That All God’s People Shall Be Free!: Freedom from Fear, the Essay, by Stephen Vincent Benét

Freedom from Fear

by Stephen Vincent Benét

Published in the The Saturday Evening Post, March 13, 1943

What do we mean when we say “freedom from fear”? It isn’t just a formula or a set of words. It’s a look in the eyes and a feeling in the heart and a thing to be won against odds. It goes to the roots of life — to a man and a woman and their children and the home they can make and keep

Fear has walked at man’s heels through many ages — fear of wild beasts and wilder nature, fear of the inexplicable gods of thunder and lightning, fear of his neighbor man. He saw his rooftree burned with fire from heaven – and did not know why. He saw his children die of plague — and did not know why. He saw them starve, he saw them made slaves. It happened – he did not know why. Those things had always happened. Then he set himself to find out — first one thing, then another. Slowly, through centuries, he fought his battle with fear. And wise men and teachers arose to help him in the battle.

His children and he did not have to die of plague. His children and he did not have to make human sacrifices to appease the wrath of inexplicable gods. His children and he did not have to kill the stranger just because he was a stranger. His children and he did not have to be slaves. And the shape of Fear grew less. No one man did this by himself. It took many men and women, over many years. It took saints and martyrs and prophets — and the common people. It started with the first fire in the first cave — the fire that scared away the beasts of the night. It will not end with the conquest of far planets.

Since our nation began, men and women have come here for just that freedom — freedom from the fear that lies at the heart of every unjust law, of every tyrannical exercise of power by one man over another man. They came from every stock — the men who had seen the face of tyranny, the men who wanted room to breathe and a chance to be men. And the cranks and the starry-eyed came, too, to build Zion and New Harmony and Americanopolis and the states and cities that perished before they lived — the valuable cranks who push the world ahead an inch. And a lot of it never happened, but we did make a free nation.

“How are you ever going to live out there, stranger?”
“We’ll live on weevily wheat and the free air.” If they had the free air, they’d put up with the weevily wheat.

So, in our corner of the world, and for most of our people, we got rid of certain fears. We got rid of them, we got used to being rid of them. It took struggle and fighting and a lot of working things out. But a hundred and thirty million people lived at peace with one another and ran their own government. And because they were free from fear, they were able to live better, by and large and on the whole, than any hundred and thirty million people had lived before. Because fear may drive a burdened man for a mile, but it is only freedom that makes his load light for the long carry.

And meanwhile around us the world grew smaller and smaller. If you looked at it on the school maps, yes, it looked like the same big world with a big, safe corner for us. But all the time invention and mechanical skill were making it smaller and smaller. When the Wright brothers made their first flights at Kittyhawk, the world shrank. With those first flights the world began to come together and distant nations to jostle their neighbor nations.

Now, again in our time, we know Fear — armed Fear, droning through the sky.  It’s a different sound from the war whoop and the shot in the lonesome clearing,  and yet it is much the same.

It is quiet in the house tonight and  the children are asleep. But innocence, good will, distance, peaceable intent,  will not keep those children safe from the fear in the sky. No one man can keep his house safe in a shrunken world. No one man can make his own  clearing and say “This is mine. Keep out.” And yet, if the world is to go on, if man is to survive and prosper, the house of man must be kept safe.

So, what do we mean by “freedom from fear”? We do not mean freedom from responsibility — freedom from struggle and toil, from hardship and danger. We do not intend to breed a race wrapped in cotton wool, too delicate to stand rough weather. In any world of man that we can imagine, fear and the conquest of fear must play a part. But we have the chance, if we have the brains and the courage, to destroy the worst fears that harry man today – the fear of starving to death, the fear of being a slave, the fear of being stamped into the dust because he is one kind of man and not another, the fear of unprovoked attack and ghastly death for himself and for his children because of the greed and power of willful and evil men and deluded nations.

It will not be easy to destroy those fears. No one man can do it alone. No one nation can do it alone. It must be all men. It is not enough to say, “Here, In our country, we are strong. Let the rest of the world sink or swim. We can take care of our selves.” That may have been true at one time, but it is no longer true. We are not an island in space, but a continent in the world. While the air is the air, the bomb can kill your children and mine. Fear and ignorance a thousand miles away may spread pestilence in our own town. A war between nations on the other side of the globe may endanger all we love and cherish.

