The Four Freedoms

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This Veterans Day seems like a good day to review what the USA should stand for. So many people have fought and died for our freedom. We are in a different kind of battle for our country. In the 2024 election, the voters will decide whether we live under fascist dictatorship or continue to try to strengthen our democracy

In every life, there are moments of memory that stand out sharp and clear. For me, one such moment is December 7, 1941. It was a bright, cold, clear morning in Oregon. One of those winter days when an interior high-pressure cell pushes strong, creating a dry, cold wind down the Columbia River Gorge and into the Willamette Valley.

Pearl Harbor – Dec 7, 1941

 I was sitting in our 39 Mercury sedan listening to the radio while my folks attended church. Suddenly, the Glen Miller Band was interrupted by an announcement, “Pearl Harbor is under attack by the Japanese.” I went into the church. During a break in the service, I told my folks that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I didn’t understand their grim reaction. I was only eleven.

The 4 Freedoms

In the spring of 1941, President Roosevelt defined the values of this country. He spoke of four freedoms. They became the freedoms I was raised to believe in:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression.
  2. Freedom of every person to worship in their own way.
  3. Freedom from want.
  4. Freedom from fear

For a long time, I believed these were the values our country would work to achieve both at home and around the world. For me, the four freedoms symbolized what we fought so hard to secure during World War II.

I remember when I went back to school after Christmas vacation. My Japanese friend was not there. I asked my mom, ” What happened to him?” She said that he had been evacuated to a camp where he could be protected from retaliation. It made sense, but I didn’t like it. And of course, I later learned that she was mistaken.

The Geneva Convention

During the war, we knew that American prisoners were not treated well by either the Japanese or Germans. However, I was proud that Americans treated their prisoners well. The Geneva Convention meant something important. We stood for a higher standard than the enemy. I also remember that when America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima my reaction was, “Good, now my cousins can come home alive.” When Japan did not surrender, I couldn’t wait for us to drop another bomb.

It wasn’t until the fall of 1945 that Wade, my Japanese friend, was again able to sit behind me in homeroom class. I said, “Hi, welcome back.” He stayed one of my best friends through high school. He remained so till the day he died. A few years ago, I visited him in Washington, DC. He told me then how much my friendship had meant to him as a scared kid returning from five years in an internment camp.

Peace – Cold War

The end of World War II was an exciting time. We competed with Russia, spreading our values around the world. President Kennedy asked us to consider what we could do for our nation. He set up the Peace Corps. President Johnson initiated the War on Poverty. America was actively working, through the United Nations and in other ways, to improve the lives of folks at home and around the world. Of course, at the same time, the CIA was overthrowing fledgling democracies around the world and setting up dictatorships that opposed communism. For years, I didn’t believe the rumors, but those rumors have turned out to be facts.

Has the USA lost it’s way?

Today, near the tail end of my life, my country seems to have lost its way. In the name of the “War on Terror,” we have surrendered many of our freedoms. People use the term “War on Terror” to skew the checks and balances inherent in our constitution in favor of the Executive Branch.

We don’t need an overly empowered and secretive executive branch to protect our freedoms. What we need is an extremely informed, coordinated, and well-funded intelligence service coupled with an extremely informed, coordinated, and well-funded police service. I can accept that the war in Afghanistan was justified. After all, Afghanistan supported Al-Qaeda, a force that declared war on America long before September 11. However, our overthrow of the Iraq regime had nothing to do with terrorism. Based upon internal reports released to the public after the invasion, it seems pretty clear that Osama Bin Laden and Sudam Hussain were well-known enemies.

Mr. Bush said we must fight “them” over there, or they will follow us home. Remember, it took less than two dozen individuals to destroy the World Trade Center. When we understand that it takes only a couple of dozen people to create a great tragedy, we may begin to understand the true dimensions of what we are fighting. A terrorist cell can strike anywhere whenever they choose to do so. Most of the time, only good police work can stop them  Terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon. We must fight it in the same way we fight the war on drugs. Drugs often finance terrorism. Only effective police work, coordinated worldwide, will help us minimize terrorist activities.

We have to recognize that the war on terror will continue as long as fanatics are willing to kill and die. Moreover, if we give away any of our freedoms based upon a war that may never end, the terrorists inevitably win.

Under the Republican administrations of Bush and Trump, my country no longer follows the Geneva Conventions concerning certain prisoners. They claim that we do not torture these prisoners because they have a new definition of torture. According to them, torture is something that causes death or the loss of a limb. Despite what they claim, America is currently authorizing the same torture techniques used by the Spanish Inquisition. Waterboarding was torture in the fifteen hundreds, and it is torture now. If anyone had told me when I was young that the Vice President of the United States would be lobbying Congress for a bill that authorizes torture, I would have said he was crazy, but that is exactly what Vice President Cheney did.

Remember that what we allow our government to do to one person, it may eventually do to us. When a foreign citizen can be declared an enemy combatant and be shipped to a foreign country for torture, what does that say about our country? When torture is acceptable in the black prison of the CIA, how long will it be before it’s acceptable in police interrogations anywhere in this country?

It seems that anyone who disagrees with the policies of the administration is branded a traitor. However, disagreement is at the heart of our First Amendment. Disagreement is fundamental to our basic freedoms. Americans are told that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but under those administrations, a person can be branded a traitor, imprisoned, held incommunicado, denied access to attorneys, refused judicial review, and be subject to torture without any explanation from our Executive Branch.

I think of my eleven-year-old friend, Wade, who was interned for years because he lived in a country surrounded by fear. If they can throw away his freedom for years, who else can they do it to? If they can brand a man a traitor without proof of law, what does America stand for?

Democracy is fragile.

I originally wrote this during the George W Bush Administration. We have since seen a power-hungry, corrupt autocrat push this country to the brink of a fascist dictatorship.

Democracy is fragile. The 2024 election will decide whether the USA becomes a dictatorship or remains a democratic republic. My country is on the brink.

We need to stand up for freedom and human rights. The four freedoms are a good place to start.

3 thoughts on “The Four Freedoms”

  1. This is such a poignant reflection on the values that have shaped America over the years. Your personal memories from World War II, especially about your Japanese friend, Wade, add a deeply human touch to the narrative. It’s disheartening to read about the perceived loss of direction in recent times, especially in the context of sacrificing freedoms in the name of the “War on Terror.” Your question about whether the USA will stand for democracy in the upcoming 2024 election is crucial. In this complex landscape, how do you envision individuals playing a role in safeguarding the values you hold dear?

    • Thanks for the comment. All I can do as an individual is try to alert as many people as possible to the danger I believe the Republican Party and a few in the Democratic Party pose to our democracy. Then try to make sure I vote for people who share my values. I can’t change the minds of people who want to live under a strong man/dictator. Mr. Trump has made it very clear what he intends to do when elected.

  2. This post was written in great detail on the four freedoms, and I learned a lot of great information on the four freedoms. This was a topic I didn’t know much about before reading the post, but I found it very interesting to read about the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of every person to worship in their own way, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear. I just found this post very interesting and informative that gave a lot of great information that many people might not know about.


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