Public History: The meaning of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park and the irony

pepsi
Pepsi-Cola sign in the New York City borough of Queens

***Note: Occasionally I will be making historical/political blog posts on historical monuments across NYC. This will be part of my public history series.***

Last summer I enrolled in an introductory American history course that covered the Civil War period until present. Although I am an advanced history student, I was compelled to take this course for some reasons. I needed to brush up on my knowledge of American history especially since the presidential election was closer. I was versed with American history but had been told before enrolling in college that American history, even the introductory courses goes into greater depth. I, nonetheless, was not warned about their potential leftist slant. This course was a necessary refresher especially since this presidential election inspired me to and a quick GPA boost. While taking the course, I had an assignment where I was asked to choose one of four historical monuments in New York City. The assignment asked to discuss the monument, its historical context, how public history is depicted and whether or not it fulfills its message. I chose Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park. I had been hearing nothing but fantastic things about Roosevelt in my human rights program. He is a celebrated figure for many reasons outside of his presidency, New Deal programs and his leadership during World War II. I wrote an opinion about the monument dedicated to Roosevelt hinting at some of my political views. I have edited and strengthened this essay for this blog but before I get there, I want to talk about my experience at Four Freedoms Park.

United_Nations_Headquarters_in_New_York_City,_view_from_Roosevelt_Island
United Nations Headquarters from Roosevelt Island view

My classmate and I went to Four Freedoms Park and there was nothing awe or inspiring about the monument. It was the first time I had gone to Roosevelt Island and had only seen it through passing when I would ride the F train. This monument feels as though is only meant to attract a certain visitors since its location is so out of the way. Another thing to consider is that there is limited sources of public transportation to get there. It was a beautiful, hot and humid day in late June and the skies were clear. As we walked to Roosevelt’s monument, I kept looking to my left and to my right. At one point my classmate noticed the Pepsi Cola sign to his left and to his right the United Nations. He stated ‘Wow! Look at the Pepsi-Cola sign and the United Nations. These two things oppose each other’. I immediately responded ‘you have NO idea what you just said. One enables the other so try figuring that out for yourself’. Globalism! I did not want to debate or argue with my classmate because I would rather he research before I started talking to him about globalism. Little did I know that the statement he made would later inspire the thesis of that paper as shown in this blog post on Four Freedoms Park.


Freeman-Memorials-9_525
Aerial view of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park in Roosevelt Island in New York City by architect Louis I. Kahn
Drenttel_4freedoms
FDR’s Four Freedoms depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings circa 1943

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park is a monument dedicated to the former president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park, located on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, lies between the island of Manhattan and the New York City borough of Queens. Roosevelt Island, also named in dedication to him, has the FDR drive and the United Nations headquarters to the East. Roosevelt had a significant impact in its founding of the United Nations. The Four Freedoms Park is named after Roosevelt’s 8th State of the Union Address made to the United States Congress on 6 January 1941 during World War II, an international conflict that lasted from 1939 until 1945. The Four Freedoms speech addressed what Roosevelt hoped for the world, which was freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. As a monument, the Four Freedoms Park fails to represent the meaning of Roosevelt’s speech. The placement of the monument in New York City represents the trajectory of American history and the history of the struggle between ordinary working people trying to fight for their economic rights against a government that was extremely pro-business. American government, being explicitly pro-business, was put to a halt under Roosevelt’s presidency in 1933 and has gone full circle back to the economic dynamics that occurred before him. Therefore, the Four Freedoms Park fails to represent Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech.

Before Roosevelt’s presidential victory in 1933, the American government was explicitly pro-business. Specifically, in 1928 Republican nominee Herbert Hoover was elected President of the United States and too was pro-business. Unfortunately, less than eight months into Hoover’s presidency the Stock Market Crash of 1929 led to the Gross National Product dropping  from 104 billion to 59 billion leading to a global depression. Hoover used whatever methods to deal with the depression and encouraged business owners to cut off wages or lay off workers. Hoover assisted American businesses during the Great Depression by passing the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act in 1930 and by establishing the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932. The Hawley-Smoot Act raised American tariffs on imported goods and forced Americans to only purchase domestic goods. The RFC was founded in order to provide financial support to local and state governments and to assist businesses leading to 300 million dollars given to subsidize big and small businesses. American business owners were considered robber barons, a derogatory term used to describe ruthless and unethical tactics in acquiring more wealth and buying out competitors. These robber barons thrived due to absences of government regulation in the financial markets.