War, famine, disease are no longer local problems or even national problems. They are problems that concern the whole world and every man. That is a hard lesson to learn, and yet, for our own survival, we must learn it.

A hundred and sixty odd years ago, we, as a nation, asserted that all men were created equal, that all men were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those were large assertions, but we have tried to live up to them. We have not always succeeded, we have often failed. But our will and desire as a nation have been to live up to them.

Now, in concert with other free nations, we say that those children you see and other children like them all over the world shall grow to manhood and womanhood free from fear. We say that neither their minds nor their bodies shall be cramped or distorted or broken by tyranny and oppression. We say they shall have a chance, and an equal chance, to grow and develop and lead the lives they choose to lead, not lives mapped out for them by a master. And we say that freedom for ourselves involves freedom for others — that it is a universal right, neither lightly given by providence nor to be maintained by words alone, but by acts and deeds and living.

We who are alive today did not make our free institutions. We got them from the men of the past and we hold them in trust for the future. Should we put ease and selfishness above them, that trust will fail and we shall lose all, not a portion or a degree of liberty, but all that has been built for us and all that we hope to build. Real peace will not be won with one victory. It can be won only by long determination, firm resolve and a wish to share and work with other men, no matter what their race or creed or condition. And yet, we do have the choice. We can have freedom from fear.

Here is a house, a woman, a man, their children. They are not free from life and the obligations of life. But they can be free from fear. All over the world, they can be free from fear. And we know they are not yet free.

© 1943 Saturday Evening Post, Stephen Vincent Benét, or both.

Sons of freedom far and near who agree, sing with me! Freedom from Want, the Essay, by Carlos Bulosan

Freedom from Want
By Carlos Bulosan

Published in the Saturday Evening Post Magazine, March 6, 1943
as one of the commissioned essays on the Four Freedoms in America

If you want to know what we are, look upon the farms or upon the hard pavements of the city. You usually see us working or waiting for work, and you think you know us, but our outward guise is more deceptive than our history.

Our history has many strands of fear and hope that snarl and converge at several points in time and space. We clear the forest and the mountains of the land. We cross the river and the wind. We harness wild beast and living steel. We celebrate labor, wisdom, peace of the soul.

When our crops are burned or plowed under, we are angry and confused. Sometimes we ask if this is the real America. Sometimes we watch our long shadows and doubt the future. But we have learned to emulate our ideals from these trials. We know there were men who came and stayed to build America. We know they came because there is something in America that they needed, and which needed them.

We march on, though sometimes strange moods fill our children. Our march toward security and peace is the march of freedom—the freedom that we should like to become a living part of. It is the dignity of the individual to live in a society of free men, where the spirit of understanding and belief exists; of understanding that all men, whatever their color, race, religion or estate, should be given equal opportunity to serve themselves and each other according to their needs and abilities.

But we are not really free unless we use what we produce. So long as the fruit of our labor is denied us, so long will want manifest itself in a world of slaves.

It is only when we have plenty to eat—plenty of everything— that we begin to understand what freedom means. To us, freedom is not an intangible thing. When we have enough to eat, then we are healthy enough to enjoy what we eat. Then we have the time and ability to read and think and discuss things. Then we are not merely living but also becoming a creative part of life. It is only then that we become a growing part of democracy.

We do not take democracy for granted. We feel it grow in our working together—many millions of us working toward a common purpose. If it took us several decades of sacrifice to arrive at this faith, it is because it took us that long to know what part of America is ours.

Our faith has been shaken many times, and now it is put to question. Our faith is a living thing, and it can be crippled or chained. It can be killed by denying us enough food or clothing, by blasting away our personalities and keeping us in constant fear. Unless we are properly prepared the powers of darkness will have good reason to catch us unaware and trample our lives.

The totalitarian nations hate democracy. They hate us, because we ask for a definite guaranty of freedom of religion, freedom of expresson and freedom from fear and want. Our challenge to tyranny is the depth of our faith in a democracy worth defending, although they spread lies about us, the way of life we cherish is not dead. The American dream is only hidden away, and it will push its way up and grow again.

We have moved down the years steadily toward the practice of democracy. We become animate in the growth of Kansas wheat or in the ring of Mississippi rain. We tremble in the strong winds of the Great Lakes. We cut timbers in Oregon just as the wild flowers blossom in Maine. We are multitudes in Pennsylvania mines, in Alaskan canneries. We are millions from Puget Sound to Florida. In violent factories, crowded tenements, teeming cities. Our numbers increase as the war revolves into years and increases hunger, disease, death and fear.

