Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Book Review and Tribute: Emma Lazarus: Answering a Calling

By John E. Carey
January 10, 2007

“I fell violently in love again…with a lady I met…last night and from whom I hope never to be separated – a poetess, a magaziness, and a Jewess, Miss Emma Lazarus, whose name you doubtless know….”

-- Philosopher William James to his wife, in London, 1882

Who was Emma Lazarus?

You know her as the American poet who wrote the famous poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore….”

“The editor and poet James Russell Lowell said the poem finally gave the statue a ‘raison d’être,’ but the politicians were less enthusiastic,” wrote Caleb Crain in The New York Times on December 31, 2006, “and it wasn’t read at the ceremonial unveiling in 1886. Indeed, the poem was more or less forgotten until the 1930s, when it was resurrected for its celebration of immigrants.”

But Emma was much more than the poet writing for the Statue of Liberty. A self-taught genius, she stood up for women’s rights, the rights of Jews, and religious freedom and equality in an American society greatly influenced toward a wrong turn by European ideas.

Emma Lazarus’s story is marvelously told by Esther Schor in her new book “Emma Lazarus” (Nextbook, New York, 2006). Without this book, Emma’s wonderful story may have been nearly lost to history.

In 1867, while still in her teen years, her father found a publisher for her first book of poems, titled Poems and Translations. This marked the start of a life-long contribution to the American arts and letters.

Her work, though considered “ordinary” by some, attracted the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the leading American poets and essayists of the age. He invited her to spend a week at his home in Concord, Massachusetts, which led to a life-long correspondence. She also corresponded with and learned more about her “art” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and other literary luminaries of her day.

Colonel Higginson, who had recruited and trained the first regiment of all Black Union Volunteers in the Civil War, became a prolific writer and editor after the war.Frequently published in the Atlantic Monthly, "a magazine of literature, art, and politics," Higginson corresponded extensively with Emily Dickinson for nearly 25 years.

He also offered critiques to Walt Whitman several times in the public forum of the printed essay. His evaluation of Whitman included this gem: "It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass,' only that he did not burn it afterwards.”

Higginson proved to be an invaluable mentor and literary advisor to Emma Lazarus. Lazarus had a thorough knowledge of Jewish history and literature and impressed Higginson, a Boston aristocrat. She loved words and languages even more, perhaps than Higginson. She learned several languages, including German, French and Italian.

But as a teen, she did not thoroughly embrace her Jewish heritage. Moses Lazarus, Emma’s father, was a wealthy sugar refiner. Consequently, Emma lived in the very upper Middle Class world of her father, who was well educated, suave, and accepted in the best circles, clubs and parties.

Moses moved effortlessly in wealthy Christian circles, joined the exclusive Union club, and founded, together with the Vanderbilts and the Astors, the elite Knickerbocker club. While he was known to be a Jew, he was not one of THEM, the poor immigrant first-generation Jews most in proper society looked down upon.

And, as a sign that he had achieved the very pinnacle of American New York aristocracy, Moses Lazarus built a mansion (called a “summer cottage”) in Newport, Rhode Island – the summer home of all first-rate fashionable society.

As far as we know: Emma never attended a single day of school anywhere. Today we would call her “home schooled.” All her knowledge and learning occurred as a result of her father’s magnificent library and his wonderful teachings and good example.

In about 1880, the George Eliot novel, Daniel Deronda, stirred in Emma a reawakening of her latent Judaism.At that same time, about three-quarters of all the Jewish people on earth resided within the Russian Empire. In 1881, the Russian Tsar Alexander II died at the hands of an assassin. The Russians wrongly blamed the Jews; an accusation which touched off the “pogroms” or anti-ethnic rioting and killings.

The new Tsar Alexander III blamed the Jews for the riots. This exacerbated an already ugly situation. Thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed, many families were reduced to the extremes and depredations of poverty and scores of women were sexually assaulted. In 166 towns in the southwest provinces of the Russian Empire (modern day Ukraine), large numbers of men, women, and children were attacked and injured or killed. The pogroms continued for more than three years with at least the tacit approval of the authorities.

Jews began to pour out of Russia seeking a land of religious tolerance. Many soon found themselves on the doorstep of America: at New York, New York. Tens of thousands of persecuted Jews and other people seeking freedom and looking for a better way of life for their families flocked into New York’s immigrant neighborhoods. They were tired, hungry, without an ounce of fat on their jagged bones. Many were poorly educated farm laborers with calloused hands. The people of New York turned against them .

Emma Lazarus steeled herself against criticism and took up their cause. In 1882, eight years before the word “Zionism” appeared in print or in regular English usage, “Emma Lazarus became the first well-known American to publicly make the case for a Jewish state,” wrote Emma’s biographer, Esther Schor in her 2006 book, “Emma Lazarus.”

