Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Post-9/11 Reflections on Immigration and Liberty

A Post-9/11 View of Liberty

Late yesterday afternoon -- in the early evening -- I rode my bicycle through Battery Park City and near the site of the World Trade Center. I rode on the walkway (and bikeway) that lies along the Hudson River. When I came to the lower end of Battery Park City -- this is an area that lies near Battery Park itself --, I brought my bike to a halt. I wanted to take a good look around.

The vista was grand. Although the day had been blustery, the sky to the west was clearing -- just as the sun was setting. The dense post-9/11 ferry traffic made the Hudson's ever-churning waters even more turbulent. Looking across the Hudson, in a southerly or southwesterly direction, I could see the Statue of Liberty.

While the vista was grand, the Statue of Liberty did not look monumental; the large office towers behind me (in lower Manhattan) and the new office towers springing up on the other side of the Hudson (in New Jersey) made one of the world's largest statues look a bit shrunken. Despite this, the statue, which was caught now and then in the rays of the setting sun, made a very pleasant impression. Furthermore, even in its diminished form, the Statue of Liberty brought to my mind some events that took place half a century ago, at a time when my perspective was rather different.

Liberty as Vehicle

Liberty brought me to the United States.

Literally.

A "Liberty Ship" brought me to the United States. Liberty Ships were troop carriers during World War II. They were used to transport refugees to the United States after WW II.

The Priority of Liberty

The first thing I saw in the United States was Liberty.

Literally.

At dawn on a day in May of 1950 I was six years old, I was awake, and I was on the deck of the Liberty Ship that had brought my family and me (all three of us) -- and many other "Displaced Persons" -- across the Atlantic. The sun was literally rising out of the ocean in the east -- it was a rosy-fingered dawn --, the sun was just breaking above the eastern horizon when an announcement was made and somehow communicated (I spoke no English) --, an announcement was somehow communicated that our ship was nearing the harbor of New York City. I peered toward the west and saw nothing. (It was a misty morning, I think.) I looked again and I saw a large golden statute (holding a beacon) standing on the ocean water. It was the Statue of Liberty, I later learned. Moreover, this statue -- the Statue of Liberty -- was the very first thing I saw in America. And, as I have already said, the Statue of Liberty that I saw before me was -- apparently because of the rising sun behind me --, the physical symbol of liberty that I saw that day was thoroughly and brilliantly golden. (I had not been told that in America all the streets are paved in gold.)

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The Moral of my Little Memoir of Liberty: It's a pretty good country over here. Let's keep it free.

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