But sometimes we wonder if we are really a part of America. We recognize the main springs of American democracy in our right to form unions and bargain through them collectively, our opportunity to sell our products at reasonable prices, and the privilege of our children to attend schools where they learn the truth about the world in which they live.  We also recognize the forces which have been trying to falsify American history—the forces which drive away many Americans to a corner of compromise with those who would distort the ideals of men that died for freedom.

Sometimes we walk across the land looking for something to hold on to. We cannot believe that the resources of this country are exhausted. Even when we see our children suffer humiliations, we cannot believe that America has no more place for us. We realize that what is wrong is not in our system of government, but in the ideals which were blasted away by a materialistic age. We know that we can truly find and identify ourselves with a living tradition if we walk proudly in familiar streets. It is a great honor to walk on the American earth.

If you want to know what we are, look at the men reading books, searching in the dark pages of history for the lost word, the key to the mystery of the living peace. We are factory hands, field hands, mill hands, searching, building and molding structures. We are doctors, scientists, chemists discovering and eliminating disease, hunger and antagonism. We are soldiers, Navy men, citizens, guarding the imperishable dreams of our fathers to live in freedom. We are the living dream of dead men. We are the living spirit of free men.

Everywhere we are on the march, passing through darkness into a sphere of economic peace. When we have the freedom to think and discuss things without fear, when peace and security are assured, when the futures of our children are ensured—then we have resurrected and cultivated the early beginnings of democracy. And America lives and becomes a growing part of our aspirations again.

We have been marching for the last one hundred and fifty years. We sacrifice our individual liberties, and sometimes we fail and suffer. Sometimes we divide into separate groups and our methods conflict, though we all aim at one common goal. The significant thing is that we march on without turning back. What we want is peace not violence, We know that we thrive and prosper only in peace.

We are bleeding where clubs are smashing heads, where bayonets are gleaming. We are fighting where the bullet is crashing upon armorless citizens, where the tear gas is choking unprotected children. Under the lynch trees, amidst hysterical mobs. Where the prisoner is beaten to confess a crime he did not commit. Where the honest man is hanged because he told the truth.

We are the sufferers who suffer for natural love of man for another man, who commemorate the humanities of every man. We are the creators of abundance.

We are the desires of anonymous men. We are the subways of suffering, the well of indignities. We are the living testament of a flowering race.

But our march to freedom is not complete unless want is annihilated. The America we hope to see is not merely a physical but also a spiritual and intellectual world. We are the mirror of what America is. If America wants us to be living and free, then we must be living and free. If we fail, then America fails.

What do we want? We want complete security and peace. We want to share the promise and fruits of American life. We want to be free from fear and hunger.

If you want to know what we are—We are Marching!

© 1943 Saturday Evening Post, Carlos Bulosan, or both.

I’m bringing a song of freedom, To all people wherever they may be!: Freedom of Worship, the essay, by Will Durant

Freedom of Worship


Will Durant

Essay published in the Saturday Evening Post, February 27, 1943

Down in the valley below the hill where I spend my summers is a little church whose steeple has been my guiding goal in many a pleasant walk.

Often, as I passed the door on weekdays when all was silent there, I wished that I might enter, sit quietly in one of the empty pews, and feel more deeply the wonder and the longing that had built such chapels–temples and mosques and great cathedrals–everywhere on the earth.

Man differs from the animal in two things: He laughs, and he prays. Perhaps the animal laughs when he plays, and prays when he begs or mourns; we shall never know any soul but our own, and never that. But the mark of man is that he beats his head against the riddle of life, knows his infinite weakness of body and mind, lifts up his heart to a hidden presence and power, and finds in his faith a beacon of heartening hope, a pillar of strength for his fragile decency.

These men of the fields, coming from afar in the uncomfortable finery of a Sabbath morn, greeting one another with bluff cordiality, entering to worship their God in their own fashion–I think, sometimes, that they know more than I shall ever find in all my books. They have no words to tell me what they know, but that is because religion, like music, lives in a world beyond words, or thoughts, or things. They have felt the mystery of consciousness within themselves, and will not say that they are machines. They have seen the growth of the soil and the child, they have stood in awe amid the swelling fields, in the humming and teeming woods, and they have sensed in every cell and atom the same creative power that wells up in their own striving and fulfillment. Their unmoved faces conceal a silent thankfulness for the rich increase of summer, the mortal loveliness of autumn, and the gay resurrection of the spring. They have watched patiently the movement of the stars, and found in them a majestic order so harmoniously regular that our ears would hear its music were it not eternal. Their tired eyes have known the ineffable splendor of earth and sky, even in tempest, terror, and destruction; and they have never doubted that in this beauty some sense and meaning dwell. They have seen death, and reached beyond it with their hope.