It is almost as if Emma Lazarus could see into the future Hitler’s Holocaust, the massed movement of Jews out of Europe after World War II and the creation of the State of Israel by the United Nations in 1946.

The same year that Emma adopted the cause of the por Jewish immigrants, she started thinking about a poem which would become her most famous, The New Colossus. Little did she know that this poem would one day be at the foot of the Statue of Liberty – and associated with American immigrants and the Statue of Liberty for over 100 years!

“In 1883, France insisted on giving America a large copper statue of a woman holding a torch, and America had to pay for the pedestal. It was embarrassingly hard to find the money, and Emma Lazarus, a much published and well-connected poet, was asked to contribute a poem for a fund-raiser,” wrote Caleb Crain in The New York Times on December 31, 2006.

“Her sonnet, ‘The New Colossus,’ imagined the statue — called ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ — addressing the Old World with majestic brusqueness,” wrote Mr. Crane.

By the mid 1880s, Emma became aware of discrimination even in her elite social circles. There, discrimination was practiced with subtlety and false-charm, quite unlike the open and brazen discrimination of the streets.

In 1877, the Grand Union Hotel refused a guest named Joseph Seligman a room.

Seligman, a nouveau riche German Jew, became the lightening rod for Emma’s awareness that the once tolerant American climate continued to shift toward discrimination against the Jews.

But, as the owner of the Grand Hotel, Judge Henry Hilton, explained nobody had any objection to the Sephardic elite. People like Emma Lazarus and her family, who had lived in America since before the revolution, were the refined, the "true Hebrews." Hilton made it clear that only the dirty, greedy, German immigrants; the "Seligman Jews" were to be excluded and denied of many things because they were obviously “undesirables.”

Emma became an even my steely advocate for Jewish immigrants, women and the downtrodden in general. In hundreds of essays, poems and letters she stood up for those most considered “underfoot and of little value” the rich New Y ork society mavens.

Lazarus’ last book was a series of prose poems entitled, "By the Waters of Babylon." It was published in 1887.

On November 19, 1887, in New York City, Emma Lazarus died at the age of 37. She had contracted cholera and suffered for the final two years of her life. But during much of that time, she catalogued and organized and annotated her many works.

Emma’s sisters published her manuscripts and previously published essays and poems which represented her life’s work: some 1,886 documents!

Her biographer Esther Schor eulogizes Emma this way: “She saw and spoke the need for a Jewish homeland when that was lunacy; she saw in the blaze of anti-Semitism a coming apocalypse… She saw and spoke to all’ more Americans encounters Judaism – it’s history, its culture, its predicaments, and its destiny – through Emma Lazarus’s writing than through that of any of her contemporaries.”

The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus

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!"

With Iraq Speech, Bush to Pull Away From His Generals

By Michael Abramowitz, Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks
The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 10, 2007; Page A01

When President Bush goes before the American people tonight to outline his new strategy for Iraq, he will be doing something he has avoided since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: ordering his top military brass to take action they initially resisted and advised against.

Bush talks frequently of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort and for second-guessing his commanders. "It's important to trust the judgment of the military when they're making military plans," he told The Washington Post in an interview last month. "I'm a strict adherer to the command structure."

But over the past two months, as the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated and U.S. public support for the war has dropped, Bush has pushed back against his top military advisers and the commanders in Iraq: He has fashioned a plan to add up to 20,000 troops to the 132,000 U.S. service members already on the ground. As Bush plans it, the military will soon be "surging" in Iraq two months after an election that many Democrats interpreted as a mandate to begin withdrawing troops.

Pentagon insiders say members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have long opposed the increase in troops and are only grudgingly going along with the plan because they have been promised that the military escalation will be matched by renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the outgoing head of Central Command, said less than two months ago that adding U.S. troops was not the answer for Iraq.

Bush's decision appears to mark the first major disagreement between the White House and key elements of the Pentagon over the Iraq war since Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, split with the administration in the spring of 2003 over the planned size of the occupation force, which he regarded as too small.

It may also be a sign of increasing assertiveness from a commander in chief described by former aides as relatively passive about questioning the advice of his military advisers. In going for more troops, Bush is picking an option that seems to have little favor beyond the White House and a handful of hawks on Capitol Hill and in think tanks who have been promoting the idea almost since the time of the invasion.

"It seems clear to me that the president has taken more positive control of this strategy," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of those pushing for more troops. "He understands that the safety of the nation and his legacy is all on the line here."

