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As Long as We Remember...

October 1, 2004

Liberty: A Light to the World

Bethany Stevenson

In 1886, a marvelous gift was presented to the people of the United States by France: the Statue of Liberty. The gift was intended to celebrate the first 100 years of this free nation. But more than that, many saw Liberty as a beacon to the world that freedom, even with its high price, was treasured above riches.

Today, many have forgotten that “Liberty Enlightening the World,” so-named by her sculptor, was a gift from a nation who fought for their Revolutionary War for their freedom shortly after the United States, but whose success falls short of her elder sister.

In Bartholdi’s original descriptors, the statue represented the Roman goddess of Freedom, Libertas. The torch symbolized bringing the light of liberty to a dark and oppressed world. The crown of seven spikes represented Liberty’s divine nature and the seven continents. A broken chain lay at her feet showing her past struggles.

President Grover Cleveland accepted this present, noting that a responsibility had been placed upon the shoulders of Americans. Having inherited the blessings of freedom from the forefathers, Americans were now charged with shining the light of freedom into the rest of the oppressed world, helping them to break the chains of their bondage.

Throughout the history of the United States, men and women sought for that God-given gift of Liberty. They lived and died so their families and posterity might not know the oppressors hand. People flocked to the shores of this land to seek what was unattainable in their native land.

As the nation grew stronger and more were endowed with freedom’s blessings, the United States looked beyond her borders to assist other nations in their fight against the chains of bondage, the leash of tyranny, and the whip of oppression. Many more found refuge within the open arms of a nation founded on the God-given blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A funny thing happened as prosperity and contentment entered into the hearts of many Americans in the mid-20th century. They selfishly wanted to keep these blessings for themselves. “Why get involved? It’s their conflict, not ours.”

A beautiful monument to Liberty stands in the harbor of one of America’s greatest cities, forgotten… at least forgotten as to her purpose.

We now have two men vying for the office of executive leader of the United States. Amazingly, they are actually pitted against each other on this very issue. One desires not only to protect the liberty of Americans, but also to fulfill the promise Americans made to the world when they accepted the Statue of Liberty: to bring the light of liberty to all the oppressed. The other candidate not only admits we should not defend the oppressed “without allies,” but in the past has been documented to feel strongly we have no place in fighting the battles of other peoples.

Is it time now to change the course of America and go with the second man’s opinion?

From the beginning, we have treasured our freedom and sought to share it with others, knowing this gift is bestowed by the hand of God to all who seek it, Freedom being one of the greatest gifts available in this world. One hundred and ten years after the Declaration of Independence, we celebrated our freedom by accepting the challenge to bring freedom to all the world with the gift of “Liberty Enlightening the World.” In both World Wars, we left our own shores to fight for the oppressed against the tyrannical regimes that desired the heart and soul of every citizen under its grasp.

During the Cold War, we struggled with and prayed for those who were forced behind an Iron Curtain of constraint and communism. When the curtain fell on those regimes, we wept, rejoiced and prayed with them.

Is it time to change the course we have taken?

If a man in chains, beaten and starved, stood before you, pleading for his freedom, and you saw you had the key, you would have compassion for this person and free him. If a child cried out for you to bring her father back to love her, protect her and provide for her, and you had the key to his political prison cell, the goodness in your heart would choose to free him.

The people in Iraq have suffered in prisons, in hunger, in abuse. They rest on the cusp of freedom. President Bush has cracked the curtains and allowed enough light of freedom in that they can taste the goodness of it. So, many desire it. Unfortunately, there are far too many who see their own personal benefit from keeping this people oppressed, and the war continues.

Senator John Kerry contends we never should have gone to Iraq.

So, we should never have given these poor, wretched people the opportunity to taste of liberty’s blessings? Does he mean to say, only we, Americans, are good enough to have it, and sending our soldiers out to die for Iraqis is a waste of our time and efforts, and beneath us?

How very unfortunate that even his record for the past 30-odd years proves this philosophy. As soon as his tour in a war to protect the freedom of an oppressed people was completed, he immediately went forth to decry the reasoning and purpose of the war. His proven relationships with the North Vietnamese and others who were known enemies to the cause only cite his un-American values.

It is an American value to stand up for this priceless gift of freedom. It is an American value to fight for freedom on America’s shores. It is an American value to fight oppression and tyranny wherever in the world it may be.

Humans deserve the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My family fought in every war this country has been in so that I, and my children, may enjoy the comfortable life in freedom’s abode. They did not originate in America. They were immigrants from other lands, where freedom was denied them in one form or another. In return, we are all obligated to light the torch of liberty in the darkened lands of the world.

As Emma Lazarus, poet of “The New Colossus,” wrote of our Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome….
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

As Election Day approaches, let us remember those who stand for Liberty with “the lamp beside the golden door,” and forget those who selfishly would keep Liberty only for those who already possess what they do not cherish.

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