And so they worship. The poetry of their ritual redeems the prose of their daily toil; the prayers they pray are secret summonses to their better selves; the songs they sing are shouts of joy in their refreshened strength. The commandments they receive, through which they can live with one another in order and peace, come to them as the imperatives of an inescapable deity, not as the edicts of questionable men. Through these commands they are made part of a divine drama, and their harassed lives take on a scope and dignity that cannot be canceled out by death.

This little church is the first and final symbol of America. For men came across the sea not merely to find new soil for their plows but to win freedom for their souls, to think and speak and worship as they would. This is the freedom men value most of all; for this they have borne countless persecutions and fought more bravely than for food or gold. These men coming out of their chapel–what is the finest thing about them, next to their undiscourageable life? It is that they do not demand that others should worship as they do, or even that others should worship at all. In that waving valley are some who have not come to this service. It is not held against them; mutely these worshipers understand that faith takes many forms and that men name with diverse words the hope that in their hearts is one.

It is astonishing and inspiring that after all the bloodshed of history this land should house in fellowship a hundred religions and a hundred doubts. This is, with us, an already ancient heritage; and because we knew such freedom of worship from our birth, we took it for granted and expected it of all mature men. Until yesterday the whole civilized world seemed secure in that liberty.

But now suddenly, through some paranoiac mania of racial superiority, or some obscene sadism of political strategy, persecution is renewed, and men are commanded to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto Caesar the things that are God’s.

It is incredible that such reactionary madness can express the mind and heart of an adult nation. A man’s dealings with his God should be a sacred thing, inviolable by any potentate. No ruler has yet existed who was wise enough to instruct a saint; and a good man who is not great is a hundred times more precious than a great man who is not good. When we yield our sons to war, it is in the trust that their sacrifice will bring to us and our allies no inch of alien soil, no selfish monopoly of the world’s resources of trade, but only the privilege of winning for all peoples the most precious gifts in the orbit of life–freedom of body and soul, of movement and enterprise, of thought and utterance, of faith and worship, of hope and charity, of a humane fellowship with all men.

If our sons and brothers accomplish this, it will be an achievement beside which all the triumphs of Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon will be a little thing.

© 1943 Saturday Evening Post, or Will Durant, or both.

I’m singing a song of freedom, For all people who cry out to be free: Freedom of Speech, the Essay, by Booth Tarkington

Freedom of Speech

Booth Tarkington

Essay published in The Saturday Evening Post, February 20, 1943

In a small chalet on the mountain road from Verona to Innsbruck, two furtive tourists sat, pretending not to study each other. Outdoors, the great hills rose in peace that summer evening in 1912; indoors, the two remaining patrons, both young, both dusty from the road, sat across the room from each other, each supping at his own small table.

One was of robustly active figure, dark, with a bull head; the other was thin and mouse-haired. It was somewhat surprising to see him take from his knapsack several sketches in water color. Upon this, the dark young traveler, who’d been scribbling notes in a memorandum book, decided to speak.

“You’re a painter, I see.”

“Yes,” the insignificant one replied, his small eyes singularly hard and cold. “You, sir, I take to be a writer?”

The dark young man brought his glass of red wine and his plate of cheese and hard sausage to the painter’s table. “You permit?” he asked as he sat down. “By profession I am a journalist.”

“An editor, I think,” the water-color painter responded. “I might guess that you’ve written editorials not relished by the authorities.”

“Why do you guess that?”

“Because,” the painter said, “when other guests were here, a shabby man slipped in and whispered to you. A small thing, but  I observed it, though I am not a detective.”

“Not a detective,” the dark young man repeated. “And yet perhaps dangerously observant. This suggests that possibly you do a little in a conspiratorial way yourself.”

“Why do you say that?

“Because of your appearance. You’re precisely a person nobody would notice, but you have an uneasy yet coldly purposeful eye. And because behind us it’s only a step over the mountain path to Switzerland, where political refugees are safe.”

