Human Rights - Franklin d. roosevelt and the atlantic charter

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the Atlantic Charter in August 1941 in conjunction with British prime minister Winston Churchill, the two leaders followed in Wilson's footsteps by renouncing any intentions for territorial acquisition and by proclaiming the right of all peoples to determine their own form of government. This did not mean that the British prime minister had suddenly experienced a change of heart and was now prepared to recognize the independence of all His Majesty's colonies. Churchill understood the provisions differently from Roosevelt, and the president did not have a problem with that, although he did ultimately wish to see an end to European colonial holdings. The context to this announcement, of course, was World War II, which had begun in September 1939, and which was not going well from the Allied perspective at the time of the Atlantic Charter. Germany had defeated France, invaded the Balkans, and was aggressively pushing back Soviet troops along the Eastern front. Great Britain stood alone in the West, since the United States had yet to enter the war. Roosevelt and Churchill wanted to cast the struggle in moral terms, with the one side committed to freedom and collective rights in clear contrast to the despotism of the fascist nations.

Domestically, Roosevelt acquiesced to political pressure by issuing the executive order that allowed Japanese Americans along the West Coast to be rounded up and placed into camps in the interior. In all, 110,000 Japanese Americans were moved and the Supreme Court, which ruled the infringement on their civil rights to be perfectly legal in Hirabayashi (1943) and Korematsu (1944), once again acquiesced in the denial of individual liberties.

Although he did not take up the interventionist approach in Latin America with the same degree of alacrity as Wilson, neither did President Roosevelt press on the issue of human rights. He ignored the actions of the brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. He reached agreements with fascist leaders in Spain (General Francisco Franco), Vichy North Africa (Admiral Jean Darlan), and Italy (Pietro Badoglio from 1943) in an effort to win the war. Human rights were not expressly a part of the fight against fascism in Asia and Europe, but they were very much a part of the basic differentiation between the two sides.

Their different ideas about fundamental human rights became glaringly obvious at the end of the war as Allied troops made their way into the concentration camps set up by Germany to oversee the extermination of the entire Jewish population in Europe. Scenes of mass graves, crematoriums, and emaciated survivors testified to the Nazi determination to commit genocide.

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