The fight over which of our public monuments should remain where they are is as complicated as the American past they commemorate. For all the fighting over who and what we should not honor from our past, there is one vital element that has been missing from the argument: that is, what we should honor and aspire to now.
America approached this same question in the midst of trying to win the most terrible war in world history. You can see an intriguing cross section of what we came up with—and what our artists think of that now—in a traveling exhibition from the Norman Rockwell Museum, Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt, & the Four Freedoms. It is currently in Washington, D.C., but will continue touring the country until it returns to its home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the fall of 2020.
The exhibit is about what the title suggests: how Norman Rockwell made President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision for the postwar world resonate with the American people. Roosevelt first articulated “The Four Freedoms” in his January 6, 1941, State of the Union message to Congress, an address focused on the president’s long struggle to convince Americans to prepare to join the fight against the Axis powers in World War II.