each and every one of us. And each and every one of us has accepted the challenge—for himself and for his Nation.

There were only some 400 United States Marines who in the heroic and historic defense of Wake Island inflicted such great losses on the enemy. Some of those men were killed in action and others are now prisoners of war. When the survivors of that great fight are liberated and restored to their homes, they will learn that a hundred and thirty million of their fellow citizens have been inspired to render their own full share of service and sacrifice.

We can well say that our men on the fighting fronts have already proved that Americans today are just as rugged and just as tough as any of the heroes whose exploits we celebrate on the Fourth of July.

Many people ask, “When will this war end?” There is only one answer to that. It will end just as soon as we make it end, by our combined efforts, our combined strength, our combined determination to fight through and work through until the end—the end of militarism in Germany and Italy and Japan. Most certainly we shall not settle for less.

That is the spirit in which discussions have been conducted during the visit of the British Prime Minister to Washington. Mr. Churchill and I understand each other, our motives and our purposes. Together, during the past two weeks, we have faced squarely the major military and economic problems of this greatest world war.

All in our Nation have been cheered by Mr. Churchill’s visit. We have been deeply stirred by his great message to us. He is welcome in our midst, and we unite in wishing him a safe return to his home.

For we are fighting on the same side with the British people, who fought alone for long, terrible months, and withstood the enemy with fortitude and tenacity and skill.

We are fighting on the same side with the Russian people who have seen the Nazi hordes swarm up to the very gates of Moscow, and who with almost superhuman will and courage have forced the invaders back into retreat.

We are fighting on the same side as the brave people of China—those millions who for four and a half long years have withstood bombs and starvation and have whipped the invaders time and again in spite of the superior Japanese equipment and arms. Yes, we are fighting on the same side as the indomitable Dutch. We are fighting on the same side as all the other Governments in exile, whom Hitler and all his armies and all his Gestapo have not been able to conquer.

But we of the United Nations are not making all this sacrifice of human effort and human lives to return to the kind of world we had after the last world war.

We are fighting today for security, for progress, and for peace, not only for ourselves but for all men, not only for one generation but for all generations. We are fighting to cleanse the world of ancient evils, ancient ills.

Our enemies are guided by brutal cynicism, by unholy contempt for the human race. We are inspired by a faith that goes back through all the years to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis: “God created man in His own image.”

We on our side are striving to be true to that divine heritage. We are fighting, as our fathers have fought, to uphold the doctrine that all men are equal in the sight of God. Those on the other side are striving to destroy this deep belief and to create a world in their own image—a world of tyranny and cruelty and serfdom.

That is the conflict that day and night now pervades our lives.

No compromise can end that conflict. There never has been—there never can be—successful compromise between good and evil. Only total victory can reward the champions of tolerance, and decency, and freedom, and faith.

FDR and the Holocaust

September 24, 2013

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Washington, D.C.
In early 1943, at the height of the Holocaust, a prominent journalist denounced President Franklin Roosevelt&rsquos response to the Nazi genocide in harsh terms: &ldquoYou and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler&rsquos guilt,&rdquo she wrote. &ldquoIf we had behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent, cowardly ones, the two million Jews lying today in the earth of Poland and Hitler&rsquos other crowded graveyards would be alive and safe&hellip. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and we did not lift a hand to do it&mdashor perhaps it would be fairer to say that we lifted just one cautious hand, encased in a tight-fitting glove of quotas and visas and affidavits, and a thick layer of prejudice.&rdquo
This stunning critique of FDR&rsquos Jewish refugee policy was written by none other than Freda Kirchwey, staunch New Dealer, Roosevelt supporter and editor in chief of The Nation. Evidently journalist Laurence Zuckerman was not aware of the Holocaust record of the magazine for which he was writing when he wrote &ldquoFDR&rsquos Jewish Problem&rdquo [Aug. 5/12]. It completely refutes Zuckerman&rsquos thesis that criticism of FDR&rsquos Holocaust record is all the handiwork of conservatives and right-wing Zionists to drum up support for Israel.