Who_benefitted_from_the_new_dealRoosevelt was born into privilege and had established a reputation as a politician before he was elected President of the United States. He was governor of New York City from 1929 until 1932. The United States suffered heavily from the Great Depression. Homelessness, unemployment, starvation, natural disasters spanned across the United States and Roosevelt sought to alleviate the crisis. In order to resolve these issues, Roosevelt created a series of reforms known as New Deal programs. There were various reforms passed by the New Deal programs such as the creation of the FDIC, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, where if a bank went under, then individuals with bank accounts would be insured by the federal government up to $5,000. (Not sure if this amount insured isfrom the New Deal Program period or today) However, it is important to take into consideration that Keynesianism was very popular during the 1930s. John Maynard Keynes, an influential English economist, believed that if governments used deficit spending to put an end to recessions would then spur the economy and make the economy grow. Roosevelt envisioned a society where government was in people’s lives and made their lives better. The excess of capitalism and the government’s inability to reign in capitalism is what led to the United States being on the brink of disaster. Roosevelt was very important in this era because he envisioned a larger government that would “save capitalism from itself”. After all there is a little known fact that America was on the brink of becoming communist. Notice how in Europe the global depression ans other factors made cointries become radically left or right wing. If one is familiar with the historical developments of that time Europe was falling to fascism. A book by Mark Mazower that discusses this is titled The Dark Continent. Fascist dictators such as Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Francisco Franco of Spain praised Roosevelt for what he was doing to alleviate the hardships associated with the depression in America.

28veto_lg

In this respect, the Four Freedoms Park is a noble monument with noble intentions. Though, it has become ironic to place such a monument in a city that has come to embrace the opposite of Roosevelt’s social programs and visions for American society. The idea of large government and Keynesianism itself came under heavy attack during the 1970s when new economists, labeled the Chicago Boys led by Milton Friedman from the University of Chicago, sought to reduce the role of government in the market and instead espoused the importance of having a free market. This was in some ways a return to the concepts of laissez-faire capitalism, a kind of capitalism, that Roosevelt meant to control with his reforms to government. New York City was at the center of this struggle between these competing economic ideologies. History and the present has demonstrated that the free market ideology would win in New York City. The 1970s in NYC was defined by a financial crisis that would forever shape the city. Abram Beame, mayor of NYC and Hugh Carey, governor of New York visited then President Gerald Ford in Washington, D.C. in May of 1975. Beame and Carey asked President Ford for federal assistance to NYC’s economic crisis. Ford refused to provide financial assistance to NYC and it made the cover of the NY Daily News with the headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead”. The economic crisis in New York City led to a series of changes that would last forever. The City University of New York, or CUNY is one of the largest public university systems in the United States and ceased to provide students with tuition-free education by 1976 due to federal government pressure. Before learning about the NYC fiscal crisis, CUNY charging its students tuition was racially motivated. This is false because although minorities were applying to CUNY, the fiscal crisis in the city occured coincidentally. New York was once a manufacturing city with its working class living in the city proper (Manhattan). This city would be transformed into one with Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate or FIRE as its main industries and Manhattan, like many parts of the city would get rid of its working classes, instead making the city into a playground of the rich. This has great implications for the people living in this city. The Four Freedoms speech mentions freedom from want. It is interesting that this monument would then be placed in an island that has dedicated much of its recent construction to luxury housing amidst a crisis of affordable housing and homelessness in the city. It is no secret that many of these luxury housing developments in the city remain empty, because they are used as investments and tax shelters for wealthy foreign millionaires and billionaires. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg once boasted that he wished all of the world’s billionaires would buy property in New York City.

1970-1977
CUNY students in 1976 protesting having to pay tuition due to NYC fiscal crisis

The reality is that the Four Freedoms speech by Roosevelt is incompatible to the society Americans live in now. President Roosevelt managed to create a robust government to help people instead of capital. Roosevelt’s reforms however are under attack still; as we can see in the debates that took place for American presidential nominees about privatizing social security. It is a hollow feeling seeing the Four Freedoms Park knowing that the government has essentially turned its back on Roosevelt’s envisioned society for one that is closer in ideology to the time of robber barons. It is evident with the increasing rate of homelessness and the city’s prioritization of building luxury residences.

