Saturday, March 9, 2013


I posted this back in 2009 and it's still good. Norman Rockwell was really good wasn't he? 

It was January 6, 1941 and President Franklin Roosevelt was preparing to give the State of the Union address required by the constitution. Great Britain and her colonies had been at war with Germany since September 1939. Poland had been split between Germany and the Soviet Union. Western Europe was under occupation; Dunkirk evacuated. Hitler’s Germany turned her attention to the east in June of 1940 and the Soviet armies crumbled. At the beginning of 1941 many Americans were still isolationist at heart. Roosevelt tried to use his speech to define what was at stake; what we might have to fight for.

It’s hard to remember that the United States still had eleven months to go before December 7 of that fateful year. Eleven months left while we could still pretend that the United States would remain free of the war engulfing the rest of the world.

President Roosevelt attempted to define what he called the Four Freedoms. These were Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want. The president who told that the only thing we had to fear to fear be fear itself was bold enough to say that along with the other freedoms being free from fear was also a right. Two years later, in 1943, from late February to early March, the Saturday Evening Post used four painting by Norman Rockwell to illustrate these freedoms.

The paintings toured the country in 1943 in a bond drive that raised $130,000,000 in support of the war effort. The paintings were even used as postage stamps.

I love the faces and images in these paintings. These are faces that you could see everyday. It’s nice to believe that anyone can still stand up in a town meeting and say his or her piece whether they’re wearing a suit and tie or a flannel shirt and blue jeans. There is a confidence in that face. The confidence that what he has to say will get a hearing; that he will listen to what others have to say.

The table in the Freedom from Want painting looks strangely bare by the standards we’ve become used to since 1943. But the family is together and it looks like there is enough to go around. And both my grandmothers wore those little cotton dresses and it seemed like they had an apron for everyday of the week.

Our newspapers, TV news and internet news remind us every day that there are many places in this world that Freedom to Worship is still a dream. My little hometown had a population of about four thousand and at least a dozen different churches. While we argue among ourselves in the United States most of us can still go to the house of worship of our choice without fear of attack and with the assurance that we’ll find the church there when we arrive for services.

I believe that the painting that moves me the most now is the one for Freedom from Fear. That freedom seems to be the hardest one to find. A few things have changed since 1943. Most children don’t have to share a bed with a little brother or sister these days. Actually, many kids don’t even have to share a room, much less a bed. And that war news may be found over the net or TV instead of a newspaper; but the war news is still there. And the fear card has been played over and over during the past few years.

Fast forward about sixty two years to an incident described in this excerpt from a 2006 column by Leonard Pitts who writes for the Miami Herald.  I’m not sure what kind of uniforms these gentlemen were wearing but my imagination is a fertile one. It isn’t hard to go back sixty years or so and supply black or brown shirts and red arm bands. The faces change; the fear doesn’t. And I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that internet porn is a threat to national security.

"The following happened in the United State of America on February 9 of this year.
The scene is the Little Falls branch of the Montgomery County Public Library in Bethesda, Maryland. Business is going on as usual when two men in uniform stride into the main reading room and call for attention. Then they make an announcement.

It is forbidden to use the library's computers to view Internet pornography.

As people are absorbing this, one of the men challenges a patron about a Web site he is visiting and asks the man to step outside. At this point, a librarian intervenes and calls the uniformed men aside. A police officer is summoned. The men leave. It turns out they are employees of the county's department of Homeland Security and were operating far outside their authority."
Pitts goes on to describe how hard it is for the fifty one percent of respondents to a recent poll to imagine what it would be like to have to ask for permission to travel, watch a movie, read what you want, even have someone stay at your house without asking someone if it's ok. And that because we're in a war against terrorism doesn’t give a government employee the right to come in and look over you shoulder to see what you're reading or viewing on a computer screen. Of course the poll didn't ask their respondents answering their questions which freedoms they were willing to give up in the "fight against terror."

Contrast FDR's dream with the last few years. Too many are still a paycheck away from finding very little food on the table. Too often we shout each other down instead of listening. Too many of us are too willing to see persecution where it may not exist and forget that our churches, synagogues and mosques are still standing here. Something that isn’t always true in too many other countries. And worst of all. The fear card has been played over and over.

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