Chapter 61 – Huddled Masses
A great state, one that lowly flows,
becomes the empire’s union, and the empire’s wife.
The wife always through quietude conquers her husband,
and by quietude renders herself lowly.
Thus a great state through lowliness toward small states will conquer the small states,
and small states through lowliness toward great states will conquer great states.
Therefore some render themselves lowly for the purpose of conquering;
others are lowly and therefore conquer.
A great state desires no more than to unite and feed the people;
a small state desires no more than to devote itself to the service of the people;
but that both may obtain their wishes,
the greater one must stoop.
Translated by D. T. Suzuki and Paul Carus (1880)
This chapter is not difficult to understand, though it is difficult for great and small states to apply.
Most Americans are somewhat aware that the Statue of Liberty was a gift to this country from France. The gift was “accepted” by President Grant on his last day in office, even though the statue had not been constructed and there was no place to put it. The next day, President Hayes took over and selected a site on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor.
Although the statue itself was to be a gift, the United States was required to provide the pedestal, which of course was quite expensive. A fundraising drive was begun in 1882 (5 years after the gift was accepted by by President Grant) and included an auction of art and manuscripts. A New York poet named Emma Lazarus was reluctant to participate, though she finally submitted a sonnet called “The New Colossus,” which reads as follows:
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; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
That sounds familiar to some because it was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal in 1903, but it seems that Ms. Lazarus felt at the time that she was too busy to write the poem. She had reacted strongly and emotionally to the anti-Semitic pogroms that “spontaneously” (with a little help from government officials) spread across portions of Russia – which included the Ukraine – after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. Thousands of Jewish refugees fled to New York to escape that violence and Emma Lazarus was one of those working very hard to help them.
The pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe continued, and became even worse, for many years. Mark Twain published a Thanksgiving message to the American people
on the front page of the Washington Times in 1905. He began by saying that every year this country gathers around its dinner tables and reflects on the good that God has provided to each person during the previous 12 months. Twain wondered, though, whether God would be as satisfied with what the people themselves had done during that period, including:
Do you suppose everything has gone to His satisfaction during the year? Do you believe He is as sweepingly thankful as our nation is going to be, as indicated by the enthusiasms which will appear in the papers on the thirtieth of this month from the pens of the distinguished persons appointed to phrase its thankfulness on that day?
We may be unstintedly thankful, but can that really be the case with Him? If He had a voice how would He regard the year’s results in Russia? What would He be thankful for there? The servants of the government in patriotic obedience to its commands have lately killed and wounded 50,000 Jews by unusual and unpleasant methods, butchering men and women with knife and bayonet; flinging them out of windows; saturating them with kerosene, and setting fire to them; shutting them up in cellars and smothering them with smoke; drenching the children with boiling water; tearing other children asunder by methods of the Middle Ages. Doubtless, the most that He can be thankful for is that the carnage and suffering are not as bad as they might have been.
Between the time of the tsar’s assassination and the beginning of World War I in 1914, more than 2 million Jewish refugees fled from that violence – probably a majority of whom wound up either in the United Kingdom or the United States.
The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886; so for most of those refugees there was a lamp showing the way to the golden door.
Unfortunately, violence, in sectarian and other forms, continues to produce refugees even in what should be the enlightened 21st Century. News stories appear every day about those forced to flee Syria or Iraq – or Darfur – or, again, Ukraine – or Gaza.
In my thoughts concerning Chapter 60, I mentioned a book entitled To Be a Revolutionary by Fr. J. Guadalupe Carney. Padre Carney was a Jesuit missionary in Central America, primarily in Honduras, during the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s when there was a great deal of violence in that part of the world. There was a war between El Salvador and Honduras. There was violence sparked by the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. There were many repressive military governments. And of course there were refugees, many of whom moved North to Mexico or the United States.
Believe it or not, there are still refugees from there. Just last week (on July 9, 2014), officials of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees indicated that many of those – including tens of thousands of children – fleeing the violence that now affects many parts of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala should be treated as refugees rather than migrants.
Much of that violence stems from street gangs involved in the flow of drugs from places like Colombia to places like the United States. The overall murder rate in Honduras is about 20 times greater than the rate in the United States, and in some areas it is more than 50 times as great. In El Salvador, more than 1 in every 50 residents has been displaced by the violence.
Like most Americans, I have little direct knowledge of these situations. I only know what I read. It seems, though, that certain factions are making a concerted effort to keep this particular group of refugees out of the United States. Those efforts have not been marked by quietude and are not “lowly.” Neither are the drug gangs acting from a position of lowliness, nor are the Central American governments.
The only lowly ones here seem to be the children. I think they also qualify as “huddled masses.”