New York Homeless

Deplorable M

Articles for those interested in learning more about the NYC fiscal crisis:

https://www.thenation.com/article/legacy-1970s-fiscal-crisis/

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-night-new-york-saved-itself-from-bankruptcy

https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/when-new-york-branded-its-way-out-of-crisis/?_r=0

Advertisements

human rights program in my college

eleanor2

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

I do not mince words. There is a reason why ‘human rights’ is written in quotation marks. I want to explain what is the goal of the ‘human rights’ program in my college. I am not going to mention the name of my college for obvious reasons but it is one of the few colleges in New York City that has a ‘human rights’ program at the undergraduate level. The ‘human rights’ program is for students to either earn a minor or for the more advanced a certificate. A few months before transferring to this specific college, I went to a transfer student fair. There was a wide array of tables filled with many majors and programs being offered by the college. I was immediately drawn to the ‘human rights’ table. My intentions were good when I enrolled in that program. I was aware of many injustices going on in the world through my news subscriptions which included Vice News, Huffington Post, The Young Turks and others. Do notice how I mentioned the world and not the United States of America. I will make a point about this later on in this post.

heres-how-liberal-or-conservative-major-news-sources-really-are
Where is Infowars?

My first semester I took two ‘human rights’ courses as required for the certificate. One was called “Introduction to Human Rights” and an English course titled “Utopian Fictions: Human Rights and Literature”. The intro course for ‘human rights’ was heavy on reading human rights cases, reading international human rights laws and learning the history of the laws of war. On the very first day of class, students were required to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UDHR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and is not legally binding. I have no complaints about the course overall. The course was great and very leftist bent when cases were discussed. I met people in that class that made me wonder about their mental health. One person in particular was a girl from Tibet who expressed throughout the entire semester her hatred of the Chinese government and its relentless program of committing cultural genocide. This young woman told me that she wanted to slit her wrists in front of the Chinese consulate. I told her that will not free Tibet or receive attention from the Chinese government. It will land her in a psych ward or on a hospital bed. However, this was the course where I criticized and attacked the BLM movement in a final assignment and the professor did not penalize me for it. I was shocked and grateful for the fact that he liked my essay and appreciated a different view of the movement.

The Utopian Fiction course was also great because I read a lot of literary works. When I enrolled in this class, I automatically assumed that my class was going to read the short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut and others. That specific work of Vonnegut’s is one of my favorites because of how it equality was depicted in a negative light. Nope. There was no Science Fiction in this course. Many of the books, short stories and plays, were works of fiction but nonetheless interesting.

jmdisgracemovie
Disgrace film based on J.M. Coetzee’s book of the same name starring John Malkovich. The film trailer is here:

Some of these works included South African author J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Disgrace takes place in South Africa after the end of the apartheid period. One must have some good historical background knowledge of South Africa in order to understand the intention of the book. South Africa was once a Dutch colony and its lands were dominated by the Boer farmer. After a series of wars against the British known as the Boer Wars, South Africa became a British colony. The apartheid policy in South Africa was implemented in 1948 while countries in the African and Asian continents under European colonialism were experiencing independence movements. A variety of crimes were committed during the apartheid period that lasted until 1994 between whites, blacks, Indians, and ‘colored’ people. Being ‘colored’ in South Africa was very different from the American definition. As my English professor described it, being ‘colored’ meant being negated since it meant being a black and white mixture. Discrimination against ‘colored’ people was much worse and open than foe other groups. There are many figures that had some kind of involvement and influence in apartheid policy and history of South Africa in general. These include significant figures such as Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, John Cecil Rhodes, Mohandas Ghandi and others. I can write about South Africa and my knowledge of the country one day in a future blog post primarily focusing on Jan Smuts, Holism and Apartheid policy.

jmcoetzee
J.M. Coetzee, South African author of Disgrace 
and an indirect critique of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
AnilsGhost
Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje, 2000.

Another book that was read in this class is by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje. The book tiled Anil’s Ghost is about a forensic anthropologist named Anil Tissera who returns to her native Sri Lanka. Anil was in Sri Lanka as part of a United Nations Human Rights Investigation. Sri Lanka had been going through a civil war after it received its independence from the British Empire in 1948 and again in 1972. The civil war was fought between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups. Anil’s Ghost takes place during the height of the conflict which lasted from the late 1980s until the early 1990s. 

The course focused on human rights issues as they were being portrayed in these written works and focused outside the Western world during postcolonial times from 1945 until present. These countries include Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Botswana and others.