The Nation spoke out early and vociferously for US action to rescue Europe&rsquos Jews. After the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, it called for admission to the United States of at least 15,000 German Jewish refugee children. (The administration declined to endorse the proposal.) The Roosevelt administration&rsquos refugee policy &ldquois one which must sicken any person of ordinarily humane instinct,&rdquo Kirchwey wrote in 1940. &ldquoIt is as if we were to examine laboriously the curriculum vitae of flood victims clinging to a piece of floating wreckage and finally to decide that no matter what their virtues, all but a few had better be allowed to drown.&rdquo

In 1941, FDR&rsquos administration devised a harsh new immigration regulation that barred admission to anyone with close relatives in Europe, on the grounds that the Nazis might compel them to spy for Hitler by threatening their relatives. The Nation denounced that as &ldquoreckless and ridiculous.&rdquo

Numerous prominent progressives have followed in The Nation&rsquos and Kirchwey&rsquos footsteps by frankly acknowledging FDR&rsquos failings in this regard. Walter Mondale called President Roosevelt&rsquos 1938 refugee conference in Evian, France, a &ldquolegacy of shame&rdquo and said the participants &ldquofailed the test of civilization.&rdquo At the opening of the US Holocaust Museum in 1993, President Clinton pointed out that under the Roosevelt administration, &ldquodoors to liberty were shut and&helliprail lines to the camps within miles of militarily significant targets were left undisturbed.&rdquo

Nancy Pelosi, in her autobiography, recalled with pride how her father, Congressman Thomas D&rsquoAlesandro, broke with FDR over the Holocaust and supported the Bergson Group, which challenged FDR&rsquos refugee policy. George McGovern, in a 2004 interview about the missions he flew near Auschwitz as a young bomber pilot, said: &ldquoFranklin Roosevelt was a great man and he was my political hero. But I think he made two great mistakes&rdquo: the internment of Japanese-Americans, and the decision &ldquonot to go after Auschwitz&hellip. God forgive us&hellip. There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth [and] interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.&rdquo

Progressives have a long and admirable record of honestly acknowledging FDR&rsquos failings alongside his achievements. Roosevelt&rsquos response to the Holocaust is no more defensible than his internment of Japanese-Americans or his troubling record on the rights of African-Americans. Recognizing that fact does not endanger the legacy of the New Deal or diminish FDR&rsquos accomplishments in bringing America out of the Depression or his leadership in World War II. It merely acknowledges his flaws as well.

RAFAEL MEDOFF, founding director,
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies

Laurence Zuckerman suggests that Roosevelt&rsquos critics are judging him harshly with the advantage of hindsight. He writes that &ldquowhen he did learn about the murder of millions of Jews, he had no understanding of &lsquothe Holocaust,&rsquo which came later and is now so embedded in our consciousness that it is hard to imagine what it was like to live without such knowledge.&rdquo

But this does not accurately reflect public awareness at the time. One needs only to read Freda Kirchwey: &ldquoJews in Europe are being killed because they are Jews. Hitler has promised their total liquidation. The ways&hellipthese slaughters are conducted have been reported. The numbers have been verified&hellip. You and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler&rsquos guilt.&rdquo

Zuckerman also belittles the contributions of the Bergson Group in the formation of the War Refugee Board, saying that the group&rsquos &ldquobiggest feat is something that Roosevelt created.&rdquo The Bergson Group sponsored legislation in Congress to establish a rescue agency. It is probable that at hearings on the bill, the State Department&rsquos obstruction of efforts by US Jewish groups to rescue their European brethren would become public. Faced with a scandal, Roosevelt got ahead of the situation by creating the WRB&mdashthis was not a moral awakening but a political calculation.

Regarding the bombing of Auschwitz: the WRB investigated bombing the rail lines, gas chambers and crematoriums, but officials claimed that bombing Auschwitz would use air power needed elsewhere. However, US planes were bombing the I.G. Farben complex at nearby Monowitz. Between July and November 1944, more than 2,800 US planes bombed the oil factories, sometimes flying right over the Birkenau death camp.

Military experts and historians continue to debate the issue. Could precision bombing have been done without loss of prisoners&rsquo lives? And would bombing the gas chambers actually have impeded the extermination? Historian Richard Breitman points out: &ldquothe historians&rsquo debate&hellipmisses the main problem&hellip: [the War Department] was opposed to the whole idea of a military mission for humanitarian purposes&hellipand stopped the [WRB] from pursuing it.&rdquo Of course, one cannot ever know if bombing Auschwitz would have had the desired results. But as Breitman concludes: &ldquobombing the gas chambers would have been a potent symbol of American concern for European Jews.&rdquo

MARK GERSTEIN, former instructor in Holocaust Studies, University of Massachusetts

In response to Laurence Zuckerman&rsquos fine article, we might explain the thinking behind our book FDR and the Jews. We wrote the book because, first, scholarship is typically polarized between lauding FDR as the savior of the Jews and condemning him as a bystander or worse to the Holocaust. Second, we sought to analyze FDR&rsquos approach to Jewish issues from the perspective of his entire life and career. Third, we tried to avoid writing history backward and making unverifiable counterfactual assumptions.

