July 4th, 1941 fell exactly halfway between Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms address and the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While the Four Freedoms address had persuaded some Americans to support the promotion of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Want, and Freedom of Fear for everyone in the world, most Americans during the summer of 1941 still wanted to focus solely on domestic issues. Because of this, FDR sought to use his July 4th radio address to counteract the isolationist, America-First sentiment that was a central part of the national zeitgeist at the time.
While encouraging the American people to celebrate the national holiday, he also made it very clear that he believed further reflection was required of them, saying, “It is simple, I could almost say simple-minded, for us Americans to wave the flag, to reassert our belief in the cause of freedom, and let it go at that.” He argued that American freedom was under attack and should not be taken for granted.
Roosevelt sought to convince the nation that the endurance of America’s freedom was interconnected with the status of freedom in other countries around the world. He urged his listeners to understand that “the United States will never survive as a happy and fertile oasis of liberty surrounded by a cruel desert of dictatorship.” In other words, it was FDR’s belief that not engaging in the world would backfire and actually cause harm to the national interests isolationists sought to protect.
Seventy-eight years later his words still have the power to make one pause and reflect. In what ways is America failing to promote freedom for all, both at home and abroad? To give one example, how do the conditions in other countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras affect the refugee crisis that is occurring within our own borders? How does that crisis affect our own national interest? As we enjoy one of America’s most beloved holidays and patriotically wave the flag, it would be beneficial for all of us to heed the advice of FDR and spend a moment reflecting upon how our freedoms are connected to the freedoms of everyone, everywhere in the world.
You can listen to the entire radio address, as well as many other FDR speeches, here.