 

 

These two courses, although I enjoyed them, were a glimpse to what the ‘human rights’ program was about. Now I will be going back to the point I made earlier regarding the injustices around the world. If these two courses made me realize one thing, it was that the ‘human rights’ program will primarily focus on issues outside of the United States and the Western world. This was and still is problematic for me. It is as if the ‘human rights’ program refuses to acknowledge that there are legitimate issues in the United States and the West. The U.S. is no utopia and is not immune to social ills. Why should these ‘human rights’ students want to focus on the ills of their backyard? There can be a variety of reasons to answer this. It feels better to help starving people who they may never meet by donating money to a charity. Perhaps sending them food and supplies. Even posting a link on their social media accounts to raise awareness of a multitude of issues and get ## number of likes, comments filled with praises.

syrianrefugee
Syrian refugees Photo Credit: ABC 7 Chicago

These are the same type of people that would rather raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees versus the starving homeless family in a Manhattan street. Also the issues of a Chinese sex trafficking victim that was brought to Australia is more important than an American mother whose teenage daughter is missing. ‘Human rights’ ought to not be applied to Americans, according to leftist logic and feelings, because this is a rich and powerful country. Problems that Americans have will go away quicker and are less relevant because of its privileges. Not trying to deter from the main topic of this post on ‘human rights’ but this is one of the reasons why Trump won the presidential election.When the federal government, through federal programs, prefers to provide services to illegal immigrants over American citizens or Veterans there is a problem.

This attitude of fulfilling the needs and wanting to assist outsiders over fellow citizens by leftists is symptomatic of globalism. Leftists care more about the needs of foreigners before their own fellow neighbor. This kind of behavior is fueled by pop culture where celebrities would rather adopt children from developing countries instead of those in their own countries. These public and private schools are no longer a place of education but indoctrination. If and when someone mentions how they would rather fix issues in America before Papua New Guinea, a leftist will call this person a racist. This is called ‘Cultural Marxism’ and I heard this term uttered by Andrew Breitbart, founder of Breitbart News, in a speech addressing a student.

andrew_breitbart_620
Andrew Breitbart

How can one want to change the world if they refuse to help their own country, home state, city or their own neighborhood? How can anyone want to help someone else when they refuse to help themselves? This is one of my many problems with the ‘human rights’ programs in academia.  They would raise awareness of issues in Haiti, South Africa, Pakistan, Colombia but developed countries simply cannot experience these issues.

“This is why you must reject post-structuralist thinking. No offense but you are the definition of the indoctrination and you don’t even understand what you are saying”.– RIP Andrew Breitbart 1969-2012

culturalmarxism

‘Human rights’ program aims to selectively raise awareness of violations that occur to certain populations i.e. Muslims, LGBTQ, women, children, disabled, and others. However, Christians are being persecuted across the globe and even in America. There was a case of a bakery that refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple. The lesbians wanted to show how progressive they were, filed a lawsuit against them that drove them out of business. These women could have opted to buy a wedding cake elsewhere. It seems as if this lesbian couple did this deliberately. 

What about the poor Whites that live in the Appalachians that are dirt poor? These poor Americans do not receive much government assistance because of this false white privilege. Social ladders are non-existant for these people.  Diane Sawyer, of ABC News, reported on the poor, White people of Appalachia on a special 20/20 report back in 2009.

Feminists in the Western world whine and complain about not having rights as a woman and do not realize how blessed they are. There are women in the world who cannot work or go to school. Women cannot be seen in public without a male companion. Sometimes these women and girls are rape survivors and are blamed on the victim and stoned to death. These are practices in the Islamic world. Western feminists do not raise issues about these atrocious acts because they simply do not care. Western feminists’ needs are greater than the other. Having access to birth control is more important than trying to save a young female from female genital mutilation.Notice the Women’s March in Washington (I jokingly called it the THOT patrol because these whiners do not represent all women) was spearheaded by Linda Sarsour who supports Sharia Law. Sharia Law is the very set of laws that DO NOT give women rights. Do not believe me but look at what is going on in Muslim majority countries.

appalachia
Poor White Appalachian Boy, Rural America

Members of the LGBTQ community complain about not having rights in the United States and other Western parts of the world because of stupid marriage or ability to adopt. I tell them directly that not to complain because in Muslim majority countries, a mere accusation of homosexuality can lead to people being tossed off of buildings or imprisoned. Look at how male children in Afghanistan are victims to a cultural practice known as a bacha bazi. These young boys are dressed as females, wear makeup and are taught to dance. They are repeatedly raped by men who rent them for their services.  This practice is known by American military men whose commanders tell them in advance to ignore their screams for help. An Army Sargeant named Charles Martland beat up a man who was an alleged child rapist while on duty in Afghanistan. Thankfully Martland did not lose his position in the American armed forces.

