Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The Yearning For Freedom Is Always A Striking Thing

The New York Times gawks all agog from Baghdad:

The striking thing was that for many Iraqis the first American strike could not come too soon. ... Many seemed ready to endure American air attacks and the armored thrusts that are expected to follow them if the outcome is a new Iraq that brings freedom from the long history of repression here. ,,,,

"Saddam, Saddam, we pledge our blood and soul to you!" the crowds shouted.

But in quieter moments today, other Iraqis were astonishingly frank in suggesting they were ready to endure war for liberty. One retired chemical engineer working as a taxi driver told a fare that he had listened to Mr. Bush. "People are waiting for America," he said, taking both hands off the wheel to simulate applause. This sudden candor has been a phenomenon starkly out of character with the neo-Stalinist atmosphere that has prevailed for so long in Iraq.

There is an odd sense of surprise, of astonishment, in this article. The "striking thing" is not just that for many Iraqis the first American strike could not come too soon. No, the striking thing is also that the Times finds that sentiment surprising or in any sense unexpected or unusual. The "striking thing" is also that the Times is reporting - as if it were a Times discovery - an absolutely predictable and universal human craving for freedom and relief from oppression by a madman, and that "People are waiting for America."

Perhaps the people at the Times should organize themselves a field trip to the Statue of Liberty. It's a few miles away, just south of the hole where the World Trade Center stood. They could do it on a warm summer day. It would be fun. The whole Times editorial board and reporting staff could all read first hand the little poem there, The New Colossus. Remember, the striking one, the one written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, the one that reads:

... With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Maybe a little outing like that would help to clear their heads.

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