Broken Promises Of World War II

by Philip Greenspan

August 18, 2003


On January 6, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his annual message to Congress, the first after his unprecedented third term electoral triumph. Six months earlier, the French Army had been defeated and Great Britain was standing alone to fight the formidable German military. Roosevelt was convinced that the U.S. would have to enter the war if the Axis was to be defeated.

The horrors of World War I had created an anti-war climate not only in the U.S. but in most of the world. A Gallup poll reported that 89 percent of the US public opposed entry into the war.

To rally reluctant citizens to join the fight he offered numerous inducements in that speech. Although the U.S. was not an active participant in the war, he promised that upon victory against the axis, the peoples of the world could expect a future that provided four freedoms: freedom of speech; freedom of religion; freedom from want; and freedom from fear.

US citizens already had the benefits of the first two, but the latter two were new and most relevant at that time. The Great Depression was still haunting the overwhelming majority of the people. To be assured that their wants would be recognized and relieved was most welcome.

". . . The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. . ." was a famous quote from Roosevelt's first inaugural message. The depression, besides want, had produced fear as well; but the unconscionable actions of the totalitarian nations against the peace of the world produced an even greater, horrifying fear. So, as all leaders before and after him have done, FDR offered a "vision" of a better world as a reason, or the incentive to go to war.

Several months after delivering the speech FDR and Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, met on the high seas. They forged a document entitled the Atlantic Charter that contained the promise of the Four Freedoms.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese accommodated Roosevelt's desire for war with an attack upon Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and other targets throughout Southeast Asia. The formerly anti-war public rallied four-square behind its Commander in Chief.

Twenty-six allied nations went on to endorse the Atlantic Charter in a document, the 'Declaration by the United Nations,' on January 1, 1942, and the Four Freedoms proved to be a popular wartime slogan for the duration of the conflict.

For US citizens who would be doing the fighting an assortment of very tangible benefits known as the G.I. Bill of Rights provided an additional incentive.

Roosevelt did not live long enough to implement the promises of the Four Freedoms but the dream lived on. His wife Eleanor, who was recognized as an authentic warrior for humanitarian causes, took up the challenge to fulfill that promise.

She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and became chairman of the Human Rights Commission that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As a member of the US delegation, she represented a State Department that was not enthusiastic about including these new rights in the Declaration. Her insistence and influence overcame the naysayers. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly without a dissenting vote -- 48 in favor, none opposed, 2 absent, and 8 abstentions (Soviet bloc countries).

It is a remarkable document that readily fulfilled the dreams of those who sacrificed to win the war. Sadly, it has not gotten the publicity and recognition that it rightfully deserves. It can be read in its entirety at http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html.

Here is a sample of the document, to wet the appetite -- its Article 25, which clarifies the promise of freedom from want.
"(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection."
Ever since that high point the general conditions throughout the world have shamefully deteriorated and these human rights -- freedoms from want and fear -- have been a major casualty.

The US government that proclaims how highly it regards human rights has not promoted the rights Roosevelt promised to the world -- it has not even enacted them for its own citizens! Many countries currently provide more of these rights to their citizens, even the much maligned Cuba...

The current unelected administration ignores incentives. Not only does it deny adequate funding for the meager benefits for its servicemen but it has quashed constitutional rights that have been in practice since the founding of the country. Look around and pause: There is not one social service that has not been slashed... And to gain support for its hideous policies this administration has continually exploited FEAR. Fear of death, fear of the "terrorists," fear of the foreigners, fear of the others -- the colored peoples, the gays and lesbians, the neighbors... Fear, fear, fear, again and again and again.

Over sixty years have passed since FDR enunciated the Four Freedoms, and both freedoms from want and fear remain a mirage in an ever-growing deculturized and desertified world. Will the public finally awake from the stupor that overtook it on September 11, 2001? Will it demand a restoration of what has been taken and loudly protest to obtain, and request what was promised during World War II? Will it indeed realize that freedom from want and freedom from fear are entirely negated by the wars without end?

One can only hope and, better still, act accordingly.

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America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).

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Published August 18, 2003
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