The real story of FDR and the Jews is how a humane but pragmatic president navigated competing priorities during the Great Depression, foreign policy crises and World War II. We do not whitewash FDR. &ldquoFor most of his presidency Roosevelt did little to aid the imperiled Jews of Germany and Europe,&rdquo we wrote. Still, FDR was not monolithic in his policies and &ldquoat times acted decisively to rescue Jews, often withstanding contrary pressures from the American public, Congress, and his own State Department.&rdquo Overall, FDR was far better for the Jews than his political opposition at home or any other world leader of his time. Our loudest critic has been Rafael Medoff, a longstanding FDR critic who assails all those who do not follow his party line.

Political decisions during the Holocaust had a moral dimension that still elicits an emotional response. But some judgments&mdashthat FDR blithely sent passengers on the St. Louis to their death in the gas chambers, or that he refused to order the bombing of Auschwitz out of indifference or anti-Semitism&mdashare historical distortions. We hope our readers will be able to judge with more and better information than they had.

RICHARD BREITMAN, ALLAN J. LICHTMAN, Distinguished Professors, American University

Zuckerman Replies

I am familiar with Freda Kirchwey and the articles from which Rafael Medoff quotes. But is he aware of this quote: &ldquoPresident Roosevelt has been a man whose greatness shines brightly in times of crisis. He is the only possible leader for the next four years.&rdquo It is from Kirchwey&rsquos endorsement of Roosevelt&rsquos historic bid for a fourth term, in The Nation of July 22, 1944, long after the condemnations of FDR&rsquos refugee policies that Medoff cites&mdashshowing that the picture of FDR is more complex than Medoff would have us believe. It is disturbing that in his latest book, FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith, Medoff quotes Kirchwey&rsquos criticisms of FDR at length while failing to mention that she still supported him. Emphasizing the former while ignoring the latter illustrates his flawed approach to writing history.

Neither my article nor the book FDR and the Jews, as its authors Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman point out, portrayed FDR as beyond criticism for his handling of the Holocaust. But neither was he a total villain. Medoff&rsquos articles and latest book contain a litany of criticisms of Roosevelt but virtually nothing about his achievements. One can read Medoff and forget that during FDR&rsquos presidency the country was suffering through the worst economic catastrophe in its history, that the fates of Great Britain and the Soviet Union were hanging by a thread, and that America had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Japanese in Asia. In his letter, Medoff writes approvingly that &ldquoprogressives have a long and admirable record of honestly acknowledging FDR&rsquos failings alongside his achievements.&rdquo If only Medoff were equally fair-minded. As I wrote in my article, over the last thirty years a group of ideologically driven activists, of whom Medoff is the most energetic, have made it their business to cast Roosevelt&rsquos handling of the Holocaust in the harshest possible light. These activists have largely had the field to themselves, and so a distorted image of FDR has become widely accepted. It is easy for politicians of all stripes to go along. Their homilies curry favor with Jewish supporters at little or no political cost.

One of my goals for the article was to re-balance the scales and expose the agenda of FDR&rsquos most vociferous critics. Medoff does not address the central question of my piece: What contemporary purpose does it serve to portray Roosevelt as complicit in the Holocaust? Why do so many of Medoff&rsquos articles link Roosevelt to current events in Israel, a country that didn&rsquot exist during FDR&rsquos lifetime? At a time when our country&rsquos leaders and many of its citizens are agonizing over how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, we might all agree that figuring out the best way to stop mass murder overseas has never been an easy task.

Our Readers Letters to the editor submitted by our readers.

Laurence Zuckerman Laurence Zuckerman, a former New York Times reporter, is an adjunct professor at Columbia&rsquos Graduate School of Journalism.

The Realignment Project


In the spirit of the best 4th of July speeches, which like Frederick Douglass’ peerless effort seek not to satiate with platitudes but rather to challenge and provoke, today I offer a reflection on America’s past and its future.

At the end of “Resurrecting Henry George,” I argued that a national housing assistance program would “help to make one more of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, “the right of every family to a decent home,” a legal reality. I would argue, and I will argue in future posts, that the longer-term mission of the progressive movement in America is (and has unconsciously been) the realization of the Second Bill of Rights.” So today I intend to explain what I meant.