Others familiar with Bush's thinking said he had not been happy with the military's advice. "The president wasn't satisfied with the recommendations he was getting, and he thought we need a strategy that was more purposeful and likely to succeed if the Iraqis could make that possible," said Philip D. Zelikow, who recently stepped down as State Department counselor after being involved with Iraqi policy the past two years.

This impulse may well expose Bush to more criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have sharply condemned him for not listening to Shinseki's counsel in the beginning. "I think a number of our military leaders have pulled their punches, and will continue to pull their punches publicly," Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday.

There is little question that more troops for Iraq seemed far from the conventional wisdom in Washington after the beating Bush and the Republican Party took in the midterm elections Nov. 7. Indeed, when Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 30, Maliki did not ask for more American troops as part of a new Baghdad security plan he presented to Bush, U.S. officials said.

Maliki's idea was to lower the U.S. profile, not raise it. "The message in Amman was that he wanted to take the lead and put an Iraqi face on it. He wanted to control his own forces," said a U.S. official familiar with the visit.

Another problem for the administration was the Iraq Study Group, the prestigious bipartisan panel headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a Republican, and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). Soon after Bush returned from Jordan, the group delivered its recommendations, including proposing a high-level dialogue with Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq and setting a goal of early 2008 for the removal of almost all U.S. combat troops.

Although the president was publicly polite, few of the key Baker-Hamilton recommendations appealed to the administration, which intensified its own deliberations over a new "way forward" in Iraq. How to look distinctive from the study group became a recurring theme.

As described by participants in the administration review, some staff members on the National Security Council became enamored of the idea of sending more troops to Iraq in part because it was not a key feature of Baker-Hamilton. One senior administration official disputed that, arguing that staff members were attracted to the "surge" option to address long-standing concern that earlier efforts failed because of insufficient security forces.

A troop increase also dovetailed with ideas being championed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
From only a few months after the start of the war in 2003, McCain has argued that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq is too light, and he and a handful of allies sought to use the post-election policy review to press their case. For three years, their entreaties had been blocked by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, but after Rumsfeld was ousted by Bush the day after the election, they found their message had a more receptive audience at the White House.

"There has always been within the armed forces a group of people that believes we never had the right strategy in Iraq, and they have been suppressed," Graham said.

Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute drafted a plan with retired Army Gen. Jack Keane for sending seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq to provide greater security. Keane and several other experts met with Bush on Dec. 11.

But from the beginning, the Joint Chiefs resisted. They had doubts that Maliki would really confront the militias controlled by fellow Shiites, notably Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Sadr held 30 seats in Maliki's parliamentary bloc and five ministries in his cabinet.

The Joint Chiefs were also worried that sending more troops would set up the U.S. military for an even bigger failure -- with no backup options. They were concerned that the Iraqis would not deliver the troops to handle their own security efforts, as had happened in the past. They were particularly alarmed about the prospect of U.S. troops fighting in a political vacuum if the administration did not complement the military plan with political and economic changes, according to people familiar with their views.

Pentagon officials cautioned that a modest troop increase could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops.

Even the announcement of a time frame and mission -- such as for six to eight months to secure volatile Baghdad -- would play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs warned the White House.

Then there was the thorny problem of finding enough troops to deploy. Those who favored a "surge," such as Kagan and McCain, were looking for a sizable force that would turn the tide in Baghdad. But the Joint Chiefs made clear they could muster 20,000 at best -- not for long, and not all at once.

The Joint Chiefs came to accept Bush's wishes, especially after new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates traveled to Iraq last month with the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Peter Pace, said a U.S. official familiar with the trip. Gates met with Maliki, who laid out more details about the Iraqi plan for Baghdad.

"That gave them enough to define a mission and its objectives," the official said. "They came back satisfied."

In the end, the White House favored the idea of more troops as one visible and dramatic step the administration could take. One senior White House official said this week the president concluded that more troops are not the only ingredient of a successful plan -- but they are a precondition to providing the security the Iraqi government needs for political reconciliation and other reforms.

Tonight, this source said, the president will explain "that we have to go up before we go down."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report

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Democrats Plan Symbolic Votes

Against Bush’s Iraq Troop Plan

By Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse
The New York Times
January 10, 2007

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 — Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they intended to hold symbolic votes in the House and Senate on President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Baghdad, forcing Republicans to take a stand on the proposal and seeking to isolate the president politically over his handling of the war.

Senate Democrats decided to schedule a vote on the resolution after a closed-door meeting on a day when Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts introduced legislation to require Mr. Bush to gain Congressional approval before sending more troops to Iraq.

The Senate vote is expected as early as next week, after an initial round of committee hearings on the plan Mr. Bush will lay out for the nation Wednesday night in a televised address delivered from the White House library, a setting chosen because it will provide a fresh backdrop for a presidential message.

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