Summer Reverie: Precious Freedom

IT is a most delightful time as July drifts towards August and summer indolence overtakes us all. Every year I marvel again at America's capacity to keep industry rolling, commerce moving, government ticking over, while half the country has its thinking on surging surf, and games at the beach, and picnics beside blue mountain lakes, and long walks through cool mountain forests.

It is a diverting time for writers, too.

But as my thought keeps drifting away from the hungry keyboard and the gaping computer screen demanding to be fed, it keeps returning to a scene enacted far away, earlier this year.

The setting was Beijing during the students' challenge to dictatorial authority. The scene was shot at an angle from the roof of a building where the cameramen sought relative safety.

The column of army tanks rolled down the street. A lone young man ran out and halted the lead tank. The tank stopped, uncertainly. Just a few feet from its lethal gun muzzle, the young man raised his arm. It was not a threatening, or confrontational, gesture. His body language was plaintive, as if to say: ``Don't do this. Don't trample on our dream of liberty.''

Yet within the tank, a gunner must have fingered his trigger nervously, immobilized in uncertain terrain where students had been incinerating armored vehicles with gasoline bombs.

What drama for the watching millions around the world. What foolhardy valor. What supreme symbolism of a mere idea confronting material force.

And then the tension broke. Comrades, themselves risking harm, ran to seize the young man and drag him away from the tank's ominous bulk.

The young man vanished from the television screen. But not from thought. For in my summer reverie I keep wondering where he is. Did he return to anonymous safety, or was he seized by security police? Was he turned in by some nervous relative? Was he beaten, banned, sentenced to some infamous punishment? Or is he back at some university, feigning ``normalcy'' with all the other students in China's double-talk society, pretending that their cry for dignity was never uttered?

What kind of summer is he having as we so blessedly revel as the fancy takes us?

What kind of future does he dream of?

It must be of a future free from the restrictive clutch of China's uneasy communist regime. Because freedom is no longer merely the distant hope of the future. For many millions around the world who have not been free, it is the wave of the present.

Although we are barely halfway through 1989, the editorial writers who pen those end-of-the-year pieces about the significance of the past 12 months must surely be readying to vote 1989 one of the most significant years of the century.

It has been the year in which we have seen newly elected Soviet parliamentarians publicly tongue-lashing Mikhail Gorbachev. It has been the year in which Soviets have derided the KGB, and in which the Soviet censor has talked of lifting the ban on a string of prohibited topics.

It is the year in which Poles have inflicted ignominy upon Communist Party candidates in their election; the year in which Hungary faces west instead of east; the year in which communism has been written off as a lost cause.

It is the year in which a string of dictatorships and oligarchies has been swept aside by a democratic wave in Latin America; a year in which even race-hardened South Africa is taking some cautious steps in the direction of compromise. It has been a year of advance in Angola, Afghanistan, and Cambodia, and the end of the war between Iran and Iraq.

It is a scant 10 years to the 21st century. Dare we hope, as we enjoy the freedom of summer 1989 in America, that by the year 2000 the majority of mankind might be enjoying such liberty?

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