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Thanksgiving & the Four Freedoms

Next Thursday Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. Some will feast with Butterball turkeys; some will go vegan and create turkeys out of tofu. Some folks will skip the turkey and head straight for pie and football. But just for a moment, allow me to take you back to January 6, 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented his eighth State of the Union Address to Congress. The President wanted to aid Great Britain in her struggle against Nazi Germany, but first he had to persuade Congress and the American people that the war abroad was not merely a territorial squabble, but one that threatened American democratic ideals.

Roosevelt was an eloquent and persuasive speaker, a man who could tap into his listeners’ reason and emotion. He was also a man accustomed to getting what he wanted.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt addresses joint session of Congress. Public Domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Roosevelt’s speech was a long explication of history, but his genius was to reframe the “American dream” into a simple format of Four Freedoms.  Two years later Norman Rockwell’s images conveyed their meaning to ordinary Americans.

“In future days,” President Roosevelt said, “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.” 

Normal Rockwell’s illustrations for the Four Freedoms. Public Domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“The third is freedom from want”

“The fourth is freedom from fear.”

Several years ago I led my American history class in a discussion of the Four Freedoms. Well to be truthful, I was doing most of the talking. Until I began showing Rockwell’s depictions of what those freedoms mean. There was a young man in the class, a veteran from the First Iraq War.  Rockwell’s picture of loving parents tucking in their children, knowing that they would be safe, resonated with this student.

“That’s why I went to Iraq.” 

I am grateful for the ideals of the Four Freedoms

and for those who make the commitment to uphold them.



Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


  1. Unfortunately the reasons for the US going to war in Iraq were based upon lies. That was not the case with WWII – while I admire the patriotism of the young men and women who volunteered for military service and served In Iraq – they were misused and ill treated by that terrible and unnecessary war. Too much of our national treasure was wasted fighting that war.
    I hope your student survived his service without injury – physical or mental. Too many have permanent injuries that will shorten their lives and haunt them the rest of their time on earth.
    It is one thing to serve in the military in a war that is based – as WWII was – on a just cause – it is another to sacrifice one’s life and one’s youth in a war based upon lies.

  2. Aloha Mary & thank you for your comment. To the best of my knowledge, my student had no extant physical injuries. I do not think any one can return from a war zone without mental and emotional injury. The injustice of a war does not negate the beliefs of the men and women on the ground. I was very moved by the student’s comment.

  3. Although Mary has an excellent point and speaks the truth, I am moved by the message of the blog and it’s truths. There is no beauty and truth in conflicts, but there is beauty and truth in the Four Freedoms.


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