 

Many of these students in the ‘human rights’ program are only in it simply to look good in front of their peers. This reminds me of a white woman in an introductory anthropology course I was enrolled in many years ago who bragged about braiding a black girls hair in Tanzania. I also recall another account of a male classmate of mine bragging about how he taught a village of seven children some certain English words. The point of these stories that I have mentioned is that these people, especially these who come from privileged backgrounds, is to look good.

Outside of ‘human rights’ courses, I have interned in various non-profit organizations in New York City. These non-profits focus on a multitude of issues for specific interest groups. In order to volunteer or intern in any of these during the summer months, you would have to be lucky. A native New Yorker would be competing with out of town students from Ivy League and private colleges across the country such as Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, Princeton and others. Again these students do it to look good for graduate school or job opportunities. To provide their parents or guardians with bragging rights at dinner parties or work functions. ‘My child is so wonderful. She is volunteering for a non-profit organization that raises awareness of child labor exploitation in Guatemala. Now she officially speaks conversational Spanish and has raised a few thousand dollars to help build an orphanage…’ I have heard conversations like this and more.

nyc-monthly-parking-1024x392

Does ‘human rights’ exist and if so for whom? It is quite obvious that this idea only applies to certain humans. This is another problem I have with the term ‘human rights’ which is misleading. It is not as all encompassing as it pretends to be. There is so much historical evidence that can be used for this argument and I will use a few. For instance, the United Nations has dark origins that are lesser known. I can elaborate on that in another post. The organization was formed for various reasons one of which was to prevent acts of genocide that occurred during World War II. Sadly there were a lot more genocides in the postwar period because of non UN intervention most notably the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica in Bosnia and Pol Pot’s Camboda to name a few. The presence of UN peace officers were in Rwanda and Bosnia BUT nothing was done. Also how the term genocide, as was defined by Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, purposely omitted political and social groups. American and Soviet government officials that lobbied at the United Nations headquarters wanted to ensure that those groups were not incorporated in the definition of genocide. If political and social groups would have been added to that definition of genocide, both the United States and the Soviet Union would have been on trial for war crimes committed during WWII. Stalin killed way more people than Adolf Hitler and began his mass killings in 1929 with systemic famines. A book that discusses the history of the United Nations definition of genocide and Stalin’s crimes is titled ‘Stalin’s Genocides’ by Norman M. Naimark.

Here in this section I am going to discuss ‘human rights’ theory as I have learned in my English class. Giorgio Agamben, an Italian political philosopher, wrote and published a work titled Beyond Human Rights. Agamben argues that the idea of human rights is very much tied to citizenship. He, too, uses many historical examples such as the homo sacer which is a term used to describe a non citizen living in the Roman Empire. Any crime can be committed against him or her because they have no right or ties to the Roman state. Another example Agamben uses to strengthen his argument is of how many refugees who flee their countries due to political or religious persecution seek asylum and then eventually become a citizen of the nation-state they fled to. Mark Mazower, historian wrote a book titled No Enchanted Palace, where he discusses the dark historical origins of the United Nations. Mazower’s book supplements Agamben’s theory of how human rights are tied to citizenship. He uses the historical account of how German Jews were denationalized and denaturalized, meaning they lost their rights as citizens and their citizenship, before being sent to concentration and death camps. Since these German Jews were no longer citizens, their ‘human rights’ had been stripped away leading many to their tragic deaths.

This has been some of my experiences in the ‘human rights’ program in my college campus. I may have generalized but in all honesty I am sure my campus is a microcosm of what goes in liberal colleges in America and other Western countries. Although I have been harsh and critical of ‘human rights’, I have met people who are genuine about trying to make the world a better place. That is admirable but like I have stated some needs are more important than others. It is just as important to volunteer in an after school program in an inner city community than it is to tutor kids in Somalia. I am just saying.

earth
USA for Africa or Phil Collin’s ‘Another Day in Paradise’? I would choose the latter.

This post went from attacking the ‘human rights’ program to discussing ‘human rights’ theory.

Human rights in my college will be continued in another post. I only got to describe one semester.

Thanks.

Deplorable ‘M’