Americans of 1943 knew the Second World War was being fought to preserve individual freedom, but many had trouble imagining just what that freedom looked like. In February and March of that year, Norman Rockwell — inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 “Four Freedoms” speech — gave Americans a vision of the freedoms that justified all the sacrifice and suffering the war had brought them.
His paintings of President Roosevelt’s four postwar goals resonated so deeply with Americans in the 1940s that they became iconic symbols of American life, and they are still powerful images of what we prize in our country.
That same year, the Post commissioned four authors to write essays to accompany each Freedom painting.
Longtime Post contributor and a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Booth Tarkington depicted his ideas of free speech by way of a parable about the chance meeting of two young men at a small chalet in the Alps.
A historian and philosopher, Will Durant spent 40 years writing the masterful, 11-volume series The Story of Civilization. In his essay, he identifies a little white church and its tall steeple as a symbol of the promise of freedom of worship.
A Filipino novelist and labor organizer in the U.S., Carlos Bulosan reminds us in his essay that freedom from want is not something that we can be given, but something we must earn — all of us together — through hard work, shared goals, and an honest sense of unity and equality.
The essay by poet and novelist Stephen Vincent Benét appeared in the Post on the day of his death. In it, he reminds readers that the fight against fear is ultimately a fight against ignorance, and that it is not enough to fight our own ignorance, to hoard knowledge for our own peace of mind; to free ourselves from fear, all of mankind must grow its understanding together.