Thank you, Ambassador.
Good morning, and what a perfect Franklin Delano Roosevelt morning this is—for a President whose disposition was invariably described as sunny, optimistic, and full of joy.
Mr. Secretary-General, distinguished guests, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
On behalf of President Obama, Ambassador Rice, and the American people, it is my great honor to welcome you, the United Nations family, here to Four Freedoms Park. It’s my great privilege to join a distinguished, committed and principled Secretary-General in doing so, and it is my very great pleasure to congratulate you, Ambassador vanden Heuvel, and the other members of the Board of Directors and benefactors, on the stunning and long-awaited achievement that this memorial represents.
If, as Emerson said, institutions are the lengthened shadows of men, then the United Nations, to a very great degree, reflects the image of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It still stands as a lasting, living monument to the wisdom and vision of one of America’s greatest Presidents. As the Secretary-General said, the phrase, “United Nations,” itself, comes from President Roosevelt. Those were originally his words to describe the allies that won World War II.
So today, as we stand just across the river from the institution that grew out of that great victory, we pay a fitting tribute in a fitting place to the extraordinary vision of an extraordinary man.
Those Four Freedoms are as timeless and true in the interwoven world of our 21st century as they were in the war-torn world of the 20th. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—these ringing and fundamental principles describe not just the dream of an American President, but the very project of the United Nations—of all of you, of all of us—today. They were adopted in the Atlantic Charter. They were enshrined by Eleanor Roosevelt and others in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And they are rightly inscribed on the granite in this memorial.
Now, we need to inscribe them in every heart, for we still have much more to do to defend those universal rights that all of us share but not all of us can exercise. Today, in far too many nations among our United Nations, freedom of speech can be scratched out by the censor’s pen or shouted down by the voices of intolerance. Today, freedom of worship can be too often curtailed by autocrats or demagogues. Today, freedom from want still lies out of reach for the one half of humanity who lives on less than $2.50 a day. And today, freedom from fear is still under assault by terrorists, thugs, and tyrants.
But the UN Charter speaks of “in larger freedom”—and that larger freedom is, in many ways, the story of human progress, a story that teaches us that visions, even bold, daring, improbable ones, can transform our current reality. And, if you doubt it, just look around here at this island today.
For despite the devastation of World War II and the horror of the Holocaust, they were not the sum total of the story of the 20th century. The last century also saw many hundreds of millions of people become free, led by leaders from Gandhi to Mandela. Today, extraordinary movements for liberty, justice, and dignity still inspire us to insist on universal human rights and remember those still struggling to break their shackles. And they still remind us that we are far stronger when we come together in common purpose and universal principle than when we allow ourselves to be split apart.
We remember President Roosevelt’s 1941 speech to Congress today mostly for the Four Freedoms. But let us also remember the urgency and realism that hum throughout its words. “That is no vision,” the President said, “of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.” Roosevelt was very clear on the type of world order he sought: “the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.” As he put it, “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to keep those rights or gain them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept,” he said, “there can be no end save victory.”
Ladies and gentlemen, long after Franklin Roosevelt first spoke them, those words still ring out. Those principles should still guide us forward. Those values still urge us both to claim our rights and to shoulder our responsibilities.
So let all of us—especially those of us here in the UN family—do more today than dedicate a place in memory of President Roosevelt and his stirring words. Let us dedicate ourselves to giving his words life—to helping move all people from tyranny to liberty, from despair to prosperity, and from suffering to hope. To coming together and working together in the name of our common humanity, until there is no end save victory.
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