“Yes, no doubt fortunately for you!” The mouse-haired painter smiled. “As for me I am in no trouble with the authorities, but I admit that I have certain ideas.”

“I was sure you have.” The journalist drank half his wine. “Ideas? With such men as you and me that means ambitions. Socialism, of course. That would be a first step only toward what we really want. Am I right?”

“Here in this lonely place” – the painter smiled faintly – “it is safe to admit that one has dazzling thoughts. You and I, strangers and met by chance, perceive that each in his own country seeks an extreme amount of success. That means power. That is what we really want. We are two queer men. Should we both perhaps be rightly thought insane?”

“Greatness is easily mistaken for insanity,” the swarthy young man said. “Greatness is the ability to reduce the most intricate facts to simple terms. For instance, take fighting. Success is obtained by putting your enemy off his guard, then striking him where he is weakest – in the back, if possible. War is as simple as that.”

“Yes, and so is politics,” the painter assented absently as he ate some of the fruit that formed his supper. “Our mutual understanding of greatness helps to show that we are not lunatics, but only a simple matter of geography is needed to prove our sanity.”

“Geography?” The journalist didn’t follow this thought. “How so?”

“Imagine a map.” The painter ate a grape. “Put yourself in England, for instance, and put me and my dazzling ideas into that polyglot zoo, the United States of America. You in England can bellow attacks on the government till you wear out your larynx, and some people will agree with you and some won’t, and that is all that would happen. In America I could do the same. Do you not agree?”

“Certainly,” the journalist said. “In those countries the people create their own governments. They make them what they please, and so the people really are the governments. They let anybody stand up and say what he thinks. If they believe he’s said something sensible, they vote to do what he suggests. If they think he is foolish they vote no. Those countries are poor fields for such as you and me, because why conspire in a wine cellar to change laws that permit themselves to be changed openly?”

“Exactly.” The watercolor painter smiled his faint strange smile.

“Speech is the expression of thought and will. Therefore, freedom of speech means freedom of the people. If you prevent them from expressing their will in speech, you have them enchained, an absolute monarchy. Of course, nowadays he who chains the people is called a dictator.”

“My friend!” the dark young man exclaimed. “We understand each other. But where men cannot speak out, they will whisper. You and I will have to talk out of the sides of our mouths until we have established the revolutions we contemplate. For a moment, suppose us successful. We are dictators, let us say. Then in our turn do we permit no freedom of speech? If we don’t, men will talk out of the sides of their mouths against us. So they may overthrow us in turn. You see the problem?”

“Yes, my friend. Like everything else, it is simple. In America or England, so long as governments actually exist by means of freedom of speech, you and I could not even get started; and when we shall have become masters of our own countries, we shall not be able to last a day unless we destroy freedom of speech. The answer is this: we do destroy it.”

“But how?”

“By means of purge.”

“Purge?” The word seemed new to the journalist. “What is that?”

Once more was seen the water color painter’s peculiarly icy smile. “My friend, if I had a brother who talked against me, either out of the side of his mouth or the front of it, and lived to run away, he might have to leave his wife and child behind him. A purge is a form of carbolic acid that would include the wife and child.”

“I see.” The dark youth looked admiring, but shivered slightly. “On the one hand, then, there is freedom of speech and on the other this fatal acid you call a purge. The two cannot exist together in the same country. The people of the earth can take their choice, but you and I can succeed only where we persuade them to choose the purge. They would be brainless to make such a choice – utterly brainless!”

“On the other hand,” said the painter, “many people can be talked into anything, even if it is terrible for themselves. I shall flatter all the millions of my own people into accepting me and the purge instead of freedom.”

He spoke with a confidence so monstrous in one of his commonplace and ungifted appearance that the other stared aghast. At this moment, however, a shrill whistle was heard outside. Without another word the dark young man rose, woke the landlord, paid his score and departed hurriedly.

The painter spoke to the landlord: “That fellow seems to be some sort of shady character, rather a weak one. Do you know him?”

“Yes and no,” the landlord replied. “He’s in and out, mainly after dark. One meets all sorts of people in the Brenner Pass. You might run across him here again, yourself, someday. I don’t know his whole name, but I have heard him called ‘Benito,’ my dear young Herr Hitler.”

© 1943 Saturday Evening Post, or Booth Tarkington, or both.

We hope when you read this, you spend a moment thinking of the Arab Spring.