Land of the Free
The other night, my almost-5 year old Brooke found a small statuette of the Statue of Liberty in her room, similar to the photo seen here. Brooke noticed that Lady Liberty had a book in her right hand.
"What does the book say, Daddy?" she asked.
I told her it has a poem by a famous Jewish woman, Emma Lazarus, and that the poem welcomed many people to our country. Some of these people were, tired, or poor, or hungry, and they could not make a living in the country where they lived. So they came here in order to get a new start, in a land where they could be free. I told her that it used to be that almost anyone could come to America and make a better life for themselves and their family. (I avoided the part about the immigrant ghettos and the prejudice and the poverty. I know the "old days" were not always good days).
Amazingly enough, Brooke didn't ask me what I meant by "used to be." How could I explain to her that now, instead of visiting the Statue, scientists are mapping it with a Laser in case terrorists blow it up? That instead of open doors, we're looking to plug the leaks in one of the worlds largest sieves- the ports, boarders, and entrances to the USA? That instead of welcoming in immigrants, we regard them as outsiders, and don't want to add them to our melting pots?
Brooke also told me about a project she worked on in school on Friday. They made a picture for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. She told me they learned about people with "dark faces" and people with "lighter faces" and that it used to be that people with darker faces had to "sit in different places, in the back of the bus, drink from different fountains, and other mean things."
I asked "Is it right to treat people with dark faces differently?" and she gave a "what are you nuts?" look told me flat out "No." She told me that all people are the same, regardless of what their face looks like.
How could I explain that instead of letting any kind of people into the country, we're making citizens of certain countries register in a different way than other immigrants?
While I'm not foolish enough to believe that the world hasn't changed since the time of Emma Lazarus, and that we can't open our doors to just any Tom, Dick or Mohammed that comes along, we shouldn't forget the lessons that those earlier times taught us. It's a good lesson to learn - that we used to welcome the diversity of those that appear different from us, and that often we found we had much in common.
This sentiment doesn't blind me to the fact that we will go to war if the justifications are correct. It doesn't mean we let Saddam make nuclear weapons. It would be nice, however, to have a plan to deal with the consequences of that war, and help the survivors make their land a better, free place.
The Statue of Liberty can be a powerful (fictional) reminder that if we are not careful with how we act, it will not just be a movie scene where Heston yells "You finally, really did it -- you maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!" It will be real life. The statue will be broken, and some post-apocalyptic civilization will wonder about it, and the land that made it.
So today I'm left wondering how, on the one hand, do I teach my children that this country is based on wonderful freedoms, equalities, and liberties, and on the other hand watch as a police state gets created?
I watch people protest a coming war, and find that some have beliefs that rival terrorists and dictators for their radical content. (Specifically, the A.N.S.W.E.R. folks also support the Intifada actions of the Palestinans - blowing up Israelis is ok, but fighting Iraq isn't?)
Somewhere, we've all gone off the correct path, and I'm not exactly sure how to get back.
© Copyright 2003 Howard Greenstein.
Last update: 1/19/2003; 6:37:30 PM.