Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Remembering Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Image courtesy of Sigurdur Jonsson's Flickr page - Franklin D. Roosevelt: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sfjalar/2949654021/in/photolist-5uDKnP-9bj7uU-9bfQPt-4hUMsT-4Fe38L-e2VonZ-4kDgF1-ozTwTH-qHctB-5UiVY-4X8uHa-9bj6Gd-cYXwgo-4X8HSc-4X8gFR-918LLP-4X8q7X-91bRru-91bZcY-91bNrY-9194GB-h6q1T3-2nyJjT-5nXfJ3-918LbR-4XcTFS-4Xd8eW-N34dQ-4X8hy4-4X8KB8-89AdRM-n6W5Vk-RpetU-eSWUBs-91c6mb-akGPXP-91ceoh-a2RA8A-brd3wj-ozFjeY-pt8MUw-bE824i-5nQ3oR-341MD6-ozBAyg-9vWXbU-7xP1Ty-9vTVnc-8RZRLK-ozRCyS
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“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.  

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.  

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”   

~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

It was on this day in 1945, as the World War II was wrapping up in Europe, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died.

Roosevelt is the only American president to have been voted into office four times, and to have served at least part of each of those four terms, although Harry Truman finished out most of that last term.

When he  was first elected, the United States was in rough shape. The Great Depression had hit the country hard following a decadent decade of excess. There were long lines of people waiting for any employment, looking for the opportunity to put food on the table, to provide for their families. These images remain iconic in our nation's history. 

More or less paralleling Franklin D. Roosevelt's time in office, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. Almost instantly, the threat of war hovered with the ascension of Hitler and the Nazis, and as their grip on power tightened, that threat became more and more an inevitability, rather than a possibility or even a probability. 

To his credit, Roosevelt did not flinch, but saw the threat and tried to prepare his nation to meet it head on. Even as he was preoccupied with lifting his country from it's knees to get it on it's feet once again here domestically, he saw the threat of another costly world war, and did not shrink from it. Rather, he slowly but surely prepared Americans for what he himself recognized as inevitable, and he provided a vision of the world not as it was (or is), but as it should be. Famously, he articulated this vision in what is now the famous speech of his Four Freedoms:

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. 8 Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four freedoms speech” Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union: 01/06/1941 

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. 

(FDR Library -Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four freedoms speech” Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union: 01/06/1941:  http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/pdfs/fftext.pdf)

This was a vision that FDR wanted to realize, although he did not live to see the end of the war that he had largely successfully navigated his country through. Within a few weeks of FDR's death, Germany's Nazi empire finally fell shortly after the Fuhrer ended his own life, already buried deep inside of his Bunker in Berlin. Days later, Nazi military leaders signed the surrender documents, and the war in Europe was over. 

Roosevelt might not have lived, but it was in large part his leadership that had carried America, and much of the world, for that matter, through the darkest and most challenging days of the war. 

Yet, his vision also extended to his own country not just to get out of the Great Depression, or to carry it through the bloodiest war in human history, but also for better times, as well. In what is now becoming more well-known and gaining greater appreciation, FDR articulated his vision of how to secure a better future for the United States, and to make it a better place for Americans to live in. He proposed this as a second Bill of Rights for all Americans:

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. 

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.

(FDR Library -Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union Message to Congress  January 11, 1944: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/stateoftheunion.html)

I think it is safe to say that the United States would be a better country, and a better place to live in now, if this Second Bill of Rights had been passed, and had remained the standard to which we held true.

Unfortunately, this was one goal of FDR's that did not come to fruition.

Still, we can, and must, remember the past, and learn from it what we can. And in the example of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we have a shining example not only of what a president (and a disabled one at that!) can do, but a vision of just how great this country, and indeed this world, can be, if we have the determination to make it work.

On this day, April 12th, the anniversary of FDR's death, I honor his memory. 

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