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We should all be pursuing a lasting victory over world want

By James Cumes - posted Friday, 15 February 2002

In his famous Four Freedoms speech in 1941, President Roosevelt called for Freedom from Want. Sixty years later - just one month ago - his successor, President Clinton, in his BBC Dimbleby Lecture, reminded us that billions, including many in the richest countries on earth, still live in dire poverty, are homeless or poorly housed, are educated far below their potential, and lack adequate medical care. He told us that one and a half billion people - a quarter of the world's population - never get to drink a glass of clean water.

Isn't it time we determined to remedy this tragic situation, to strive to reach the 60-year-old goal and to free the world from want?

If governments won't do it, should not the people, in the exercise of direct democracy, take the matter into their own hands?


That is the essential concept behind "A Democratic Initiative for Victory Over Want (VOW)."

To realise worldwide victory over want is a sufficient challenge in itself. It is a sufficient reason for us to bend all our efforts to achieve it.

However, there are other, compelling reasons why we must accept the challenge.

The war in Afghanistan will not bring an end to terrorism or deliver us the peaceful change we need. Nothing can justify the monstrous acts of September the Eleventh; but we must be positive in our response. We need to show vision in acknowledging the extent of human poverty and deprivation. We must acknowledge our failure to respect human aspirations and ensure that people are not, in Roosevelt's words, "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished."

We are right now in the paradoxically "fortunate" position that we can be both hard-headed and humanitarian. We can help ourselves while we help others. For once, we can "globalise" in our own self-interest while we lift up the lives of billions of our fellow human beings.

We can do that especially now because the world's three largest economies - the United States, Japan and Germany - are already in a recession that, in the coming months, could deepen and spread.


Only the elderly now have personal memories of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The entire economic, social and political systems of old, proud and powerful societies seemed then to be crumbling. Many had up to a quarter of their workers idle. From the Okies who trudged to California to the tramps on the dusty roads of the Australian outback, the story was of people who had little left except courage and a will to endure.

We sought desperate remedies. Communism and other left-wing ideologies gained support and authority. Fascism, nazism and militarism took over in several of the most powerful countries. By the end of the 1930s, countries still crippled by economic distress and insecurity stumbled into the most widespread, destructive and murderous war the world has ever known.

Only the elderly remember; but none of us should ever forget.

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About the Author

James Cumes is a former Australian ambassador and author of America's Suicidal Statecraft: The Self-Destruction of a Superpower (2006).

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