January 11, 1944:

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944, the United States was engaged in the largest two-front war of its, or any nation’s history. In the European theater, Allied forces were bogged down in Italy south of Monte Cassino and Operation Overlord was still in the planning stage. In the Pacific, Allied forces were advancing through New Guinea following the bloody Battle of Tarawa.

And yet, in the middle of a crucial address at a time when the successful outcome of the war was still very much in doubt, FDR spoke instead to what would come after, in what might have been the last New Deal speech he ever gave. The theme began with him pledging that:

We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash.

Roosevelt continued by re-framing the objectives of the war as “ not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security.” The invocation of Social Security, the seemingly jarring transition from foreign to domestic policy was the opening movement of a speech whose moral center was the home front. In the bridge of his speech, FDR decried the “ uproar of demands for special favors for special groups,” and recognized that “ we have not always forgotten individual and selfish and partisan interests in time of war,” a rather unusual tone for a period we prefer to remember in glowing, sepia tones.

Even more unusually, he went on to challenge an even more sacred cow than national unity – individualism. Far from being an expression of American rugged independence, Roosevelt argued that “ In this war, we have been compelled to learn how interdependent upon each other are all groups and sections of the population of America,” following the thread of prices and wages from farmers and workers and factory owners to “ teachers, clergy, policemen, firemen, widows and minors on fixed incomes, wives and dependents of our soldiers and sailors, and old-age pensioners.”

Shifting to explicitly addressing the issue of the post-war world, FDR explicitly returned to the theme of his 1936 Inaugural Address, the theme that more than any other idea than “security” defined the New Deal – “one third of a nation.” The first condition for a new America, the first war aim would be not merely the achievement of economic prosperity but rather the leveling upwards of the poorest of Americans towards a universal minimum standard of living. (Sadly, the first, more anodyne goal of GDP growth would become the standard for post-war liberalism, while the second and higher aim would be marginalized)

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

America could not be content with a return to prosperity because of the re-discovery of economic interdependence, he argued. This economic reality, once hidden behind the veil of the free market, was being made plain to Americans, and just as the recognition of political community had reshaped an America in 1776, he believed that the recognition of economic community in 1944 would engender similar results in the post-war America:

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

Linking the Depression to the rise of the Nazi ideology and movement that it empowered, FDR here linked the cause of economic security to the cause of the war, bringing the theme of the home front into unity with the reality of a world war against fascism.

And then he introduced the Second Bill of Rights:

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad

The right of every family to a decent home

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment

The right to a good education.

It has been argued in the past that America has been exceptional in defining rights solely as legal and political in nature, and avoiding the economic and social rights spelled out in later 20th century constitutions. FDR’s speech stands as a powerful rebuttal to this argument, a momentary glimpse of another America. Because Roosevelt did not intend this Second Bill of Rights to be a mere legal letter there was instead a legislative movement to enact them into law, through the combination of the Wagner-Murray-Dingell Bill (universal health care plus a national cradle-to-grave welfare state), the Full Employment Bill (establishing full employment and the right to a job through Keynesian planning and the government as employer of last resort), and what would later be the Housing Act of 1949. This political drive was blocked in Congress, but for a moment in 1944, the United States seemed to be moving to a new recognition of human rights.

And for Roosevelt, the Second Bill of Rights really were about the United States and the world at the same time. We often forget that American politics and public policy doesn’t happen in a vacuum, that there is a conversation that goes on across oceans and national borders. And 1944 was a time when there was a Trans-Atlantic conversation about what the post-war world should look like. In the United Kingdom, John Meynard Keynes had established his economic theories into government practice and William Beveridge was in the process of writing his two famous reports, the 1942 Beveridge Plan for a National Health Service and a cradle-to-grave welfare state, and Full Employment in a Free Society (1944). In Sweden, Gunnar Myrdal and the Stockholm School were solidifying the intellectual foundations for the Swedish social-democratic model. Throughout every occupied country in Europe waiting for Operation Overlord, people imagined a new, better world to come. And here was FDR, speaking with the world.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

July 4, 2009:

In the sixty-five years since FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, the larger historical mission of the progressive movement in America has really been the adoption of the Second Bill of Rights for all Americans, regardless of race, class, and gender. Truman’s failed Fair Deal was built from the intellectual foundations of the Second Bill of Rights. The Great Society and the War on Poverty were incomplete attempts to establish health care, education, and protection from poverty the Civil Rights Movement’s call for “Jobs and Freedom” and the 1963 “Freedom Budget” echoed even more deeply the spirit of Roosevelt. And even in the darkest years of the left’s nadir, when America seemed to be permanently the land of Reagan, the “dream that will never die” that kept people going ultimately is that same dream.

