Jewish World Review May 11, 2012/ 19 Iyar, 5772
The power of one free man
By Paul Greenberg
In the fall of 1983 in
All we'd seen from Irkutsk in
And then: Light. The walls of the brightly lit U.S. Embassy were decorated with signs from old
I went to sleep each night listening to my wife sob as she went over in her mind what she'd seen during the day -- the empty shelves in the state stores, the burly KGB types watching our every move, the outward subservience of Soviet subjects to their masters and their inward resentment, the whispered requests for help getting out, the occasional bursts of vodka-fueled truth deep in the night ... such was life in the workers' paradise.
But tonight we were free, and the next morning we would be leaving. At the airport, I tried not to look nervous thinking of the messages I was carrying in the hidden pocket of my parka. Messages from refuseniks, Jews who'd been denied visas, that I'd agreed to get to relatives in America.
Luckily, the man in front of me, a tourist from
I thought of my mother stepping foot on American soil for the first time
Now it seems one blind man from the village of Dongshigu in
All the empty suits, interrupted in the course of their state visit last week in
The fate of Chen Guangcheng, acupuncturist by profession, amateur lawyer by avocation, free man by instinct, dominated this suddenly shrunken summit meeting -- and the world news.
While the titular newsmakers bobbed and weaved, Chen Guangcheng just pressed ahead. You could almost see them thinking: What will the man do next? Put in another call to a congressional committee while it's right in the middle of discussing his case and how our
Whatever he does next, the one thing certain about Chen Guangcheng is that he'll keep talking truth to power, and that power can only stutter in response.
Few on the outside, or even in
Our secretary of state couldn't seem to say his name during any of her many newsless news conferences in
Instead, the Hon.
Did it take until last week for so elemental an observation to sink in? How strange. Mrs. Clinton had to go halfway around the world to realize anew that America still stands for freedom, at least in the eyes of others. Our own emissaries seem embarrassed by it.
Nothing shakes up our officialdom like the sudden appearance of one free man. In 1975, when Alexander Solzhenitsyn made it to
Who were the Soviet "leaders" supposedly in power when Solzhhenitsyn still walked the earth? Now their names are forgotten, reduced to footnotes in his biography. Just as one day an obscure reference to Clinton, Hillary R. may be found in the index to the collected writings of Chen Guangcheng.
Once there was an American protester who refused to pay his poll tax in a
Thoreau was mainly amused by how easily confused supposed power can be when confronted by just one free man. "I saw," he concluded, "that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it."
Pity poor Hillary, with all her prestige and titles and press coverage, suddenly reduced to stammering by the power of one free man. Blind, he sees what the sighted would like to ignore. But can't -- because Chen Guangcheng goes on saying what he thinks, afraid of nothing and no one. Like an American.
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