Could the Four Freedoms have argued for US involvement in World War II during January 1941?

Quick answer:

The Four Freedoms could be used to build an argument for US involvement in World War II. Many Americans still advocated for isolationism, but believed democracy was valuable. Democratic freedoms were cherished by Americans, but states such as Germany and Italy pointedly denied their citizens these rights that Americans see as inalienable.

Expert Answers

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The four freedoms that Roosevelt outlined in his inaugural address in 1941 are as follows:

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

Roosevelt used these freedoms to build a case for involvement in World War II at a time when the US was still isolated. He challenged isolationism by asserting that they were rights owed to people "everywhere" in the world. This was a pointed reference to the lack of these freedoms in fascist, totalitarian states such as Germany and Italy.

Under Hitler and Mussolini, citizens had no freedom of speech or worship. Not only was any protest against government policy a crime, in Germany, Jewish synagogues were looted and burned and Jews persecuted. Even Christians who did not conform to the government, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Quakers, and dissenting Protestants, were often harshly punished. Jews in Italy were also severely persecuted.

As this behavior went deeply against the United States's cultural identity, attacking it could be used to marshal people behind opposing these governments. Nobody in the US wanted such a system imposed on them. By the same token, freedom from fear was also an important value that the totalitarian states violated. These police states controlled their populations through terrorizing, brutalizing and often killing dissenters.

Roosevelt knew the US would eventually be pulled fully into World War II and was laying the groundwork to gain US support for that inevitability with the Four Freedoms.

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