The New Four Freedoms

franklin roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt (Wikipedia)

On January 6, 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the annual State of the Union address and it was especially memorable because he identified Four Freedoms that he believed all people should enjoy:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

WWII had been going on in Europe for fourteen months when Roosevelt gave the speech. Hitler’s armies had already conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. And his air force was busy trying to bomb Britain into submission. On the other side of the globe, Japan was continuing its invasion of China.

Roosevelt’s speech was a response to this ongoing fascist aggression, and it identified what he believed was America’s responsibility to oppose totalitarianism and defend basic human rights throughout the world. It was well received because most people understood that freedom comes with responsibilities. But many Americans were wary of getting involved in the war, so the U.S didn’t enter it until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December. In the meantime, Roosevelt succeeded in getting the Lend-Lease Act passed in March. It allowed the U.S. to provide material support to the Allies, fulfilling Roosevelt’s earlier promise to make America the “Arsenal of Democracy”.

The majority of Americans considered the Four Freedoms important within their own country too. But conservative Republicans criticized Roosevelt’s speech as an attempt to justify government regulations and social welfare programs. The right-wing faction of the party wasn’t very successful then. But they never gave up, and today they’re holding their party and the entire United States hostage.

American voters responded to the right-wing extremism of Republican Pres. Donald Trump and his supporters in the November 2018 midterm elections by electing many more Democrats – enough to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Soon after the election, progressive billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer announced 5 Rights he thinks all Democrats should champion in the upcoming 2020 elections.  They are:

  1. The Right To An Equal Vote: So everyone has an equal voice to demand justice from our government and can vote with no discrimination and no barriers.
  2. The Right to Clean Air & Clean Water: So everyone can breathe fresh air and drink clean water, free from industrial poisons.
  3. The Right to Learn: So everyone has the right to a free, quality, public education from preschool through college and on to advanced skills training.
  4. The Right to a Living Wage: So no one needs to work more than one full-time job.
  5. The Right to Health: So everyone has a chance to live a healthy life, with universal healthcare.

These rights are the modern successors to Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.

The Shameful History of U.S. Intervention in Cuban Affairs

Cuban flag
Cuban flag

I visited Cuba earlier this year with an American tour group and learned many things. One of them was that the U.S. government’s involvement in Cuban affairs before the Cuban Revolution was more extensive than what we’ve been taught – and not in a good way.

American involvement in Cuban affairs began as early as 1854, when the Ostend Manifesto was drafted by Southern expansionists who wanted to acquire Cuba from Spain in order to facilitate the expansion of their slave economy. Its publication outraged anti-slavery Northerners and the idea was shelved, although the Confederates would have pursued the acquisition of Cuba if they’d won the Civil War.

Many ex-Confederates moved to Cuba after the South lost the war because slavery was still legal there. They had little effect, however, because American businessmen were already heavily invested in Cuba and controlled its lucrative sugar industry.

The Spanish-American War
U.S.S. Maine
U.S.S. Maine entering Havana Harbor, January 1898 (U.S. Dept. of Defense)

The Cuban War of Independence, inspired by Cuban patriot José Martí, began in 1895 and by 1897 the liberation army had the Spanish on the defensive. Then in 1898 the U.S. militarily intervened in the war after the American battleship U.S.S. Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor on February 15, killing 266 U.S. sailors. President William McKinley asked Congress to declare war in April and in the subsequent Spanish-American War an American army defeated Spanish troops at the Battle of San Juan Hill and a U.S. naval force subsequently destroyed a Spanish naval squadron at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. These losses, coupled with other Spanish military defeats in the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, caused Spain to sue for peace and a ceasefire was established on August 12. In the formal peace treaty that was signed in December, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico were annexed by the U.S. and Cuba became a protectorate – a virtual U.S. colony. Cubans were not included in the negotiations with Spain.

During my visit to Cuba I learned that most Cubans resent America’s intervention in their independence war. They believe they were close to defeating the Spanish on their own, and the Maine was blown up as part of a secret scheme by U.S. imperialists to create an excuse for America to gain control of Cuba. (No definitive cause for the ship’s explosion has ever been identified.)

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President Franklin Roosevelt Suddenly Dies, April 12, 1945

franklin roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt – Wikipedia

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unexpected death from a stroke in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945, was a huge shock to many people. He had been the president since 1933 and re-elected three times – the most of any president. During this long tenure he had led the nation through the Great Depression and into Word War Two.

Many Americans considered Roosevelt a father figure because he’d been the president for much of their lives. This was especially true for the young men fighting overseas against fascism in the Western European and Pacific theaters of WWII. There were many reports of American soldiers and sailors crying upon receiving word of his death.

American forces in the Pacific theater were fighting the Japanese in the Battle of Okinawa at the time of Roosevelt’s death. They U.S. had invaded that southern Japanese island on April 1st and the troops had made good progress until they had encountered a strong Japanese defensive line along Kakazu Ridge. The initial American assaults against it failed and the Japanese took advantage of this by distributing propaganda leaflets trying to discourage further attacks. They began with, “We must express our deep regret over the death of President Roosevelt.”

The Germans also took note of Roosevelt’s death in the European theater. The Western Allies had launched attacks across the Rhine River on Germany’s western border in March of 1945 which had destroyed Nazi Germany’s defenses on that front. The allied troops, under the command of General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe, were approaching Berlin from the west. On Germany’s eastern border, the Soviets were poised along the Oder River preparing to attack Berlin, which was only about 50 miles away.

Hitler knew there was little chance that his depleted forces could stop the Allies. But when he learned of Roosevelt’s death he became elated. He had always been inspired by Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia who had held out against overwhelming odds in the Seven Years’ War until the alliance against him unexpectedly dissolved after the Russian Empress Elizabeth died. Hitler thought Roosevelt’s death was a sign that the alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviets would now disintegrate. But Hitler soon found that Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, had no intention of betraying the Soviets by making a separate peace with the Nazis. On May 8, 1945, when Truman announced Germany’s unconditional surrender he said, “I only wish that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day.”

Roosevelt’s death also prompted responses from America’s allies in WWII.  When the American ambassador to the Soviet Union informed Stalin about it the Soviet leader said “President Roosevelt has died but his cause must live on. We shall support President Truman with all our forces and all our will.”

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who reportedly sobbed like a baby upon hearing of Roosevelt’s passing, gave a long eulogy for Roosevelt in the House of Commons a few days after his death. It concluded with, “For us. it remains only to say that in Franklin Roosevelt there died the greatest American friend we have ever known and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the new world to the old.”

Churchill later wrote of Roosevelt:

“He altered decisively and permanently the social axis, the moral axis, of mankind by involving the New World inexorably and irrevocably in the fortunes of the Old. His life must therefore be regarded as one of the most commanding events in human destiny.”

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