One thought on &ldquo FDR’s BHAG &rdquo

A quiet shoutout (is that an oxymoron?) to those behind the scenes who make possible eventual public access to documents (digital or analog) at NARA. Behind each record that becomes available online are members of a NARA team. Their actions are so important whether they contributed to civic literacy in the past or are contributing now. The NARA team includes the records appraisal archivists who work with federal departments and agencies to help identify permanently valuable records for which the law requires retention and preservation. Without the important yet complicated process of records management for paper and electronic records, there could not be accountability of any kind. Records would be destroyed at will in the agencies for any number of reasons and never survive to be taken in by NARA, much less be shared online. And on the projects side of NARA, a nod of appreciation to those who handle disclosure review of the records the agency takes in. Not just of classified information, but unclassified and declassified records, as well. I so admire those who ensure that NARA releases what it can, protects what it must. Having done both appraisal of federal records and disclosure review while employed by NARA, the low key, dedicated public servants who work quietly behind the scenes to #makeithappen will always have a special place in my heart.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

Where did the line in FDR’s First Inaugural Address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” come from? Did he write it?


Columbia University professor Raymond Moly wrote most of Roosevelt’s speech, and talked over his initial drafts with the president-elect. Several days before the inauguration, Moly delivered a typescript of his final draft to Roosevelt, who was staying at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Roosevelt went over the speech then with Moly and copied it out in longhand. The line about “fear itself” was not in the speech at that point. Before leaving FDR’s hotel suite, Moly burned his typewritten draft in the fireplace.

The next day, former newspaperman and Roosevelt’s long-time close confidante, Louis McHenry Howe, arrived in Washington. According to Howe’s assistant Lela Stiles, a few days previously, Howe had talked with a newspaperman and friend about difficulties that the country faced, and during the conversation Howe told his friend, “I don’t care what else Franklin says in his inaugural address as long as he tells the people that the only thing they have to fear is fear.”

When Howe arrived in Washington, FDR gave him his handwritten draft of the speech. Howe made his own changes and additions and had a secretary type a new draft. One of Howe’s changes had been to add the line, “So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes the needed effort to bring about prosperity once again.” FDR liked Howe’s addition, but then, on the draft, changed the end of the sentence, from “to bring about prosperity once again” to “needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” These were the words he used when he delivered the speech several days later at the inauguration, on March 4, 1933.

Roosevelt’s revision of Howe’s sentence was in keeping with the revisions that he and Moly had made to earlier drafts. One of the guiding metaphors in the first versions of the speech had turned on comparing the country’s economic condition to a sickness, but Moly had ultimately decided that Roosevelt would be better able to inspire the nation to profound and wide-ranging action if he did not compare it to an invalid, but rather to an army preparing for war. The imagery of sickness in the early drafts yielded therefore to martial language in the last drafts. FDR’s change of Howe’s sentence followed along with this.

Nevertheless, the new version of the sentence still refers to fear and a rejection of being "paralyzed." Whatever else FDR conveyed to his listeners with this sentence, a message of reassurance about his own health was surely part of what they heard. Concerns about whether his polio had incapacitated him had sometimes surfaced during the election campaign and two weeks before the inauguration he had avoided the bullets of a would-be assassin.

Frances Perkins, who served as FDR’s Secretary of Labor, reminisced in 1946, more than a decade after the speech, about Roosevelt coming to terms with his having contracted polio in 1921. She wrote, “He learned in that period and began to express firm belief that the ‘only thing to fear is fear itself.’ He never displayed the slightest bitterness over his misfortune.” Perkins was a little unclear here about whether she was referring specifically to Roosevelt in the decade before he became president, and whether she really meant to place the exact phrase “the only thing to fear is fear itself” in his mouth during that time.

If Roosevelt had in fact often expressed those words, it is difficult to understand why his closest colleagues and even his wife Eleanor did not assume that he had thought them up himself and inserted them into the inaugural address, but looked elsewhere for the ultimate source of the expression. When FDR’s associate and sometimes-speechwriter Samuel Rosenman asked Eleanor about the expression, she ventured that her husband may have found something very much like it in a volume of Henry David Thoreau’s writings, which she thought he must have had with him in his hotel suite in Washington.

Thoreau had written the sentence, “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear,” in his journal entry for September 7, 1851, in passing, as part of his comment on his contemporaries’ criticisms of Harriet Martineau’s arguments for atheism in her just-published Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development. Ralph Waldo Emerson later quoted his young friend approvingly, and the phrase was indeed included in later collections of Thoreau’s writings.

Professor Moly, however, pointed directly at Louis Howe as the proximate source, and doubted that Howe—whose reading habits focused on detective novels—had found the Thoreau quote. He later told William Safire, “I do clearly remember that the phrase appeared in a department store’s newspaper advertisement some time earlier in February. I assume that Howe, an inveterate newspaper reader, saw it too. …" To Howe’s everlasting credit, he realized that the expression fully fitted the occasion.”

Moly's reference to department store advertisements sounds like the campaign used by Wanamaker’s. During the first few months of 1933, Wanamaker’s department store placed large display ads in The New York Times. The ads included a small box with inspirational messages of business and commercial platitudes or sentiments “from the founder’s writings,” those of John Wanamaker, who sometimes quoted people like Benjamin Franklin or George Washington. I do not see any of ads for the first two months of 1933 in which Wanamaker quoted Thoreau or anyone else expressing precisely the statement about “fear itself,” nor do I see a quote of Wanamaker venturing the phrase himself. However there are many platitudes there about confidence, cheerfulness, a positive attitude, persistence, honesty, and integrity. Perhaps Professor Moly saw an ad that I have been unable to locate.

The phrase “The only thing to fear is fear” did have some currency at the time among businessmen. Julius Barnes, the Chairman of the Board of the National Chamber of Commerce, for example, gave a news conference in early February announcing the organization’s effort to promote efforts to stabilize business suffering during the depression. The conference was reported by The New York Times on February 9. One of the subheadings of the article was “Fears Most Fear Itself,” and quoted Barnes as saying, “In a condition of this kind, the thing to be feared most is fear itself. Confidence, tempered with prudence, is necessary to the operation of even the most perfect business mechanism. The retarding effect of a sense of insecurity is promptly communicated from worker to consumer, from consumer to producer and the whole machine stalls, and the anticipated evil becomes.”

Many in the business community were in fact convinced that the country was suffering from a kind of psychic sickness, caused not by systemic problems in industry or banking, but by the nation’s irrational lapse into fear, which had caused an economic paralysis. It was the fear itself that needed to be exorcised. FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, also often spoke in this way.

By this metaphor, the nation was an invalid who had been afflicted with a mental problem, a paralysis of action. Its thinking somehow had to be turned around, toward a positive confidence. By changing the patient’s thinking, his body would naturally recover his mobility. The nation needed a mental healer.

This sounds rather like the frame of reference of the quasi-religious “New Thought” or “Mind-Cure” or “Mental Science” Movement that blossomed in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As William James described it in his 1929 work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, “The leaders of this faith have had an intuitive belief in the all-saving power of healthy-minded attitudes as such, in the conquering efficacy of courage, hope, and trust, and a correlative contempt for doubt, fear, worry, and all nervously precautionary states of mind.” The movement was defined not so much by an organizational form as by the common assumptions and themes of a group of writers who specialties included what we would today called “alternative medicine,” speculative psychology, and inspirational literature. Their writings are dominated by perorations on healing and success. The business community, then as now, had a fondness for “motivational” speaking and writing, especially as it might make a sales force more effective. It is likely not an accident, therefore, that the head of the Chamber of Commerce would be diagnosing the chief of the nation’s problems as fear.

In fact, the precise phrase, “The only thing to fear is fear,” occurs in the 1908 book, Thought Vibration or, the law of attraction in the thought world, written by New Thought writer William Walker Atkinson. He counseled, “Remember, the only thing to fear is Fear, and—well, don’t even fear Fear, for he’s a cowardly chap at the best, who will run if you show a brave front.” In 1918, Atkinson wrote The Power of Concentration under the pseudonym of Theron Q. Dumont, in which he declared, “There is no justification for the loss of courage. The evils by which you will almost certainly be overwhelmed without it are far greater than those which courage will help you to meet and overcome. Right, then, must be the moralist who says that the only thing to fear is fear.”

Another “New Thought” writer, the “naturopathic doctor,” Henry Lindlahr, wrote in his 1919 book, Practice of Natural Therapeutics, “Avoid fear in all its forms of expression it is responsible for the greater part of human suffering. The only thing to fear is fear.”

Businesses had invoked these precise sentiments around the time they were published, during the domestic economic pinch prevalent during World War I, for example. On the 4th of July, 1917, the musical instrument firm of Edward Droop and Sons in Washington, D.C., paid for a large display ad in The Washington Post, under the large headline, “The Only Thing to Fear Is Fear.” The firm’s ad continued:

We refuse to be perturbed by the alarmists, the pessimists and by the timid who see things at night. As prophets in the past they have a batting average of about .001. The only times they have hit the truth is when they themselves created the conditions they feared by fearing them. Our slogan during these earnest times is “Keep Business Going.” We shall retrench in nothing, cancel nothing, fear nothing. Our faith in the existing and eternal prosperity of the United States of America is immovable. … We believe that this is the very time of all times that you should buy what you want—whether it be in our line or in any other. The only way to stop your business is to stop the other fellow’s. The only thing to fear is fear.

The phrase “The only thing to fear is fear” and its variants, therefore, were demonstrably “out there” in circulation within the business community during the first few decades of the 20th century. William Safire makes the point that it does not really matter where the phrase came from because it was FDR that used it during his speech to inspire the nation and it was he, therefore, who transmuted the linguistic coin into rhetorical gold.

For more information

Text and audio of FDR's First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933, at History Matters.


William Walker Atkinson, Thought Vibration: or, The law of attraction in the thought world, Chicago: The Library Shelf, 1908, pp. 46-49.

“Business to Make Stabilization Study: National Commerce Chamber Is Forming Committee to Work Out Formal Program,” New York Times, February 9, 1931, p. 3.

Theron Q. Dumont (William Walker Atkinson), The Power of Concentration. Chicago: Advanced Thought Publishing Company, 1918.

Davis W. Houck, FDR and Fear Itself: The First Inaugural Address. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002, pp. 119-120.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: 1929, p. 93.

Henry Lindlahr, Practice of Natural Therapeutics. Chicago: The Lindlahr publishing company, 1919, p. 447.

“The Only Thing to Fear Is Fear,” Display ad for E. F. Droop & Sons, Company, Washington Post, July 4, 1917, p. 2.

Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew. New York: Viking Press, 1946, p. 29.

William Safire, “Nothing to fear but fear itself,” Safire’s Political Dictionary, rev. edition. Oxford: University Press, 2008, pp. 481-483.

Lela Stiles, The Man Behind Roosevelt: The Story of Louis McHenry Howe. New York: The World Publishing Company, 1954, p. 235.

“The Value of a Silver Tongue,” Bankers’ Magazine (May 1927): 666.

The “Four Freedoms” speech remastered

There is only one speech in American history that inspired a multitude of books and films, the establishment of its own park, a series of paintings by a world famous artist, a prestigious international award and a United Nation’s resolution on Human Rights.

That speech is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address, commonly known as the “Four Freedoms” speech. In it he articulated a powerful vision for a world in which all people had freedom of speech and of religion, and freedom from want and fear. It was delivered on January 6, 1941 and it helped change the world. The words of the speech are enshrined in marble at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York, are visualized in the paintings of Norman Rockwell, inspired the international Four Freedoms Award and are the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

On the 50 th anniversary of the speech in 1991 a ceremony was held in the U.S. Capitol featuring a remarkable bi-partisan group of leaders including Sen. Bob Dole, Rep. Richard Gephardt, Anne Roosevelt and President George H.W. Bush. President Bush said this about FDR’s Four Freedoms:

“Two hundred years ago, perhaps our greatest political philosopher, Thomas Jefferson, defined our nation’s identity when he wrote “All men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Fifty years ago, our greatest American political pragmatist, Roosevelt, refined that thought in his Four Freedoms when he brilliantly enunciated our 20 th century vision of our founding fathers’ commitment to individual liberty.”

To honor the 75 th anniversary of this historic presidential address, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum joined forces with the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Labs to create new enhanced versions of the speech in HD and Ultra-HD (4K) file formats. These new versions were transferred directly from the original 35mm film stock. Audio from the original disk recordings were then synced with the new video files to create an entirely new resource. The new HD video is now available to the public here, and the 4K video is available upon special request from the Library.

(Copyright Sherman Grinberg Film Library –

It is important to fully understand the historic context of this speech. On November 5 th , 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president for an unprecedented third term. It was a dark time as the world faced unprecedented danger, instability, and war. Much of Europe had fallen to the Nazis and Great Britain was barely holding its own. The Japanese Empire brutally occupied much of China and East Asia. A great number of Americans remained committed to isolationism and the belief that the United States should stay out of the war. President Roosevelt understood Britain’s desperate need for American support and attempted to convince the American people to come to the aid of their closest ally.

In his address on January 6, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt presented his reasons for American involvement, making the case for continued aid to Great Britain and greater production of war industries at home. In helping Britain, President Roosevelt stated, the United States was fighting for the universal freedoms that all people deserved.

As America entered the war these “four freedoms” – the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear – symbolized America’s war aims and gave hope in the following years to a war-wearied people because they knew they were fighting for freedom.

The ideas enunciated in Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms were the foundational principles that evolved into the Atlantic Charter declared by Winston Churchill and FDR in August 1941 the United Nations Declaration of January 1, 1942 President Roosevelt’s vision for an international organization that became the United Nations after his death and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 through the work of Eleanor Roosevelt.

As tyrannical leaders once again resort to brutal oppression and terrorism to achieve their goals, as democracy and journalism are under attack from extremists across the globe, and as surveillance and technology threaten individual liberties and freedom of expression, FDRs bold vision for a world that embraces these four fundamental freedoms is as vital today as it was 75 years ago.

Special thanks to the New York Community Trust for their ongoing support of the Pare Lorentz Film Center.

This 4th of July, let’s remember to honor FDR’s 4 Freedoms | Opinion

1936: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) the 32nd President of the United States from 1933-45. A Democrat, he led his country through the depression of the 1930's and World War II, and was elected for an unprecedented fourth term of office in 1944. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

By Charles D. Allen

As America crosses the midway point of 2020, we can agree that it has been one heck of a year. Following the news and social media, we see ongoing and emerging challenges in the international arena. Domestically, we continue to struggle with this great experiment called democracy for our society and its culture, which defines the daily experience of Americans.

Col. Charles Allen (U.S. Armt, ret.). (Image via Facebook)

This weekend we will celebrate Independence Day to mark our declaration of intention to separate from a government that tread on our unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What American colonists sought then was freedom from an oppressive system and subsequently demonstrated they were willing to fight and die for such freedom.

In the closing minutes of his January 1941 State of the Union Address and weeks after the nation’s entrance World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms as values of democratic societies.

In preceding years, totalitarian and fascist regimes of Germany, Japan, and Italy continually demonstrated disregard for such values. In his exhortation, FDR was building the case for U.S. intervention for the sake of others—that is, the security of allied governments and their people:

“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.”

The themes of FDR’s speech are poignantly captured by the imagery of Norman Rockwell’s series of paintings, “The Four Freedoms” featured in The Saturday Evening Post.

For each issue, the respective painting was accompanied by an essay from a renowned American writer.

As I read each one this weekend, the essay that spoke to me most in the current context of our American struggles was penned in March 1943 by Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Vincent Benét.

“What do we mean when we say ‘freedom from fear?’ It isn’t just a formula or a set of words. It’s a look in the eyes and a feeling in the heart and a thing to be won against odds. It goes to the roots of life — to a man and a woman and their children and the home they can make and keep.

“Since our nation began, men and women have come here for just that freedom — freedom from the fear that lies at the heart of every unjust law, of every tyrannical exercise of power by one man over another man….

“We do not mean freedom from responsibility — freedom from struggle and toil, from hardship and danger. We do not intend to breed a race wrapped in cotton wool, too delicate to stand rough weather. In any world of man that we can imagine, fear and the conquest of fear must play a part.

“But we have the chance, if we have the brains and the courage, to destroy the worst fears that harry man today — the fear of starving to death, the fear of being a slave, the fear of being stamped into the dust because he is one kind of man and not another, the fear of unprovoked attack and ghastly death for himself and for his children because of the greed and power of willful and evil men and deluded nations.”

Nearly eight decades later, the case for fear still exists in 2020 as Americans are facing a global pandemic, the potential collapse of international economies, and social, as well as political challenges to its democratic institutions.

We cannot be afraid to address injustice within our nation.

Benét also pointed back the Declaration of Independence when “… we, as a nation, asserted that all men were created equal, that all men were entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those were large assertions, but we have tried to live up to them. We have not always succeeded we have often failed. But our will and desire as a nation have been to live up to them.”

In the months ahead, and for the remainder of 2020, it is my hope that we so resolve and pursue freedom from fear for others in our American society and, in doing so, for ourselves.

This Week in Roosevelt History: July 15-21

July 18, 1940: FDR was nominated for an unprecedented third term as president.

ER addressing the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
July 18, 1940
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 69-96.

The New Deal Estore is a great place to shop for Roosevelt related books, gifts, and other treasures from the New Deal Store at the Roosevelt Library. Available at, the Estore features everything from a selection of the latest books on the Roosevelts and their times, to T-shirts, ties and caps, multimedia, campaign memorabilia, and museum replicas. For items related to this week’s blog post, follow the links below:

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